Madeleine’s Birth Story

After waiting nearly two years before becoming pregnant, Nicholas and I were very anxious to meet our baby girl. At around 38 weeks pregnant, I was decidedly tired of being pregnant in the summer heat and would’ve happily welcomed Madeleine coming at any time then. Fortunately, Madeleine’s due date, July 16th, was the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, so like any good Catholic, I began a novena to Our Lady nine days before Madeleine was due.

As the seventh and eighth days of the novena came, I assured my husband that I would most definitely need an induction. I was certain there was no way that Madeleine would decide to come before 41 weeks, and I was even more certain that I could not bear to be pregnant much past 40 weeks. Each day as I prayed the novena, I felt guilty. The novena was all about the blessings and graces of the brown scapular. While I have had many scapulars over the years, my chronic shyness and desire to avoid imposition had meant that I had never gone through enrollment in the brown scapular. Still, I kept praying the novena and begging Our Lady of Mt. Carmel for a timely delivery.

On July 15th, I woke up at 4:30 AM with cramps. The pain was erratic, and I dismissed it as wishful thinking. I went back to sleep. I continued noticing pain while getting ready for mass, and entertained the possibility of labor, but again thought it couldn’t be more than wishful thinking. As I prepared for mass, I expressed to Nicholas my regret and guilt at praying a novena to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel while not enrolled in the scapular. We went to mass, and during that time, I began to think that perhaps I was in early labor and the pain I’d been feeling was not my imagination after all. I had to sit down at various parts of the mass, and afterwards, when some friends came up to us and told us I had to wait until the 18th to have the baby so they could win the baby pool, it was all I could do not to snap at them. In hindsight, I now know I was having contractions while they were talking to me.

At the conclusion of mass, my guilt at not having been enrolled in the scapular was rectified. Our pastor invited anyone that wished to be enrolled to stay and receive a scapular along with the enrollment. Finally, after years of having a scapular I was properly enrolled, and I didn’t even have to personally ask the priest.

Nicholas and I went to breakfast and I called the doctor’s office. They confirmed I was in early labor and told me to feel free to go about my day. After breakfast, we went to an outdoor mall together and walked around. Nick was very excited about some of the items in Carhart, and when I did not share his enthusiasm due to pain at the moment, he remarked, “I’m sorry, I’m trying to remember that you’re not ignoring me and that you’re just in pain.”

We went home, and I took a nap, a shower, and did some stretching to cope with the pain while Nick cleaned and made final preparations. At around 5:00, we took a walk around the neighborhood. It became clear then, as I needed to stop every few minutes to work through the pain, that it was time to head to the hospital.

We made the thirty minute drive to the hospital, but before arriving, Nick talked me into getting Panera. I made the mistake of walking into Panera with him and trying to place my order between contractions. The person taking our order was very concerned about me until Nicholas informed her, “She’s fine, she’s just in labor.”

I had delayed going to the hospital all day since it was a thirty minute drive. I wanted to be absolutely certain that Madeleine was coming before going to the hospital. When we arrived, the nurses quickly confirmed I was in active labor and began setting up our room. I was still wearing the scapular I had been given earlier that day.

Our nurse was unhelpful. I had planned on not getting an epidural, and so wanted to use a birthing ball, different laboring positions, and the deep water tub for pain relief. The nurse brought something like a birthing ball, but then immediately left. She didn’t help with positions to alleviate pain during required monitoring. I immediately needed an IV because of some of Madeleine’s readings on the fetal monitor. Eventually, I was allowed to use the deep water tub, which brought my pain down from an 8 to about a 4. When they came to me and said I needed to get out for 40 minutes of monitoring, the contractions were about two minutes apart. I asked for an epidural.

Perhaps with a different nurse I could’ve endured 40 minutes out of the tub and on the monitor, but this nurse offered no help or guidance. I got the epidural at around 10:30 PM. Ultimately, it was a good decision. I think Nicholas was immensely grateful for the epidural as well. I remember he looked at me and asked, “So..wait. The contractions are still happening? But you just..don’t feel them?” I think I actually laughed at that point.

