Towers of Strength: a Call for Stories

January 28, 2015 in Adversity, Atonement, Book, Book reviews, Depression, Divine nature, Fear, Grace, Grief, joy, Lani, Miracles, Pain, Postpartum Depression

Last weekend I attended Felice’s Therapeutic Imagery Facilitator Training. It was five billion times more awesome than I ever could have imagined it would be. I’ve been guiding my daughters on imagery journeys nearly every night since, and I can’t wait to share these new skills with everyone and anyone I can. So much healing happened in that sacred space last weekend. What an honor and privilege to have been a part of it. I love these women!

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After the workshop was over, I was talking with the lovely Anna Hargadon (one of the creators of the awesome film Women of Faith). She asked me, “So what’s your next project? Do you have anything you’re working on?” Maybe it was God’s way of nudging me to get moving. One of the first things that happened after I recovered my will to live last fall was that God gave me an assignment. It’s time to write another book, He said.

So this is me acting on that prompting. Last Sunday, as I drove home from church, the book’s title came to me. It was inspired by something I learned reading Heather’s new book, Walking with the Women of the New Testament. In my review of her book, I wrote:

Heather writes, “While we don’t know the details of Mary Magdalene’s infirmity, we might deduce based on what we know of the others whom Christ healed from evil spirits that she was tormented with some sort of mental infirmity. The fact that she had seven devils cast out of her suggests that her infirmity may have been severe” (p. 77).

Heather explains that Christ called Mary “Magdalene” (meaning “tower of strength”) probably in much the same way that he called Simon “Peter” (meaning “rock”). After her healing, Mary became a devoted follower of Christ and a likely “tower of strength” to those around her, including Christ Himself. Of all the people Christ could have appeared to immediately after His resurrection, He chose Mary Magdalene.

Being a woman who struggles with “mental infirmities,” I gather peace from Mary’s remarkable recovery. If Christ can turn an infirm and darkness-plagued Mary into a “tower of strength,” maybe then there is hope for me too?

The title God gave to me for this book is inspired by Mary Magdalene, the original “Tower of Strength” and one of my heroes.

Towers of Strength: Stories of Triumph over Darkness. What do you think? This probably isn’t what the book will look like, but I had fun making a pretend cover. A quick search on Deseret Book’s website only brought up a few titles discussing mental illness, and none of them (as far as I could tell) is written from the perspective of the “mentally ill.” Mental health practitioners and caregivers certainly have valuable insights and perspectives to share, but I just feel strongly that we need to give a voice to the ones living with the illnesses. I feel like there is a sort of assumption that the mentally ill aren’t capable of speaking for themselves, but I couldn’t disagree more. Our voices need to be heard. It’s time.

So far this is what I have in mind:

  • Spiritual thoughts and stories about mental illness from the perspective of Latter-day Saints, emphasis on stories of triumph.
  • Written by those who have lived with and/or overcome mental illness.
  • Stories of all types of triumph (through counseling, medication, meditation, energy healing, temple work, prayer, priesthood, etc.)
  • Similar to The Gift of Giving Life with stories from a wide variety of people with a wide variety of challenges.
  • Intended to bring hope to those who are still struggling in darkness and their loved ones and to help doctors, counselors, and caregivers to better understand the perspective of “patients.”

If you feel impressed that you have a story to share or know someone who might, please send me an email (askbusca at gmail dot com). And please spread the word on whatever groups, forums, and facebook pages you feel might generate interest. The deadline for story submissions is May 1st. And if you know of a publisher who might be interested, please pass the word along to them too! Thank you!

**Posted today, January 28, 2015, in memory of Ashton Mayberry who suffered from depression and anxiety and took his own life on January 28, 2014.**

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God Keeps His Promises, part 2

October 15, 2014 in Adversity, Depression, Fear, Lani, Personal Revelation, Priesthood blessings, Waiting

Back in March I wrote a post called “God Keeps His Promises.” Feel free to click over and read it. The main part I want to draw your attention to is this:

I wondered, “Will I need to take this medicine for the rest of my life?” . . .

In another priesthood blessing, God answered my question: “You will be able to be happy without medication.” He didn’t tell me how long it would take, but I was satisfied with just knowing that someday I’d get there. And so I went on, taking my medication, feeling grateful for my rescue from the darkness. . . .

About a year ago, I started cutting back on my dose, little by little, very slowly, adding in supplements recommended by readers and friends to ease the withdrawal. I took a dose last Tuesday, but when I was due for another dose I felt restrained from taking it. The next day I felt restrained, and the next, and the next. I didn’t hear a voice, but I felt a message in my gut: “You’re ready. It’s time.” . . .

The other night, I asked for another priesthood blessing. He said, “God wants to remind you of the promises He has made to you. He will keep those promises.”

It has been seven months. Five of those were excruciating on many levels. Once again I’m taking medication… the same medication God prompted me to stop taking in March. Once again I’m depending upon a pill to remain calm and happy. Needless to say this has been a confusing year.

For much of May and June, as I battled severe anxiety and depression and finally surrendered to the necessity of re-medicating myself, I wondered, “Why would God tell me to stop taking my medication if I was going to crash without it?” Then I stumbled on a video that brought me a lot of peace. It shares a story told by Jeffrey R. Holland…

I took a dead end. Clearly the wrong road. Retraced my steps and got back on the right road. Why did I feel that the dead end was the proper road to take if it wasn’t? When I saw this video, my heart flared with the Spirit and I felt like Jeffrey R. Holland was speaking right to me. Now I can know with a certainty that I’m on the right road for me. I also know that my dead-end detour this summer served many purposes, many of them probably unknown to me, but some of them made clear to me many times over. It was not a waste. Many lives were blessed by it, including my own.

But what about God’s promise that I would be healed and be happy without medication? When I told my (Mormon) psychiatrist about those promises, he encouraged me to re-read a couple of talks. One of them I have adored since I first heard it spoken: “Like a Broken Vessel,” also from Jeffrey R. Holland. He urges:

If you had appendicitis, God would expect you to seek a priesthood blessing and get the best medical care available. So too with emotional disorders. Our Father in Heaven expects us to use all of the marvelous gifts He has provided in this glorious dispensation.

