Nicholas’s Birth Story

It took a lot longer to sit down and write this out than last time… and it’s sat in my drafts for two years now.

After Nicholas was born, we had a bit of a whirlwind – my Grandma Klemm passed away and we flew down to say goodbye, Hirav started having his own medical challenges, we decided to buy a house 400 miles away, and we moved into that house alongside my Grandma Monge who decided to leave her retirement home to join us.

The day before Nicholas was born, I was sure I was in labor already. It was actually his due date. I went to run some errands while the contractions started and texted the midwives. It felt exactly like the first part of Lucia’s labor (the part where I wasn’t so sure it was happening). Slow contractions, the muscles tightening, but no discernible pain or even real discomfort.

At nighttime they completely petered out.

The midwives attributed it to Braxton Hicks contractions, but I suspect it was something more like prodromal labor. The differences are subtle. But where Braxton Hicks is more like practice to get the uterus ready, prodromal labor is actual labor that simply doesn’t progress to a baby. It’s more like a precursor to labor. Prodromal labor often involves more consistent contractions than Braxton Hicks and also doesn’t dissipate as easily.

The timing makes me lean toward prodromal, because the next morning the contractions were back. They began as Lucia nursed in the morning. Everyone made me swear up and down that I wouldn’t wait until the last minute to go in (since we were in the hospital for just 40 or so minutes with Lucia). Everyone was nervous that this second baby would come faster.

I called the midwife. She agreed to come in to the birth center, but she wouldn’t rush it. Not to worry, I said, we would go there early and just walk around the neighborhood for a bit. Walking can sometimes help speed things along, so I figured it couldn’t hurt to be close by. Plus contractions in the car feel worse than ones on the ground where you can move or shake it out.

So Hirav and I started walking around the birth center, just touring the neighborhood in San Mateo. We talked to some of the neighbors. Some of them joked that I’d go into labor hiking up those hills! “I’m already in it!” we laughed as I explained there was a birth center nearby. None of them had heard of it. After about two hours, the contractions were coming closer together and the midwife arrived so we walked to the birth center. We got there around noon.

The birth center had this lovely little side patio, so I began walking over there instead. Side to side. This time I had Hirav push on my backside during the contractions. Sometimes he was doing such a great job, I felt no pain at all during the contraction. I could labor like this for days, I thought! It was heavenly. I’m sure Hirav didn’t think that though – it was getting tiring for him. During this time, it seemed like labor had slowed down a bit. It was still happening, but on its own time frame.

What I hadn’t realized was that the midwives didn’t want to be there all day if I wasn’t progressing. I understand that in retrospect, but I wish maybe I had known that sooner. It’s hard to be playing a guessing game – how much faster will this baby be vs the last one? How do we time our arrival as well as the midwife who was coming from farther away? I felt very safe in the hands of the midwives at the birth center. The main one overseeing my labor was a registered nurse as well, who had helped through thousands of births. Still, the experience made me appreciate why some women choose home births. It would have been nice to worry less about the timing of things and to just let it come as it did.

Eventually, the midwife made me lie on my side to try and speed up the labor. It felt much worse, but it was progressing more. We put on my labor music throughout this process – it was a playlist of songs from the Benedictine sisters of Ephesus, whose music is angelic. We overheard the midwives chatting (the RN Judi and the student in training), who were noting that the center had attracted a certain type of unusual clientele – the devoutly religious Christians. Hirav and I laughed and wondered if the music had given us away. The last midwife came, the one who owned the center.

Finally, the active labor began at some point past 3. I started wanting to push. This time, though, I was having a hard time finding the right angle. Hirav and I were lying in the bed together at first, and I went into a position on my hands and knees on the bed once I wanted to push. But it was easy to brace myself on the hospital bed with Lucia, and I couldn’t get the bracing right on this softer bed. Poor Hirav became my brace and my pillow. I clung to him as I pushed. The contractions were shorter together. I felt less focused than I had at this stage with Lucia. I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted.

In retrospect, I probably should have found a different location in the room to labor. They had a variety of other things to help with labor including a ladder that would have been great to brace against. But the still calm between contractions was shorter than last time, and the clarity less as well.

Finally, I felt the telltale ring of fire. “The baby is crowning!” I declared. Judi raised an eyebrow. “Are you sure?” she asked. I consented to an examination, the first during the entire labor, which felt like even more fire. “You’re not crowning yet,” she insisted.

I was dejected. Nothing made sense anymore. The time from when I had felt the ring of fire to Lucia’s birth was under 40 minutes. This time it was supposed to be faster. But if I hadn’t felt that, then how long would this really be? A friend had recently confided to me that her second labor had been much less smooth than the first – she had ended up pushing for 2.5 hours. I began to feel afraid, that maybe I would be in similar shows.

