Breaking the Mold: A Birth Story
It is true that each birth is unique.
It is also true that my memory quickly fades about the difficult details.
But I do know two things:
- I always gave birth in a hospital
- Every labor was fast and furious.
Our little Gwendolyn broke the mold.
We were newly pregnant at the beginning of 2020 and our family had our sights set on heading to New Zealand. In early March, Matt and Mallory visited Dunedin in the South Island. Before leaving, Fr. Mark said our family was welcome to come serve as missionaries and his diocese would help us obtain a two-year religious worker visa. Praise God!
When Matt returned to Louisiana on March 18, I knew we had a small-ish window to get to New Zealand before mid-August (when I would be 36 weeks pregnant and could no longer fly), but I was optimistic. It could happen! Afterall, we got the “yes” we had been praying for. Now all we needed to do were some minor formalities – take visa photos, update our resume, schedule health exams.
Then coronavirus struck. On March 25, the Prime Minister of New Zealand ordered the country on a strict level-four lockdown. And it remained that way for nearly five weeks.
Just in case we didn’t get to New Zealand, it was time to start prenatal care. A friend recommended a midwife who had delivered her baby in January. I called the midwife and set up a consultation. She lives in the neighboring town and offered to meet me at the local McDonalds. As a certified midwife in Louisiana, she explained I had two options for delivery: at a birth center or at home. If we were planning to deliver at home, then she would come to our house for every prenatal appointment. I told her about our five previous birth experiences – fast and furious – and that didn’t phase her at all.
Matt and I looked over the midwife’s contract and decided to consider a home birth. To be completely honest, at that point I was still dreaming of delivering this baby in New Zealand and thought it would be highly convenient for my prenatal care to be at home.
In June another friend went into labor with her first child. She opted to remain at home for several hours thinking she was still in the early labor phase. As soon as she got into the car to head to the birth center, her body was ready to push. By the grace of God, they drove safely across town and made it to the birth center just before the baby was born. Only a few hours later they returned home as a family of three.
The birth center is located about 40 minutes from our house. And knowing my history with fast labor, I was starting to believe a home birth might actually be our best bet. Just the thought of racing over to the birth center while in labor and then turning around to come back home a few hours after giving birth, did not appeal to me in the least.
Since the global pandemic was still surging, I finally accepted that we wouldn’t be traveling to New Zealand before our baby’s birth. So, by process of elimination, we began to prepare for our first home birth.
We asked two friends to be on-call to come take the other children out of the house whenever labor began. Our midwife gave us a list of items we would need on hand for the home birth. Did you know I love lists? I do. Checking off each item brings me joy. It makes me feel both confident and prepared. We assembled all the supplies and waited.
And then, a category 4 hurricane was coming our way and we had to evacuate our home.
Did you know that large pressure changes, which happen during major storms, can induce labor?
Wait a minute. I just said yes to our first home birth and now I might be delivering this baby in someone else’s (a complete stranger’s, nonetheless) house? Lord have mercy!
For several weeks I had been feeling mild Braxton Hicks contractions off and on. But the night before we evacuated, I had much stronger and more regular contractions. As I laid down to sleep that night I prayed:
Please Lord, let this baby stay put and wait out the storm.
Thanks Be to God, the storm passed and I didn’t have a single contraction. We returned home and once again, we were poised and ready to meet our baby.
Days turned into weeks. Baby’s due date came and went.
And we still hadn’t settled on a name. We have named each of our children in honor of a family member.
On the morning of Sept. 14 we joined our missionary community at Big Woods for prayer outside the office. I was six days past my due date. During the time to offer our personal prayer intentions, one woman prayed that I would go into labor that day, on the feast of The Exaltation of The Holy Cross.
It was a Monday. All four girls were in school. I asked a friend to watch Daniel so Matt and I could enjoy a lunch date out. We ordered thai food. And for the millionth time, when a stranger asked when I was due, I responded:
Any day now.
On the evening of Sept. 14 we tucked all the kids in bed around 8pm.
I finished folding a load of laundry and then laid down in bed. I opened the book I was reading: Hail Holy Queen by Scott Hahn and got swept up in the narrative. I realized it was getting late, so I figured I would finish the chapter and turn out the light. My pregnant belly was so large I couldn’t quite reach the bedside table while lying down. So I rolled out of bed and stood up. At that moment my water broke.
These were the last words I read:
It was 10:45pm. All the kids were sleeping soundly and tomorrow was a school day. My first instinct was to let the kids sleep in their own beds and have our friends come stay at home with them. Our home birth supplies were still packed from our hurricane evacuation a few weeks prior. Matt and I could simply put the supplies in the car and head over to an empty retreat cabin.
Matt called our friends and the midwife to fill them in on the new plan. Our friends arrived shortly after 11pm and we set them up with blankets to sleep on the couches. The contractions were becoming stronger, so it was time to head to a cabin.
We drove across the Stillwater property and pulled up next to cabin #4. Matt unloaded the car and unpacked the birth supplies while I started pacing around the cabin. The retreat cabins are clean and simple: five sets of bunkbeds and two sinks are in the main area, plus a bathroom with two toilets and two showers. The only decoration is a wooden crucifix on a wall.
My contractions were getting closer and more intense. Matt updated the midwife and she said she was on her way. While we waited for her to arrive, we started praying the rosary. It was technically still Monday, so we prayed the Joyful Mysteries: The Annunciation, The Visitation, The Nativity, The Presentation and Finding the Child Jesus in the Temple.
Remember how all my previous births were at a hospital and all my labors were fast and furious?
This labor was different.
It was as if I could hear the Lord whispering in my heart:
There’s no need to rush. Let this be gentle.
Yes the contractions were intense, but I was standing and breathing through them.
Between contractions I felt completely at peace and could rest fully without any anxiety at all.
I wasn’t in a hospital. I wasn’t even in my home.
I was in a cabin with only my husband.
We were praying together.
Our baby was coming soon!
Just after 1am my midwife arrived. She quietly unpacked her birthing supplies while I continued pacing and swaying. Both Matt and I were relieved she was there with us. We couldn’t wait to see our baby girl face to face.
At 2:25am on Sept. 15th, our daughter was born.
Matt held her first. Once I got settled on a mattress on the floor, Matt passed her into my arms. There is no sweeter reward for the hard work of labor than holding my child for the first time.
The midwife left us at 5am. Matt was fast asleep on a bunk. I was nursing our newborn daughter. We hadn’t yet decided on her name. Several months back Matt had said in jest, we could call her “Our Lady.” It became a running joke for the rest of the pregnancy.
She was due to arrive on Mary’s birthday, Sept.8, but was born on the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. Our Blessed Mother has many titles, but this is one I wasn’t familiar with. What did it mean?
On my Facebook newsfeed, a local parish shared this prayer:
Now what about her first name, Gwendolyn?