This message from a friend also helped me come to peace:

Through prayer, meditation and personal revelation I’ve learned that it’s possible for me to have bipolar and be perfect/whole/complete. And it’s part of God’s plan for me to be medicated. . . . That was God’s answer for me. Not to be healed. For now or for this life? I don’t know. I know I will come forward in the Resurrection whole and perfect and I cling to that hope.

We live in a fallen world. For some of our brains and bodies, the world’s fallen nature has a deeper impact. My pure immortal spirit wanted to flee my fallen body so desperately this year. Enduring the darkness was excruciating. But, for now, medication is God’s compensation to me for the disparities between my spirit and my body. For now, a pill is what is making my brain and body bearable for my spirit. For now, the healing power of God has not removed my body’s weaknesses but enabled me to thrive in spite of them. It is not the healing I wanted or expected, but it is a healing of sorts. But mortality is brief. I will spend most of my existence free of medication. Someday I will be happy without medication. Until then, I’m OK with it.

Our Deliverance

April 1, 2014 in Birth Stories, Dads, Family size, Fear, home birth, Lani, Midwives, Miracles, Personal Revelation, Prayer, Priesthood blessings

When my second child was two-and-a-half, we starting thinking about conceiving a third baby, a thought that both excited and terrified us simultaneously.  Could we really afford another child?  How would we pay for the birth, being without maternity insurance?  Could I really handle mothering three children? Gently, the Lord communicated to us that we would be blessed if we chose to invite another child into our home and that He would ensure that we had the means to provide for that child’s birth and life.

A few months later, I became pregnant. Each day was a constant struggle between faith and fear as we strained to hold fast to the Lord’s assurances that we would have the money we would need.  And I had to make a decision—where would my 3rd baby be born? We had never felt comfortable considering home birth in the past, but we knew that having our third baby at home would cost thousands of dollars less than paying for a hospital birth out-of-pocket. Only a week after I got a positive pregnancy test, I was already agonizing over the decision.  My husband gave me a priesthood blessing in which the Lord told me that He would guide me to make the right decision for us.  This scripture spoke to me in my dilemma:

 

Yea, and it came to pass that the Lord did visit us with assurances that he would deliver us; yea, insomuch that he did speak peace to our souls, and did grant unto us great faith, and did cause us that we should hope for our deliverance in him (Alma 58:11).

 

I agonized more and more and settled on a hospital birth with nurse-midwives recommended by a friend.  I definitely never had an overwhelming feeling that it was the answer to my dilemma, but it felt fine in the beginning.  After three or four prenatal appointments, I had met most of the nurse-midwives and loved them all, but I just couldn’t shake the feeling that this wasn’t quite the right path for us.  So we went back to the drawing board and opened-up that agonizing question again.  Only this time (and for the first time in my life) I was really open to accepting home birth as the answer, and so was my husband.

On Halloween night (2008), my husband and I spent a couple of hours praying for guidance, searching the scriptures, and exchanging our thoughts and feelings.  We felt that the Lord was leading us toward a home birth and that our next step was to pray and ask the Lord if this choice was right.  When I prayed, I asked God to please help us to receive a clear answer so that we could move forward with confidence.

Then I asked for a priesthood blessing. What followed was one of the most tender and beautiful spiritual experiences of my life—the kind that words feel inadequate to describe or explain.  The actual words of the blessing were marvelous, but more than the words was the feeling that overwhelmed me.  We didn’t get far into the blessing before tears were streaming down my face as I choked back sobs (and I don’t cry easily).  I felt the most incredible burning in my heart—like I was being filled with the burning, life-giving love of God.  There is nothing in the world like that feeling.  It completely overwhelmed me.  I don’t know if an answer to my prayers has ever been so clear. When the blessing was over, I just hugged my husband and sobbed in his arms with joy and gratitude for the beautiful gift God had just given us.

Our answer was clear: we were having our baby at home!

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We continued to seek the Lord’s guidance as we selected the midwives who would attend our baby’s birth, Mary and Nedra. And the Lord, my God, “did visit us with assurances that he would deliver us; yea, insomuch that he did speak peace to our souls, and did grant unto us great faith,” just as He had told me He would, through the scriptures, at the beginning of my pregnancy.

The blessings and miracles continued to pour down upon us.  In February, I attended a doula training workshop (offered for free as a gift to the community by the doula trainer) where I met many women who would become my friends.  One of them, Cassie, offered to be my doula and take photographs of my birth (again, for free).  She also took some maternity photos for us (like the one above).  Unexpected additional income came to us, with the probability of further additional income opportunities in the future.  Just as the Lord had promised, we found ourselves with enough and to spare financially, and our baby’s birth was completely paid-for by my 36th week of pregnancy.

Then, on April 1, 2009, my son made his debut. My water broke in the afternoon, contractions started a couple of hours later, and about five hours later, I was clinging to my husband’s arms over the edge of the fishy pool, moaning through the hardest contractions.

I could tell I was in transition when I found myself reaching my limit.  It was at this time that I turned to God.  I don’t think there is any other physical experience that brings a person closer to the veil between earth and heaven than childbirth—particularly the 7 cm to delivery span.  I silently cried to God: “Help me!” My mind wandered back and forth between my present physical surroundings and an otherworldly distant space.  Somewhere in that space I found myself calling to my deceased friend, “Catheryn, I need you now!”  I don’t know if it was her voice or my own that whispered in my head, “It’s almost over.  You’re almost finished.” My husband’s soothing touch and the words “It’s almost over” playing over and over in my head are what carried me through to the end.

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I moved to the bed for the delivery. Perhaps it was Mary’s oil and hot compresses, but I never really felt the “ring of fire.”  I didn’t even really know the head was out until I heard someone say, “His head is out!”  Then Mary said, “Reach down and pull out your baby!”  I grasped onto his warm, slippery shoulders and pulled him up onto my chest.  It was 10:55 pm on April 1—an April Fool’s day baby!

