What I was doing seven years ago

Happy 7th Birthday to my wonderful son, Eli! Here is his birth story. I wrote it when he was a few months old and found myself still needing to process through the trauma of his delivery. It’s long, but I hope you’ll feel it was worth it at the end.

Rolling out of bed, I groan involuntarily. My back aches. My pelvis hurts. My swollen feet don’t really want me to stand on them but I must. My huge belly goes out before me and you give a little tumble as I stir you from your comfy place. I long to meet you, to finally discover who you are, yet my heart aches a little to realize that this is the day we will become two. The doctor has decided it is time for you to appear so I spend my day packing, preparing, getting everything set…keeping busy so that I don’t have time to think about the fear of what I’ll soon be facing again. Labor.

Night begins to fall and my appointment time of 7:30pm is suddenly here. I kiss my little boy goodbye and fight back tears as I look into his innocent brown eyes and think of how much his little world is about to be shaken. We arrive at the hospital a few minutes late. Our pastors are already there to pray with us and for that, I am relieved. “There are angels and ministering spirits all around you in this room,” she whispers, and I feel them. I imagine great, white-clothed angels standing guard in the four corners of my room, their soft feathery wings forming a canopy of protection over me. A new peace floods tears from my eyes and I am reminded that because of Jesus, I never face anything alone. I silently thank God for our pastors and for the strong hand of my husband as I give it a squeeze.

The pastors leave. I get into my hospital gown, climb into bed, and wait for the nurse to return. She arrives and attempts to start my IV. Three nurses, four painful needle sticks, and several blood-soaked gauze pads later, I finally have an IV. They hook me up to the monitor and insert the medication that will start the process of induction. They leave us to wait for my uterus to be fully awakened to start its work. We are warned it could take a while so we should rest. I know myself well enough to know that sleep tonight isn’t likely. I am right. The fast thumping sound of your heartbeat flows continually from the monitor and it’s a rhythm I never tire of hearing. Light waves of tightening begin ever so slowly to work their way across my belly and I think of how wonderful it is that my body knows how to birth you. There is another woman in labor across the hall and every so often I hear a moan that reminds me of what is to come. Daddy falls asleep on his cot, and after what feels like an eternity of lying there, bored, I find myself dozing off in between contractions. Until a scream shatters me awake as the laboring mom across the hall reaches the time of delivery. Suddenly, I remember vividly what it felt like to give birth four years ago, and though I try not to fear, I know that I am headed there again and there is no turning back now. The thought fills me with both dread and anticipation.

I watch the clock in the half-darkened room and realize the contractions are now coming every 5 to 7 minutes. The tightenings are getting stronger, and lasting longer, and I wonder how long I should let Daddy rest before asking him to help me through them. It is just beginning to get painful enough that I need to alter my breathing a bit with each one. I notice that the tightenings begin up high but don’t really hurt until the pain radiates through my pelvis. Then it feels as though my pelvic bones are being pressed from within until they are just about to break apart, and the only thing that relieves this pressure is to press hard on my hips. The pain slowly builds to a peak, then quickly declines and I am thankful for the minutes of calm between them. The screaming across the hall intensifies, and I’m finding it ever more difficult to not feel afraid of the pain to come. I decide it’s time to wake Daddy.

It’s 4:00 in the morning. Daddy gets up the minute I ask for him, and sits beside me on the bed. We hear a final scream and a baby’s first cry from across the hall, and tears well up in my eyes as I think of the progress I am making and how each pain brings me closer to meeting you. I quietly call Daddy’s name as each contraction begins and he offers his hands for me to hold. We labor together as the hour passes. I tire of lying still so we move around the room, having a contraction or two at each stop. From the bed, to the chair, to the bathroom, to the rocking chair, and finally back to bed. At 5:00 I am near the window and hear the first bird of the morning sing. It sounds so cheerful and I smile, wondering how many mornings I have ahead of me in the weeks and months to come, where I will be up with you at that wee hour and together we will hear the birds awake.

The nurse examines me and announces that I have not made any progress yet. For now, that is ok. I didn’t expect a few hours of contractions to do a whole lot to bring you here. But I still hope for progress to begin, and I pray, sending commands to my cervix to open, and to you to descend. The hunger pangs I’d been feeling erupt into a very loud growl, but I know they won’t let me eat anything. Daddy has a snack and I tell him I am craving an apple. I am allowed to have hard candy, so Daddy brings me a green apple Jolly Rancher to take care of my craving. I laugh and enjoy it, chomping hard on it when each contraction comes.

