Confessions of Cultural Heretics

"When the whole world is running headlong towards the precipice, one who walks in the opposite direction is looked on as being crazy." T.S. Elliot

Archive for the category “Family”

Mommy’s Medicine Bag

Being married to a doctor sure does have its perks. If one of the boys spikes a fever of 105, breaks a finger in a door, splits open their eyebrow, or gets swarmed by fire ants (all hypothetical examples of course), free medical advice is always just one call away. But there are times when Daddy’s medicine won’t work, that’s when you need “Mommy’s medicine”.   So without further ado, here’s a list of the things in my medicine bag for treating the common ailments of childhood:

1. chewable papaya enzyme

Think of it as a more appealing alternative to cod liver oil. For stomach upsets of any kind (especially the highly suspicious bed time stomach pain), I give the boys a few papaya to chew on. I have to admit, this was something my parents always kept on hand when we were kids and it tasted so good, we would sometimes sneak pocket fulls of papaya to snack on. Then we would get a stomach ache, then our parents would give us some papaya. 🙂

2. MelaGel

This is a topical salve that contains tea tree oil and has soothing properties for everything from bug bites, sore hangnails, scrapes and scratches. I keep a disk in my purse because I am the mother of sons and we live in the south, so their limbs are always covered with bites and scrapes.

3. Arnica cream-

This ointment is the only homeopathic that REALLY works for our family.( I’m not saying that from lack of trying either.)  It is great for soothing  sore or pulled muscles, promoting bruise healing and I have even found it to be very helpful for easing pregnancy back pain.

4. Pinxav-

My firstborn is a blondie and super fair skinned and we had quite the time of it fighting diaper rashes, especially when he was teething. We tried all the usual ointments, then were introduced to this old fashioned, thick, magical stuff. We were able to find it at our Kroger pharmacy at the time and the original tub we bought over four years ago, we still have and it still is working its wonders on our second born.



A Few Thoughts on Circumcision

So I was asked (and have been asked many times) what my thoughts are concerning circumcision.  For just a little background, during my month on the pediatric service I performed about 50 circumcisions over approximately 24 working days using both of the Mogen clamp and the gomco.

To start, I must say I think it can be very easy to get caught up in the emotions surrounding this topic.  As a father who has two boys, one who is circumcised and who is not, and also as a physician who has performed many circumcisions, I find myself feeling rather neutral on the whole issue. For one, I think the idea that it is a ‘brutal and abusive’ action is a bit overstated. The procedure is actually very quick and clean, with pain medication given to the infant. That doesn’t mean the child doesn’t throw a fit during the procedure, but I have also had many infants act the same way when I was changing their diaper.  Infants are fairly easily consoled and are seem to be able to tolerate a fair amount of pain and discomfort for short periods of time.  I simply state this, not as justification, but as an observation that reflects that this procedure is not nearly as brutal as many try to make it out to be.  So moving beyond the procedure itself,  I think it is important to consider the motivations for circumcision.

Many parents do it simply to ensure that the son “looks like his father” or “looks like his brothers”. These motivations exist, for better or  for worse, and may not be the best intentions. There are other reasons to be circumcised.  Recently the American Academy of Pediatricians issued a policy statement

The policy statement and accompanying technical report from the AAP will be published in the September 2012 issue of Pediatrics (published online Monday, Aug. 27). The documents update the previous policy that the AAP published in 1999 and reaffirmed in 2005.

Since the last policy was published, scientific research shows clearer health benefits to the procedure than had previously been demonstrated. According to a systematic and critical review of the scientific literature, the health benefits of circumcision include lower risks of acquiring HIV, genital herpes, human papilloma virus and syphilis. Circumcision also lowers the risk of penile cancer over a lifetime; reduces the risk of cervical cancer in sexual partners, and lowers the risk of urinary tract infections in the first year of life.

The AAP believes the health benefits are great enough that infant male circumcision should be covered by insurance, which would increase access to the procedure for families who choose it.

“Ultimately, this is a decision that parents will have to make,” said Susan Blank, MD, FAAP, chair of the task force that authored the AAP policy statement and technical report. “Parents are entitled to medically accurate and non-biased information about circumcision, and they should weigh this medical information in the context of their own religious, ethical and cultural beliefs.”