I didn’t think I could make it that far. And I felt so confused because I wasn’t even crowning but the pain felt like I WAS crowning. Then I remembered – the gas! I asked for laughing gas. They said that they could offer it if we asked. Although I was opposed to other forms of pain relief, I wasn’t opposed to gas. The midwives seemed surprised, and the Judi started working on it. But she wasn’t able to finish, because then I started pushing more and there was no time.

I felt it – the baby started coming for real. And it felt different. There was a smoothness to the shoulders, the neck, the arms as they slid through the birth canal. But I had been right – it was just a few minutes after I asked for the gas.

And as the baby slipped out, Judi told me to not push. Not push?! My brain didn’t know how to not push. Every fiber of my being wanted to push. I managed a half-hearted softer push. It’s very hard when every TV show only shows women being told to push, push, PUSH! It’s hard to process in the moment what it means to slow down. My failure to slow down is likely why I ended up with a second degree tear, which they noted is unusual for second time mothers in the hands and knee position.

Despite my failure to follow directions, the midwives seemed delighted and surprised. It turns out that Nicholas was born en caul! My water had never broken. That’s why it felt so different. There was a gushing sound as they opened the amniotic sac. The cord was short and small.

I released Hirav from his being-a-pillow-duties but it was hard to turn over. The cord was so short that Nicholas couldn’t lay on my chest so he rested on my stomach for a few minutes before Hirav cut the cord. We were both bummed that we had missed Nicholas being in the sac; the midwives were rightfully more concerned with ensuring Nicholas was breathing than with snapping a photo even if we all regretted it a little bit later.

Within a few minutes, the midwives were getting nervous that I hadn’t delivered more of the placenta. “If you don’t deliver the rest, we’ll have to take you to the hospital” the head midwife threatened. Judi helped me get up and squat. I delivered the rest of the placenta and breathed a sigh of relief.

Then I lay down and nursed my lovely little baby boy. We finished up the paperwork and got the baby ready to go home. Nicholas was born around 4:30pm and we left around 8:30pm.

We made it home just in time for Lucia to meet her little brother Nick-las before she went to bed. She was so excited and sweet and kept repeating hi over and over. My heart was so overjoyed. It was lovely to get to recover at home so soon as well.

The midwives said no two births are alike. But it is very hard to avoid comparing, to think “I was this far along and it went this quickly and it felt like that.” I’ll have to see with my next labor – Lord willing – how similar things feel along the way. In retrospect, Judi and I agreed that I probably had felt the sac coming through, which is why I felt crowning that she couldn’t detect during her examination. It was interesting to me that I only felt like I needed medication when I was so very close to the end, and so afraid that I wasn’t close at all.

In one of our follow-ups, Judi said she felt my labor slowed because I was resisting the pain instead of embracing it. I’m not entirely sure what that means. I am going to meditate more on this before the next birth, and also on what it would mean to not push while the baby exits the birth canal. I tried hypnobirthing meditations beforehand and they were honestly no help to me; they made me feel less relaxed. Still, I’m not sure how to embrace the labor more. I am also going to try and figure out how to feel supported in labor without making Hirav my personal body pillow. He has now basically missed the baby coming out twice, so hopefully third time’s the charm! In exchange, I’ll ask him to work out more so he has the upper body stamina to give more massages during labor.

On the subject of en caul deliveries, the midwives also reported that they had seen several en caul deliveries between them. (Ours was the first for the student, and the first at this particular center.) I found this fascinating because studies suggest that it occurs 1 in 80,000 births. However, it is unlikely that they have seen more than a fraction of that between them (probably closer to 5,000 total). Judi said it was more likely to happen with midwives because they use less interventions to begin with (like the membrane sweep), which I believe.

We are very glad that we worked with a certified birth center this time around. It was a lot more relaxed than the hospital would have been, and my mind was much more at ease knowing that I didn’t have to resist potential interventions as I did with my first birth. In retrospect, some of the clarity I felt during Lucia’s birth was because I knew exactly what I wanted to reject. I see now as well why people choose at home births, too. There is a part of me that wonders what the labor would have felt like if we had let things go more slowly and I had more painless contractions with Hirav’s support. I’m not entirely sure what we’ll do next time around. In either case, I’m so grateful for the midwives and their support.

Other random odds and ends:

Nicholas’ eyes slowly changed from blue to violet to steel to brown in the first few months.

With Lucia, I tested positive for Group B strep at 36 weeks. This time I pre-emptively tried Rephresh probiotics that have been found to reduce incidence of Group B strep and it seems like they actually worked!

During one follow up, Judi informed me that I have an efficient uterus. I pushed the baby out quickly and the womb went back into place quickly. Sounds like me!

The dress I wore home was a wrap dress which is basically like a comfy robe. 10/10 would wear again postpartum.