At first all I could see was the top of his dark-haired head and his slippery arms and back.  We touched and rubbed him—alternating between smiling at each other and staring at our baby—as the midwives draped a towel over him.  I breathed quickly in and out, saying something like, “Oh my gosh!” and then, “Is he OK? Is he OK?”  Mary smiled and calmly said, “He’s just fine!  He’s doing great!”  Everyone started talking and smiling and taking photos.  My husband felt a tear roll down his cheek and watched it land on my shoulder.

Afterward, I was so full of energy and endorphins that I couldn’t stop smiling and didn’t really sleep for at least a day.  Within an hour after the birth, I was up and showering.  Then I went downstairs to grab a bite to eat, almost as though my body hadn’t just given birth (intact perineum… woohoo!).  The next days, weeks, and months I spent in bliss, more deeply in love with my tiny little boy than I ever imagined I could be. I had never experienced anything like the intense, fierce bond I was blessed to experience with that tiny baby boy, despite having two older children (whom I loved).

When the Lord communicated to us all those years ago that we would be blessed for inviting another of His spirit children into our home (two years later, we invited our 4th), I couldn’t have imagined just how blessed we would be.  I know with all my heart that our greatest blessings and joys come when we allow the Lord to guide us in all of our decisions.

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God Keeps His Promises

March 12, 2014 in Adversity, Book, Dads, Depression, Faith, Fear, Grief, Lani, Loss, Miracles, Personal Revelation, Postpartum Depression, Priesthood blessings

It has been nearly two years since I experienced what I can only describe as a “nervous breakdown.”

It started in April of 2012, coinciding with the birth of our book, The Gift of Giving Life, a year and two months after my fourth child’s birth.

And then my Grandma died. And I fell. Fast.

After several months of struggling to breathe, struggling to eat, struggling to keep the panic and despair from crushing me, God sent a friend to my home. She said, “I think maybe it’s time for you to try medication.” I had resisted medicine for a long time, trying countless natural remedies for anxiety and depression to no avail. But my friend had been where I was before, and she could see that I needed more help. She went with me to the doctor. I got my prescription. I held the bottle in my hands, but I was terrified to take it.

So I did the one thing that I always do when I don’t know what to do: I asked my husband for a blessing. In the blessing, God told me that “the medication would be of benefit to me” and that I would “be healed.” With that promise to give me courage, I took my first dose the next day, August 1, 2012. Adjusting to the medication took many weeks, but I clung to that promise despite horrific medication-induced insomnia, emotional ups and downs, and an even-more-horrific spiritual numbness that came over me.

It was during this dark period of adjustment that I hit my deepest lows, losing my very will to live. But, with time, as my body adjusted, my mind and spirit began to come back into balance. My co-authors prayed me well enough to join them in the Los Angeles temple in September, a miraculous feat.

As we celebrated my 32nd birthday, nearly three months after I started my medication, I was truly happy again. I was eating (and finally gaining some weight back). I was enjoying life. I had endured so much discomfort, despair, fear, and doubt in those weeks of adjustment, but God’s word was true. The medication had been of benefit to me. It had helped save my life. God’s promise was fulfilled.

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The relief was so magnificent that I couldn’t help but exclaim in joy and complete sincerity (on a nearly daily basis), smiling from ear to ear to my husband: “I don’t want to die today!” The victory of that declaration filled me with overwhelming gratitude to God and to my many friends and family who had helped me reach that triumphant place, most especially my husband.

The next question that filled my heart and mind was: “How long?” I wondered, “Will I need to take this medicine for the rest of my life?” I was willing to accept whatever I needed to do to stay stable so that I could take care of my family, but I also hoped that I would find a way to heal whatever needed to be healed so that I could move forward without medical assistance.

In another priesthood blessing, God answered my question: “You will be able to be happy without medication.” He didn’t tell me how long it would take, but I was satisfied with just knowing that someday I’d get there. And so I went on, taking my medication, feeling grateful for my rescue from the darkness. 2013 came and then 2014.

It has now been a week since I took any medicine.

About a year ago, I started cutting back on my dose, little by little, very slowly, adding in supplements recommended by readers and friends to ease the withdrawal. I took a dose last Tuesday, but when I was due for another dose I felt restrained from taking it. The next day I felt restrained, and the next, and the next. I didn’t hear a voice, but I felt a message in my gut: “You’re ready. It’s time.”

I have said to my husband more than once in the past few days, “Now watch, I’ll probably crash next week.” (<—That’s a text message from “Anxiety Girl,” of course.) He shakes his head and says, “Nope. You won’t.” And I think I believe him.

The other night, I asked him for another priesthood blessing. He said, “God wants to remind you of the promises He has made to you. He will keep those promises.”

God kept His promises to me.

I am happy (without medication). (!!!)

Wounded Warriors

October 4, 2013 in Abortion, Atonement, Depression, Dreams, Energy Healing, Forgiveness, Grief, Intuition, Lani, meditation, Motherhood, Pain, Parenting, Personal Revelation, Prayer, Pregnancy, Prenatal influences, Priesthood, Priesthood blessings

A reminder of our official disclaimer:

Though we have made every attempt to be consistent with the correct doctrine and teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, The Gift of Giving Life and all related media are an expression of many of our own thoughts and reflections upon pondering the truths of the gospel that we treasure. Our book, website, and facebook page are not official declarations of doctrine in regards to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to which we belong and cherish our membership. Please make sure to pray and ponder about everything you read.

Before I get into the meat of this post, I want to quote a scripture:

“The whole need no physician, but they that are sick; wherefore, little children are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin” (Moroni 8:8).

I absolutely believe those words to be true. In the context of Moroni’s words, I interpret the word “whole” to mean “without sin.” Little children are 100% whole in that sense. However, I have come to understand that while all children are whole, in the sense of being “without sin” themselves, some babies come to this earth already spiritually wounded. I have learned this truth first-hand.

In 2010, when I was pregnant with my youngest daughter (fourth child), something led me to the website of Sarah Hinze. At the time I felt very drawn to Sarah. Sarah has done extensive research into pre-birth experiences, and I found her research fascinating. I felt like God wanted me to connect with her, but I didn’t know why. Simultaneously, I was experiencing (for the first time) antepartum depression. I had never been depressed during a pregnancy before. I couldn’t figure out why I felt so much darkness and misery. It seemed so strange after three previous happy pregnancies.