The epidural let me get some rest. Finally, at around 3:38 AM, the midwife told us it was time to start pushing. I remember thinking that perhaps it would still be a couple hours before we got to see Madeleine. Amazingly, 50 minutes later, at 4:38 AM, just twenty four hours after I first thought I had experienced labor pains, Madeleine Immaculata was born.

I don’t remember my exact words when she was born, but I remember saying, “Hello!” over and over again. The midwife gave Madeleine right to me, and I cried as I held her. I later reflected that while I was amazed to finally see my daughter in that moment, I didn’t feel an overwhelming sense of love. Nothing different than I had felt for her before. As I thought about this more, I realized it was because with every kick and somersault, I had fallen in love with my little girl, slowly and gradually. When I saw her, I knew her already. In the weeks to come, as I would watch her move, I would recognize her movements. I began to realize “that’s what that feeling was”.

I will never forget the amazement on Nick’s face when our daughter was born. When the midwife began calling in others for the delivery, Nick still hadn’t realized that Madeleine was coming in the next few minutes. He later remarked to me, “I’m glad I didn’t ask to be the one to catch Madeleine. I think I would’ve missed her.”

Trust: The Heart of NFP

I will forever remember the first time I tried to educate somebody else about NFP. I was explaining that NFP along with natural reproductive technology, or NaPro, could actually provide health solutions for most problems treated by the pill. My audience: my junior level morality class.

I am one of the first in a generation that has used NFP from a young age. Rather than immediately being put on the pill for the issues I was having with my cycle, my parents took me to see a NaPro doctor and a Creighton practitioner. And so at the young age of 16, I was familiar with signs of my fertility, the way in which a woman’s fertility worked, and the fact that my current hormone levels likely meant that I would struggle to have children if they continued at that level into adulthood.

I quickly saw the many uses of NFP. I saw how it benefited me greatly in preventing immense pain throughout my cycle. I wanted others to have this knowledge, too. Hence, the position in which I found myself: explaining NFP, a woman’s cycle, and the downsides of birth control to my junior morality class.

It was at that moment that I learned that many of my classmates were in fact on the pill. Mind you, this was a Catholic school. However, many of them had been put on the pill for various health issues. Most of these health issues could have been addressed by hormonal support provided through NaPro Technology. I’ll never forget the reaction though from the boys in the class who looked at me and booed me and Said to all the girls in the class “We don’t want to hear about your flow.”

Although comical now, it points to the issue of educating not only young men but also women about their health and fertility. Fortunately, my school decided to address this issue by bringing in a Creighton practitioner to talk to all the girls in the high school. Perhaps the young men could have benefitted as well.

As I became older, I found myself having discussions about NFP with my fiance. When we attended marriage preparation the way in which NFP was presented to us was a sort of prosperity gospel: use NFP and avoid kids when you want. But when you want kids, since you have been following God’s will, they will come easily!

However that wasn’t at all our experience. We faced infertility and all the struggles that went along with it. I wrote about that extensively in my infertility series that you can find here. If that is currently your struggle, know that I am praying for you.

Once we were finally blessed with our first child in 2018, we then switched to using NFP to avoid. That was not nearly as easy as it as it had been made to seem either. For both of us when I was postpartum it seemed that there were infinitely less available days for use than the happy, smiling, overly cheery couple at our marriage preparation had made it seem. There were likely many days that had been available to us but that I did not feel confident enough in using. I was using Creighton the first time postpartum, and since Creighton is a mucus only method, it became confusing postpartum. Postpartum cycles and fertility markers are very different than in normal cycles, which is why I’m using Marquette this time around.

In both cases, using NFP required trust. Trust that we would be carried through our suffering. Trust in the purifying fire of Christ’s love and suffering. Trust that any child would be a blessing, no matter that timing. Trust in one’s spouse to communicate. The center of NFP is trust, which is why this method can be difficult to embrace.