Book Discussion on The Vanishing American Adult

This summer, I led a book discussion group for the Harvard Christian Alumni Society on Senator Ben Sasse’s The Vanishing American Adult. We thoroughly enjoyed the book and are hoping to run another book group in the future, perhaps in January. It was a nice change to read a book and be able to process it with others.

Below are the discussion questions I wrote up. We didn’t make it through all of them each week, but it was helpful to have some guide to our conversation.

Chapter 1

  1. Ancient Roman law broke up youth into three stages: infantia, pueritia, and pubertas. Pubertas (ages 14-20) was the “launching point” for adulthood, and has been marked by various “rites of passage” across many cultures. Sasse contends that our coming-of-age rituals “have become more automatic, and less purposeful, than achievement-based rituals” (16). Do you agree with his assessment?
  2. Sasse argues that there are 5 post-WWII developments that affected the development of Baby Boomers and subsequent generations (material surplus, age-segregated environments, the disintegration of the family, institutionalized secondary schooling increasing peer culture, and the protest era causing polarization on moral issues). Which of these developments do you believe has played the largest role in changing how Americans become adults?
  3. Sasse suggests that there was a debate at the turn of the 20th century about what children should learn in school between the traditionalists (who viewed education’s purpose as moral instruction for the souls of students, with an eye toward character- and virtue-building) and pragmatists (who viewed education’s purpose as churning out workers with basic competencies for productive living in an industrial economy). What do you view as the purpose of education?

Chapter 2

  1. Tocqueville said that Americans seem to need no adolescence at all, in contrast to the French in the 1800s (36). Last week, Alastair pointed out that Americans work more hours per week than most other countries. Is the trend toward a longer adolescence a matter of American decline or just returning to a more global norm?
  2. Do we agree with the 8 markers Sasse outlines for adulthood? Are these reasonable markers or should we consider other markers? (Sasse, for example, notes a difference in “intentional multigenerational living” vs the phenomenon of boomerang kids.)
  3. Sasse suggests mass schooling shaped the rise of toxic teen culture and consumerism thanks to teen marketing. If teen culture is part of the problem, can any school system really avoid prolonging adolescence?
  4. Overall Sasse suggests that there are a lot of cultural changes – from the “childish” adults due to the influence of TV to the poor civic education of American children. Do you buy these arguments or do you think we should find a more objective measurement to judge quality over time?

Chapter 3

  1. Do you agree with Sasse’s distinction between formal schooling and “an education”?
  2. Do we agree that the current school system is heavily influenced by Dewey’s amoralism and view that public education is primarily in service of society? Is that so different from Sasse’s arguments for educating children as citizens (presumably in service of American society)?
  3. Former public school teacher Gatto argues that students leave schools with “a poor sense of time past and time to come” (72). A lack of appreciation for time seems to be behind much of the problems Sasse cites (high school emerging as a way of keeping “idle” teens busy during the Depression, the many years spent on video games, the extended adolescent period through the end of one’s 20s). How can we better value the time God has given us on this earth – both in our own lives and the lives of our families and communities?
  4. Sasse says that Sayers is his inspiration and explains that “there is almost something perverse about wanting to teach everyone to read but not to teach them to think clearly – leaving ‘them at the mercy of the printed word'” (79). One can look at some of today’s controversial issues and polarization and see how people are “at the mercy of the printed word,” especially on social media. Do we think this is a new phenomenon or rather a perennial problem?
  5. Sasse quotes Sayers again to say “the sole true end of education is simply this: to teach men how to learn for themselves; and whatever instruction fails to do this is effort spent in vain” (82). Do we agree that this is the end of education? This is a fairly secular definition. Would we, as Christians, modify this statement to include reference to our Creator?

Chapter 4


  1. Sasse highlights the problem of generational segregation and suggests that we should do more to combat it by visiting our elders in retirement homes. Of course, retirement homes are a relatively new innovation; in prior generations, the elderly were more likely to live with their younger relatives. Do you think Sasse’s limited proposal (visiting them in a system that’s inherently segregated) makes sense or is our society due for a more thorough overhaul (discouraging the practice of having retirement homes and communities all together)?
  2. Sasse’s elders seem to be very respectable, life-giving, stoical, eye-opening people. What if you find that the older people in your life often give bad or wrong-headed advice? What if you are the stoic and they are the emotional ones?
  3. Sasse cites an example of his grandmother Elda jerry-rigging her baby’s bassinet onto the John Deere tractor as she attempted to farm her land while her husband was serving in WWII, which he praises as an example of ingenuity and “get-it-done” attitude (120). I’m pretty sure if a mother attempted this today, she would have CPS called and that baby taken away. Is our aversion to risk contributing to our failure to persist in the face of challenges?
  4. Sasse distinguishes between valuing freedom from something and freedom to do something, and suggests that the younger generation values the former but not the latter (124). When considering compliance with mask regulations during this pandemic, one wonders whether this is a problem only among younger Americans… How, as a society, can we encourage people to think more in freedom to categories?

