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

NY Times and Pro Aborts Scared by Expanding Catholic Hospitals

I was browsing twitter this morning when I came across this article by the NY Times discussing how the  “financially stronger Catholic-sponsored medical centers are increasingly joining with smaller secular hospitals, in some cases limiting access to treatments like contraception, abortion and sterilization.”

This is just another example of why the government is doing what it is with the HHS mandate.  The culture of death knows that Catholics have the capacity to limit the abortions and sterilizations done in this country because it is the Catholic Church that is the most successful in regards to health care.  One would hope this is the case after these many centuries of providing care for people.

At the same time, we must continue to urge Bishops and Catholic health systems to be faithful to Church teaching and continue to provide authentic health care.  It may be a hard battle in the coming days, but the Church has prevailed before, and will continue to do so in the future.

Confronting Scandal from the Pulpit

This past weekend Brian and I taught the second class in our NFP course. Since the class is held on Sunday afternoon we had to go to an earlier Mass than our usual 10:30 time at our parish. Originally we had been planning on attending the 8:30 at our parish, but the two little guys soon made it clear that there was no way that was going to happen. So we found a 9:30 at a nearby parish where we are friends with the pastor.

Now this is your stereotypical suburbanite parish- from the 70s architecture to the unspoken dress code of North Face fleeces and jeans. Like I said, however we know the pastor and he is completely orthodox and we knew we would at least have a reverent Mass and homily that would be spiritually uplifting.

After the deacon finished proclaiming the Gospel, he did not sit down, instead he began to preach. This was unexpected, as we had never seen a deacon deliver the sermon before (which we later learned only happens about once a month).

At first, we thought the Deacon was giving a good homily in regards to the constancy of truth and absoluteness of God’s teaching and its root in love for us. His discussion of “the grey” and how it resides in us and not in God was good, however, then he began to discuss contraception and moral teachings of the Church, and what he said was wrong. Dead wrong.

What he said next basically was that it is fine for Catholics to use contraception as long as they have “struggled with the Church’s teaching and attempted to form their conscience, but still conscientiously object” and will “be silent about it”. Here he mentioned the recent polls of Catholics that have been reported so much lately and the only issue he had with the numbers was that those who were using contraception were only wrong in making that information public.

The irony of hearing this lies in the fact that we were coming to mass to prepare our hearts and our minds to go and teach the Church’s Truth about contraception, family planning, and the generosity of the Lord. It was heartbreaking to basically hear from the pulpit permission for couples to continue to use contraception. It is this type of message and preaching that continues to undermine our ability to reach couples and inform their consciences. And to compound matters, the Deacon did not attempt at all to clarify why the Church teaches against contraception, for in doing so, he may have been able to help form and guide those who were struggling in the pew. Rather, by leaving this out, he basically gave everyone the ability to continue to use contraception and disagree with the Church on other teachings with a clear conscience as long as they kept quiet about it.

I have never walked out of Mass before, but I was horrified and mad. The only thing that kept me in my seat was the fact that we had to go to this Mass in order to make it in time to set up for our class. It is because of incidents like these, that we find ourselves in the pickle that we do regarding the HHS mandate. Maybe it would be a little easier to make headway with those who don’t understand our objections if there wasn’t so much dissension being justified from the pulpits.

Although we were certain Fr. was just as shocked as we were by what was said, we knew we had to do something and felt that maybe God had led us to Mass there for a reason that morning. As soon as we arrived home, we composed an email to the pastor, explaining the reason we came to his parish that day and expressed our tremendous concern for his flock which had all been given a false teaching on contraception and conscience formation. We also implored him to remedy the scandal that had just occurred by clarifying to this deacon and the whole congregation the actual church teachings on these subjects.

I am happy to say that we received this response that evening:

“You are right in that I too was surprised at the sermon. I think the deacon must have been going on an erroneous notion of “dissent” that was popularized years ago.  I will be clarifying things with him and with the parish. I also agree with you that now is not the time to be making things more grey, which is what the homily did. Thank you very much for the email, as it helps me to address the issue more forcefully.”

