Where should I begin?
Pregnancy with Marielena was almost identical to my pregnancy with Alejandro, complete with 4 months of nausea, early-on Braxton Hicks, and limited mobility due to an aching back and a very sensitive belly. HOWEVER, I also had an almost exclusively BREASTFEEDING baby attached to my hip during this time. Yup, Alejandro was almost 7 months old when Matt and I joyfully found out we were pregnant with another baby! If you are wondering how I handled pregnancy while breastfeeding and having babies 15 months apart, I’ll be working on a post about that soon! For now, suffice it to say it is definitely a unique and beautiful struggle! :)
You formed my inmost being;
You knit me in my mother’s womb.
I cannot describe the feelings and emotions a mother goes through, just knowing she has a child within her who depends completely upon her body for life. It is enough to cause her to “glow” with joy, and it is also enough to cause some pretty intense anxiety at times too – both for the mom and the dad of this precious life. Before I head into the full-on birth story with Marielena, I want to first talk about some of the anxiety Matt and I encountered, because it is a very real part of our journey through my pregnancy with her.
When I was around 5 ½ months pregnant and after finding out she was a girl (I was sooooo excited, even though I had already sensed her gender just as I had with Alejandro), my OB called me and told me there was a concern about the space between the ventricles in her brain, although it was nothing to be truly concerned about yet. I then calmly texted Matt about it, hoping he wouldn’t worry since my OB had been very cautious not to worry me. As soon as I heard his voice on the phone however, I suddenly burst into tears. Just the thought of something happening to my baby was completely terrifying to me and even though I’m not an overly emotional person as a rule, when pregnant my emotions quickly become a free-for-all!
We had to complete a series of special ultrasounds in which we were told that there was a possible concern of Marielena having some sort of disability, and that her head growth should be monitored. If her head grew too quickly, they discussed the possibility of Hydrocephalus, and a procedure (worst case scenario) for delivering her early so she could get a head shunt put in. This was all very overwhelming, and we prayed for God’s guidance. We knew we did not want unnecessary testing done when we would gladly accept any disability God had in store for our children, but we also wanted her to be safe. During this time, Matt and I wanted to be able to research and look at the measurements ourselves, not just accept everything the doctors and specialists were saying. Parenting is a huge responsibility, and we didn’t want to put all our faith into other human beings who could just as easily overlook something important.
This is when Matt looked up several studies as well and told me his findings: that many children who are born with irregular space between ventricles are fine, some have minor learning difficulties, some more pronounced, and that it was rare for the spaces to become smaller. Also, the particular measurements that Marielena showed was decreasing and in the “safe” range. Okay, I have to admit something right now. I am not one to trust doctors, and I am completely pro-life, so if a test endangers my baby’s life in any way, I will NOT be okay with that. HOWEVER, I was also pregnant and open to suggestion in a way that I am not usually. The pressure from specialists to look further into this potential condition through more [non-invasive] tests at Stanford with the unspoken hint that doing otherwise would raise questions about my motherhood was overwhelming. ESPECIALLY since I was also taking care of my toddler and working my part-time job. Was I suffering from anxiety a bit? YES. Matt showed me what he had seen and what his findings had shown about the measurements. I, of course, did not believe him and this was a point of contention between us for a bit. Meanwhile, my OB let me know that I should continue special ultrasounds to monitor the growth because the spacing was abnormal, and informed me of the procedure we would want to consider in the worst-case scenario. She was very sweet and also a mother, and I really appreciated her, but was definitely overwhelmed.
Matt went with me to the last ultrasound I took with a specialist. Alejandro was with us, and I have to say it is amazing to have your 1-year-old in the room with you while seeing your unborn baby’s ultrasound on a big screen. Watching his curious face look up and see his sister was precious. Matt was prepared to discuss things with the specialist and she told us the growth rate and spacing was, in fact decreasing. I’m really not sure why they didn’t catch this sooner. Matt affirmed the fact with her that this was actually considered rare, and she said yes. The danger was past. Needless to say, I was relieved and felt very guilty for refusing to believe my husband because he “wasn’t a doctor.”
