Hope Elizabeth Joy Erath
I have only encountered a few women who have expressed absolute joy in childbirth. Until this pregnancy and birth, our third, I could not relate to them. Our oldest son was surprisingly born at 35 weeks and rushed to the NICU in Marshfield where I finally held him for the first time nearly 24 hours later. Our first nursing involved giving him a bottle of formula followed by two trying months of teaching him to latch on. Our second son was taken by cesarean under general anesthetic after over 20 hours of labor. A few hours after surgery I finally held my son. The weeks following I struggled with my recovery from surgery. With both of our boys I ended up on anti-depressants and sadly enough had a difficult time bonding, especially with our second child. Somewhere inside me I felt horribly ripped off, as though I had been robbed of the beauty of childbirth and of the special bond that I longed for with my babies. It seemed as though no one truly understood my intense desire to have a natural birth and hold my newborn close. My passion to experience nursing a little child before they were scrubbed off and cleaned seemed foreign to so many other mothers. Deep inside I knew that my past experiences were not the way God had designed mothers to give birth. I felt intensely that He had more for me than what I had gone through in the past. After my husband and I finally decided to have a third child, we knew we had to search for another way to have this baby. One particular girlfriend, who had birth experiences similar to mine, extended her overwhelming empathy, leaving me in tears after our many conversations. She directed me to Paula and Morning Star where she finally had the kind of births that I longed for. Our parents and numerous friends tried to control their disapproval over birthing with a midwife. And I must admit, the two and half hour drive daunted them as well as me, but I knew in my heart it was the right place to be.
On Friday night while preparing a late dinner I felt just a bit “off” and was having pains shooting down my legs. Later I had a bloody show with extremely mild contractions. We decided to make the trip to Menomonie during the night as the thought of hard labor in our van on Hwy. 29 was not too appealing. My husband napped while I drove the first leg of the trip (he needed the rest more than I did based on how well he handled birth in the past) and my sister caravanned behind. We arrived at the birth center around 3:00 am and my contractions were hardly detectable. Back to the hotel we traveled for a nice rest. I was worried our stay in Menomonie might be days and ended up calling a friend and my family so they could pray that things would progress. We ended up walking around Menomonie for nearly two hours later Saturday morning and followed that with a few hours of shopping. I was thrilled to need a clothing rack to hang on to as my contractions finally started to pick up! We ended up at our good friend’s home for dinner where I chatted, ate, and even played a board game with their children while grimacing back the pain of contractions. We left around 9:00 pm and then labored in the hotel until about 11:00 pm. I fell to my hands and knees with each contraction and questioned if I was just being a baby and not toughing out the pain. After arriving at the birth center close to 11:30 pm Paula spoke the sweetest words, I was dilated to 10 and fully effaced! Never had I labored in water but thought I’d give it a try. How fabulous that was. Finally those urges to push happened and when they did I fully expected that baby to slide right out – it was my third child you know! That “slide” took an hour and fifteen minutes and was accompanied with intense pain greater than anything I’d ever experienced. I would do it over again in a heart beat.
During that long hour plus of pushing my husband and I shared the most beautiful bonding imaginable. He was not capable of truly being there for me in the past because of fear, terror actually, that he went through irrationally dreading my or our babies’ deaths. This time, I knelt in the tub and he knelt outside the tub directly facing me. He encouraged me and told me how proud of me he was, he prayed for me and the baby, and he held my face and rubbed my arms. It was as though he and I and our unborn miracle were the only ones in the room living the most intimate experience of our lives. Somewhere amidst the praise and worship music in the background was Paula, my sister Erin, Roselyn (another midwife), and Megan. It was truly beautiful. How unbelievable it was to feel our baby’s head of hair before she was fully birthed. When she finally arrived I asked to just look at my baby and then held her close. Oh the joy I felt when I realized we had a little girl! Our daughter was not breathing right away and a tinge of fear hit me. Paula, with complete composure and confidence, flicked her little feet and gave her three puffs of air. I then heard that delightful soft cry as oxygen was waved in front of her tiny nose. My husband then had the pleasure of cutting the cord when it was done pulsating. Never was a code blue called, no frantic nurses or a panic stricken doctor. Ten fingers, ten toes, a full head of hair, God’s miracle, our daughter He entrusted to us… at 1:47 am Hope Elizabeth Joy Erath, was born.