After the birth, when my baby was eleven months old, I had a striking and memorable dream. Occasionally God speaks to me in dreams. I feel that this was one of those divine messages. Here’s what I saw…

I was walking with someone. I don’t know who it was. The road we were walking down looked like a ghost town. Dark, abandoned buildings. Dirty. Trash everywhere. But we were the only people walking down a deserted road. Eventually, we went over to the gutter on the side of the road, and I picked something up. At first I thought it was just a piece of garbage. But then, as I looked closer, it seemed to transform in my hand. It was a baby!  A tiny baby… only an inch or two or three. It fit in the palm of my hand, and it was alive.

My immediate thought was, “We have to find her parents!” I held her and began searching. As I searched, she grew miraculously (in the space of a few hours) to be five or six years old. A sweet little blonde girl. I took care of her while looking and looking for her parents or at least a suitable home for her. As I cared for her, I felt my heart ache and fill with love for her. Part of me really wanted to keep her, but another part of me thought, “I can’t take care of another kid right now!”

Eventually, after realizing that our search was futile, we brought her to a non-descript building. There was a massive line of children coming from the door. I got the impression that all those children were like her. They were waiting in line because they had nowhere to go. We headed to the back of the line to leave her there, but my heart was torn and breaking. I wanted to keep her, but I also didn’t feel like I could. Then the dream ended.

My interpretation of the dream was that the little girl from my dream was a special spirit who had been rejected and cast aside repeatedly, perhaps through abortions. She was hurting, and she desperately wanted to come to Earth, to be wanted and loved. I felt that I had been chosen to “rescue” her because I have the compassion and experience to know how to nurture a soul acquainted with abandonment. I felt that she would be bringing some of that heartache with her to Earth and that I had the means within me to help her heal. I thought this spirit sister was still waiting to come to my family, that she was a child I had not yet brought to Earth. I also felt that God was calling me to help rescue all the other children like her, castaways waiting for their turn on earth.

IMG_6650When I told my husband about the dream and my interpretation, his response was, “Maybe it’s just telling us where [our youngest daughter] came from?” I assumed he was just speaking from his own lack-of-desire to have any additional children. I wasn’t ready to open my mind to that possibility. No, it couldn’t be her, I thought.

A little over a year later, through a series of divinely-orchestrated events, I finally met and became dear friends with Sarah Hinze—the woman I had admired from afar on the internet since my pregnancy. I devoured several of Sarah’s books and developed a special connection with her. Over the past several decades, Sarah has gathered many stories about the spirits of aborted babies returning to earth. So we started working on some projects together, with a mutual desire to raise awareness about the “castaways” (like the little girl in my dream and countless others like her).

Through my work with Sarah Hinze, I became familiar with two stories that were influential in helping me open my mind and heart to the truth about my dream, my pregnancy depression, and my daughter:

We found that these were the feelings of the little girl in my womb. I was feeling all her feelings with her. . . . we learned that this little soul had been in another body that had been aborted. She was experiencing again the fears, rejection, sadness, and feelings of being not loved or wanted. She was feeling that she was nothing; and that she might possibly be destroyed again (“Learning to Trust“).

 The day I found out I was pregnant I literally danced for joy!  I had known he was coming for a number of years and was so anxious to have him.  I could feel he was pleased I wanted him so much.  Yet, in the ensuing weeks, I could feel a sadness about him.  I did not understand why. . . . In the beginning of February, I finally received the answer I had been looking for.  I was told by a friend who could see and talk to spirits, that Michael was . . . sad because he had been aborted a few years prior by another woman (“Receiving Michael“).

As I pondered these stories, my mind began to open to the possibility that my husband had been right with his interpretation of my dream.

Indeed, our youngest daughter had, over time, grown into a very clingy toddler who cried excessively. Though I had always gone out of my way to help her feel safe and loved and secure, she still seemed to have a constant mistrust of my permanence in her life. Always afraid to let me out of her sight. She was restless, doubtful, anxious, and seemed so often unhappy. And I was exhausted and at my wit’s end wondering what I had done wrong with her. All she had known all her life was love, safety, and compassion. So why was she so miserable?

Then just a few months ago in June, I finally asked God. After feeling little whispers here and there, urging me to open my mind and heart, I got on my knees, and I asked if my youngest daughter was the little girl from my dream. Almost immediately, it was like hundreds of little puzzle pieces clicked into place in my head, and a tidal wave of intense anguish swept over me. I gasped and started sobbing. I felt impressed that the vast portion of the pain I was feeling belonged to my daughter. I believe I was given a small taste of the agony of her festering pre-mortal wounds. And I sobbed and sobbed, bathed in her agony and my own guilt for having been so blind to her wounds (and so resentful of her neediness), for nearly an hour.

Once I had calmed down enough to explain to my husband why I was sobbing, I asked for a priesthood blessing. Within that blessing, I was given divine confirmation of the impressions and revelation I had received. She was the little girl from my dream. She had been cast away multiple times in the past. My heart was broken for her.

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A few weeks later, I had a conversation that served as another witness to my daughter’s pain-filled past. She is now two-and-a-half years old. On that particular morning I had been praying and meditating with the intent to help her heal. So it seemed fitting that she, somehow sensing my focus on her pre-earth self, started a conversation with me about it:

“I was in your belly,” she said.

“Yes, you were!” I said with a smile. “Did you like it in my belly?”

“No,” she answered. And then the moment passed.

Maybe ten minutes later, we were in her bedroom changing her clothes or doing some other morning task, and she said, “I was sad.”

“When were you sad?” I asked.

“In your belly,” she said.

Though I was not excited to learn that my daughter’s womb experiences had been, in fact, painful for her, it was also a relief to hear her little voice speaking the words. I felt that it was both a confirmation that I wasn’t crazy and a confirmation that my efforts were doing something and stirring up something inside of her, which is often one of the first steps to healing. I was happy that something had given her the voice to speak her pain out loud.