Knowing this holy priest, we have every confidence that he will indeed follow through with these intentions. Please pray for him as he faces this challenge as it is likely to cause quite a stir.

So as we begin Lent, we challenge all of you to find a way in your own parish or community to do your part to see that the Church’s teachings are being relayed faithfully and adequately. You never know the difference you could make.

-Johanna-

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.

-Brian-

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.

-Johanna

We Need to Clean Up Our Own House First

I commend the many Bishops around the country who are calling on the faithful to defend religious liberty.  How blessed we are to have leaders who will stand up in the face of adversity and shepherd their flocks in this time of need.  Thomas Peters at CatholicVote has an excellent roundup of the various statements from around the country. The message is similar from the various bishops: Our religious liberty is under attack and we must fight back.  I completely agree and I will be on the front lines fighting for my rights as a physician, a father, a husband, and as a Catholic.

There have also been good commentary here and here pointing out that Catholics have basically put themselves into this position by rejecting the Church’s teaching on contraception.  President Obama is a genius in his choice of issues upon which to attack Catholics.  There is no other issue in the Church where more American Catholics have broken with the Church.  This is fairly obvious when 98% of Catholic women are using or have used birth control at some point.  Michael Voris (who occasionally has some good points) made an excellent point that the Bishops, in the fight against the Birth Control Mandate, turn around and find that there is no army behind them.

The bishops have a monumental task ahead of them.  Not only are they fighting against the current administration, but they are basically going to fight against Catholics who have rejected Church teaching on contraception and probably view this mandate as a good thing.  Moreover, the bishops have very little credibility when it comes to defending Church teaching on contraception, and this, in my opinion, is because they have not upheld Church teaching within their own dioceses.  This may be in the preaching from the pulpits, the marriage prep courses, or the counseling couples receive.  There are also many hospitals around the country who purport to be Catholic and yet daily violate Church teaching and the Ethical and Religious Directives, particularly on contraception.

It is high time that these bishops calling for the fight against the Birth Control Mandate also turn an eye to their own dioceses and examine just how this part of Church teaching is being lived out.  In my own diocese of Toledo (and Bishop Blair has issued a call to the fight) I know that a majority of the Catholics do not accept the Church’s teaching on contraception and that the Catholic hospital system does not appear to be upholding Church teaching either.  These bishops need to take steps to ensure that the hospitals in their dioceses are compliant with the ERDs and that these same hospitals aren’t already handing out contraception.  Otherwise, what is the point? If all the Catholic institutions in a diocese are already supporting/paying for contraception, then this mandate doesn’t really change anything.

We need to make sure that our own house is cleaned up before we will have any leg to stand on against outside forces.  It is high time to take action.

UPDATED: HHS Contraception Mandate Not Just About Religious Liberty

When I heard the news on Friday that the Department of Health and Human Services had refused to rescind its ‘Contraception Mandate’, I was angered but not surprised.  When this was originally announced last summer, many individuals, including myself, took up the battle cry, arguing that this was a major assault on religious liberty.  This has once again been the battle cry since Friday.  I am very grateful for Cardinal-elect Dolan and his leadership in this matter, and we must pray that other bishops, clergy, and laity will follow his lead.  In 20 months, if this Rule is not rescinded, the rubber will meet the road and we will truly see where Catholic Institutions and the Faithful stand.

