The (Nine Years Late) John Paul Birth Story

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I had no idea it was labor.  I remember being half asleep at around midnight uncomfortable with what I thought was the baby's position.  I laid there a while slowly waking up and more and more uncomfortable trying to keep the baby from pushing SO hard on my upper abdomen.  It felt like every few minutes he was using my lower uterus to brace himself as he used his legs or knees to push with all his tiny baby strength on the upper part. He would push and I would try to change his position and keep him from doing it so hard.  I'd push back with my hands to try to get him to flip around or choose another spot to play.  But then it kept happening.  It started getting more and more intense and eventually bright little me figured out that maybe this was that labor thing that I was supposed to be ready for.  

Look at her all glammed up and skinny-pregnant.  Not suspecting a thing.

Except I wasn't ready.  Not the way I wanted to be anyway.  I was 38 weeks, 6 days (but who's counting?) and every time the birth was brought up it was assumed I would go past forty weeks because after all, I was a first time mom and that was the norm.  Most of my family members had so it didn't even hit me that I could have that baby sooner.  Two days before I had completed my last day in my brief stint as a youth minister.  A week before I had gotten home from a  week long work camp with my teens.  I was exhausted and looking forward to having at least a week to get all the last minute things done, take a few naps, and breathe for a few seconds before the baby thing was happening. 

At my baby shower.  Two of my other sisters were also due within a 6 weeks of me.

But it was earlier than I anticipated.  I was a bit confused at first.  I wanted to make sure this was the real thing but I had never done this before so I didn't know.  I laid there a little while.  Pretty soon it was obvious that it was at least, something to notice.  Contractions were intensifying and getting painful.  I woke up Brian and let him know what was going on.  Then I ordered requested that he clean up the hundreds of books that we had left stacked in precarious piles and lying around the living room the evening before because it seemed like this might be it.  Oh, that.  Brian had just finished making these monstrous bookshelves to house our vast collection of books in our tiny starter house.  He had just moved the shelves into the extra room (also known as the room where I would birth the baby) hours before.  We had finally been able to pull out our boxes and boxes of books to be sorted on the shelves.  The categorizing and alphabetization had started (no, really) but it got late and we planned to finish in the morning.  So in the midst of early labor, Brian was zipping back and forth from the living room to the office with teetering stacks of books to place on the shelves and out of the way.  I don't know if they ever got alphabetized properly.  

I helped at first.  In between contractions I was feeling tired but good so I would bring in a stack, start lining them up on the shelf, then bend over or lean against the wall and forget everything that I had learned in the small class I had taken from our doctor's office while I sort of breathed and tried to deal with the contraction.  Soon, I wasn't able to play librarian anymore and I paced around from bathroom to living room to office dealing intermittently with the contractions while he finished up installing the books.  Then it was done and our living room was clear and office floor empty.  Which was good because right, we also needed a bed down there.  I wasn't going to have the baby til next week so getting the room ready was on the docket for my week off.  Down came the queen sized bed frame, the box spring, and the mattress from our upstairs bedroom.  Brian squeezed it through our tiny staircase by himself.  I paced.  Brian assembled a bed.  I had no desire to eat or drink or do anything but occasionally use the bathroom and organize things.  I remembered to take my first oral antibiotic because I had tested positive for GBS.  At some point around this time (maybe 4 a.m.?) we called the doctor's office.  I was so nervous to call and wake anyone up too early but Brian finally made the decision that it was time to call.  We got a call back, I think Brian talked to them a bit, maybe I did, too, I don't remember.  We left it that the nurse midwife who worked as his assistant was on her way.
Oh man, up til now I totally thought I looked pretty much the same at the end of each pregnancy.  Totally not true.  38 weeks here, I think.

During this time the bed was finally set up and Brian began bringing in our birth supplies from the closet.  At least I had those ready.  A little folding table was set up for most of the supplies to be on hand and we began making the bed with the now familiar layering - nice sheets, shower curtain, old sheets, chux pads.  This time, though, we had to consult our doctor's info sheets for step by step instructions on how to turn your ghetto 12 x 10 back room into a birthing suite.  We were new at this.