I will have to save the rest of our healing journey for another blogpost, but I wanted to at least share this much today. I want to bear my firm testimony that there are many spirits being sent to earth in these days who have “baggage.” They are, of course, whole and pure, in the sense Moroni spoke of. But some of them are also carrying painful wounds that they received before they ever took their first breaths. I believe that many of these children are being compensated for their previous trials and pain through being sent to loving homes where they can be nurtured in peace and heal. Perhaps one of your children (or a future child) is among those wounded souls. These special spirits need special mothering, tenderness, empathy, compassion. You can read more of their stories HERE.

I have written about the Spirit of Elijah in our book. I believe these special wounded spirits are among those Malachi was making reference to when he said:

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children” (Malachi 4:5-6).

I invite you to turn your heart to these children. I invite you to gain your own testimony of their existence. I invite you to resolve to do whatever you can to help them heal. It is my belief that some of the most valiant and gifted of heavenly fathers children are among them, and it is for this very reason that Satan has (often repeatedly) thwarted their entrance into mortality. They are the armies that will eventually destroy him. Let’s help empower them to do so.

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My Favorite Birth Photos

May 29, 2013 in Birth Stories, Dads, Doulas, home birth, Lani, Personal Revelation, Prayer, Pregnancy, Priesthood blessings

On April Fool’s Day of 2009, I gave birth to my third child (my only son) at home (10:55 pm, 7 lbs 8 oz, 19 3/4″ long). After two smooth and low-risk pregnancies, losing our maternity insurance, and lots of priesthood blessings and prayer, we knew home birth was the right path for our third (and fourth) pregnancies.

It was a near-perfect birth from start to finish. My water broke in the afternoon, I relaxed at home, contractions started a couple of hours after membranes ruptured, I ate dinner, my birth support team arrived, labor picked-up, I hung out in the birth pool during the most intense contractions, I pushed for five minutes, baby boy was born on my bed. You can read all the details HERE.

It was magical. And I’m so glad I had my friend Cassie and my sister-in-law Brooke there as my doulas/photographers. I created a slideshow with my birth photos that you can view HERE. But I realized yesterday that I’ve never shared the photos themselves online. Here are some of my favorites, taken by Cassie (and Brooke) at the end of my pregnancy, during labor, and afterward:

Read the rest of this entry →

For My Own Spiritual Growth

May 23, 2013 in Angels, Birth Stories, Book, Dads, Doulas, Dreams, Faith, Fear, Felice, home birth, Midwives, Personal Revelation, Prayer, Preparation, Temple

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.

871326072459264_a-4cf2abaa_m2OWUQ_pmMy 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.

In Good Hands

March 22, 2013 in Adversity, Birth Stories, Faith, Family History, Lani, LDS History, Midwives, Miracles, Personal Revelation, Prayer, Priesthood blessings, Relief Society

“He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: . . . and shall gently lead those that are with young.” -Isaiah 40:11

Today’s Women’s History Month stories come from our Latter-day Saint birthing history. I fantasize about having a book containing all the recorded birth accounts of our early Mormon mothers and midwives. What an amazing book that would be! I have a feeling that those account would do for us modern mothers what the following two accounts have done for me. They would show us over and over and over that God cares deeply about each birth and that we are given divine aid and protection as we participate in the sacred work of giving life to His children.

This first account was shared by a friend in her sacrament meeting talk about family history work. It describes a miracle experienced by her own ancestors. With her permission, I share it here:

Benjamin Boyce (1884-1962) tells the story of when his wife Maud Evelina Brown (1884 – 1935) was pregnant and very sick. His autobiography reads, “After about three weeks the doctor said that she would have to have an operation. I asked if she would lose the baby and the doctor said ‘Yes’ But Maud refused to be operated on and said, ‘Go get the Elders and I will be all right.’ I did….[they] administered to her saying ‘You will have a son, who will be a joy and a comfort to you the rest of your life.’ This blessing was literally fulfilled, six weeks later [our son] was born, July  1, 1914.” (Dan and Echo Boyce, Boyce Family History, Vol. 1, 1973,  p. 406)

Talk about getting a “second opinion,” huh? There is no greater “doctor” than the Lord, and we can always put our faith and trust in His opinion and counsel. I am amazed by Maud’s great sacrifice, faith, and determination. She was willing to lay aside the understanding of men and put herself and her baby in God’s hands. In turn, she was granted a beautiful miracle.

The next story comes from the beautiful book, Daughters in My Kingdom, given to all the Relief Society sisters last year. I was thrilled to see the stories of some of our early Mormon midwives and lady doctors shared in this great book. The following story, in particular, was a powerful and beautiful testament to me that those who oversee our births can be given clear and direct guidance straight from the Lord on our behalf when they are in-tune.

Emma Andersen Liljenquist attended a course in midwifery in Utah after President Brigham Young had urged many sisters to receive medical training to meet the needs of the Saints and their growing families. This was also at the time when women were officially called and set apart as midwives for life (you can read more about midwifery as a spiritual calling in our book and here). Emma recorded these experiences from her years as a midwife among the saints:

After being set apart by Apostle John Henry Smith and several others, I returned home to do my work, having been promised by the Apostles that if I lived right I should always know what to do in case of any difficulties. . . . That promise has been fulfilled to the very letter. Many times when one of my patients was seriously ill, I have asked my Heavenly Father for assistance, and in every case it was given to me. One in particular was a lady who had just given birth to a baby and hemorrhage set in. The husband called the doctor, but he did not realize that it was so serious. I . . . asked the Lord to help us. The hemorrhage ceased and I did the necessary things for her. When the doctor arrived, he said he could hardly believe what had happened, but said I had done exactly what he would have done. . . . I have brought over one thousand babies [into the world]. Once again I give thanks to my Heavenly Father for His help and the strength the Lord has given me, for without it I could not have rendered this service to my sisters in our community. (Daughters in My Kingdom, p. 55-56)

I am in awe of Emma’s great faith. I can’t imagine how humbling it must be to know that you are overseeing the entrance of another human soul into mortality and protecting the sacred vessel bringing that soul here: the mother. What a marvelous yet daunting task to shoulder. I don’t know how anyone could do it without the Lord. I love Emma’s humble insistence that she could not have done her duties without His help. As I said before, there is no greater “doctor” than the Lord, and as our Father and Creator, He knows our bodies and their physical processes better than anyone. He knows exactly what these physical bodies need to heal and be made whole.