However, there is another aspect to all of this that I would like to point out.  This fight is more than just a fight for religious liberty.  The actions of HHS and Kathleen Sebelius are not just attacks on religious liberty, but this rule is also an attack on the dignity of women and men, the promulgation of bad medicine, and the furthering of the pro-abortion agenda.  First of all, contraception hurts women.  What our society has forgotten is that there is a difference between using someone and loving someone, and this is particularly true in regards sexual morality.  Frankly, when a couple uses some for of contraception, the sexual act is turned into something less than its full potential.  The couple no longer fully give of themselves to one another, and they have frustrated the natural end of the sexual act (the procreative aspect) by deliberately altering their body in one way or another. Since the sexual act is a good for man (that can be misused of course), this frustrating of the act itself cries out against the Natural Law (you can read more on this aspect here and here.) The deliberate loss of the procreative aspect through a use of artificial contraception also changes the act from one of love to one of using one another.  There is no thought of deeper unity that rises out of sexual intercourse, namely the possibility of creating new life through such a profound act.  Rather the act becomes one motivated by pleasure and gratification.  Women become something to be used for pleasure by the man and vice versa.  This objectification arises because the deeper bond associated with sexual intercourse,( ie the family and childrearing) has been thrown out.  It is fairly self evident when you look out into the world and see how more and more people treat sex as an exploit or pleasure without consequences through their one night stands and such.  Are culture has glorified this attitude and now are government is trying to expand this attitude by forcing insurance companies to provide free access to birth control and abortifacients.

This is where we get into the bad medicine.  The underlying attitude of Sebelius’ statement is basically pregnancy is a disease that must be prevented or eliminated.  Thus we have birth control, and when that fails the Plan B abortifacient, and when that fails finally abortion.  Now, first of all pregnancy is obviously NOT a disease, but this is the prevailing attitude that motivates the growing desire for more contraception and abortion.  Women and men have rejected the natural function of a woman’s body in childbearing as they have rejected the natural consequence of the sexual act (procreation).  So now we have our government continuing to reinforce this attitude the pregnancy is a disease.  How long before we are openly seeing children being vilified? How long before a population control agenda is put in place like we see in China? Do not think I am overreacting because what do you think will happen if more and more people reject the contraception/abortion agenda and return to big families? Those who are pushing the contraception mandate will then take action towards large families and children.  Moving on to more bad medicine.  Hormonal contraception and abortifacients are unhealthy for women. Period.  There is a ever growing body of evidence on the negative effects of contraception on a woman’s body and even her mental health.  Increases in cancers, depression, infertility, blood clots, heart disease, etc. And yet, the HHS does not care, and in fact probably rejects these arguments outright.  They would rather have women deal with these consequences than have children.  And you know what happens when woman stop having children? Apparently healthcare costs go down, hmmm, seems like maybe because this is because there are fewer people in the health care system?  Wow, what a solution.  Let us eradicate disease by eradicating people.  This also brings us to the fact that this is bad economic policy as well.  We are on the verge (if not already there) of a demographic winter and are facing the collapse of the economic system because there are not enough workers and not enough people to buy goods.  Moreover, it is the eradication of culture and us as a people by shrinking our population one generation at a time until we are overcome by another people.

There are so many more consequences of having the Federal government force insurances to provide free contraception and sterlization than simply an attack on religious liberty and consciences of so many individuals and institutions.  This attitude and underlying philosophy will not only destroy religious liberty but the nation as a whole through the continued degradation of men and women, the promulgation of a dangerous drug and bad medicine, and the destruction of our economic and social future.  This is very much a part of the culture of death and the pro-abortion agenda.  When contraception fails, there must be a back up in abortion (recent Guttmacher Institute study showed 54% of women who had an abortion were using contraception).

As we face this next attack (which seems to be aimed specifically at Catholics) we must keep in mind that this fight is not just about religious liberty, but about re-establishing what is Good Medicine, and re-establishing the importance of intact, large families in our society.

For more on the negative effects of contraception, see this talk given my Janet Smith.

UPDATE:

Bad Catholic has an excellent post on “Why Contraception is a Bad Idea” where he address the point from natural law in a very understandable manner.

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.

 

Afterwards

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.