Let's break from our tale for a moment and recognize why I was choosing to have a birth at home with my first baby.  With a real doctor.  No, no, no, it wasn't because I was some natural birth hippie activist or was anti-hospital brave warrior woman and had researched the statistics and had been convicted that home birth was a superior choice.  Nope, not at all.  I got pregnant, didn't have a doctor, and a Catholic friend of mine in the area recommended this guy as a doctor who wouldn't push birth control and respected NFP.  Sounded good to me.  She liked him, he would respect my faith, I went to him.  By God's grace, he just also happened to offer home birth as well as hospital and was a huge supporter of natural birth.  I had no plans on birthing at home but at one of my prenatal appointments the nurse asked what we were doing for the birth, home or hospital.  I'm sure we asked a bunch of questions but in the end, he said it was safe, the drive to the hospital was long, and I had confidence that under normal circumstances this having a baby thing didn't need to be all that complicated.  My experience with natural family planning and understanding my fertility helped me to understand that God probably sort of knew what He was doing when He designed this whole body thing.  It helped me view my body as a work of brilliance designed by a Father who not only knew what He was doing but desired only the best and greatest things for me.  Besides, I'd seen my cat give birth.  I knew odds were that I could do it, too.

I wanted to birth drug-free.  It just seemed instinctive that I didn't need medications to birth and that both baby and I would be better off doing it the way God had designed.  It was also convicted deep within my heart that bearing the pain of childbirth was a way that I personally could be able to enter deeply into The Story for which I had and continue to offer my life.  The beautiful, brutal story beginning with a man and woman who defy and fall and as a consequence for their sin, this life becomes messy and painful, sometimes excruciatingly so.  I knew that I needed to be a part of that story, to pay my dues and pay my respects in a way.  "Women shall be saved through childbearing," the apostle says.  It just seemed to make sense for me to do it this way, as agonizing as it might be.

And agonizing it was.  The contractions intensified.  I moaned and paced and leaned against the wall.  The whole time is a blur, really.  I know the midwife got there and checked me but I have no idea what she said.  She went to go try to sleep on the couch and Brian laid down to sleep on the bed.  I felt alone but it was okay.  I remember trying to sit on the giant play ball I had bought for just this purpose (I was far too cheap to spring for the real exercise ball) and the pain became so intense I popped right back up.  I chose to walk and move and get my baby out that way.  I was so tired.  At some point I remember the midwife coming back in to check me and she being surprised that I was far along and would soon be pushing.  She called for the doctor to come and she had to convince him that I really was going this fast as a first time mom.  By this time, it was probably after 9 a.m.  I was on the bed and I remember her asking if I wanted her to break my water as it would probably make things go faster for me.  At the time it sounded fine to me and as soon as that water broke, the sensations totally changed became even more crazy intense and we were at push time.  (Looking back, I wish I had said no but I was pretty clueless about the topic and I trusted her.)  All I remember after this was the doctor arriving just before ten, him scrambling to get his supplies ready, and a few minutes later needing to push.  They coached me and counted to 10 and held my legs back (again something I would change) while I couldn't do anything BUT push.  I remember them telling me to not push in between and I tried but it was completely in vain.  My body was pushing whether I wanted to or not.  They could see his head!  It took three of those crazy mammoth pushes and at 10:13 a.m. our amazing baby entered the world.

I was in shock and awe and my sweet baby was placed on my chest.  A BOY!  Somehow I sort of knew it was a boy.  I didn't cry.  I just stared and held and felt the sweet (albeit temporary) physical relief.  I was in another world.  My body felt like a limp noodle.  But my baby was here.  His cord was allowed to pulse for several minutes before Brian cut it.   

Note to first time moms:  This is not the end.  I know the third stage of labor is mentioned in some birth classes but you really do have to get that placenta out, too.  I don't remember exactly how this one happened.  I'm sure there were a few more contractions and more pushing.  My pushing in the third stage always feels so forced.  I don't have a super strong urge then and my body feels so weak.  But somehow or other we did it.  I also was able to start nursing my babe sometime during this time.  I had a pretty bad tear from that quick pushing despite my doctor's attempt at warm compresses and massage.  I was stitched up sometime during this time and it hurt like the dickens.

His labor was about 10 hours long, give or take, since I didn't realize those were contractions at the beginning.  