We both believed this was miraculous and God’s hand was upon us and our family. I think it is very important to reiterate here, that we would have welcomed our daughter happily with whatever cross God wanted to give her with – whether she had difficulties in learning, or any form of disability. The issue for us was that we wanted her alive. With all the concerns and thought of a risky and early birth, Matt and I found ourselves more worried that she would even be able to make it into the world. After knowing that this was no longer an issue, we felt like now we could enjoy the rest of my pregnancy and look forward to Marielena’s birth.
Marielena’s Birth Story:
Matt and I did a lot of research on natural labor this time around. With Alejandro, I felt so incapable of handling the unknown pain of childbirth, and gave in to the epidural during transition. Because of the excruciating months of recovery from birth and pain due to nursing that followed, I truly believed it would not have been as rough if I could have made it without any pain medication since:
1.) I was so out of it that I didn’t even remember to keep Alejandro with me for the hours following his birth to breastfeed him for longer than a few moments. Because of this, his blood sugar had dropped and he was taken away from me (Matt of course followed him!) to be fed formula – something we had previously been adamant against. Then the next day we were pressured into feeding him yet another full bottle of formula when I was wrongfully told I didn’t have enough milk. I didn’t want to be this disconnected from my next baby.
2.) Also, I had heard and read that women who deal with the pain of childbirth naturally are able to recover faster, and I needed all the help I could get since I was still taking care of a young 15-month-old at the time. Matt was going to get 2 weeks off, and I was hoping that after that I could manage both babies without worrying about passing out like I did the last time (turns out I underestimated childbirth-related blood loss and anemia!).
3.) Third, I didn’t feel any rush of endorphins or “bonding chemicals” right when Alejandro was born, and that bothered me! That’s not to say that I didn’t immediately love him when I tearfully held him in my arms for the first time, because I did. I just didn’t feel the high many natural birth moms go through. I was convinced that if I could go through it naturally, this high would also be healthier for my baby and I, and my natural recovery process. *Note – My bonding moment with Alejandro came later that night, when he was crying in his crib next to me while poor Matt was passed out asleep in his armchair. I inched close to the crib from my bed, carefully scooped him out, and slept with him in my arms the rest of the night. THIS was our moment. And let me tell you, once that moment hit and my mommy instincts were activated, it was FIERCE. I don’t think it will ever go away. ;)
So Matt and I watched The Business of Being Born, read a book called The Bradley Method and discussed often the benefits and insights it gave us about husband-led coaching. We loved the idea of this because I had read a lot of successful natural birth stories in which the woman hired a doula to coach her through the pain. We couldn’t afford one and honestly neither of us liked the idea of having a hired coach take over what should be the dad’s part. It seemed too invasive when Matt very much wanted to be a part of his child’s birth!
We agreed to study the method by book instead of attending classes since they were held during my weekend work days. It was amazing – not only did it give Matt and I more insight as to what my body was doing during birth, but it also taught us that tensing up was even more harmful than we thought! Where I had been completely tense during labor with Alejandro, grabbing Matt’s hand as hard as I could and lifting myself up on my hands during each contraction, I should have been relaxing and letting the pain do its work of bringing the baby closer to being born. Walking and trying different birthing positions was equally important, or labor could be stalled! Armed with this knowledge, we practiced with relaxation as my belly grew and I even made an extensive iTunes playlist to accompany me during labor. At the back of my mind though, I seriously doubted my strength and the fear of the intense pain stayed with me for much of my pregnancy. Matt kept telling me he knew I could do it, and assured me he’d be there for me no matter what.
*I want to add a huge disclaimer before I go any further and say that I can never judge a mom who decides on an epidural during labor. I know there are many unique stories and circumstances, and even looking back on my labor with Alejandro I know I couldn’t have made a different decision. I just longed for a different story this time around and wanted the benefits of going all natural. I believe knowledge and arming yourself with the tools to survive this is a huge part of being able to make that decision, but the rest of it isn’t easy. For me, it was one that I wanted to make because I truly believed it would help me and my baby.