Sometimes, however, the Lord calls babies or mothers home. Sometimes their right path is not to be healed or delivered from difficulty. Though I cannot begin to imagine the heartache felt by those left behind under such circumstances, I feel certain that those babies, mothers, and grieving loved ones are no less “in good hands” as they endure those losses. Having lost close loved ones myself, I can testify to the overwhelming peace that can envelop and surround and strengthen those in mourning.

Whether we are given miraculous healing and rescue or given miraculous peace in times of loss, I know with all my heart that we are always in Good Hands.

The Birth of Claire Eleanor

January 7, 2013 in Birth Stories, Dads, Fear, Gratitude, hospital birth, Lani, Midwives, miscarriage, Priesthood blessings

Today I’m happy to share the birth of Claire Eleanor, the fourth child of Liz. This birth came after an anxiety-filled pregnancy and a previous stillbirth. This was her first birth without an epidural. I hope you enjoy it (and Liz’s priceless sense of humor) as much as I did. We enter the story after Liz has been experiencing lots of preparatory on and off contractions, a few days past her due date. At this point her contractions were irregular but strong, and Liz was hopeful that this was “it.” -Lani

The Birth of Claire Eleanor
By Liz

On Monday, November 26, Chris and I settled in downstairs to hang out and watch Monday Night Football. Around 8:45-ish, I started to feel some weird pressure in my pelvis with a contraction.  I got down on the floor to squat, thinking that would help things feel better, and I felt something shift, and a small gush.”Ummm… Chris?  I think my water just broke.”

“What?!  Are you sure?!  Get upstairs!  There’s no bathroom down here!  Gross!  Don’t wreck the basement!” So I proceeded to waddle up the stairs, trying not to laugh too hard (laughing made more fluid gush) as Chris followed me up the stairs, showing an unusually high (although appreciated) degree of concern for our carpet.  I ran into the bathroom and Chris called my parents – my mom had called me about twenty minutes earlier to say that she had a bag packed and was ready to go in case I went into labor that night.  Once I verified that my water had broken, although not in a Niagara Falls sort of way, she said she’d get her things together and get on the road, and would be at our house in a little over three hours.  I was giddy – I am finally going to have this baby!!!!!  That said, my contractions weren’t really picking up, so I figured we could just hang out and continue watching the game until things got harder.

Much to my surprise, things started to pick up.  Around 9:25, my friend who had offered to watch my other kids called and said she’d be right over.  I called down to Chris and said to turn off the TV – I thought we should go as soon as Stacy got there.  I jotted down some notes – phone numbers, TV instructions, etc. – and asked Chris to give me a blessing.  I admit I was scared – I wasn’t sure how this whole thing would go down, and I was terrified that something awful would happen in delivery, just like in my nightmares from the preceding months.

Afterwards, I felt so much peace.  I felt like things would be ok, that I would have divine help, and that I didn’t need to be scared.

Around 9:40pm, Stacy arrived and we headed out the door.  We called my midwife’s office, and they let us know that Kristin was on call, which made me happy – Kristin is who delivered my third baby, and I absolutely love her.  Chris was driving a little quickly, but nothing out of the ordinary.  Then, about three minutes away from the house, I had a huge contraction that led me to take off my seat belt, climb up on my knees facing the backseat, and grip the headrest with all of my might.  I told Chris not to crash.  At that point, he definitely started driving much more aggressively than normal.

At 9:58 p.m., we checked into the hospital.  I had three contractions between exiting the car and getting to the check-in desk.  Thankfully the nurses seemed to believe that I was in active labor and they skipped triage, taking me right back to a birthing suite.

As the nurse is asking me about my medical history and whether or not I’m allergic to everything under the sun, she casually mentions that my contractions seem to be coming close.  Uh, you think?  They were getting so hard and the whole time I kept thinking to myself that it was going way too fast.  I felt a couple of double-peaked contractions and it freaked me out – I knew this was a sign of transition.

They tell me that the resident on the floor needs to check me to verify that my water broke (apparently the disgusting mess on the floor was not evidence enough).  I conceded, and he came in and checked me – I was dilated to a 6/7, 95% effaced, and the baby was at a +1 station.  I hopped up and demanded to get in the tub ASAP.  The nurse started to fill it up and I stood in the bathroom, trying to cope with the insane contractions.  It was weird – in all of my other labors, all I wanted was to bend over something and sway while Chris pressed on my back.  This was just the opposite – all I wanted was to arch my back as far as possible.  So I stood there, gripping one of those elderly person hand rails for dear life, bending backwards like a gymnast, trying not to lose my footing on the slippery floors.

I started to feel hot and a bit light-headed, which I knew meant that things were really gearing up.  I finally got in the tub and was thrilled to have some reprieve.  It seems like the water takes the edges off the beginning and ends of the contractions, meaning I got more time to recuperate in between them.  That said, I panicked when I realized that, holy crap, these still really hurt.  I just writhed around, moaning and trying to get a grip on the contractions.

Chris was my rock – sitting right there, telling me I’m doing great, that this one is almost over, that I can do this, that my body knows what to do, that I’m amazing… he talked me through every single contraction like nobody else could have.  Hearing him voice confidence in me gave me the confidence I needed, and it took away the fear.  If he thought I could do it, then I could.

At that point, I started to think how unbelievably stupid this whole thing was, and that I couldn’t do it anymore.  I told Chris that I was done, and I wanted an epidural.  He smiled at me, and said, “Um, I’m pretty sure you’re doing this right now.”  That was not the answer I wanted, but at the same time I knew he was right – it wasn’t going to be long.