Weighing our babe.  You can thank me for cropping out as much as I could from the bottom there.

We named him John Paul (my choice) after the pope who played such a huge role in our reversion to the Faith and our views on love and sexuality.  His newborn exam was performed and he weighed a sweet little six pounds 15 ounces.  Pink, healthy, beautiful.  The doctor and midwife cleaned up, I was able to get up (SUPER dizzy at first) and try to use the bathroom, and I remember being slightly shocked by the fact that I still looked six months pregnant.  I wasn't prepared for that part!  I'm not sure what I was expecting immediately after but I remember thinking, "wow, I guess I'm fat now."  I didn't realize at that point how fast your uterus shrinks down especially with nursing!  About an hour or two after the birth we were left with our baby with next to no idea what we were doing.  While hard this was actually really neat because we figured it out and followed our instincts.  (One of the office nurses did come by the next day to check me and the baby and to give me my Rhogam shot and they were definitely available by phone had we needed them.)  

A few hours later our neighbors knocked at the door, worried.  I was in the other room and Brian assured them that, though they had seen a doctor going back and forth from the house, everything was fine and the baby was here.  (Note, if you have neighbors in close proximity, tell them if you plan to have a home birth.)  I stayed hidden with the baby.  Later that day, we had to host in-laws and while I wanted to share the joy with people it was very hard.  I was in so much pain and had no idea what I was doing.  I was moving around WAY more than I should have been and didn't even know that I should be laying and getting some cold compresses for my very very sore perineum.  I wish I had had someone who knew how to care for me check in and just make me stay in bed while they fed me and gave me what I needed to care for my lower half.  One of the drawbacks of home birth from which I have learned.  But at least they brought subs with them.  I was totally craving a sub.

I remember a feeling like I had never felt before as I surrendered my baby to the arms of other people.  It was wild.  I literally ached to hold my baby again and it was all I could do to not jump up and grab him back during the 23 seconds I would let someone else (besides Brian) hold him.  Brian was safe. 

That night was surreal.  We went to bed and fell into a dead sleep.  A few hours later we were woken by a cry and for several moments were so confused as to WHAT that sound was.  Right!  Baby!  We were still downstairs and John Paul was sleeping in the bassinet next to us.  That would be our temporary bedroom for a few weeks, at least.  For weeks when he would wake at night it was a full blown two person Olympic event.  One person had to soothe him while we changed his little diaper and then I needed Brian's help to get him nursing.  I couldn't bear to hear that cry and I'm not sure he ever really cried during those first few months.  I would really have this interior physical reaction to it so I would try to tend to him before he could get distressed.  The sound of a crying baby (even not my own) still cuts through me like nothing else.  I think maybe it's supposed to be that way.  

Those first few weeks were beautiful and hard.  I was in love with my son but recovery was very difficult.  I had no idea how to care for stitches (even though I had been told...seriously I was in some sort of hazy sleep-deprived dream world and completely thrown off by BABY).  It took me weeks to not feel sore and heavy and car rides were brutal.  It wasn't until we were six weeks down the line that nursing wasn't tear-inducing, toe-curlingly painful.  We did see a lactation consultant.  I was making tons of milk, he was growing fine, it was just that I was too impatient with getting a proper latch and would let him nurse with his tiny mouth not completely open.  I was completely committed to nursing and eventually either he learned to latch better or my breasts toughened up enough to handle it because nursing became somewhat easier.  It took a good seven months before I wasn't constantly afraid of leaking.  I know now that I don't have any struggles with creating milk and have to nurse only one side at a time in the beginning or I make way too much and my letdown is then crazy fire hydrant strong.  But in the beginning I followed the standard "rules" of nursing on both sides each session (even if one side wasn't empty) which created  a cycle of too much milk/crazy letdown ---> baby swallowing air and getting too much fore milk ---> gassy/refluxy baby ---> nurse to soothe (but not block feeding so stimulating too much production) ---> too much milk/crazy letdown.  Repeat.  Thankfully, he still thrived despite the reflux symptoms and occasional projectile spitting.