Pediatricians are one of the major providers of circumcisions (along certain groups of family physicians and some obstetricians).  This is not about generating more revenue or business, because in most cases I think it would be safe to say that pediatricians would prefer to avoid the trouble of circumcision.  This new statement, in my humble opinion, is a reflection of evidence based medicine.  But note that the AAP still states that the final decision is to be left in the parent’s hands (now if only they would approach vaccines the same way….).

With that said, I think we need to keep a few historical, and biblical, facts in mind. For one, Jesus was circumcised.  In fact, many of us still celebrate the Feast of the Circumcision on the eighth day after Christmas.  Also, circumcision is never condemned in scripture, rather Paul writes “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision: but faith that worketh by charity” (Galatians 5:6) So basically, it doesn’t matter if you are or are not, as long as your faith and salvation are in Christ.

I do not think it is a procedure that should be banned, nor should parents be condemned for having it done. Nor should the uncircumcised (or their parents) be shunned or ostracized either.  This really comes down to parental choice, a choice that should be made with full knowledge of the risk and benefits of the procedure, and a reasonable motivation for having it done.

Let me know if you have more specific questions regarding this topic.

Once again, thank you for your attention!

In Christ,

Dr. Burke

Snowballing at last

As we have mentioned in a previous post, Brian and I went through Dave Ramsey’s course called Financial Peace University when we were engaged. This class had a huge impact on our relationship and helped us to get on the same page about money and set up a long term game plan. Our first goal was to each get an emergency fund in place and then to start attacking our student loan debt. After we married, we combined our incomes and formed a new, written budget every month, which we have done every month since. Although our income was by no means huge, we were able to pay off a few of the smallest loans in just a few months. 

Then came our first pregnancy and Brian’s acceptance to medical school (both of which we were hoping for). This changed our position tremendously. We both felt strongly about me staying at home with our baby, yet also felt convicted to find a way to pay for medical school without putting our family into $150,000+ further into debt. I was able to find a temp job after our move which covered much of our living expenses until the baby was born, but didn’t touch the cost of Brian’s first semester of med school. Every avenue we had pursued came to nothing and we knew we needed to make some tough decisions if we were going to remain committed to avoiding taking on any additional debt while Brian pursued his degree.

So after much prayer and soul searching, Brian joined the Navy (something he had pondered since college, but I wasn’t too keen on at that time). We banked the sign- on bonus for a large emergency fund, and lived off our monthly stipend. Although our monthly stipend wasn’t much, I was able to supplement our income a bit from tutoring and became a true home economist to keep our expenses down. By the grace of God, we were able to ride out the remaining three and a half years without adding to our debt, despite cash flowing two pregnancies and deliveries, a major dental procedure and the purchase of a van.

Fast forward to the present and we are thrilled to be able to press play once again and begin attacking our debt with a vengeance. We just paid off  my last student loan ($9190.82), using the money we had been saving for emergencies during medical school. Only $39423 to go! Target date to being debt free: June 2014. We’ll keep you posted.


Back to the Blog

No, we have not fallen off the face of the earth, but we have had A LOT going on in the past few months to justify our neglect of the blog since our last post in (gasp!) March.

So here’s a quick catch up on our lives:

Brian finished his medical school training, completed Officer Development School with the Navy, received the Lucas County Family Medicine Award, graduated from University of Toledo Medical School, was promoted to Lieutenant, moved all of us from Ohio to North Carolina in two days and began his residency with the Naval Hospital. So you can call him Dr. Burke or Lt. Burke and help him remember he’s not a med student anymore!

What has been keeping me busy these past few months has been purely domestic. The house is mostly settled, Killian is almost 20lbs, teething and army crawling, and Joseph is completely potty trained (I think I deserve a diploma for that).

We are enjoying our new house with a lot more open space both inside and out for the kids to explore. In general this move has been a smooth adjustment, except for the BUGS. We have daily lessons in Living in the South, which have included instruction in identifying and avoiding  fire ant hills, snakes, spiders and other insects of unusual size. But on the plus side, we live 15 minutes from a beautiful beach, get a cooling breeze most evenings off of the ocean and have a persimmon tree in our back yard.

So here we find ourselves, a family of Catholic Northerners, in the heart of the Bible Belt, where the fields are full of tobacco and sweet potatoes, and everyone calls me ma’am. This should be an experience for sure.