If you read Alejandro’s Birth Story, you may remember that I was ready for an early labor and thought he would be showing up before his due date. Nope! He came right on his due date. Well, with Marielena I was convinced she would come early too. I had had a couple days with very heavy Braxton Hicks and thought it would turn into labor when I was only 8 months along but she continued to wait until she was ready…
Sunday September 14, 2014 – Exaltation of the Cross:
6:30 am: I was nursing Alejandro sleepily in bed when I had the strongest cramps grab me by surprise. They were so bad I immediately thought “I’m gonna fail at going all-natural!” I woke Matt up and started panicking, feeling unprepared for labor. We started timing them and I had to stop nursing because it was so bad. Matt called my parents and reassured me that everything was going to be okay. They came to take Alejo and were so excited for us, but as soon as they arrived I noticed something – the cramps were gone. I had never gone through false labor before, so it wasn’t even on my radar! Matt and I got ready, went to Mass nearby (I was already on maternity leave) and then tried to get some rest in case this was it. I timed my “contractions” throughout Mass and was very uncomfortable, but it seemed that the contractions had turned into none other than heavy Braxton Hicks. We went over to my parents’ house to see Alejandro (whom I missed terribly!) and took our famous walk around the block, but still nothing. We were tired and disappointed by the end of the day and went home.
Tuesday September 16, 2014 – Feast of St.’s Cornelius and Cyprian:
Am I the only Catholic mom who looks at the Feasts of the Church as I get closer to labor, picking and fixating on my favorites as if that would settle my child’s birthdate?? September is full of them! Marian feast days especially. I kept getting excited as we neared another special day, thinking Marielena would somehow be born then. Tuesday morning at 6 am I again woke to contractions very early. I was so tired, I just wanted to keep sleeping! Waking up every so often to use the washroom, plus nursing Alejo on and off was enough to make me a bit grumpy. When Matt found out I wasn’t timing them, he got his phone app ready and started counting for me. I had some stronger ones, but they were confusing and after showering and pacing the front room for awhile, contacting our families to see who was available to watch Alejo, they stopped altogether. I was so disappointed and felt like labor would never come! Matt and I were both tired and he decided to go to work after all.
I have to say that looking back it doesn’t make sense, but I was almost convinced Marielena would never make her appearance due to these false alarms. But far be it for anyone to question my pregnant mind back then. I had scheduled my next OB appointment on Friday the 19th – her due date – in hopes that I wouldn’t even make it that far without going into labor. The next days were increasingly uncomfortable as Marielena dropped lower and I couldn’t stand, sit, or lie down without pain. I was STILL nursing Alejandro, and thankfully those moments of snuggling gave me time to rest, even if it wasn’t easy managing my belly between us. I felt like I wanted to eat up every last moment I had with Alejandro and give him all the attention I could before Marielena was born, but I also wanted her to come soon before my body gave out on me! I spent the days scrubbing floors and cleaning our apartment, doing laundry, and baking batches and batches of Alejandro’s favorites – Pancake muffins, pumpkin muffins, breakfast cookies – trying to coax the baby out and treating each day as if it was my last before I went into labor. Matt said it was tough being at work those days after the false alarms, and every time I called he thought I was in labor. It got to the point where I would text him before a call, just to warn him I only wanted to chat! He was so great, letting me complain and texting me back whenever I sent frazzled messages to him.
Friday September 19 Feast of St. Januarius (Marielena’s due date):
I spent the night before with heavy Braxton Hicks, and tried my best to rest it off. Friday morning I woke up again with contractions and Matt and I were timing them. They were on and off, but I was so done with all the false alarms that I was in denial that this could really be it. I nursed Alejandro and enjoyed being with him. Then I showered and got ready. Matt had taken the day off to take me to my appointment, so it was nice having him not rush off to work as usual.
