For My Own Spiritual Growth
By Nicole Cunningham
Something I used to frequently say regarding childbirth was that I was born in the last days because Heavenly Father knew I couldn’t handle a natural childbirth and knew I needed epidurals. It was something I would always joke about, but also really believed. I might be mentally strong, spiritually strong, but physically strong? No way. That was not for me. I wasn’t a hardy pioneer woman that pushed handcarts and gave birth along the Mormon trail. Heavenly Father knew me and knew my mental and physical limitations. Or so I thought.
My first son was induced ten days early due to cholestasis. I had an epidural, pushed for 3 hours due to his posterior position, and he was delivered via forceps. Overall, the experience was fine, despite the complications of everything, and I was grateful for my beautiful healthy, round-faced boy. My second son was also induced upon my request because I was tired of being pregnant and, to be honest, was nervous about going into labor naturally because I had never felt a non-pitocin contraction without the promise of a speedy epidural nearby. Something that touched me about the birth of my second son was when my sweet doctor said, “Reach down Nicole and pull out your son.” I had no idea I could participate in that way and hold him immediately on my chest for as long as I wanted! What a sweet experience that was.
Nine months before we conceived our third baby, I nonchalantly decided to watch The Business of Being Born. I knew that it would talk about all the risks of having an epidural and everything that goes with that, but I thought it might be interesting to watch. I enjoyed the documentary and found it informative but, quite honestly, I felt like it made home birth look terrible! Despite how I felt about the film, I could not shirk the feeling in the days that followed that my next baby should be born without an epidural or any other form of pain medications. I cannot tell you how hard I thought this was going to be for me! I tried to ignore the feeling, but I knew the Spirit was telling me all too clearly that this was what I needed to do. I cried every time I thought about it. I didn’t understand why Heavenly Father wanted me to do this. I was the woman who LOVES her epidurals–I was no pioneer.
I asked for my Heavenly Father’s guidance to help me not be afraid–that if I was really supposed to do this, I asked for Him to help me become as prepared as I could. I asked for His guidance every step of the way, through every decision. I would always find myself asking, “Why do you want me to do this?” “Is it for the health of my baby?” “Is something going to happen?” and every time, I would receive the same calming answer, “For your own spiritual growth.”
I soon found myself diving into everything I could learn about natural childbirth. A friend told me about hypnobirthing, water birth, and dear Ina May Gaskin. I continued to devour anything I could on birth. I was going to fill my brain with every morsel of natural birth knowledge that I could and let the Spirit guide. I took a hypnobirthing class at the hospital with my husband and then later ordered the Hypnobabies home-study course with a friend. I really wanted a water birth, but found out that the hospitals in my area wouldn’t allow them, so I started to look into home birth.
Deciding on a home birth was a very difficult decision–one that took so much study, pondering and prayer. We felt good about it and once we made the decision, we felt so much peace. A few days after we decided, my husband had a dream that the home birth was a peaceful experience and that everything went well. This all happened before I got pregnant, so when we finally did (9 months after the prompting), we were so excited! I could finally begin my journey!
Something that really bothered me was the feeling of being alone in what I was doing. Why was I learning all of this wonderful information, but couldn’t find any natural or home birth stories from LDS women? I felt like I was being grouped into the stereotype of the “typical” home birth mom like you see in the movies. I wanted to know about other mothers that shared my same beliefs and had also done home births. My friend sent me a link to Heather’s blog, Women in the Scriptures, and I devoured all of her posts on birth and the symbolism and spirituality that goes with it. I saw on her blog an icon for The Gift of Giving Life. I eagerly waited for the book to be published and for my copy to arrive. The day it came in the mail was like Christmas; I was yearning for the information and support inside.
Before I was married and preparing to go to the temple, I would do baptisms and while waiting in the chapel, read Elder Packer’s book, The Holy Temple. The entirety of that book was read inside the temple. For me, it was a wonderful way to prepare, and I looked at reading The Gift of Giving Life in the same way–a wonderful way to prepare for a sacred event. What an uplifting light it gave to my pregnancy! Whenever I was discouraged or nervous, I would read and then would feel such calm reassurance that everything would be fine. Armed with Hypnobabies, The Gift of Giving life, and supportive friends and family, I had such an amazing pregnancy. Everything was different compared to my last pregnancies–my outlook was more positive and that in turn helped physically. I felt so bonded to my baby, and so at peace. We found 2 great midwives who we felt so blessed to work with. Even though they were an hour and a half away, we still felt we made the right decision. I felt so uplifted, cared for and loved after every appointment with them.
My baby’s guess birth date came and went and it was amazing how my perspective had changed compared to my other pregnancies. Every day “overdue” wasn’t an eternity of complaints and impatience, but just another day to prepare spiritually. I looked at approaching the birth of my sweet baby as a sacrament, an ordinance–something that I wanted to be spiritually worthy of. I wanted to be completely clean. With my other births, I looked at birth as merely a medical event that I had to go through, to get the end result. The spirit and love in our home was very tangible to us because of our preparation.
The night before Kate was born, I went upstairs to read in bed and write in my journal. I pondered about our upcoming home birth and wondered how it would all turn out and when it would come. I felt content to continue to be patient and was just enjoying the end of what to me was a simple but perfect day with my little family. My husband came up to the room and we talked a while about the birth and how excited we were and how crazy it was to not know when the baby would come (we were so used to planned inductions).