The soft grey of first daylight begins to creep in around the window blinds, and we keep up our work. I feel more serious now, as the pain is growing with each passing hour. Some of these can only be worked through with moaning instead of breathing, with clenching Daddy’s hands instead of just holding them. More time passes, and I begin to bleed a little. I am encouraged, knowing this means we are getting closer. I want the nurse to come back and tell me how far I’ve progressed. I trust my body, that it has been laboring well. I just know that we are at least halfway there, and it will only be an hour or two before we meet you. Finally she comes, but the news is upsetting. All of that pain has been for nothing. My cervix ignored my commands. It is not opening yet. You rebel for the first time because you are not descending like I asked you to. Suddenly I realize how very tired I am from being awake all night, and I begin to cry. Daddy holds me and offers reassurance. I wonder how much longer this will go on as full morning sun pours into our room.

The next few hours drag by. I have been repeating a mantra in my mind since it was still dark out, but now I make Daddy say it aloud with every contraction: “You can do this” and “This has an end”. I have to hear it or I don’t believe it any more. Even when I hear it, I’m not sure I believe in my ability to keep it up. I am so tired of hurting. I want my epidural and I want it now. All previous fears of having a needle in my back are gone completely as I seek relief from these constrictions that won’t stop coming. The nurse appears again, announcing that my doctor has ordered stronger medicine to get my uterus going. I fall apart, knowing this means an increase in my pain. I don’t want it, but I have no choice but to accept it. I cry as the nurse adds a new bag to my IV stand. I see the dreaded stuff dripping down, each drop promising me a much harder time. I ask Daddy to pray for mercy. Together we ask God for the epidural to follow soon after, and that the medicine will kick my womb into gear. Apparently the angels in the room carried those prayers straight to their destination, as that is what happens.

The contractions are fast and furious now. It only took minutes for their intensity to increase. I can’t count on there being breaks in between them anymore. They peak almost immediately after they announce their beginning, and I writhe on the bed, gasping my way through, moaning, crying, praying: “Jesus….help….me….” I grab Daddy’s shirt and twist it in my fist. I pound the other hand against the mattress. My head rocks back and forth against my pillow, as if my entire body is emphatically saying, “NO!” to the pain that keeps coming no matter what I do. I want credit for these contractions, but the damned monitor is my betrayer. It says they are only moderate contractions. I feel like I am dying and am absolutely livid. I have been through labor before and know that what the monitor is showing cannot possibly be right.

It is now high noon, and my doctor arrives to break my water. I tell her how bad it hurts, and that I don’t understand the monitor’s readings, and that all the pain is down low. She says, “Well your baby is really down low”. Ok. As if that makes me feel any better. As if anything will. She announces that my cervix is finally opened to 3 centimeters and in an act of what I will later realize was mercy, she manually stretches me an extra centimeter so that we can order my epidural. A near-scream floods out of me and she apologizes for hurting me. She slides in the hook and breaks my water. I feel a warm gush, and another contraction begins. If I thought it was intense before, I was wrong. You are now wiggling with the contractions and I am begging you to be still because it hurts even more when you move without the cushion of water between us. The anesthesiologist is paged, but I am too tired to get excited about the thought of pain relief. Another contraction squeezes the breath out of me and I start begging, “No more, no more, please…” but I don’t know who I am speaking to. There is no longer any real peace in between contractions, as those moments are now filled with dread of the next one that I know is fast approaching.

Daddy is my strength. I cannot imagine how I would cope if I didn’t have him to cling to, to call on with every pain. I can only close my eyes and clutch on to him as he remains still and calm while I ride the waves of agony. If he feels scared, he doesn’t show it. When I open my eyes, I see his head bowed, his lips silently moving, lifting up prayers on my behalf. I thank God with my whole heart for giving me this man.

But I feel defeated. Labor has beaten me. No matter what mantra Daddy repeats to me, he is wrong. I can’t do this anymore. It really doesn’t have an end. All life will ever be is one great wave of crushing pain after another. If I could just breathe, if I could just have a break, if I could take even just one of these and let someone else deal with it I might have hope again. The nurse reappears and tells me the anesthesiologist has been held up with an emergency. I realize that I had indeed had hope in him because this news shatters me. God, please, have mercy, I pray through sobs that are uncontrollable….