-Johanna-

A Few More Thoughts on Fatherhood

During my first year of medical school I was prompted to write a short post about attachment parenting.  It has now been nearly three years since that post was written, and now my son is no longer the quiet little infant, but a wonderfully energetic toddler ever exploring the world.  As I re-read the first post, I had flashes of wonderful memories, and then began to contemplate how my son has grown since then.

I think the most amazing part is the close relationship he and I have.  Despite the fact that I did not feed him with the bottle, or that he preferred to find comfort at his mother for the first two years, he and I have a spectacularly close relationship.  As he continued to grow and began crawling and then walking, eating solids and the like, I began to take as much of an active role as I could.  This was not always easy, being in the midst of medical school.  As he completed the first year of life, I was still in the classroom, and then as he worked his way through the second year of his life, I found myself working very long hours in the hospitals and clinics around Toledo and beyond.  However, I never let this become an excuse for me to not be a father to my son.  In fact, I worked extra hard to either finish my work quickly and efficiently (and competently!) in order that I could have time to spend with my wife and son.  As my son grew older I was able to do more and more with him and began to teach him what I know.  Throughout all of this, both my wife and I made sure to be present for my son and to address his needs as they arose.  Those same aspects of attachment parent I wrote about before, continue to be present in different ways.  As he became more aware of the world and its dangers, he knew that we would be their for him ready to help and to keep him safe.  And as time has gone on, my relationship with him has only grown deeper and stronger.

Today, when my son scrapes his knee or bumps his head, he comes running to daddy so that I can make it better.  Usually it is a simple touch or kiss and he is back to his usually happy self.  Or when he is not feeling well at night, he calls out for me to make him feel better.  Again, a soothing word, a loving touch, and he settles right down.  This does not mean his mother cannot or does not sooth him, but as he grows into his role as a young boy, he turns to his father more and more for instruction and guidance.  Having created a bond early on, I now hope to only deepen that relationship by continuing to be present for him, to answer his questions about the world and to care for him when he stumbles in his journey.

I very much believe that it is because we have continued to reinforce to my son that we will be there for him, that he has become the little adventurer that he is.  He always wants to be outside exploring and playing and he loves people.  When he meets people that we introduce him to, it only takes a few moments that he is climbing in their laps or sharing his toys with them.  And he absolutely adores children.  By immediately attending to his needs as a young child and beyond and being constantly present for him, he has learned to trust us.  Through this secure relationship, he now has the freedom to explore the world and meet new people, knowing that we will be their to help him if stumbles or get scared.

The time since my first post has only reinforced the blessing that attachment parenting is.  The science is there, the anecdotal experience is there, and it just seems to make sense.  Only time will continue to tell if this really works, but as I write this post (wearing my second son in his sling), I know that I will continue to practice attachment parenting and I encourage all of you to consider doing the same.

A Few thoughts on Fatherhood

This was originally written during the first year of medical school when my first born was about 3 months old.  

I thought that I would give just a few thoughts about family life…

Time is inconsistent. When I am studying my psychology lecture it moves slower than molasses in the winter, yet this first year of medical school has passed in the blink of an eye. The same goes for my son. The past three months have gone by so quickly, yet it seems as though he has always been a part of this family. What a joyous three months! Despite the challenges and changes that come with a child, I wouldn’t change a thing.

One of the benefits, or perhaps curses, of being a medical student and a father is the opportunity to compare what I am learning in the classroom to what I see in real life. One of the courses that I am taking this year focuses on the behavioral sciences, which is essentially our first introduction to psychology. We have covered topics from child development to personality disorders. From my perspective, there seems to be a consistent message which focuses on the importance of the parent-child relationship, especially during the first years of life. The beginning of all this is in the attachment between the child and the parents. This attachment begins even before birth, when the child begins to hear his parents’ voices, and continues to develop in the moments after birth when he is placed in the arms of his mother and takes his first feed at her breast. The focal length (the length the child can see) is about 9 inches, the distance between the breast and a mother’s eyes when she looks down at her child, allowing that bond to continue to develop. The mother is intrinsically reciprocal to the child in so many ways. This was the way that we were designed by our Creator, to fit snugly into our mother’s arms, for love! It is vitally important for that attachment to develop between the child and his parents, for that sense of trust and knowledge of love to be established. When this breaks down, the child does not learn what it means to be loved or how to trust, which in turns does not allow the child to learn how to interact with those people around him. Subsequently, the child can have language and learning disabilities, behavioral issues, and poor brain development and physical growth. It all can be affected by that attachment between the child and his parents!