Rug Rats

Kids seem to have a universal set of bad habits. The past few weeks I have battled with our toddler to keep both of his socks on. I am constantly finding random socks strewn about the house. While the chilly floors don’t seem to bother him, I’d rather not have him develop a cold because of his bad habits. So I did what my father did to me and my siblings…I told him about the rug rats.

What are rug rats you ask?

They are small rodents that live under the carpets and nibble toes off of children’s bare feet. Only socks or shoes can protect you from the hungry pests.

So I told Joseph, and I can’t say I was surprised, but it worked. His eyes grew big and he ran to grab his sock and jumped on the couch to escape the invisible rodents while he covered his bare foot.

Then he began to “see” them under the carpet and started shouting at them “rugrats! I have my socks on! Do you want some milk?”

At which, I had to explain their diet consisted of bare toes alone, and that since all of our toes were covered they would be moving on to look at another house for some tasty bare toes.

Funny, Brian and I had just had a conversation this weekend about how every culture seemed to have a monster of sorts that parents would use to scare their children into being good. I have to say I have mixed feelings about this tactic, but I can’t deny its immediate effectiveness. And so the rug rats will live on in the imaginations of my children.


Why yes, fetal tissue IS used to develop vaccines and other products….

Rebecca Taylor over at the blog Mary Meets Dolly has written an excellent article, “Morally Tainted: Products Made Possible By the Killing of Innocent Human Life” which is about the use of aborted fetal tissue in developing several different manufactured products

Oklahoma state Sen. Ralph Shortey has introduced a bill to the Oklahoma Legislature that has caused quite a stir. S.B. 1418 says it would ban any product for human “consumption” that contains aborted human fetal tissue or where the research or development of any of the ingredients required the use of aborted fetal tissue…..

When Shortey suggested that his bill was not simply about aborted fetuses in the food supply, but about companies using cells and tissues from aborted human beings to test or develop various chemicals, drugs or therapies, one angry commenter on the Huffington Post retorted, “What companies? Name them. If you can’t, then this is the rantings of a paranoid delusional.”

Rebecca goes on to describe several different companies that are actively using fetal tissue obtained from abortions and does an excellent job detailing the moral questions that arise in using this type of tissue.  One area of great controversy that she touches upon is Vaccines (Emphasis mine):

Yet, some of these products, like drugs or vaccines, can be life-saving. The question then becomes: Can Catholics use these life-saving products that were developed using aborted fetal tissue in good conscience?

Many of them, like the vaccines for rubella and polio, are developed or produced in cell lines that came from abortions that occurred decades ago, and no new abortions or destruction of life are required to produce those vaccines.

The guidance given by the Church on the use of vaccines may be the best guide for other life-saving products as well. In the case of vaccines produced in aborted fetal-stem cell lines like MRC-5 and WI-38, where the abortion occurred decades ago, parents must ask their health-care provider for an alternative vaccine that was grown in cells not procured by illicit means. If there are no alternatives, then they must voice their objection.

I would challenge parents out there, How many of you have actually voiced their objections to your child’s physician? To the vaccine manufacturer? To the FDA?  How many of you know that several different vaccines are manufactured using fetal tissue derived from abortions and that there are alternatives for some of them?  (For a list, see Children of God for Life and their excellent PDF)

For many, you may not have had any idea.  This once again raises the issue that parents need to be informed concerning vaccines prior to giving consent for their administration.  And unfortunately, you will not be able to ask most physicians about this issue because they will simply be clueless about the use of aborted fetal tissue in vaccine development.  After you have done your research and you approach your physician, you will need to be prepared to be ridiculed.  In medical school we are fairly indoctrinated with the idea that vaccines are God’s gift to man and that there is no reason a healthy individual should not be given every possible vaccine.  We are encouraged to NOT critically analyze this evidence or question the vaccine schedule, and when you do so, you are quickly ostracized and labeled “heretic”.   The medical profession and the media have assumed that every single concern objection to vaccines has to do solely with the whole “Thimerosol and Autism” controversy.  However, as many of you know, there are many other concerns that due arise, including the increase in allergies and autoimmune disease, other behavioral issues beyond autism, and autism itself.  Whereas Thimerosol has been somewhat debunked (depending on the literature you look at) there are other possibilities.