He left the bedroom to get some things together for his classes the next day, while I said my nightly prayers. I told my Father in Heaven that I hoped that I was ready for the baby to come, that I would have faith in my body and faith that everything would turn out fine. I expressed some concern about being a week over, but said I would leave it in His hands. I prayed for the health of my growing baby as usual, but for the first time prayed for my baby as a person, an adult spirit that was about to join our family. We didn’t know the gender but had feelings that we were having a girl. I tried to picture this beautiful spirit and what she was feeling as she was about to start her life on earth, in our family. A very beautiful feeling of love and peace came over me and a very powerful message of “Thank you” was communicated. I KNEW this was from the child that was about to join our family and it is an experience I will never forget.
The next morning, on August 7th, 2012 I woke up around 8:30. My boys had let me sleep in. I took a shower and felt great. I was planning to take them to the park and meet a friend. As I went into the kitchen to make some eggs for breakfast, I felt a little twinge that felt like a stomachache and decided on a bowl of Wheaties instead. I did some other things around the house and then got on the computer to check my email. I texted back and forth with my friend about our plans to go to the park, then felt that same twinge of discomfort. I decided that I just wanted to rest and told my friend I wasn’t going to be able to make it to the park.
It was around 10:30 at this time. I went upstairs and lay down, put on a hypnobabies track and tried to rest, but these “twinges” kept coming. Of course I had started labor and what I was feeling were pressure waves (contractions), but of course I was in denial. Around 10:45 they were very close together, probably 2 minutes apart, so I texted my husband and said that maybe after his next appointment he could come home to be with me. I did admit that maybe I was in labor, but that it would probably slow down or the contractions would go away. Within 5 minutes of texting him, they grew more intense and I told him to come home now! He was home a little after 11 and he got the boys to the neighbors.
By this time I was really feeling things, but not knowing how to handle the intensity. Nothing seemed to help, I just wanted to pace around the house and I’m sure I looked pretty funny. My husband got back around 11:40, called the midwives and our doula and then started filling up the birthing tub. I asked him what he was doing and he proceeded to tell me that we were having a baby and was filling up the tub for our water birth. Of course I was still in major denial and told him the water would get cold and that I still had a long way to go before the baby came. I still even thought that maybe the pressure waves would stop and it was just false labor. But he continued to get things ready and was able to help me calm down long enough to lie on the bed and get a blessing. The blessing was beautiful–that everything would work out fine, that my body would know what to do and that angels were present, helping us. I immediately thought of both my grandmothers and hoped they would be there.
Around this time it was 12:30 and I was turning into quite the moaning, laboring mama. But it felt so good to just go with what my body was telling me to do. Around 12:40 our doula, Shari showed up and I felt like I came out of my own little world of “labor land” to tell her that at that moment I was getting a break. She asked how long my breaks were and I said, “maybe 20 seconds.” I remember thinking how silly I must have seemed to Shari and my husband, moaning so loudly so early on in the labor, like I was ready to have a baby or something. I was also noticing that it felt good to push, but of course in my head that wasn’t because the baby was coming, it was just because it felt good. I said I wanted to go to the restroom, so Shari and my husband helped me into the bathroom. I said I felt like vomiting and Shari informed us that I was probably in transition. That was the first time it occurred to me that I was really in labor, let alone about to birth my baby! I said, “The baby’s coming!” and they helped me back to the bedroom to the birthing tub. I got in, pushed a few times, the bag of waters broke and a few minutes later Kate was born at 12:56.
Shari grabbed her out of the water and handed her to Aaron. Aaron checked and said our baby was a girl and we both started crying. She opened her sweet eyes and calmly looked at her Daddy. He handed her to me and she immediately started nursing. Our sweet 9 1/2 pound healthy baby girl had joined our family.
Yes, the midwives were still on the way. Yes, that sounds crazy and many ask us if we were scared or panicked that we had an “unassisted” birth. And the answer is no we weren’t. Never did fear enter me during any time during my labor. I was too busy birthing my baby! But it was more than that. We knew that this was what we were supposed to do. That one prompting more than a year before led to that moment, when we knew everything would be okay, and it was.
In the hours and days that followed, my husband and I talked about Kate’s birth and the amazing experience it was. We discussed that had we not prepared for a home birth, the situation would have been traumatic and treated as an emergency. We would have called 911, or I would have had Kate in a car, or my front yard, who knows!
Many people ask me if we will have home births with the rest of our babies. I hope so. But only if the Lord says it’s okay. While pondering and internalizing the fast 2 1/2 hour labor I had with Kate and why we needed to have a natural, home birth, the answer to why, was not because it ended up being a fast labor (though I am sure that is part of it). The answer is still the one that has been given to me time and time again—“for my own spiritual growth.” Heavenly Father knows what we need to be closer to Him, and He will give us those experiences that are needed for us to completely and wholly rely on Him.
This was my journey in becoming more in tune with the Spirit. I learned to know the will of the Lord in my own life like I never had before. Has this experience turned me into a natural childbirth advocate? Yes! I love all things birth. Has it turned me into an anti-hospital, never have an epidural mom? No. It has turned me into a “seeker of personal revelation” advocate. That is what is most important–to include the Lord in the decisions you make. Because no doctor, midwife, or expert alone, of any kind, can tell you what is best for you or your baby. Giving birth does not need to be fearful. We all can do hard things—with the Lord’s help. Ponder, pray, and seek for knowledge and the Lord, who is our greatest Advocate, will help us know His will.
Thank you wonderful sisters for being inspired to write The Gift of Giving Life. I have told everyone about this book. I will give copies to anyone with a soft heart to listen to its message. And I can’t wait for the day when I can give Kate my own copy—highlighted and weathered, for her own journey into divine motherhood.