Following that amazing event, my husband, Hope, and I just snuggled in bed in the pansy room (the name I gave our room). I loved feeling the vernix covering her back as she nursed and nursed and nursed. How unbelievable to hold my nursing baby next to me immediately after giving birth. It was two hours of bonding before she was taken from me for a moment to be weighed. We then enjoyed an amazing bath together. At about 5:30 am, with the sun making its way over the horizon, we gathered our miracle child and went back to the hotel to rest. It was surreal. It had happened, our dream had come true.
Grandma and Grandpa brought the proud big brothers to meet their new sister and we celebrated with Culver’s birthday cake later that Sunday afternoon. Through out all of this, my husband and I knew we were changed. We knew we had experienced something one can only attempt to put into words. Not only did God bless us with a beautiful daughter that we are tightly bonded to, but He also, though this experience, grew our marriage with a love greater than we realized possible, as well as a stronger devotion to our two boys. We are thankful beyond measure for our family and friends who prayed for our dream of an amazing birth to become reality and for Paula who was the catalyst making the way for it to happen. More than anything, we are thankful to the Lord for answering prayers and for allowing us to experience such great hope and abundant joy. We have been redeemed.
If you had told me when my wife and I were first married in 1996 that we would have three children I would have not believed you. If you had told me we would have had one of them with a midwife I would have been all the more skeptical.
On June 1, 2008, we welcomed our daughter into the world. However, the road to her birth started not nine months earlier but six years earlier with the birth of our first son, Turner, and then two years later with the birth of our second son, Lee.
Joy and I had been married for five years when Joy became pregnant with Turner. We had put off having children for concern that maybe we weren’t “baby people”. We both worked fulltime; I in sales and Joy as a P.E. teacher. Our first pregnancy was not easy. Joy faced almost constant nausea accompanied by intense feelings of depression and feeling that pregnancy was the worst thing in the world. During this time we followed conventional medical care with Joy seeing her doctor routinely. We attributed Joy’s depression to just being pregnant. After finally mentioning these feelings to her doctor toward the end of her 2nd trimester her doctor prescribed anti-depressants. The medication was definitely beneficial. Her pregnancy continued without issue until I got a call from one of Joy’s students saying that her water had broke while she was sitting in her office. The only challenge was the baby was not due for another five weeks. Her labor progressed steadily until Turner was born in the early morning hours. I still remember shouting with the attending physician to “Push!” I was very excited. I had seen the videos during Lamaze class and expected to hear our son cry after he was born. However, all Turner did was wheeze and squeak. I remember the calls for additional help, people running, while I stood there and watched as my newborn son was suffocating because his premature lungs were not ready to breathe yet. All I remember of those first moments was the room spinning as I struggled not to faint. I looked at Joy who had passed out after delivering him - she was oblivious to what was going on. I remember burying my head next to hers and praying “God I don’t care if he screams for a year just let him breathe!” Joy would later tell me that she had looked at me and thought Turner had died. As those first moments unfolded, the staff was able to place a breathing tube into Turner’s lungs and breathe for him. The Lord answered half my prayer and Turner would breathe (he did not scream for the next year). Turner was quickly transferred to a different hospital with a neonatal unit. Today you would not know Turner was premature.
Two years later, we had thoroughly enjoyed raising Turner and so we decided to have another. We put Turner’s birth experience behind us. Joy experienced the nausea again and mild depression. Three weeks before her due date Joy suspected her water was leaking. She was immediately admitted to the hospital where the doctor decided to induce her. This went on for the next 21 hours. She stopped dilating after being induced and each contraction would last up to 15 minutes. She developed a fever and started to show signs of going into shock. Joy was very upset as the doctor told us she would have to have an emergency C-section. She had focused the whole pregnancy on having a natural birth. Again I found myself facing what should have been a wonderful experience but instead I was full of fear and grief. I met Lee for the first time ten minutes later. Joy returned from recovery an hour and a half later green, bloated, and exhausted. She really could not hold the baby. Because Joy did not look like herself Turner would not go to her. You can imagine how rejected Joy felt. Things did not get any better. Joy developed intense postpartum depression and was not bonding with the baby. Again, she was prescribed antidepressants. I remember our first night home as Joy tried to nurse Lee. He would not nurse and screamed. I lay in bed thinking, “What have we done? We have ruined our perfect family by having another child.” This of course made no sense; Lee was just as much of a blessing to us as Turner. I was traumatized as well from this experience. In hindsight, it became obvious that the medical advice we had accepted turned out to have failed us. At some points, it bordered on negligence. Our son’s birth did not need to have been forced.