A biotech startup out in Seattle, Sound Choice Pharmaceuticals, is actively working on creating morally acceptable vaccines.  In the course of their research, they have shown that vaccines that are contaminated with human DNA (from the manufacturing process that uses aborted fetal tissue) may be a culprit in the Vaccine-Autism link.   This raises the issue of using these morally tainted vaccines to a whole new level.  And yet, many continue to be complacent and simply do as their physician instructs.

The medical profession and vaccine manufacturers have heard the Church’s argument that these vaccines “are permissible when no alternative is available.”  And since there is no huge outcry from the patients and customers, and we do not see masses of kids refusing vaccination until a suitable alternative is available, the medical establishment and vaccine manufacturers have no reason to change their ways.  I am not advocating that we do not vaccinate (nor am I advocating FOR vaccines), rather we need to take a stronger stand and DEMAND that there be morally suitable vaccines.  There are too many unanswered questions with vaccines, particularly with the ones using fetal tissue.  We have to ability to demand answers and alternatives, but it requires that we stand up and say something.

Moving Beyond Fear: Decision Making Regarding Vaccines

Vaccinating children is a hot button issue, to say the least.  When the topic comes up among parents, there is usually some pretty heated remarks, and when you throw a physician into the mix it can get downright dirty.  I have heard a physician say to a parent “I see you wants to keep your child safe” in regards to the decision to vaccinate, which seems to insinuate that a unvaccinated child wants to live recklessly and dangerously.  On the other side of the debate I have heard parents accuse others of pumping their children full of poisons and doing irreparable harm.  The more parents I talk to on both sides of this issue, the more I realize that the decision making about vaccines is not based upon informed consent but on fear.

Fear seems to dominate the issue of vaccines.  On one side it is a fear of contracting a disease that may possibly cause some long lasting side effect or even death.  All of this depends on which disease is being considered.  (For more on this, please refer to Dr. Sears’ The Vaccine Book).  And on the other side of the debate there is a fear of what the ingredients may do to children.  For some that fear may be about autism, or asthma, or other allergies, just to name a few.  There are also concerns about using vaccines developed using tissue from aborted fetuses and the possible negative effects that injected human DNA may have on a child.

On either side, these should be considered legitimate concerns.  Everyday parents must face decisions concerning their child’s safety and well being.  And for the vast majority of these decisions, there are no domineering physicians and parents trying to force the parents hand.  In an era where paternalism is supposedly dead, it continues to rear its ugly head in regards to vaccines.  Time and again, both in my own experience as a parent and in working in health care, I see physicians attempting to force their views upon their patients in regards to vaccines.  In all those cases it was pro-vaccine.  What is a parent to do? Here is an individual who is supposed to know the facts and who is supposed to be caring for their child, who is talking about how the child might die if they do not receive the shots.  And if the parent shows any resistance, then they are practically accused of child abuse!  Please do not think I am exaggerating.   For parents who choose not to vaccinate, this is par for the course.  It is a rare treat to find a physician who is willing to let a parent refuse vaccinations without trying to intimidate them through fear.  With this kind of pressure to vaccinate, plus a parent’s usual trust in their physician, is it any wonder that most parents simply vaccinate their child without a second thought?  Filled with fear of what might happen without vaccines and pressured by the physician they are supposed to trust, it is the easiest road to take.

And yet, is this the best?  Now I am not saying parents should not choose vaccines.  What I do argue for is informed decisions by the parents.  Parents choosing to vaccinate should know what vaccines the child is to receive and when. What the vaccines prevent against, and likewise what the dangers of those diseases are.  And the parents should also be aware of any concerns about safety regarding particular vaccines.  I place the same burden on the parents who refuse to vaccinate.  I would challenge them to tell me what are their sources in regards to the dangers of vaccines? What is it that they are afraid of? Is there evidence for those fears?  What is your current situation and the associate risks with not vaccinating?

Decisions in medicine are supposed to be based upon the available evidence, and the patient is supposed to be given the autonomy to make an informed decision. On both sides of this debate, the parents must move beyond making decisions based solely on fear and begin to make informed decisions for their children.  Neither decision is necessarily wrong, but it must be made consciously and with knowledge.   As parents, we know full well that it is impossible to protect our children from all danger and all risks and daily we must make decisions to limit these dangers as much as is reasonably possible. For those dangers we cannot prevent, we must be willing to shoulder that responsibility if something were to happen, and this holds true for the decision about vaccines.  Rather than living in fear, we must make that informed decision and then face down the possible consequences and make the bold statement that we will not let fear rule our lives.


