Dominic’s Birth Story

One of the hardest and most beautiful things about pregnancy is the process of preparing mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally for new life. A very dear priest friend of our family came for a visit at the end of my pregnancy, and in one of our conversations, I pointed to my belly and then the crucifix hanging on our wall and told him, “This (my belly) is that (the crucifix).” It is not in our nature, certainly not in mine, to submit to that kind of pain, but this is the mystery that every mother partakes in during her pregnancy and birth; joy and pain coexist, death is the condition of new life. 

Waiting and Hoping and… Bargaining?

When I was 38 weeks, I headed to our chapel for some solid prayer time. To my surprise and delight, I found Jesus there in his monstrance. Once I settled in, my delight quickly melted into tears. Face to face with the Man who I felt had abandoned me in my past pregnancies and births, I felt overwhelmed by being so intimately in his presence. I had drawn quite close to Mother Mary during my pregnancy, a gift I realized Jesus sent so he could love me through the gentleness and tenderness of our mother which I greatly needed. In fact, I had gone to church with the intention of talking to her, not him, something I told Jesus point blank. Knowing my Mother as I do, I guessed she figured it was time to throw her Son and I together to repair our relationship, so I leaned in. 

I began by going back to my past birth experiences, telling him that I felt abandoned. 

I was there,” he said when I shared my pain. 

Frustrated by his answer and my inability to receive it, I replied, “But I didn’t feel you there. What good is it for you to say you were there if I didn’t feel you?”

Jesus took me to a particular moment during my second C section, a moment where I looked up from the operating table into my husband’s face. It’s one of the few vivid memories I have from that birth. 

“I was in Nick’s eyes,” he told me.
I paused and rested, remembering the tenderness and pain I found in Nick’s eyes as he watched me give over my body for the birth of our son. Now, I revisited that moment, seeing that it was Jesus loving me through my husband. 

I knew he was calling me to surrender, but I couldn’t. Despite the beauty of what he showed me, I couldn’t get past the pain I had carried for years after that birth. “Please don’t hurt me again,” I begged. 

His voice came back to me, firm but full of love. “What was the worst part of last time? It was that you were alone, you were abandoned and no one cared.” 

Yeap, I thought. That truly was the worst of it all. 

He continued, “No matter what happens, this time you are not alone.”

No matter what happens. 

I couldn’t help but chuckle because the truth was I wanted Jesus to tell me the outcome of this pregnancy, and he didn’t. If I knew the outcome, I’d no longer have need for hope. But the knowledge that I wouldn’t be alone was so much, and I took that as the gift it was. 

Once I passed 39 weeks, the waiting and the mind games became intense. Since both my previous babies had been scheduled C sections, I had no idea when or how I would go into labor. I knew that since my body had never done it, the likelihood of labor happening before 40 weeks was slim and I felt the pressure. I was taking all kinds of supplements, walking daily, and doing some spinning babies techniques every evening. When I found myself stressed, I prayed over my belly, practiced deep breathing, listened to a ton of Lauren Daigle (her lyrics were just on point), and tried to keep my mind off of everything. 

Since I had gestational diabetes (GD), I had to schedule a C section for 40 weeks and 6 days, September 23. GD impacts the health and life span of the placenta, shortening the amount of time a woman can safely go past her due date. As part of monitoring GD, I had been doing non-stress tests (NST) to monitor the baby’s heartbeat to make sure all was ok. 

At my final check up just 3 days shy of the C section, I still showed no signs of labor. I asked that my C section be moved to the following Monday to give my body a little more time to which my doctor agreed. She had me schedule an NST and sonogram for the 23rd instead to make sure things were still ok. 

I had done so much to pursue a VBAC – changed OBGYN practices at 30 weeks, hired doulas, seen a chiropractor, exercised, supplemented, ate right and on and on. It gave me the feeling of some control because I was doing things that could have an impact on labor. In reality, none of these things would make my body and baby do anything until they were ready. That lack of control made me realize that no matter how birth happens, it is all about surrender, from my two unwanted C sections to this VBAC I was hoping for now.