Over the next four years, Joy and I talked of another child but I wanted no part of another birth experience. I would experience anxiety attacks when I thought of what had happened. Despite my fear, I knew we were not done having children. In the meantime, I felt that in order to be emotionally ready for another child I would have to accept the fact that during birth I might lose Joy, the baby, or both.
We learned of Paula and her staff at Morning Star through a friend of Joy’s who had also had some very negative experiences delivering in a traditional hospital. She highly recommended Morning Star. She too had unnecessary cesarean births and was able to have a natural delivery after. We visited Paula prior to being pregnant and had a chance to talk with her. We were both able to talk about what had gone wrong with Lee’s birth. Joy felt all the more angry with what had happened and I was still very fearful. I was impressed, however, with the amount of prenatal care Joy and the baby would receive. After talking with Paula, I was still apprehensive about birth but felt we could deliver at Morning Star. In the fall of 2008 Joy became pregnant. I was excited but still fearful of what the delivery experience would be. Our family was also concerned and questioned the wisdom of delivering with a midwife given the past and also that we lived two and a half hours away.
Joy still experienced nausea through the first half of the pregnancy but no significant depression. I was very reassured to see Joy pregnant, full of energy, and glowing. Our delivery experience started on a Friday night at 10:30. Joy noticed she was having contractions. We had everything already packed and had our next-door neighbor (Grandma) come over to stay with our boys. We picked up Joy’s sister who had been present for the births of our boys and got to Morning Star at 3:30 am, only to find Joy’s contractions had stopped. On Paula’s advice we checked into our hotel. We got up the next morning and Joy decided to take us on a three-hour walk. She likes walking which is actually slow running by most standards. Her labor started back up so we went shopping for the afternoon. We also ate dinner at a friend’s house. Later that evening Joy wanted to go back to the hotel as her contractions were getting harder. She did most of her hard labor at the hotel and we left for Morning Star at 11:30 that night.
Paula and her staff met us and Joy was overjoyed that she was fully dilated and ready to start pushing. We were ready for a natural delivery! Joy opted to labor and deliver in the bathtub. Throughout the whole day, I did not have any reservations or any fear. I continued to be fully confident and completely peaceful as Joy pushed through each contraction. I was there and completely vested in what was happening. We were actually doing this together. Paula monitored Joy’s progress and the baby’s vital signs. At 1:47 am, Joy gave one final push and our baby was born. It was obvious to me as Paula immediately lifted our baby out of the water that we had a girl. At the same time she asked Joy if she would like to hold her baby. Joy understandably was tired and had been kneeling as she delivered, but she immediately perked up. I remember Joy’s first words to the baby were “Let me look at you.” She did not stop to ask if we had a boy or a girl, but looked for herself and was ecstatic when she discovered we had a girl. At that moment, while Joy was holding the baby it was apparent that she was not responding. She was not blinking and had a blank look in her eyes and not breathing. It was almost exactly like in the video we saw during one of our education classes, Handling Complications. Paula started to flick her feet but without any response. She then started oxygen and after three puffs, the light in her eyes came on! I had seen respiratory distress with our first son but this time I felt no fear or concern with what had just happened.
We named our daughter Hope Elizabeth Joy. She quickly became her namesake. I am grateful for the gift she is to us. Joy and I both call her our redemption baby – us finally having a redeeming birth experience vs. our first two. We feel more complete with three children than with two. I will always take great satisfaction in knowing that despite fear and failure we were able to enjoy birth the way God meant it to be.