5 Quick and Easy Ways to Save Money

As a stay at home mom, I feel it is part of my job to continually be looking for ways to economize and save money. To make this realistic, I found it helpful to start by attempting one thing at a time. Perfecting my homemade bread took time and if I had been trying to learn how to make yogurt or can at the same time, I doubt I would have stuck with anything very long.

  1. Make your own bread– I have been using this recipe for almost 2 years now and over time have altered it to include ultragrain flour for a fiber and whole grain boost, using Eagle Mills Ultra grain unbleached all purpose flour.  It is fantastic even after the loaf has been frozen.  If you have a good stand mixer, it is even easier and requires no kneading!
  2. Make your own Yogurt-our three year old inhales yogurt and can easily go through 2 quarts a week himself.  We received this model from my wonderful mother in law for Christmas and the yogurt it has produced has been thick and creamy.
  3. Make your own laundry detergent-with a new baby in cloth diapers and a toddler who is potty training, the washer is pretty much constantly going. Good detergent is SO expensive, so I found this really simple laundry detergent recipe
  4. Use cloth diapers-we use the unbleached Indian cotton prefolds  with the rumparooz one size fits all covers.
  5. Can and/or Freeze fresh produce from your garden or local market-I have been blessed with a wonderful neighbor who taught me how to can and a mother who is just a phone call away for quick questions. This book is a great introduction to a variety of techniques for those who are just beginning or in need of brushing up some rusty skills.


The Birth of Our Children Part II

This is the second part of the birth of our children.  This post describes the birth of our newborn son, Killian.  You can read about his older brother’s birth here.

Killian’s Birth Story

December 16, 2011 6:24 pm

8lbs. 4 oz

Our Decision

Our decision to plan a home birth for our second child was not a result of a previous horrible hospital experience or fear of the medical establishment, but rather a deep desire to remain in the peaceful, natural environment of our home during this blessed event.  Our firstborn, Joseph, was a natural birth (no IVs, pain meds, continuous monitoring etc) attended by midwives in the hospital. Although we were very happy to have had a natural birth and were pleased that our midwife was so respectful of our wishes, Brian had still had to fend off hospital staff throughout the entire labor who were trying to push for more monitoring and interventions we had made clear beforehand that we wanted to avoid. While Joseph never left our sight and was breastfed immediately, I felt like these were things they had “allowed” us to do rather than the typical course of events practiced. After a night of constant disruptions by hospital staff, we decided to go home where we would be most comfortable and could finally get some rest.

This time around we were more interested in the home birth option since we had some experience and I had encountered no complications during pregnancy, delivery or recovery.  Having been born at home myself, it was always an appealing idea to me growing up. Although not completely sold on the idea, Brian was open to meeting with the homebirth midwife in our area and discussing the option. Once we met her, there was an immediate connection. I felt comfortable with her philosophy and Brian was confident in her skill and experience.

Before the Birth

Our monthly appointments were slotted for an hour, which gave us time to really get to know our midwife and her apprentice and laid the foundation for a relationship of trust to grow between us all. Also, they were able to observe our family dynamic as Joseph always accompanied us on these visits. I was experiencing yet another uneventful pregnancy and we grew more eager with every passing month to meet the newest addition to our family.

The False Alarm

Finally the month of December came and we began to prepare our home for “birth day”. Joseph had been born the day after his due date, so I had tried to prepare myself to go all the way through again. A week before my due date I woke to contractions about 8-10 minutes apart. After hours of no change to their pattern, they petered out and we declared it a false alarm. From then on, every evening I would have a set of contractions that wouldn’t develop into anything. This was a new experience for me as I had never had any Braxton-Hicks episodes with Joseph. As my due date came and went, I began to believe I would never have this baby and questioned if I would even know how to identify the real thing when it did come. We began to talk about options to consider for inducement if I went beyond Christmas and we grew increasingly impatient.

It Begins

December 16, three days after my due date, I woke up around 1:30am to contractions, but was able to go back to sleep until about 4am when I couldn’t sleep through them anymore. They were coming about 8-10 minutes apart and since I couldn’t sleep, I decided to get up and walk around the house and see if that would bring them any closer together. So I ate a granola bar, had a glass of water and started praying a rosary as I walked throughout our house. Although still not painful, the contractions started coming about 4-5 minutes apart. Around 6am I decided to wake Brian and was happy to finally tell him “it looks like we’re going to have a baby today”.