Another prayer my angels sent straight up and dealt with, because he miraculously appears within minutes, the emergency over. Finally, someone is here who can offer me relief! They tell me to sit up on the edge of the bed and I moan about moving because every time I move, an extra contraction starts. But I have to sit up, so Daddy helps me. The suddenness of the contraction that hits me makes me cry out, “I can’t…I can’t”. But somehow, I manage to sit up. I put my feet on a chair beside the bed and curl up into a ball, crying because hunching over is like tightening even further the vice that is constricting my middle. The anesthesiologist swabs my back with icy cold antiseptic and tells me to please be still. I try so hard but it’s nearly impossible to be passive while under this kind of pain. The contraction finally ebbs away and the anesthesiologist warns he is about to stick me. I know that no matter what happens I must hold still or face damage to my spine. I brace myself to be still, but another contraction slams me out of nowhere and it is different. My bottom swells out with this one and the pressure is indescribable. “I have to push!” I yell, and my voice turns into one long, guttural moan. I hear the anesthesiologist question whether my cervix was checked before the procedure began. The nurse says I was only dilated to 4 and I can tell he doesn’t believe her. Since I cannot move, I can’t help but scream to vent the pain. Long, low screams, one after another, that remind me of a cat in heat. Holding still is like fighting to subdue a flailing octopus inside, and the force of this invisible battle can only vent itself in screams, sweat and tears. Great drops of sweat begin pouring down my face, stinging my eyes, gluing my hair to my cheeks, dripping off my chin like big raindrops as they mingle with my tears. The contraction fades for a moment. I don’t even notice what the doctor is doing to my back. But I realize my pillow is in my lap and I am amused for one second by the thought of how nauseous I feel and how awful it would be to throw up on my favorite pillow. I wonder if they heard me screaming all the way down at the nurse’s station, and I figure they probably did. I wonder what YOU are thinking about all the noise mommy is making and I hope that I am not, on some level, scaring you.

Before that thought is fully processed, another contraction grips me violently. I am usually very reserved, but now I am totally losing control and I simply do not care. All I can do is scream and clutch the back of that chair, my sweaty palms slipping over the vinyl, making me lose my grip. Daddy is beside me, holding me, whispering prayers in my ear, begging me to be still when I involuntarily shake my head. He sounds like he is nearly crying with worry, and I feel bad for him, but I cannot think, I cannot really comprehend anything but trying to survive this pain that will not end. They tell me not to push, but I have to. My body is bearing down hard and it feels so good to push into it, to go with the flow. It is primal, instinctual and I must push just as I must scream. I cannot voluntarily stop either and I am aware of a sudden flurry of activity in the room as people rush in and out, preparing to deliver me. I don’t feel the needle in my back, and again that thought temporarily amuses me because I had been so afraid of how badly an epidural might hurt. Another contraction, another explosion of pressure, and I feel myself opening as the globe of your head descends. If I could speak, I would be begging the anesthesiologist to hurry up. I am delirious with pain, nearly frantic over how long it is taking. My body is wanting to birth you and I cannot stop it. I am terrified that your head will emerge right then and I will crush it because I am sitting up.

I feel a sensation like ice water flowing through my legs and I am told that the epidural is finished. I can now lie down. Daddy and the nurses help me lie back on the now cool sheets, and I pant as I try to catch my breath. They check my cervix and declare me complete and ready to push. Someone wipes my brow and smooths the hair back off of my face. Another contraction comes but it feels slightly less intense. Another one, and it is even milder. Lovely, numbing tingles run up and down my legs as all sensation below my chest blissfully fades away. I can breathe again, knowing that the worst is now over. As my sanity returns, I feel slightly embarrassed for having been so out of control just moments ago. The anesthesiologist returns to the room to check on me and I tell him how thankful I am for him. He smiles, and I can smile again, too. My doctor says that your head is still fairly high inside, so she will let me rest a while before we start trying to push. A monitor is attached to your scalp and the sound of your fast heartbeat is music to our ears once again. I spend a glorious 20 minutes lying still, regaining my breath, rubbing my tummy through contractions that no longer hurt me. Without amniotic fluid between us, I can clearly feel the bumps of your body through my abdomen and it feels so strange. Your Aunt Cherie arrives to videotape the birth and I’m so happy to see her, and very relieved that she missed witnessing the worst of it earlier. Now that my pain has been eliminated, all my excitement over meeting you comes flooding back.

But our peace is short-lived because now it’s your turn to scare us. The rhythmic thumping sound of your heartbeat suddenly slows and we are all alarmed. The nurse puts an oxygen mask on me and tells me to breathe deeply. I inhale as though my life depended on it and your heartbeat goes up again. The nurse tells me it’s time to push and pages the doctor. They set up a mirror so I can see you emerge. I pull back my legs with the next contraction and bear down hard. I watch as I push, and I see a small circle of your pale head appear. I smile when I see that you have lots of dark hair that is curling into damp little circles. I cannot wait to see the precious face that is still hidden within me. But fear begins to grip me as we hear your heartbeat slow down again. “Breathe deeply,” the nurse tells me, as she places her hand inside me, tapping on your scalp to stimulate you. I suck up the cool, life-giving oxygen and listen intently for those sweet little thumps to go faster. They do, and I push again. This time the circle of your head appearing widens even more, and an angry red tear begins to form on my flesh. It is so strange to see an injury appear on my body yet be totally unable to feel it. I am thankful again for the epidural.