If you don’t trust your body, your spouse, or Christ, other forms of birth control can become tempting. And while there have certainly been times that birth control has seemed appealing, I know it would leave me feeling empty. It would remove the radical trust required in each intimate act. It would become a divide between us rather than something that requires continued communication and trust, as NFP has been for us.

I find that NFP mirrors the requirements of love: it requires self knowledge, communication, vulnerability, and trust to work effectively. How fitting that these elements are also required for a healthy and successful marriage. And so in using NFP to plan our family, we practice the very things needed for a strong marriage and indeed, a strong faith as well. For at the center of our fertility is Christ calling us to relationship with Him, calling us to walk on the waters, to put out into the deep, to trust in Him. Christ is calling us to know ourselves that we may know Him, to trust that we may be vulnerable with him, to be vulnerable with Him that we may be loved by Him. Will you answer His call?

Choosing Strength and Joy

Between October and December of 2019, a few things happened that made it necessary that I be put on prednisone to manage my arthritis. And between October and December, I gained all the weight back that I had lost after having Madeleine as a result of being on that medication. I was devastated.

At the beginning of February 2020, I joined a gym. I saw a nutritionist. I was ready to commit to losing this all over again. And then, I found out I was pregnant.

It took nearly two years of infertility before finding out I was pregnant with Madeleine. I was shocked. I had thought I had more time. That I would be able to lose the weight again, get stronger, and then by that point, I might be pregnant again.

I hate to admit this, but I did not feel ready. It took me a few days to accept the news. I felt shame. Shame that I would ever be anything less than happy at finding out we were having another baby. And guilt. Guilt at not being as healthy as I wanted to be. Guilt in knowing that I had had bitter jealousy and anger whenever a woman shared that she didn’t feel ready for another baby. Guilt in knowing that there are still so many that wish they could have just one baby.

Through prayer and throwing myself into making a baby registry to remind myself just how adorable babies are, I came to accept it. I came to be excited. And I was determined to exercise throughout my whole pregnancy and to make sure I gained as little weight as possible.

And then, my arthritis flared. I was in crippling pain. I struggled to walk again. I found myself needing to take prednisone again while pregnant, and having to clear that with my doctor. I read the potential side effects during pregnancy (cleft palette, pre-term birth). I worried about them. I felt so much guilt about needing to take this medication. I kept myself on the lowest dose possible, and each time I tried to stop taking it, I found that my arthritis was still acting up.

I could not work out. I was not able to get off the prednisone until week 15 of my pregnancy. By that point, restrictions due to Covid-19 were in full force, gyms were closed, and only I was permitted into my prenatal appointments and ultrasounds.

It would have been easy to just give up and beat myself up for it.

I wanted to beat myself up for it. There were times when I did. When I’d see the number on the scale at my prenatal appointments and call myself names. When I’d think of myself as a failure.

Teaching from home was incredibly stressful, but it gave me the gift of time with my toddler. As the weather improved, we started going on walks together. It was during this time that I began praying the rosary again. I would pray, hear the birds, feel the wind, and my heart would become calm again.

Somehow, between the craziness of teaching online with a toddler at home while my husband worked at home as well, I decided to focus on what I could do instead of the number on a scale. I have to think that it was returning to the rosary that helped to transform this mindset.

At the same time, at around 15 weeks into my pregnancy, I suddenly found that I could stretch the time between my weekly injections. First it was a week and a half, then two weeks, then two and a half weeks, and most recently three and a half weeks between what is supposed to be a weekly injection.

I found that walking helped to alleviate whatever mild symptoms I might have. I was overjoyed when the playgrounds reopened and we now try to go multiple times a week. I get a walk and sunshine, and Madeleine gets valuable playtime and practice with gross motor skills.

I started using at home prenatal strength training workouts. I began focusing on eating well to nourish myself and my baby. I kept up the walks with Madeleine to the park and praying the rosary while doing so. And I noticed two things: I was stronger and I had greater joy and peace.

When I began the strength workouts, I was wiped out at the end. There were some things that I could barely do. As I kept working out, these things got easier. I became stronger.