We called the midwife to give her a head’s up and she said to stop walking to see if the contractions would stop this time and get back to her in an hour or so. Joseph woke up and we all ate some breakfast and got ready for the day. Once I stopped walking, the contractions slowed back down to 8-10 minutes apart, but were starting to demand a bit of my attention. Around 9:30 they were still coming and we walked Joseph down the street to our neighbor’s to play for the day. Then we headed to the Walmart plaza down the road from us to go for a walk somewhere warm. We walked for about 40 minutes and decided to go home and get some lunch.

The Midwife Arrives with Some Help

The contractions were coming every 4-6 minutes and our midwife decided to come over around 12:30 to get things set up. After about an hour, with still no significant change, she made some suggestions on what we could do to help things along if we wanted or we could continue as we were (as she said,  “I’m in no rush, it’s up to you”). After over a week of dead end contractions and fearing all of this would stop again, I was ready to get things rolling and meet the baby. So she gave me an herbal tincture called “Start it Up” and said to take another dose in an hour if things hadn’t changed. She was going to run an errand close by and be back by 3pm. Within 20 minutes the contractions had drastically changed, becoming closer together and much stronger. By 3 o’clock, I was running out of tricks to handle the pain and all I could think of was getting in the birth pool. Brian encouraged me to do so. He called the midwife to update her and tell her things had rapidly progressed and she quickly made her way back.

The Beautiful Birth Tub 

As soon as I got into the water, what blessed relief! I immediately knew I didn’t want to have another contraction outside of the pool. Through all this time, I still couldn’t believe I was in true labor and was afraid that things might stop. Getting into the water had been so effective in helping me deal with the contractions, I worried it might slow things down. In fact, the intensity of the contractions continued to climb yet they began to get farther apart and I anxiously said “aren’t they supposed to get closer together? Don’t you think you should check me to see if this is going anywhere?” To which my midwife responded by kneeling right in front of me, and assuring me that I could listen to my body and do what it was asking and that she knew where I was by just watching me. The fact that I was entering stage two explained why things had slowed down. At this point, everyone knew I had gone through transition but me. Again, I think the water helped take so much of the edge off, I was able to handle the end of stage one so well.  

Stage 2

Soon, I began to feel pressure and knew I wanted to push. I was vaguely aware of the midwife and her apprentice setting things up around the pool and monitoring the baby every few pushes. I had long pauses in between contractions and was sharing stories and little jokes with everyone or just closing my eyes and allowing myself to drift away. After over an hour I was growing tired and a little discouraged that I hadn’t made more progress. I told everyone I didn’t want to be doing this another 12 hours and they assured me I wouldn’t be and that they could see the baby’s head now when I was pushing.  My bag of waters still hadn’t broken and I felt like I couldn’t get a really good push until it did, so I began to focus on that. Finally, I felt the familiar pop as I had with Joseph and could at last believe that this was it and it was up to me now to get this baby out! During this whole time, Brian had been my rock, vocalizing with me through every contraction and reminding me to keep my tones low to stay in control. He cheered me, gave me water and juice between each contraction, and reminded me that we were having a baby!

This is about the time that Johanna’s memory of the event becomes a little blurry, so I will finish the tale.  As Killian began to crown and it was apparent that he was going to be born at any moment, the midwife’s apprentice took my spot in front of Johanna and I moved behind her at the direction of the midwife.  I suddenly realized that I was going to be delivering my child!  I quickly reached down under Johanna (she has been in a squatting position in the water this whole second stage) and I could feel Killian’s head as it came out.  Gently, I grasped his head with both hands and I applied slight traction, cautiously moving him back and forth.  Now, this was rather awkward for me because despite having delivered several babies, I have never delivered in the tub with the mother squatting (and I was standing outside of the tub this whole time).  So suffice to say, my orientation was a bit thrown off after the long day of coaching my wife and trying to deliver in a new position.  However, very quickly Killian’s shoulder emerged and soon after he was completely in the water.  We kept him submerged for the moment (one water environment to another) while we moved him through Johanna’s legs so she could bring him to her chest.  As he emerged the cord was loosely around his neck, so we removed it and in a blink of an eye he was up on her chest and immediately started looking around.  This was simply where he stayed for the next few moments.