All of the sudden, I had a super hard contraction that definitely felt pushy.  I told Chris, and he hopped up to tell the nurse, and came right back by my side.  The next contraction came fast – and felt even more pushy.  I told him that, and he told the nurse again.  I could tell they were starting to panic a little bit since my midwife hadn’t arrived yet. The midwives do waterbirths at that hospital, but the residents/OBs generally don’t.  The nurse came in to tell me that I needed to get out of the tub.  I believe my exact response was, “NO.”  I wasn’t sure I would even be able to – at that point the hospital could’ve been on fire and I probably would’ve refused to get out of the tub.  I believe I also told them that I wasn’t getting out of the tub unless there was an anesthesiologist standing right there with a needle to jab into my back.  As I recall, they laughed at that.  I wasn’t joking.

The next contraction hit me like a freight train, and it was pushing.  I didn’t feel like I had any choice in the matter – my body had taken matters into its own hands, and it was pushing hard.  Sadly, this is where the decision to eat an entire Chipotle burrito just a few hours before backfired.  Labor had come so fast that my body hadn’t had the opportunity to really empty things out in preparation for birth.  The tub became outright disgusting.  I half-heartedly apologized to everybody in the room, but really, I didn’t care how grossed out anybody was – I was too shocked by the fact that my body was trying to birth this baby and I had absolutely no say in the matter.

The nurses frantically told me to get out of the tub right then.  They started explaining all of the reasons that I needed to get out – that Kristin wasn’t there yet, that the resident doesn’t do waterbirths, that my amniotic fluid had meconium in it and that the baby might try to take a breath at birth, thus prohibiting a water birth.  Strangely, they ignored what I considered the most persuasive argument of all – that I was swimming in filth.

I immediately had another contraction and suddenly could feel the baby crowning.  I decided that, holy crap, this baby might actually be born.  I started to climb out of the tub.  I finally opened my eyes and saw how disgusting the tub was, and wondered why nobody made a bigger deal out of that.  I also looked up at the resident who was standing right there, all gowned/gloved up and ready for delivery.  The look of sheer terror on his face is something I will never forget.  I could tell he was appalled by something – it could’ve been the tub (understandable), the weird noises I was making with the contractions (also understandable), or the fact that he was going to have to deliver this crazy lady’s baby.  I later found out that he was a first-year resident who had spent two weeks on the OB floor prior to this, and that he had never done an un-medicated delivery like this.

I climbed out of the tub and made a mad dash for the bed.  I climbed up and positioned myself on my hands and knees, for no other reason than that’s what felt good at the time.  The nurses were toweling me off and I could tell that the resident was a bit concerned about me being in that position.

I made a mental note to kick anybody in the mouth (like a horse would) who told me to turn over.

I was as comfortable as I was going to get, gripping two pillows for dear life, with Chris’ hand on my head/back/shoulder, telling me I’m doing great.

Another contraction hit and my body kept pushing.  At this point, I got scared again.  I admit that part of the reason I didn’t want to get out of the tub is that I’ve always been terrified that birthing without the cushion of water would hurt like the freaking dickens and that I would feel myself tear or something awful.  I figure it hurts less to stub your toe in the pool than it does outside of it – why wouldn’t that be the same with birth?  But as my body began to push, and I felt the baby’s head pushing and crowning, there was hardly any pain.  There was a ton of pressure, and a bit of mild burning where my skin was stretching, but I was relieved to discover that pushing actually felt cool.  I could feel the whole thing, and was intensely aware of what the baby and my body were doing, but luckily the endorphins seemed to really kick in and turn off any pain in the area.  It was crazy – the contraction in my uterus hurt a bit, but the actual baby coming out just felt cool.

With the next push/contraction, I could tell she was almost born.  I felt her head slip out, and they told me to do one more hard push, and I felt her whole body slither right out.  I’m not gonna lie – that is one of the coolest/best feelings in the whole world.  I suddenly felt light as a feather – the pressure was gone, the pain was gone, and I just felt DONE.  It was 11:15pm, just 2.5 hours after my water broke.

I could immediately tell something was amiss – they were hurrying to cut the cord and whisking her off to do something. Apparently she had pooped all over herself in the womb and they were cleaning her off and making sure there wasn’t any meconium in her lungs.  And frankly, I didn’t mind.

I had always thought that after giving birth naturally, I would be overcome with tears and a desire to hold my baby and that the heavens would open and angels would sing the Hallelujah Chorus and that perhaps somebody would be playing a harp.  But nope – I was just so thrilled to be done that I was almost glad that they had taken the baby away for a few minutes.  I just needed to breathe and take a few minutes to recover from what had just happened.  I asked if she was ok, and everybody assured me she was, and I heard her cry, and I was relieved, but I still didn’t really want to move.  When I finally flopped over to lay down, I realized that there were probably 15 nurses in the room, the deer-in-the-headlights resident who had done the delivery, and a third-year resident who had come up to check on things.  The first thing I said?  “Oh, hey Justin.”

Yeah, that third-year resident who just watched me give birth on all fours, like a hippie out of an Ina May Gaskin book?  He goes to my church.  I’m really good friends with his wife.  We may never make eye contact again.

Kristin rushed into the room about five minutes after delivery.  She was pretty ticked that she missed the birth, especially since the nurses are the ones who messed it up by calling the wrong person.  She checked me over and told me that I had a small tear, but nothing needing to be repaired.  I overheard her telling the nurses that she would’ve let me deliver in the tub (although she would’ve drained it and filled it back up), and she was obviously annoyed that they weren’t as gentle as she would have been with the delivery.  The resident mentioned that he had never done a hands-and-knees delivery before, and Kristin says that if the nurses can get their crap together, she can show him lots of awesome “non-traditional” births.

Since they were cleaning up the baby anyways, I asked them to weigh her (normally they wait an hour or so).  She was 8lbs 6oz.  After what seemed like an eternity (but was only about five minutes), they brought her over to me and laid her on my chest, skin to skin.  She looked so small and perfect.  She had lots of hair.  I asked if anybody verified that she was, indeed, a girl, and everybody laughed and said they were 100% sure.

As I was looking her over, trying to determine if she looked like her brothers, I had a rush of happiness come over me – we did it!  She’s here!  She’s alive!  She’s perfect!  And I never have to give birth again!