Eventually there came a time when I could not continue the strength workouts due to a flare in my arthritis in my hip. I had to stop my medication for my RA at 28 weeks. My RA came back with a vengeance. And instead of fighting it, I accepted. I allowed myself to be put on prednisone in the final three weeks of my pregnancy. I let go of control, difficult as it was to do so.

Mariana came into this world fast and furious. Yet, she is anything but fast and furious herself! Despite now struggling with my weight, postpartum anxiety, and postpartum depression, her quiet personality reminds me to continue to choose joy. She encourages me to find the strength to do what I did not know I could do. Her quiet calm leads me into prayer and helps me to find strength, joy, and peace there. And when I am struggling, Madeleine’s exuberant joy and playfulness never fails to make me smile.

In Christ, in my husband, and in my two little girls, I find strength and joy. I will continue striving to choose to live out my days with the strength of Christ and the joy of Our Blessed Mother, and I hope you are able to find the same.

When it Falls Apart

This is a post I wrote in February of 2020

Most of the time I am able to do things independently. I don’t like asking others for help. I definitely don’t like being seen as weak.

And yet there are times when the situation demands that I ask for help, even when I don’t want to at all. This requires a tremendous vulnerability, especially when I am at work. There have been times in the past few months where I have not been able to walk while at work, and have had to teach from my chair. There have been times when I’ve not been able to write on the board, and have had to ask my students to do it for me. Yet I know that in showing my vulnerability to my students, they see that their own shortcomings are opportunities for growth.

Things become even more difficult when I am unable to do anything at all. I woke up this morning unable to walk. Making breakfast was a Herculean effort for me. I used a chair to get from the couch to the kitchen and had to continually stop for breath. I have run a Spartan race, and yet I found myself quite nearly as out of breath as when I was running that Spartan, simply while trying to make my breakfast.

It is easy to write platitudes about how vulnerability and pain remind us that we cannot do it all. It is easy to write about how pain can remind one of the need for self care. It would be easy to write about how such pain reminds us that we cannot do it all and that we need Christ to redeem our sufferings. But I have written about those things before. And today, as I reflect on those things, I find that they simply do not outweigh my pain.

As I write this I am laying on the couch. No matter how I lay down, I am in pain. There were a few moments today when I found myself thinking that I would rather be in labor. Perhaps the distance of time has helped me to forget how great the pain of labor is, but that is where I am right now. At least with labor, there is a baby at the end of it.

I think we are often expected to find the good in our pain. There is this unwritten lie that says that if we cannot find the good in our pain, that we are simply complaining if we talk about it. That lie prevents us from one basic human need: to have our pain heard and understood.

Today when my daughter woke up, my husband had to bring her to me. I have only left the couch twice today, and both times left me utterly exhausted. My pain is not responding to any normal pain medications. And though I called my doctor today as soon as her office opened, I have still not yet heard back from her.

It feels humiliating, being unable to do so much. And yes, I know that this is an opportunity for vulnerability and growth. But I also know that I simply need to process my pain. Often we do not give ourselves and others that opportunity.

Adding to this physical pain is the emotional pain of isolation. I have tried to connect to others and to make friendships, and yet I find myself feeling woefully misunderstood by those with whom I meet and interact. my husband and I were trying to figure out who could pick up my daughter today from daycare since I am currently unable to do so. We were also trying to figure out if anyone could come here and help me. We came up with a very short list consisting only of Nick’s family members, but they live an hour away from us.

I say all this not for pity, but because I firmly believe that there are many other moms and families living in this situation. We have isolated ourselves when we need a village. We have idolized the independent mother and father who can do it all. We have put individualism on a pedestal, and we have lost the sense of interconnectivity with those around us. We have created a culture in which we focus so much on ourselves and our own families that we forget to reach out to others. And in doing so, we make things so much harder for ourselves.

I do not know that I have any solution for these problems. But I do know that something must change. We must go outside of our selves and beyond the excuse of ” I’m busy. ” We must learn that connecting with others is a vital part of self-care, not just for ourselves, but for our whole family. We must be willing to be vulnerable with those whom we meet. And since many of us are in the situation, we should try to cut the small talk altogether and just focus on building relationships.