On the one hand, it was surprisingly healing to realize that I had no more control now pursuing a VBAC than I had with C sections. At the same time, I was worried that if I did end up with a repeat C section, all that work would have meant nothing. But I knew that couldn’t really be the end result. Life and all its events are not so much about the destination as they are about the process, and the process of this pregnancy as opposed to my others had been dramatically different in incredibly healthy ways. I told my therapist during one of our last sessions before birth that since the process had been so different, no matter what happened, the outcome would be different. No matter what happened…

As a last resort to try to go into labor, I bought the ingredients for a concoction called “midwife’s brew” that was recommended as having a high success rate. I went back and forth for a week about whether to take it. There was just a gut feeling that made me uneasy. I decided I’d wait till after my final NST. 

D-Day, but I Didn’t Know It.

On September 23, I had Nick take me to the hospital for my appointment. Hoping they’d find I was in labor, I decided to pack my hospital suitcase. Five hours after we arrived, my doctor gave us the results of the tests. Both the NST and the sonogram showed things that were not good. Our baby’s heartbeat dipped several times during the NST, and the sonogram did not pick up any practice breathing, which indicated something could be very wrong. My baby had to come out that day, and I would have to have a C section since I still showed no signs of labor. 

My doctor was incredibly kind and sensitive. “I know you wanted a VBAC, and I’m so sorry that’s not going to happen. But because of what I’ve seen, I just can’t let you go home today, the baby has to come out today. Are you ok?” To be seen and acknowledged in that moment in that way by her is what gave me so much calm, and I replied honestly, “This wasn’t what I wanted, but I’m so grateful that I had a chance to at least try for a VBAC.” I asked her if we could discuss what I wanted for the C section, which she eagerly obliged. 

Once she left, my eyes filled with tears. I felt relief that I wouldn’t be leaving the hospital still pregnant. I felt peace that I wasn’t having a C section because my doctor was forcing me but because my baby needed it. And I felt grief for ending up in a place I didn’t want to be. I looked at Nick and his eyes were filled with tears too. Remembering what Jesus told me, I knew I was looking at his pain for me. 

As I waited, the peace began to fade and panic began to set in. I had time to think about my past C sections and the fact I was about to walk into another one. I began reliving the past and all the deep loneliness and abandonment I experienced. Knowing this would be the biggest struggle, I had worked out in therapy some constructive ways to stay present, and had planned them with Nick. I had a small rosary that I could touch, and I practiced deep breathing and repeated to myself, I am here. This is now, not then. 

When the nurse came in to insert my IV, I had no qualms about telling her this was one of my least favorite parts. She met me with so much kindness and compassion. The anesthesiologist came in shortly after to go over the spinal. She struck me immediately as different from the anesthesiologists I had before, and instead of blanking out as she explained the process, I vividly remember her care as we talked. 

My doula, Cathy, arrived shortly after, and we began preparing mentally for the surgery. We went over how the surgery was going to go, and talked through some ways to help me stay present. She reminded me that it was the feast of St. Padre Pio, a great day to be born. 

No More Alone.

The time came for me to walk into surgery, wide awake and alert, one of the most surreal parts of giving birth this way. Nick and Cathy were walking with me and I grabbed Nick’s hand for support. We stopped outside the OR, where they had to wait till the spinal was administered, and I gave Nick a kiss. “See you soon,” I said. 

As I walked into the OR and looked around, my heart rate shot up and my breathing became heavy. It was overwhelming to be back in this situation again. I am here. This is now, not then, I tried to remind myself. The nurses ushered me to the operating table and had me sit. It was hard for me to move, and it wasn’t because I was over 40 weeks pregnant. 

The anesthesiologist was quite upset that my doctor had moved up my surgery by an hour, which was a risk since it hadn’t been a full 8 hours since I had last eaten. She was rather verbose in her disapproval, and I almost asked her to please stop talking. Instead, I sat silent, and began to cry, feeling completely inconsequential. As soon as that feeling hit, she reached over and grabbed my arm, “Are you ok? What’s going on?” My sobs took over, but eventually managed to say, “I haven’t had good experiences in the past.” Both nurses and the anesthesiologist stopped what they were doing and were just with me. One said, “It is overwhelming walking in this room.” Yes, yes it is, and it was such a relief to hear a nurse acknowledge that. 

