After parading son after son (times four) into this church for seven years, only to walk in one day with our newborn frill-bedecked daughter, I was not entirely surprised by this exclamation - you might say I expected it - but truth be told, almost nothing prior to this moment at the church was expected when it came to the arrival of Catherine Lily in our lives.
It was not a case of "keep trying until you get a girl," (though now that she is here, we are delighted) but more of a complete and total surprise (for the NFP-followers, I was charting meticulously, but evidently missed something).
Our family of six would be seven, and throughout the pregnancy, the utter shock that I felt really didn't go away. I still feel it! I did not deign to hope that we were having a daughter, though in retrospect, I had a tiny inkling that I made efforts to ignore. I felt it would be a disservice to the human being that existed within to hope for a girl or a boy. I was convicted early on to keep it a secret and leave it in God's hands.
Catherine's birth is a complicated story. It seems every other birth had its part to play in the process of hers. Martin, our fourth son's birth was a bit traumatic with a shoulder dystocia holding up his entry into the outside world. He was absolutely fine and became pink and regular after a short hospital stay at my side. Yet, having a grey, still baby laid on my chest came back to me over and over as I pictured birthing this new baby.
Though I would tell myself over and over, "totally different baby, and totally different birth" I struggled with getting my head around birthing again. My first was an emergency c-section which in my opinion was an emergency caused by inducing labour simply because I was 10 days past 40 weeks, and not because the baby himself or because I was in any distress. My second, third and fourth were VBACs delivered by teams of midwives in the hospital at almost 42 weeks, though on number 2, I figured out that our archaic way of dating pregnancy doesn't account for women conceiving at any day other than the 14th day of their cycle, and I'm a day 19-24 ovulator (what a term!). All of the boys weighed 10 lbs or close to. Carter was almost 11 lbs. All births are hard in different ways, but when you've had a lot of experiences, I think its difficult to put aside what you know could potentially happen.
I dove deep into prayer over the course of this pregnancy, taking time to pause whenever I could, turning to God to calm my thoughts and quell my fears. "God is faithful," kept coming back to me over and over throughout the nine months of waiting, which gave me incredible peace. The assistance and listening ear of a sympathetic doula made also made things so much better. Just talking things through and texting with a woman who'd felt what I felt and had been through the births of her own children gave me incredible strength.
In the days leading up to Catherine's birth, I had utter and complete faith that she would come in her own time and that my body could do this. There were concerns about how large she was, but because I'd had 4 other big babies, it was not on my radar to worry about. What did worry me a bit was her position. I had hopes of labour happening, and contractions began and then stopped several times. She kept coming back to the same position, no matter how many things I did to try to get her to engage in my pelvis and help labour along. Resting her head on my hip bone in sunny-side-up position was not ideal, and since Martin had also been in a weird position at birth, though I only know he came sideways, shoulder dystocia was on my mind. I also didn't have any idea when she was conceived, which is actually pretty important at the end of pregnancy, because when you reach 42 weeks, the risks to maternal and baby health increase significantly. If I'd known, as I'd known with my other babies that she'd been conceived later, I'd also have eliminated that from my list of reasons to worry.
My midwives, following the community standard of care, had me see an OB-GYN about halfway through the pregnancy to consult on the risks of shoulder dystocia, because once one has happened, the risks of another statistically increase. The OB consults were nervewracking and made me a little angry actually considering that I had chosen midwifery care as a result of what I still feel was a pretty bad experience with my first child with the typical OB care, but when I met the doctor, she turned out to be the very same doctor who had preformed my first c-section, and actually, the only redeeming part of my c-section experience. She had talked about the surgery with me and agreed to close the layers of my uterus individually rather than all together to decrease the risk of rupture with subsequent children. I felt validated and heard by her in the midst of trauma. The fact that out of the many OB's who work in this city, I'd see the one who had already safely removed a baby from my body was more than a strange coincidence. Near the end of the pregnancy, I saw her one more time, and though she was insistent on the high risks that large babies, a previous c-section, a previous shoulder dystocia and a tendency to go past 41 weeks present in my case, she wasn't pushy about simply doing a c-section and seemed amicable to helping me go through another VBAC if she could.
Sure enough, I went past 41, then right up to 42 weeks. I found myself in a consult at the hospital with an OB and my midwives who outlined the risks of going past 42 weeks gestation - primarily, stillbirth. During this consult, an ultrasound showed that Catherine was still sunny-side-up and still not engaging in my pelvis. I trusted that my midwives had brought me to the hospital out of the best intentions to help inform my choices, and as the doctor and resident outlined my options, I felt compelled to listen, but also to pray for right judgement. My midwives were willing to wait with me for labour to happen, should I choose to continue past 42 weeks. In fact, as I was in the consult room and throughout that day, pre-labour contractions had begun, so I thought the potential was there.
I was offered an induction that night, but exhaustion took over, and I simply wanted to go home, sleep and potentiallly give my body a chance to begin labour for real where I felt safe and loved.
We had a lot to think about as we drove home from the hospital to our sleeping children. We stopped and got Blizzards at Dairy Queen. Meanwhile, I had light contractions all the way home. I felt conflicted with all the information before me. An induction wasn't entirely a great option because the OB felt the best course of action would be to break my water, then if labour didn't ramp up, to use pitocin. My bad experience of pitocin and breaking my membranes with my first bubbled to the surface. Since baby wasn't engaged in my pelvis, the potential for cord prolapse was also high, so what the OB would try to do was upon breaking my water and contractions, was to move the baby into a better position so that the cord couldn't escape before the head. That sounded like a painful process, stressful for both me and the baby. Basically, a recipe for another c-section. I just wasn't feeling confident about simply waiting either.