We also must learn to accept our pain for what it is. Whether it is physical or emotional pain, we should be able to talk freely about it and have it heard and understood. We should not have to make excuses for our pain. We should not have to justify our pain. And yet, so many of us do.

And yes, we should recognize that pain is an opportunity for vulnerability and growth. We should recognize that pain is an opportunity to unite ourselves to Christ on the cross. But we should also recognize that pain is simply a part of living. And that pain is necessary for the human experience. Pain does not always need to be fixed. Sometimes pain simply needs to be spoken about and heard.

For if we do not have pain, then we do not have vulnerability, and if we do not have vulnerability, then we do not have true relationships, and if we do not have to relationships, then we do not truly have love. And what other purpose then can we have for life then loving Christ, our families, and those around us?

Simply stated, pain helps to lead us towards a deeper love. And it is in hearing and recognizing the pain of those around us that we can be led to deeper relationships thus generating a true and purified love.

The Art of Perseverance

How Nursing Taught Me Hope and Perseverance in the Midst of Struggle, Part One

I always planned to nurse my children, and when I was pregnant with Madeleine, I anticipated the bond nursing would bring with great joy. I knew that it would not be without its challenges, but I was certain that those challenges would be temporary.

When Madeleine was born, I had an hour of skin-to-skin, or kangaroo care, with her before she was taken away for newborn checks. The hope of kangaroo care is that it will help the newborn regulate her body temperature, encourage bonding between mom and baby, and establish the nursing relationship if mom wishes to nurse.

<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">Madeleine didn't latch on during that hour, but did after her newborn checks. In that moment, I felt gratitude and elation. I felt profound wonder at what my body was able to do. After having grown a child within me, my body now had the ability to nourish that child. I was overwhelmed with joy.Madeleine didn’t latch on during that hour, but did after her newborn checks. In that moment, I felt gratitude and elation. I felt profound wonder at what my body was able to do. After having grown a child within me, my body now had the ability to nourish that child. I was overwhelmed with joy.

Nicholas captured that moment in a photo. Throughout the next three months, that photo became a reminder. That photo became my why.

Because that joy didn’t last.

Eager to move me out of the labor and delivery room and into the postpartum unit, my nurse told me to unlatch Madeleine so she could transfer me to a wheelchair. It had been fifteen minutes, she told me. That was enough. Never mind the fact that Madeleine was still actively nursing in that moment. And feeling caught off guard and vulnerable, I went against my gut, and I listened.

I have regretted it ever since.

In the postpartum unit, Madeleine wouldn’t latch. When she did latch, she wouldn’t suck. I was handed the pump and pumping parts and told I needed to pump every four hours minimum. Bottle feeding was not an option due to nipple confusion, so I had to syringe feed Madeleine anything I pumped. It was tedious. Because I didn’t anticipate having to pump while in the hospital, I didn’t have a hands free pumping bra, and so I had to attempt to nurse Madeleine, and then place her in her bassinet and hold the pump for the next fifteen minutes. I felt humiliated and vulnerable.

Getting Madeleine to successfully latch took pillows placed all around me, the IBLC (lactation consultant), and my husband, both of whom were doing different things to either support me or readjust Madeleine to encourage a proper latch. When she did latch and suck, it was incorrect and caused significant pain.

We stayed the maximum amount of time just so I could get as much help from the IBLCs as possible. One of them finally ended up getting Madeleine a pacifier because it seemed Madeleine didn’t know how to suck. She hoped that the pacifier might encourage the sucking reflex.

I will always wonder if unlatching her before she was finished in the delivery room caused some sort of negative association for her. If it somehow disrupted our relationship. We never found any sort of explanation for all the issues we had, and so I will always wonder if it all went back to that moment. That photo was the last positive picture of me nursing Madeleine until Madeleine turned four months old.

When we got home, it became worse. Trying to get Madeleine to eat resulted in crying. She would latch, suck for a minute, pull off screaming, and repeat. Getting her fed took upwards of an hour or more.