Stage 3

After a few minutes the midwife had me hold Killian on his back floating in the water while we waited for the umbilical cord to stop pulsating (basically waiting for the blood to stop flowing between Killian and the placenta).  It was an amazing sight to see this brand new baby calmly floating on his back in the water, just looking around.  He was so peaceful this whole time.  There was none of the screaming and crying that I had experienced time and again in the hospital.  Johanna was in very similar state, resting in the warm water, enjoying the sight of her son.  Eventually (it felt like forever!) the cord stopped pulsating and I cut it and Johanna began working on the delivery of the placenta.  We dried Killian off, and soon Johanna was out of the water and we all went into our bedroom to rest.



The three of us sat in bed while the midwife and her apprentice cleaned everything up.   I was hardly aware of what was going on outside of our room.  I called to our neighbors and soon Joseph arrived to meet his new little brother, and the four of us spent quite a bit of time sitting in bed just enjoying one another.  Eventually we called our families and looked over Killian to make sure everything was okay, but in general, it was a very peaceful and relaxing first couple of hours.

A Few Thoughts

Johanna mentioned above that I was a little hesitant about home birth at first.  This is very true.  After the birth of our first son, I had become very supportive of natural birth, and those feelings were only reinforced by my experience on the Labor deck.  At the same time, being in medicine, I knew of all the possible things that could go wrong during labor, and this was a bit frightening.   And yet, this was not an evidenced based feeling, but rather a completely emotional one, fueled by the way I was taught about labor and deliver in medical school.  Once I stopped to evaluate the evidence and I saw how safe a homebirth could be, and heard more and more of the wonderful stories from those who had given birth at home, my heart began to change.   I was set even more at ease when I met the midwife and I could ask her about different scenarios and know that she could handle it all.  I also was able to quickly come to trust her judgment and knew that if things headed south, she would make the right decision about transferring to the hospital.   And as I made the decision to support my wife in a homebirth, my confidence in this grew.  Now, I want to make it clear that I recognized that there were risks associated with the homebirth and that I had to come to terms with this.  It was a distinct possibility that I could lose my wife or my son or both.   But as I thought and prayed about this, I realized that in reality, I had probably as much possibility in losing them in a hospital birth as I did in a well managed home birth.  And I also came to a deeper understanding of the beauty of being able to bring your child into this world in your own home, an environment of peace and security, and a place where there are no strangers present.

This was an amazing experience.  I am reinforced in my positive opinion of homebirth by the fact that Killian was such a healthy and happy baby, and too that Johanna had no tears or excessive bleeding.  Now this is not simply because it was a homebirth, but because we made a choice to take good care of ourselves during the pregnancy and the birth.  Moreover, having the birth at home alleviated so much stress and distraction and allowed Johanna to use tools and positions not typically accessible at a hospital.  All of this culminated in a healthy and happy birthing experience.

-Johanna and Brian-

The Birth of Our Children Part I

This post is the first of two that describes the birth of our two sons.  While both were natural births, our first born was a hospital birth, while our new born was a home birth. We hope that the two experiences will shed some light our approach to childbirth.

All but one of my mother’s eight children were born before their due dates, so when I was pregnant with my first born, I just assumed that I would follow in the same pattern. The closer my due date approached, the more I began to worry about induction and other threats to my dream of having a natural birth with midwives.

On my due date, I went in to the midwives’ office so they could monitor my vitals and the baby’s heartbeat.  Everything checked out fine, and since the contractions I had were few and far between, I went home. That evening I was particularly tired and went to bed early, hoping sleep would come easily. Around 2am I woke to strong contractions. Although they were tolerable, they were too frequent for me to fall back to sleep, so I decided to wake Brian, who had taken to sleeping on the air mattress in the spare room due to my loud snoring which developed in late pregnancy.  Gently, I shook him and told him I needed help timing my contractions. Looking at the time, he said “are you sure?”  It had been such a long wait, I think he found it hard to believe that the baby had finally decided to come.

The contractions were averaging 4-6 minutes apart and were 60-90 seconds in duration. So much for starting short and slow. We called the midwife and she said we could go into the hospital or wait a little while, depending on how I felt. As my mom was going to be coming in for the birth and staying with us to help me with the baby, I suggested that we change the sheets on the air mattress and then see how it went. By the time we were done, the contractions were coming stronger and I decided it was time to head to the hospital. We gathered our bags and I dialed my Mom to let her know it was time and that we’d let her know when we were admitted.