The doctor arrives, checks the monitor, and gowns up quickly. She tells us that we need to get the baby out now and apologizes that what that means for me is a rather large episiotomy. She knew that I didn’t want one, but at this point, I don’t care. Your heart rate is diving again and I can tell that she is worried even though she tries to sound upbeat. I am alarmed, but the anxiety I feel over your condition doesn’t fully express itself as fear. It transforms into pure energy, total determination to give it all I’ve got with the next push and get you delivered so they can help you breathe. At some point, she cuts me, but blessedly, I never feel it. Daddy and the nurse pull my legs back as far as they will go, and I push as hard as I can. I can no longer see the mirror, and I can’t really feel what I am doing, but I quickly learn that it’s a mind game. I tell that part of my body to work, and it does whether I can feel it or not. I hope that it will go more quickly than it does. I have to push again and again even though they say I am doing a great job of pushing. I think that each push is going to be the one that brings you here, but it’s not, so I have to push again, each time giving it more energy than I even thought I had. And when you don’t come, I wonder why. It’s as though you are stuck inside. Somehow I know that is exactly what is happening, although no one says so at the time.

Your heartbeat is now slower than ever, despite the pure oxygen I am sucking in between pushes. The doctor is urgent, Daddy almost desperate, in their counting, in their coaching me to push harder. I barely hear them because my ears are tuned solely into the sound of your fading heartbeat. All I can think is, “NO! God did NOT bring me this far to take your life now. NO!” And the force of my mothers’ love for you, the determination that you will live, focuses all my energy, all my strength into the biggest push I can muster. “Ok, stop! Don’t push now!” the doctor says, and she has both nurses press down hard on my tummy, just above my pubic bone. They tell me to give a gentle push. When I do, I feel you tumble out of me.

The room is silent. Deathly silent as we wait to hear your cry. It doesn’t come and I can’t really see what is going on. I cannot see you at all. Daddy has seen your sex, and he begins to cry softly. “Come on little fella…come on little fella…” he whispers, then silently rests his forehead on the bedrail as he closes his eyes to pray. All I can think are the horribly desperate thoughts that would flood any mother’s mind: “No…NO! This baby is a promised child. This baby is not going to die…Cry, baby, please…” My spirit silently begs God to make it all ok. Daddy had planned to cut the umbilical cord, but the doctor has to do it quickly instead. I’d dreamed the entire nine months of having you delivered up onto my tummy, but I can only catch a glimpse of your wet, limp body as they whisk you to the warmer. My belly and my arms feel so empty. I ask if it’s a boy and Daddy says yes, his eyes glued on the nurse that is suctioning your lungs. You are only a few feet away from me, but it feels like a million miles are between us. Time is absolutely frozen as we wait to hear that you are ok.

Suddenly, your loud cry explodes angrily into the room! I heave an enormous sigh, not realizing until that moment that I had been holding my breath until you had gotten yours. You sound so angry, so strong, and as tears well up in my eyes, I thank God over and over that you are okay. I just want to see you, but my view into the warmer is blocked and the nurse is still working on you. I hear the doctor tell the nurse to cancel the call for more help, a call I didn’t even hear her make. Sounding so relieved, she leans over the warmer and says, “You like scaring your doctor, don’t you?” She tells us that your shoulders got stuck coming out and the umbilical cord was wrapped tightly around your neck. The resulting pressure on the cord is why your heartbeat had gotten so precariously slow. She begins working on repairing me while the nurse continues to take care of you. Daddy kisses me, and Aunt Cherie says she is proud of me. I look at her and tears are streaming down her cheeks.

Finally, the nurse brings you to me, a red-skinned, blanket-draped, striped-hat little bundle. She lies you down on my chest, and finally…I behold my son. I am amazed to see a tiny version of my own face looking back at me. I run my finger over your velvety forehead, telling you what a handsome boy you are and how happy we are that you are here. You stop crying for a few moments and look into my eyes. I am so in love. We are surprised to see there is a dimple in your chin and I ask Daddy where that came from. Neither of us has any idea, but love it because it is so unique. I imagine God reaching out and touching his finger to your chin as he created you, adding this little feature that He knew would make us smile. Daddy stands over us closely, both of us gazing lovingly at you, imprinting forever your image into our hearts. It is a moment of purest worship, of wordless praise, as we realize that we are indeed holding a miracle.