So that is what I have learned, but what have I experienced? The answer: Love and Joy! My wife and I decided from the beginning that we would attempt Attachment Parenting (Dr. Sears). This means that we have exclusively breastfed Joseph on demand. When he is hungry, he eats. Pretty straight forward. Why breastfeed, you might ask? From my training both as a medical student and a NFP instructor, I have learned that breastmilk is the absolute best type of food you can give to a child. According to the studies, Joseph’s nervous system is developing at a faster and more efficient rate than a formula fed child, and he is getting every nutrient that his body could possibly need, in just the right quantities. This is something that formula has never been able to do. Moreover, breastfeeding is wonderful for my wife’s health. By breastfeeding, she is helping to reduce her risk of breast and other cancers and the hormones released during breastfeeding help to reduce her stress levels. This makes my life a little bit easier too! The best part about breastfeeding is the bond that is established between Joseph and Johanna. The physical closeness, the physiology, the spiritual giving of herself, all of these help to create that attachment between Joseph and Johanna that will help Joseph be a well-developed individual. All of this is supported by scientific studies! That was just one aspect of attachment parenting, exclusive breastfeeding on demand. What more? Co-sleeping. This is where my attachment comes into play. From the moment he was born, he has spent each night in our arms. This means that the last thing that he sees before falling asleep is one of us, and we are the first thing he sees when waking up. It is such a joy to hear him peacefully falling asleep, cooing and nestling into the crook of an arm, and perhaps a greater joy to see his bright smile as he awakens to see us watching him. I have few greater pleasures than holding him tight against me as he drifts off to sleep. Co-sleeping also means that we do not ignore his cries of distress either during the day when he is napping (sometimes with us, sometimes on his own) or at night. Rather, we quickly attend to his needs, whether it be an empty stomach or a full diaper. Over a short period of time, Joseph has come to learn that his needs will be met very quickly, and so rarely does he get so fussy, that he is inconsolable. Most of the time, simply picking him up quiets him down. All of this is helping to establish for him a sense of trust and security, which is a vital step in a child’s development from a psychological perspective. In co-sleeping and attending Joseph’s needs I have a great opportunity to develop my relationship and attachment with him, but I think the best time I have to do that is when I get to carry him in his sling. Whenever we go out together (as a family) I have taken on the role of being the baby-carrier. We use a sling, which allows Joseph to cuddle right up to my chest, where he feels me and I feel him. Whether at the store, at a friend’s house, or during Mass, I have Joseph right near my heart, literally. I can look down and see his great blue eyes staring right back at me. Nothing is more precious than the smiles he will give during those times. Yet, it doesn’t stop just with the smiles and looks, but he knows that he is safe when he is against me, so no matter where we are, or who we meet, he always has a smile on his face, because he knows that he is with his mother and father.

As time goes on, I expect that Joseph will continue to grow in his outgoing personality and become a well balanced child, who knows that his parents will always be there for him and who count his needs important enough to sacrifice their own comforts and wants for what is best for him. As a medical student I have come to realize that attachment parenting is the best way to facilitate the raising of a well adjusted child. In every way, this form of parenting promotes what the ‘experts’ say is best for a child. Moreover, this method works with our natural parenting instincts, rather than against what we feel is best for a child. From my experience so far, I can only say that this feels as natural as anything could, and I am ever grateful to God that my experience is reinforced by my medical school education.

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