I started to tear up – I was just so grateful, and I found myself being almost surprised.  So much of my insane anxiety over this pregnancy has been related to loss – despite my best efforts to abate the fear, I always had a deep fear in the back of my mind that I would lose this baby.  Even as I felt her move, I knew that any second she could die in utero and I would have a stillborn.  I realized at some point in my third trimester that everybody in my family that has lost a baby late in pregnancy has lost a girl – my aunt had an 8-month stillborn girl.  My other aunt lost a baby girl at 18 weeks.  I lost a baby girl at 16 weeks.  Despite knowing that it was improbable, illogical, and ultimately ridiculous, my subconscious wondered if I was genetically predisposed to not having a daughter – like I would never be able to carry one to term and have her be born alive.  It’s so weird, because most people don’t consider their baby dying at full-term to be much of a possibility, but for me, it felt not only like a possible outcome, it felt like the probable outcome.

So when she was born, I was hit with such a wave of relief – I was almost shocked and surprised that she was there!  And breathing!  I couldn’t believe how surprised I felt.  Despite trying so hard to have faith and not fear, I still ended up so surprised.  I think this might be a huge factor contributing to my utter bliss in the post-partum period – there are hormones and other things involved, but ultimately I’m just so thrilled to have her here, and to have her alive and breathing.  I feel so lucky.

The resident delivered the placenta and we got her nursing – she nursed like a champ from the beginning, despite the normal “oh holy crap you little wolverine please don’t chew off my nipples” bit during the first few days. And since then, we’ve spent a lot of time just lying by each other – me just listening to her breathe and sniffing her head, and her just dozing in and out of a peaceful slumber.  With my other kids, I’ve never been able to sleep with them too close to me – they make too many little noises and I’m rather particular about how I sleep – I can’t just sleep in any position or have people touching me while I sleep.  But with Claire, she could sleep draped across my face and I’d be happily dozing.  We spent the first week with her cuddled up on my chest, me laying on my back, both of us snoozing away.  It’s been so different and lovely.

In Good Hands

March 5, 2012 in Birth Stories, Family History, Lani, LDS History, Midwives, Priesthood blessings, Relief Society

“He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: . . . and shall gently lead those that are with young.” -Isaiah 40:11

This week’s birth stories come from our Latter-day Saint birthing history. I fantasize about having a book containing all the recorded birth accounts of our early Mormon mothers and midwives. What an amazing book that would be! I have a feeling that those account would do for us modern mothers what the following two accounts have done for me. They would show us over and over and over that God cares deeply about each birth and that we are given divine aid and protection as we participate in the sacred work of giving life to His children.

This first account was shared a couple of weeks ago by a friend in her sacrament meeting talk about family history work. It describes a miracle experienced by her own ancestors. With her permission, I share it here:

Benjamin Boyce (1884-1962) tells the story of when his wife Maud Evelina Brown (1884 – 1935) was pregnant and very sick. His autobiography reads, “After about three weeks the doctor said that she would have to have an operation. I asked if she would lose the baby and the doctor said ‘Yes’ But Maud refused to be operated on and said, ‘Go get the Elders and I will be all right.’ I did….[they] administered to her saying ‘You will have a son, who will be a joy and a comfort to you the rest of your life.’ This blessing was literally fulfilled, six weeks later [our son] was born, July  1, 1914.” (Dan and Echo Boyce, Boyce Family History, Vol. 1, 1973,  p. 406)

Talk about getting a “second opinion,” huh? There is no greater “doctor” than the Lord, and we can always put our faith and trust in His opinion and counsel. I am amazed by Maud’s great sacrifice, faith, and determination. She was willing to lay aside the understanding of men and put herself and her baby in God’s hands. In turn, she was granted a beautiful miracle.

The next story comes from the beautiful book, Daughters in My Kingdom, given to all the Relief Society sisters last year. I was thrilled to see the stories of some of our early Mormon midwives and lady doctors shared in this great book. The following story, in particular, was a powerful and beautiful testament to me that those who oversee our births can be given clear and direct guidance straight from the Lord on our behalf when they are in-tune.

Emma Andersen Liljenquist attended a course in midwifery in Utah after President Brigham Young had urged many sisters to receive medical training to meet the needs of the Saints and their growing families. This was also at the time when women were officially called and set apart as midwives for life (you can read more about midwifery as a spiritual calling in our book and here). Emma recorded these experiences from her years as a midwife among the saints:

After being set apart by Apostle John Henry Smith and several others, I returned home to do my work, having been promised by the Apostles that if I lived right I should always know what to do in case of any difficulties. . . . That promise has been fulfilled to the very letter. Many times when one of my patients was seriously ill, I have asked my Heavenly Father for assistance, and in every case it was given to me. One in particular was a lady who had just given birth to a baby and hemorrhage set in. The husband called the doctor, but he did not realize that it was so serious. I . . . asked the Lord to help us. The hemorrhage ceased and I did the necessary things for her. When the doctor arrived, he said he could hardly believe what had happened, but said I had done exactly what he would have done. . . . I have brought over one thousand babies [into the world]. Once again I give thanks to my Heavenly Father for His help and the strength the Lord has given me, for without it I could not have rendered this service to my sisters in our community. (Daughters in My Kingdom, p. 55-56)

I am in awe of Emma’s great faith. I can’t imagine how humbling it must be to know that you are overseeing the entrance of another human soul into mortality and protecting the sacred vessel bringing that soul here: the mother. What a marvelous yet daunting task to shoulder. I don’t know how anyone could do it without the Lord. I love Emma’s humble insistence that she could not have done her duties without His help. As I said before, there is no greater “doctor” than the Lord, and as our Father and Creator, He knows our bodies and their physical processes better than anyone. He knows exactly what these physical bodies need to heal and be made whole.

Sometimes, however, the Lord calls babies or mothers home. Sometimes their right path is not to be healed or delivered from difficulty. Though I cannot begin to imagine the heartache felt by those left behind under such circumstances, I feel certain that those babies, mothers, and grieving loved ones are no less “in good hands” as they endure those losses. Having lost close loved ones myself, I can testify to the overwhelming peace that can envelop and surround and strengthen those in mourning.

Whether we are given miraculous healing and rescue or given miraculous peace in times of loss, I know with all my heart that we are always in Good Hands.