I want to mention something before going any further. As Matt and my sister Ivana (who had been keeping me company those last days) can attest to, I was planning each day around when and how labor was going to come, up to the last detail of when I was going to shower, wash my hair, and get my waterproof eye makeup done, so I could feel like less of a wreck when I walked into the hospital. Now that I again had contractions, I felt so nonchalant about the whole thing, believing it wasn’t really “The Day.” What I really wanted to do was to make it to 8 am Mass and Confession at the local shrine. Confession is one of those things I like to frequent during the last days before going into labor, for the extra graces and just in case anything happens. I truly believe having a baby is one of those experiences where your life is literally in God’s hands, and you are walking with Christ in your suffering, dying to self, and sharing in new life. I wanted to be ready.
Matt thought I was crazy! Here I was, timing contractions, wanting to rush us all off to Mass before my early morning appointment ON MY DUE DATE. I didn’t even want to bring our hospital bag with us in the car, but Matt convinced me. He was pretty sure this was it.
I must have been a scary sight in the Confession line, phone in hand as I timed each contraction, leaning against the wall for support and practicing my breathing. I was so happy to be at Mass, the pain didn’t even bother me! I think after the previous false alarms I was just so glad to be feeling contractions, I didn’t want them to stop this time. I mentioned to my confessor how I was feeling contractions and admitted to being afraid of labor because of my previous traumatic labor with Alejandro. I was so worried I wouldn’t be able to unite my sufferings to the cross with Christ. What he said lifted a huge weight from my shoulders: “Okay, yes the cross, but what about the joy?” I was forgetting Easter! He reminded me I was about to have a baby and it was something to look forward to since even Mary felt joy when she gave birth to Our Blessed Lord! After my Confession was over, I was able to catch part of a great homily that really prepped me and made me feel as though God was truly speaking to me directly. I felt so ready!
We had to leave early to get to my appointment, and I felt like I was on top of the world, having gone to Confession and prayed in front of the Blessed Sacrament with my family!
My contractions hadn’t stopped and they varied in intensity, but I was unconcerned, still thinking it was a false alarm. I hadn’t even cared to get my makeup or hair done, in spite of my rule of rarely leave the house without at least attempting to look put together, especially when I feel like an out-of-control pregnant lady! I walked into my doctor’s office, still stopping to work through and time my “false labor” contractions as the ladies-in-waiting and nurses stared at me. When my doctor came into my room to check my progress however, the process hurt me so much I began shaking and tearing up. She was amazed. I was already at 4-5 cm! She called the hospital and sent us straight over since I had tested positive for strep B, and she was worried I would progress too fast if I went back home. She didn’t want me to have to call an ambulance! I couldn’t believe it! We called my parents, asking them to meet us there to pick up Alejandro, as we drove excitedly over.
I had been excited this whole time to finally go to the hospital. This time around we had picked a hospital that was known for its great support in birthing naturally and for breastfeeding support. In my room I was able to experience my early labor with Alejandro in the room with us. It was so special! I wasn’t in crazy pain yet, and my contractions were still erratic, so it wasn’t traumatizing for him. When my family arrived at the hospital, they waited for a couple hours in the waiting room with him, and labor seemed to stall. I was still worried that I wasn’t really in labor because I didn’t seem to be progressing past 5 cm and my nurse had to assure me I wouldn’t be sent home. Matt was so encouraging and walked with me down the hospital hall and back as many times as I wanted, and we munched on some steak jerky and my favorite Sahale blueberry nut mix from Costco. We were actually enjoying ourselves, but now I really wanted the pain to progress so I could be sure I was actually in labor! My OB checked in and offered to break my water to speed things up, but we said no. My awesome nurse knew exactly what to do to get labor going. She reminded us about the different laboring positions and massages (which Matt was prepared for after all our practicing!) and it worked…
2:30 pm: My family decided to go home and they took Alejandro with them. I had been dreading saying goodbye to him during this time (I was rarely separated from him and was already missing him), but contractions were starting to pick up, and Matt and I needed to focus. After he finished a series of massages, I decided to get up and walk to the washroom. Once I got out of the bed, contractions started stacking up without hardly a break and I started becoming very emotional. I didn’t know why I was crying but I wasn’t really scared. We found out soon after that transition had begun. I had maybe a minute or two break between contractions, and I began shaking. This was familiar! My OB – who would be out of town the next day and was already done with her shift – came in to check on me, and confirmed that I was in transition at 8 cm! I was so grateful that she was going to stay to deliver my baby since I did not want to work with her partner OB.