The spinal was administered with both nurses and the anesthesiologist helping me remain relaxed and present, talking me through every step, and assuring me it was almost over. I’m here. This is now, not then, I whispered over and over till it was done. As the medicine began to take effect, I was helped to lay down on the operating table.

Everything from this moment on was different from the past. I was laid slightly on my side so that my baby didn’t sit on my vagus nerve. The anesthesiologist took special care to adjust my pillow and the rests for my arms, and I was amazed at the difference these small things made to ease the tension. I felt so cared for. As I could feel my abdomen being prepared for surgery, the overwhelm began to take over again. I am here. This is now, not then. Shortly after, Nick and Cathy came and sat beside me. Nick immediately began assuring me, “You’re so brave, honey.” I just locked in on his eyes and cried. 

My doctor arrived shortly after, and surgery began. In the past, I felt that I had to hide all I felt, that no one should know what was going on in my heart and mind because it would make them uncomfortable or show I was weak. After nearly two years of therapy, I had undone that lie. From the moment I felt my abdomen being prepared, my tears began and I wasn’t able to stop them. It was a cathartic release of everything I had within me during my last two C sections, and the mix of emotions I felt in that moment. It was so freeing to let everything out. 

Cathy leaned in and asked me, “What are you thinking right now, Emily?” I paused, not wanting to say the truth, but realizing I needed to. “I didn’t want this,” I replied. That small question meant so much, gave me so much in that moment. For the first time during a birth of my child, I didn’t whitewash my experience. I said the truth for what it was. 

Before I knew it, the anesthesiologist dropped the drape in front of me because my baby was about to arrive. She helped prop my head up, and I watched my son slowly rise out of my belly, first his face, tranquil and unaware of what was happening, then his shoulders, arms, chest, belly, then his little spider legs and feet. I closed my eyes in gratitude, feeling a part of my child entering the world for the first time. “It’s a boy,” was announced, and I laughed. “He’s here,” I said looking at Nick. They suctioned his mouth and nose, and his little cry filled the room. “There you are!” my doctor said joyfully. I laughed again. She held him up, and brought him over to me as they waited to cut his cord. “You can touch him if you’d like.” I tentatively touched his little arms and legs, feeling so lucky that I could.

Once his cord was cut, he was taken to be cleaned up a little. “What’s his name?” the nurses asked. “Dominic Luke.”

The next thing to happen I can only describe as the most healing part of the whole birth. In the past, I was not allowed to hold my babies till I was being moved to recovery. I was left mostly alone on the table as I was stitched closed while Nick got skin to skin. I had always heard that when you first hold your baby, all the pain of childbirth melts away. I had never had that moment. The pain of what I had gone through not only didn’t fade away, but held a chokehold on me for years to come. I don’t remember a moment where I bonded with my first two at all. I was just trying to get through and survive. 

Now, I knew what that moment was. Dominic was brought to me for skin to skin, and it was pure bliss. This time, as my abdomen was being stitched shut, I was looking at my precious baby’s face, feeling his soft skin. He opened his eyes, and I got to look into them. He even started rooting, and I was there to offer him some milk. Nick cradled my head and Dominic’s, tender moments that Cathy graciously captured. 

Before the surgery, I prayed that something be found or happen that would affirm that the C section was the safest and best choice of birth. As my placenta was being delivered, my doctor suddenly said, “Oh my, that is a lot of dark blood! I think you had an abruption. This must be why we saw those dips [in the baby’s heartbeat] on the NST.” At the time, I had no idea what a placental abruption meant, but I would find out later. At my two week check up, I asked my doctor what would have happened if I had gone into labor naturally. “It would have been catastrophic,” she replied without hesitation. 

Safely delivered and in my arms, Dominic and I were wheeled into recovery where he continued to cluster feed for a solid six hours, followed by a welcome five hour nap. 

Just as Jesus promised me three weeks before, the worst of what had happened before did not happen this time. This time, I was not alone, I was cared for, and I was not abandoned. I shouldn’t be surprised when Truth himself delivers on his promises. While I did not get the VBAC I wanted, I finally felt like I gave birth to my baby.

My deepest desire was fulfilled, my greatest hope realized: I was healed.