We reached the maternity ward around 3:30 am and I was hooked up to a fetal monitor to record my contractions.  They continued in their duration and space and I was completely effaced and one cm dilated. I informed the nurse that I wanted one of the rooms with the birth tubs, but was told that both of the rooms were occupied and that the maternity floor was quite full due to six inductions that morning. It seemed like poor planning to me, but  we were grateful to get the last room after about an hour of walking the halls and slow dancing. The contractions were long and hard and I became sick, so I had to stay on top of my liquids in order to avoid dehydration and the need for an IV. The hospital staff notified the midwives and Irma came in around 8 am-the start of her shift. She checked me  and I had progressed to 3 cm. She suggested I get in the shower to help me relax. I found the water very soothing and stayed there for an hour, getting through the contractions by vocalizing and stamping my feet and hitting the walls with my hands in rhythm with Brian massaging my back. My back pain was increasing and I had to constantly have heat and pressure on it-keeping Brian busy alternating my hot packs between contractions. I was very tired and became worried I would run out of stamina before the end. Around 10 am she checked me again and I was still at 3cm and the baby was posterior, accounting for my severe back labor and intense, rapid contractions. Greatly discouraged,  I asked Irma about my pain relief options and what I could do to get things moving. Finally, I decided to wait another hour or so and follow the recommendations of position changes to see if things would pick up again before resorting to any interventions. We also took the clock down in the room at Irma’s suggestion so I wouldn’t become focused on the passage of time. Brian coached me actively through every contraction, reminding me to relax and open my hips while joining me in my vocalizing and feet stamping. We hit the shower again and I decided against being checked again-I had found my focus and I didn’t want to lose it. A little before noon,  they checked me and I had progressed to 8 cm! I was relieved, but my contractions were coming on top of each other and the pressure was becoming severe from my unbroken water. They had me turn on my right side to coax the baby out of the posterior position. Irma had warned me it would be very uncomfortable. She was right, but it was also effective. Brian had to leave during this time to get some things from the car,  but Irma stayed with me, massaging my back with oil to help me through transition.

When he returned, Brian called my mom to update her on my progress while she drove to Toledo. While they were talking, my water broke and I told him to get off! I was very close and having trouble staying on top of the thunderous contractions as they racked my body. Brian had to remind me to keep my moans low and controlled so as to avoid hyperventilation. He encouraged me and cheered me on, helping me to stay focused on this awesome task. Suddenly, I knew I needed to push, and the nurses encouraged me to start giving little pushes. Irma came back in the room and suddenly, they were positioning me to bear down and bring this baby into the world! It was all happening so fast and the power that came forth from my body along with the contractions was unbelievable. I heaved with all my might and was so focused that I had to be reminded to look in the mirror as the baby’s head crowned.  The midwife had me blow off some contractions as my pushes were so powerful and she didn’t want me to tear. Weeks before , I had been reading a book of birth stories and the women talked about the guttural sounds which they were shocked to hear come from them as it came to the pushing stage. I too had this experience, amazed by how barbaric I sounded, but too involved in the process to care.  I felt the intense burning ,or the “ring of fire” as they described it in birth class, as the head crowned and was delivered. One final push brought forth the shoulders and then the rest of the baby slipped into the hands of the midwife as if coated with Vaseline.

Someone exclaimed “the baby’s out” to my disbelief, and I watched as they sucked the fluid from the baby’s mouth with a bulb syringe.  “The baby’s not crying” I worried, but Irma assured me it was fine and then I heard the most beautiful noise I’ve ever heard-the first crackled cry of my new baby. The baby was placed on my chest within seconds and our eyes met-oh how bewildered those eyes looked! All I could say was “hi baby, I’m your Mom” over and over. Brian leaned over us and said “it’s a boy, hi Joseph”. Up to this point I hadn’t even thought to look or ask what gender the baby was. We had a boy! We were finally meeting the little one we had talked to for the past 9 months face to face! Oh, what joy and amazement, looking down at our son. My love for my husband intensified in that shared experience, to a level I had never imagined as we gazed with pride and admiration on Joseph, the manifestation of our love, now made visible to the world.


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