I sobbed out all my worries to Joseph, and received comfort from both him and from the doula we were working with. I prayed and prayed through broken sleep, saying over and over, "God, what is your plan? Could you let me know your plan?"
At 4 a.m. Joseph stirred during one of these times and I woke him up to talk. I laid out my thoughts: "Something about just waiting for labour doesn't feel right. This induction we are talking about really doesn't feel right. I love this baby so very much. I would do anything for this baby, so even though I really don't want a c-section, and the recovery will be intense and lets face it - will really set us back as a family, at this point that feels like the right move. Weird?"
"That sounds reasonable," Joseph agreed.
The next day, I laid out this thinking to my midwife, my doula, and eventually to the OB. The surgery was scheduled, and since I wasn't to eat or drink anything, and the protocol for prepping had to begin prior, I spent the day napping, stretching and having light contractions that never got any stronger at the hospital. I listened to Gregorian chant and Benedictine nuns as I drifted in and out of sleep and prayer, wondering all day if this was the right move, but also thinking about my overwhelming love for this baby, whoever they may be, and my desire for him or her to come safely. Joseph waited patiently, talking to me, napping, getting food while I napped, and comforted me as I worried about afterwards. As always, he was a calming presence, and my anchor to what mattered.
The surgery was weird. We had a little meeting prior with the doctor, nurse and anesthetist. My anesthetist was a tall, willowy, red haired woman with red-rimmed glasses. I remember her vividly because it was in her that I trusted to get me through the surgery. The spinal took awhile to take hold - I could still feel the pokes on my tummy when they were hoping I was numb - so they had to invert me until feeling was gone. I breathed a sigh of relief when I couldn't feel poking anymore. But halfway through the surgery, what was pulling and pressure turned to actual pain. I let the anesthetist know, and she gave me some other pain meds in my IV. But again, pressure turned to actual pain.
"I'm fine," I told myself, willing my body to be still.
"Ow. Pain. I feel pain again," I said as calmly as possible.
I was given something more once again, and though I was worried I'd be feeling the full extent of pain by the end of the surgery, I bore what I could calmly until it was again unbearable.
This time the anesthetist gave me fentanyl, which she said might make me a little foggy. It did, to say the least. I'd really wanted the curtain separating me from seeing the big reveal to be lowered, but concerned with my pain, my red bespectacled hero simply concentrated on helping me through. When our girl was finally born from my belly, I was in a state of consciousness but could not form words. They just would not come out.
"We have a girl. It's a girl." Joseph said to me, and the doctors and nurses who knew that we had four boys ooed and ahhed.
A happy "Ohhhh" was all that I could say, though I wanted to say some actual coherent words. I closed my eyes as they cleaned her up, weighed her and swaddled her.
"Oh, goodness," my surgeon exclaimed, "You must've had angel on your shoulder. There is a true knot in this umbilical cord."
Joseph took a photo to show me. Indeed, the umbilical cord was knotted. Later, the OB would say that she'd never seen births with a true knot involved go smoothly. Could this have been the reason a c-section felt like the right call? I breathed a sigh of relief at the thought of the trauma we'd avoided for our baby, even though the surgery was riddled with moments of pain. "I've just experienced a miracle," I thought to myself, glad that I had trusted those feelings as I'd prayed so intensely the night before. The complete fog and delirium of those moments were also joy-filled at the thought of a daughter, and the thought that this part of it would soon be over.
Joseph placed her next to me and I greeted her. She was breathtakingly beautiful with chubby cheeks and a cute little nose, and a little bit of dark hair. We named her Catherine but didn't decide a middle name right away. I looked at her as I was being sewn up feeling elated and mystified that I'd just birthed a daughter. "A girl." I thought to myself.
When we got my pain under control in the recovery room, we got to bond. I held her to me and marveled at the fact of having done this all over again. With each of my babies after the first, the experience of having a newborn has felt strangely new, though I know a little better on number five what to expect. It's the mystery of this new little person, this strange-yet-familiar little being in my arms that leaves me in awe. The old familiar poetic thoughts, communicated only through my arms around her and my eyes meeting her eyes began to take shape: Beautiful. You are just beautiful. You were just inside me a few hours ago. You were surrounded by my body, nourished by my body, and now you're out. So little. Perfect. Utterly and completely perfect. Welcome. Welcome to the world little one.
The next day, I thought about the day she was born. May 1st. The feast day of St. Joseph the Worker. In my mind, I pictured a statue of St. Joseph holding the child Jesus and a lily.
"What about Catherine Lily?" I asked Joseph, explaining the significance. I also think it no coincidence that the feast of Catherine of Siena was only a few days before on the 28th of April.
Nearly three months later, I've got a happy, chubby (14 lb) baby kicking and cooing next to me as I type. Recently baptized in the very same church her father and I were baptized in, it seems the graces and sweet mercies of her birth and little life keep pouring on us like sweet rain. Each day I am extremely thankful for her, and even for the pain and circumstances of her birth. Indeed, she is a marvelous blessing.