Madeleine holding onto my scapular after nursing.

I spent a lot of time crying. I had anxiety attacks before going to bed. I worried about ever getting sleep. I worried about getting her fed. There were times when she wouldn’t eat and we would have to feed her from a syringe. I would frantically pump while Nick tried to keep her calm. The only thing that gave me any hope, that brought me any peace, was seeing Madeleine repeatedly grab hold of my scapular during or after nursing.

Madeleine was born on the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel after I prayed a novena to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. When I saw Madeleine holding my scapular, I knew that Mary was telling me that all would be well. I didn’t know how, but somehow, all would be well.

We saw the lactation consultant at the pediatrician many times. She could not figure out what was going on with Madeleine. Overactive let down was a suggested possibility, but it didn’t quite fit. They said reflux didn’t fit either. I was finally handed a nipple shield and just told to use that, but even that had mixed results. The only thing that ever worked was getting Madeleine to suck on her pacifier and then rapidly doing a “bait and switch” so that she ended up nursing without noticing that she had latched.

When she was between two-three weeks old, she was nearing four or five hours of refusing to eat. I called her pediatrician, and was told to pump and give her a bottle. I didn’t want to do so, because I was so worried about making it even harder to convince Madeleine to nurse. But I was more worried about her being fed, and so I immediately listened. I was home alone, and so I pumped while Madeleine cried. I remember feeling like I had failed her, and wondered why I hadn’t just given her the bottle sooner.

Nick giving Madeleine a bottle at around four weeks old.

When we were out of the house, it was worse. My arms and hands ached from holding her. To even consider feeding, Madeleine required that I stand and rock her while also quickly switching out the pacifier, keeping covered, keeping her properly supported, and ensuring a good latch. I remember feeling so weak and hating how much it all hurt my hands. I didn’t know it, but I had Rheumatoid Arthritis. Nursing Madeleine made that pain even worse.

She nursed best in the rocking chair at home, which made my whole body stiff and achy. At the time, I thought this was normal. I thought it was because of sitting so much.

I don’t know why I didn’t quit. It would have been easier. But during the hardest moments, during the moments when Madeleine would scream and scream, during the moments when I would cry, during the moments when I felt so deeply broken and that I had failed, I found myself praying.

Somehow, there was this quiet stillness. Somehow, I had hope and trust that it would get better. And I was determined to help it get better. I set goals for myself. Make it to three months. Make it to six months. Make it to a year.

I wanted that quiet time with my daughter. I wanted that bond. I wanted those memories. And so through prayer and sheer grit, I made it happen.

And somehow, magically, at three months, Madeleine decided that nursing wasn’t so bad. Something just clicked for her, and things became easier. There were so many moments before then when giving up seemed the better option. In those moments, however, my heart would whisper, “No, not yet. Try another day. This is not the end.”

Milk after a pumping session at work.

And it was not.

I pumped every two to four hours at work for six and a half months. I dealt with low supply and researched methods and supplements needed to ensure I was able to keep feeding Madeleine. I had to advocate for myself and ask for a space to pump. At one point, I was given a space filled with windows and no curtains and had to ask for curtains. I dealt with students ignoring signage and walking in unannounced while I was pumping. I dealt with adults not understanding what the sign was for and coming in anyway.

It was all worth it.

Nursing Madeleine at 11 months old.

I ended up nursing Madeleine until she was 19 months old. It was a beautiful gift to us both. I learned so much about giving of myself to others and persevering through difficult moments.

I had hoped that nursing with Mariana would come more easily. And while at first it did, my experience with Mariana taught me about a different sort of perseverance that I will explore in the post next week.

A quick note: to the mothers that wanted to nurse but could not, to the moms that exclusively pump, to the moms that use formula for any reason: you are enough. You have not failed. You are loving your child by keeping them fed. You still know the sleepless nights. You still know those quiet moments. None of you are less than any other mother. You are beautiful, you are a daughter of God, and you are still giving your child the gift of yourself and life, no matter how your child is fed.