Emotionally, having a baby threw me for a total loop.  We were pretty much on our own.  The reality of motherhood was shocking to my system and the complete dependence of this tiny very real and vulnerable person was a huge shift in my worldview.  It was almost scary to me how important I was now in the life of another person.  We got through it, of course, and are probably stronger for it.  There were many many blessings in the way things happened for us, even with the struggles.  I am confident in my instincts as a mother.  Being on our own in those trying years cemented our little family unit.  We have been able to create healthy space between our little nuclear family and extended family and friends while still appreciating how important they are to us.

While there are some things I would change, the way John Paul's birth happened was such a crazy profound blessing in so many ways.  I changed on that day.  I felt like a completely new person.  I became fully a mother and if you'll permit me to use the most obnoxious word available, I truly did feel empowered by experiencing his birth the way I did.  I felt like people must feel after having run a marathon but ten times so.  I knew with every fiber of my being that I could and should be this baby's mom.  I knew I had it in me to do anything I needed to do for this baby.  That confidence was necessary for me to get through some incredibly challenging first weeks (not to mention later life events) and I'm so grateful for a doctor and husband who believed without a doubt that I could birth naturally.  Without that support I'm not sure what would have happened or if my experience of motherhood would be different.  I'm glad it happened the way it did.  That said, and with that dichotomy that God so loves to present to us over and over, the actual reality of motherhood has been one of the most humbling experience in all my life.  From the vulnerability of birth to the difficult recovery to the present day mothering of the nine year old who still holds my heart I am humbled that I with all my faults and quirks could be his mother.  I thank God that He let me.


  1. Oh my gosh, I loved this story. Especially the part about how wild you felt when someone would hold John Paul. I was the same way with my John-Paul! I was like a nazi...wash your hands, are you sick, sit down first...ok now you can hold him for 10 seconds, and oh I think I need to feed him. After that first baby, I was like, "Can someone please give my arms a break?" Funny how things change :)

  2. How cute are you??? How cute is your hair?? This is totally how I remember you from back in the day. JP is adorable. It's so funny how even as a baby, he is recognizable as his 9 yr old self! And btw: I get the rhogam shot too. SO fun. And breastfeeding is always, alwaaaaays a killer for me in the beginning. Great birth story!!:)

  3. Thanks for sharing your story. It brought back many memories and I loved seeing the new born picture of John Paul again. It amazes me how much of the nine year old look of JP there is in this new born picture.

    Grandma & Grumpy

  4. Beautiful...thanks for sharing!

  5. What an awesome birth story. I love that you were able to be home and have a doctor there. I was just wondering why you wish your legs weren't held back to push, that's what my doctor always wants me to do too. Just curious. You sound like you handle the pain very well. I don't receive the epidural either for the same reasons you mentioned you don't, but the back pain is always so intense for me, I'm always screaming, "It's time!" to everyone.

    He is so adorable and still looks so similar to his baby picture!

    1. I think perhaps it made the tear more likely to happen. It does help with leverage if you're on your back and gives your pushes extra power but since I was already pushing hard and fast anyway, I don't think my perineum had time to stretch. Maybe if he had come out a bit more slowly I wouldn't have torn? I like the idea of just letting a woman be in whatever position is most "comfortable" at the time. That said, for my two births where I did have more freedom I ended up on my back both times anyway!

  6. Sweet. I am always amazed when I think about how the doctor that delivered John Paul was the same doctor that delivered my Andy at home 18 years earlier. It was by chance that my regular birth doctor was on vacation and he filled in, so only 1 of my five boys shares the same doctor. It also brings a smile to my face when I think of the centuries filled with women having their babies at home and how now people sometimes give us a sideways glance (as "how could you") when we tell them our stories. Love to you and all your home grown boys, Aunt Kathy

  7. Great birth story and I think you did a good job remembering. I remember that same feeling of not wanting anyone else, besides my husband, to hold my baby (I still feel that way and he's 23 -- not so much the holding but the whole mama bear instinct) . The same goes for not being able to stand hearing a baby cry.

  8. Beautiful! And he is looks like himself 9 years later!!

  9. Oh Mary, what a sweet story. Thank you so much for sharing with us! Writing the story nine years later allows you to write it with a deeper level of reflection, which I think is very cool. :) Birth is so very powerful and holy! What a beautiful beginning for your family.


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