The next few hours were a blur of pain and having Matt help me relax through it. Whenever I would tense up, he would remind me to breathe and whisper soothingly in my ear to help me let go of every tense muscle. It also helped me to tell myself that the pain was normal and healthy – that it was just my body working and I needed to let it do its job. It was amazing to experience this as a couple. We were so united and together every step of the way, it really felt like we were “in the zone.” At one point I remember even joking with him when he said “let it go,” and I started singing “Let It Go” from Frozen. I also had a sudden sense of what my daughter would look like. What a grace! I imagined her with dark hair, and I became so excited to meet her. We were having a great time in spite of the pain, and I did not even once think of asking for the epidural. Soon after I had reached 8 cm, I did start moaning loudly through each contraction, and found it really helped channel the pain.
Around 4:30 pm I started feeling the baby descending, and I asked the doctor if I could push. She said that because of the position Marielena was in, if I pushed too early I could tear, and that would potentially be a problem for future pregnancies. That stopped me completely! I did not want to risk my future children, no matter how overwhelming the sensation to push. My OB had me change positions to help me through pushing safely, and at 4:55 pm I was able to start the process of pushing Marielena out. It seemed so long! I started really doubting myself and even told the doctor I was bad at pushing. She assured me I was doing great and the baby would come no matter what. This is when I started getting picky about the noise around me. Except for when I was pushing. I definitely screamed then.
A team of nurses came in to help, and one young nurse said she was a parishioner of the church where I work. “Oh really…?” was all I managed to say, but inwardly I was much less than delighted to have someone who knew me from work assisting me through delivering my child. I then proceeded to get very annoyed with the chatter happening around me, and Matt looked at me knowingly. I had heard women describe the pain during pushing as the “ring of fire” and I now understood why. As each push seemed to bring Marielena closer to us, then back again, Matt tried to encourage me, yet I saw the disappointment on his face each time her head disappeared again. I couldn’t take it! I told him to stop looking, and to stop counting. Thankfully, Matt did not miss the moment of his daughter’s birth in spite of my complaints, since I immediately felt bad and told him he could still watch for her, just not to tell me about it. :)
5:39 pm: With a final excruciating push, our little Mari was out. She was indeed dark-haired, and was crying healthily (Alejandro did not cry immediately upon coming out, which was another reason I did not want the epidural). They put her on my chest, and I immediately knew how to talk to her, which surprised me! She began nursing soon after, and Matt and I were able to enjoy a good hour with her before letting the nurses clean her up. I was so proud to have made it without any medication, and at that moment I knew I had no right to ever doubt God’s grace and His presence with us, since He had granted me the grace I had been praying for – that I would make it through labor and delivery naturally and without the trauma I had experienced the first time. Marielena was so good at nursing, and I even got to nurse Alejandro in the hospital bed when he came to visit the next day. I think the fact that I had never stopped nursing him made things SO much easier while nursing a newborn.
I finally had my little girl with me, and our bonding would continue as I got to know her sweet and unique little personality. Matt was in love with his daughter, and she and Alejandro would love each other more and more as time went on and they continued to bond, sharing everything – even nursing together.
God truly did a huge thing for our family in the way Marielena was born and I look back in awe at her birth story – I felt peace every step of the way. Thankfully, I was able to recover much faster than I had after giving birth to Alejandro, which was a HUGE help since taking care of two young babies is no joke!
I have been so surprised at the joy having babies so close in age brings to our family, and wouldn’t trade it for the world – in spite of all the people who look at me like I’m crazy at the grocery store with Mari in the ergo carrier and Alejo in a cart. ;) They have each other, and Matt and I are such proud and happy parents.