Chapter 5

  1. Sasse describes work as a “vocation” (136) – that is, “something God ‘calls’ you to do.” In the older Western tradition, a “vocation” was more understood to be a calling to the religious life. Do we consider any particular job something that God has called us to, or is our calling rather to do some form of work (with a good work ethic)?
  2. Sasse’s daughter Corrie was sent to work on a cattle ranch for one month, and some lawyers contacted Sasse after seeing his related tweets to inform him that they might have broken child labor laws. Sasse says that he’s not in favor of repealing child labor laws, but it does seem troublesome if the course he’s advocating is fundamentally incompatible with our current laws. Should we repeal or revise our child labor laws?
  3. Sasse praises the value of a work ethic and of good work done to the glory of God, of learning how to suffer in part through one’s labor. One of the differences that struck me between Sasse’s experience and my own is that his first jobs were much more physical. I didn’t really experience “suffering” from working behind an ice cream counter at my first job. Do you think the type of labor affects the work ethic and lessons we learn from work?
  4. Brooks and Murray suggest that it’s important to find work that “matters” to satisfy (rather than being fun or well-compensated) (153). In a world where consumption is the rule, how how do we find work that “matters”? Murray also suggests that it’s important to feel “personal responsibility for the outcome.” How do we best feel personally responsible in corporate environments where success is truly dependent on many contributors?

Chapter 6

  1. When our wealth exceeds our basic needs and we venture into the realms of wants, how do we as Christians limit our consumption? What boundaries do we set for ourselves? Are there any boundaries that we think God has set for us?
  2. Do you agree with Sasse’s assessment that overconsumption is not essential to capitalism or do you agree with the marketing consultants that “our enormously productive economy… demands that we make consumption our way of life” (167)?

Chapter 7

  1. Chapter Seven discusses the value of solo travel in particular as a means of “escape” – partly from one’s own parents. This contrasts quite strongly with his encouragement in the previous chapters of desegregating the generations. It seems that in both cases what motivates him is the desire to break oneself out of the “norms” one is used to – the norms of one’s peers and one’s geographical area. What value do you see in breaking out of norms and how does it contribute to our sense of adulthood?
  2. Sasse gives some suggestions for how to “travel” rather than just “tour” at the end of the chapter, but there are still some open questions in my mind as to what makes for the difference between these two things (besides hopping on a cruise ship where everything is preplanned – obviously that’s firmly in the tourism camp). What is the difference? Less scheduling? More time spent? An openness to serendipitous encounters?

Chapter 8

  1. What books would you include on your 5 ft bookshelf? Are there any that you strongly agree with Sasse about? Any that would surprise us?
  2. How do you cope with the feeling of lacking the “buns of steel” (219) to complete some of the books considered classics? (e.g. those in Jefferson’s list or the Harvard Classics list)

Chapter 9 / Postscript

  1. Do you agree with Sasse that Americans are “made” through our collective ideals of governance (351)?
  2. One of Sasse’s central arguments for our “civic miseducation” is that students are largely ignorant of the basics of how our government functions and of the rights our Constitution protects. However all the research he cited is quite recent. Surely for much of American history, many Americans wouldn’t have been able to name all the rights protected by the first amendment. Do you think our current situation is unique or might this be a perpetual problem within our republic?
  3. Which view of American exceptionalism is more compelling to you – Obama’s implication that citizens of every nation will patriotically find their country exceptional or Sasse’s proposal that America was founded in an exceptionally unique way?
  4. Sasse concludes by explaining why this wasn’t a policy book. Do you agree with his approach?



Life Update

As you can see, I haven’t written much in a while. There were three big reasons for this:

  1. About 2 months ago, I got married!
  2. About 3 months ago, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, a thyroid disorder with symptoms that include fatigue, depression, anxiety, and a host of other unfortunate things (like dry skin, feeling cold all the time, and being a grumpy wife on occasion).
  3. Six months ago, I started taking classes at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Since I’ve been so tired, it’s been hard to write as much for anything that isn’t graded. Plus, with the general craziness of planning a wedding, there wasn’t as much time as I would have liked for anything else.

I’ve begun figuring out how to manage my thyroid, but it’s hard to make any judgments as there are sometimes easier weeks and sometimes harder weeks. It’s been immensely humbling in addition to making me very aware of the fact that we are embodied creatures. So for now, I won’t write much except to ask for your prayers – both for my marriage and my health.


Weddings are exhausting! Especially after taking 3 straight hours of photos with all of our family and friends.