Waddling around Ikea, picking out furniture for our new house, and lingering extra long, “testing” out all the options to sneak in a bit of rest for my 40+ week pregnant body – that’s how our day began. Well our day began with donuts, but we’ll just skip that part.
We had become first-time home-owners the morning before, having closed on an adorable two-story row-home in Baltimore City, endowed with all the historic character and charm that we had been searching for. Directly after the closing, and with the help of lots of friends, boxes were packed, vehicles were loaded, and furniture was hauled from our apartment to our house, a distance of 0.75 miles apart. Three times we loaded, caravanned, and unloaded 3 cars and a truck. I carried what I could, hoping all the activity would start labor, but most of it was stolen from my hands almost as fast as I could pick things up. Good friends don’t let pregnant friends move boxes on their due date, I tell ya.
My due date. Yeah, it was the same as our closing date. October 30, 2015.
We signed the power of attorney paperwork just in case I couldn’t make it to the closing. I prayed I wouldn’t make it.
But I did.
After a day full of countless signatures and items moved, Daniel and I crawled into bed and started the last movie in the Harry Potter series. I had never seen them or read the books, so we had been having a bit of a movie marathon over the previous two weeks. They were good distractions as we waited anxiously for baby to come. I struggled to get comfortable, contractions coming and going, pain I chalked up to being the result of an intense day of activity.
With his scheduled paternity leave coming to a close November 1st, a month long rotation in DC for Daniel starting November 2nd, a repeat C-section scheduled for November 6th should I not start labor naturally, and the move taking place on my due date, our illusion of control thinned daily like fog scattering at sunrise, revealing our hands to be grasping to nothing but air. We needed Jesus, needed to know him as the good, perfect plans God that he is.
And so we went to sleep. What else could we do, but rest?
Ikea was another welcome distraction that next morning, allowing us to drop Aletheia off in their childcare center, browse merchandise without interruption, and talk about our (hopefully not-too-distant) future as a family of four. We plopped into oversized chairs, jotted down numbers, held hands, and rehearsed all the good, preaching the gospel of a good God to one another.
By the time we were supposed to pick up Aletheia, I looked like I was trying out for a part in March of the Penguins 2. My periodic pauses to catch my breath and gasps from unexpected pain were starting to make the other shoppers nervous. It was making me nervous, excited nervous, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up if it was just my body objecting to the flurry of the last 36 hours. I could sense people wanting to ask if I was alright. I tried to ignore the stares. I tried to focus. “Birch veneer or white stained oak?”
Daniel went to locate our selections in the warehouse. I went back into the maze to find the bed sheets we’d forgotten. It was slow going, grasping onto railings when the pain would hit, getting turned around a few times, assuring the nice old ladies that yes I was going to be alright. The statement paired with a grimace-grin was enough to convince them that I in fact wasn’t.
When loading our car, another stranger filled with obstetric wisdom said with a wink, “The way you get him out is the same way you got him in.” Noted.
On the ride home, I still wasn’t convinced that this was true labor, so I didn’t time anything. In fact, I didn’t time anything until 3:30 that afternoon when the contractions were 4 minutes apart. Since walking and talking was still pretty easy, I figured I had plenty of time to wait and see if things kept up. Around 4:30, I told Daniel I was pretty sure I was in labor, but that we didn’t need to go just yet. Locating our carefully packed hospital bags was a bit of a task as the move was the most chaotic of our 5 relocations in 6 years.
All the while there was a very excited 4-year-old bouncing around her new home, singing “We’re off to See the Wizard” because it was October 31st. It was Halloween, and she was going to be Dorothy. Somehow, I got her in her costume, brushed and braided her hair, took some pictures, and sent her off with her dad to seal her dental ruin. “I’ll keep my phone on”, he said, and kissed me goodbye.
I downloaded a contraction timer app and laid in bed as the minutes went by. They were still going strong. I kept thinking I should walk, do the stairs, do something, but I was just. so. tired. Finally my brain convinced my legs to move, and I got myself into the shower. Swaying back and forth under the downpour, I sang, sang every song I knew, sang to myself, sang to him. My voiced echoed as the truth I sang echoed within the chambers of my heart, reverberation of lessons learned throughout the previous 9 months.
“I am not the same. I’m a new creation. I am not the same anymore. I am not ashamed. I will not be shaken. I am not the same anymore. You have overcome. It is finished. It done. Now my heart is finally free. Every chain undone by the power of the Son. I am not the same anymore. Anymore.”
“Well I won’t deny the worst you could say about me. But I’m not defined by mistakes that I’ve made because God says of me, I am not who I was. I am being remade. I am new. I’m chosen and holy, and I’m dearly loved. I am new. I am new!”
Stopping at one point, I put my forehead against the wall and watched the water run down the tile, trickling down my pregnant belly, beads racing in the afternoon light sneaking through the curtain, the songs’ truth filtering down into the soil of my heart. Calm.
Back in bed the contractions hit harder and harder, and I started to let my heart believe that this truly was “it.” “Dorothy” returned from her escapades and offered me a snickers. I threw up. It was time to go. Dropping her off with a friend, she encouraged me to “be brave” and promised to draw me a “get well card.” She’s precious, that one.
I continued to throw up with each contraction on the way to the hospital, a 35 minute drive. Inside, I slowly waddled to labor and delivery, leaning heavily on Daniel’s arm and pausing every so often to wrap my arms around his neck and just sway. Dressing in the hospital gown, I was hoping for at least 4 cm, but wasn’t going to be surprised if they said 5 or 6 based on my pain level. With Aletheia, I labored to 4 cm before having a C-section because she was breech, and I hadn’t even come close to feeling the kind of pain I was in at that moment.
Horror, fear, anger, embarrassment, hopelessness, dread – I felt it all. All plans of a medication-free delivery were immediately catapulted out the window. Another contraction hit. More vomit. Calm gone. Resolve to endure extinguished. If I couldn’t handle the pain at 1 cm, how in the world was I going to survive until 10? They weren’t even going to admit me. It was 8pm.
“Walk around the hospital for a couple hours, and we’ll check you again at 10pm”, my midwife sympathetically suggested.
I felt like the biggest wimp. I vacillated between remaining quiet and calm to flashing Daniel the crazed eyes of a caged animal, pleading for him to help me, free me. I saw no way out, not even with an epidural because I wasn’t allowed to be admitted.
We “walked” the halls of the maternity ward, stopping every other minute or so to breathe through another contraction. Thank goodness for the railing they installed, because it was my friend as I hung on for dear life, squatting lower and lower as the pain ramped up higher and higher. At one point, I begged Daniel to get me an epidural even though I knew he couldn’t. We only made it two loops around the ward in two hours, the last contraction knocking me on my hands and knees, Daniel darting nervous looks and feeling as awkward as ever. I wanted to feel awkward too, but I was in too much damn pain to care.
He shuffled me back into the triage room after that as it was just a few minutes until 10pm. “Please be a 4. Please be a 4. Please be a 4”, I wished and wished as they prepared to check me again.
“You’re an 8!” my midwife said with as much shock as I felt. “Get this girl in a room!”
Vindication. Apparently the pain wasn’t all in my head after all.
The delivery team snapped into action as I was walked over to my room, groaned my way through several more contractions, got an IV put in place, and tried to stay calm when I started feeling the urge to push minutes later. My water broke, and by 11:30, it was time to start pushing. This was the part I was most nervous about, that I’d get to this point and reach a stalemate, being forced into a C-section after enduring the worst. But I had the best delivery team and husband holding my hand all through the process. Hearing the anticipation peak in his voice as he said, “You’re doing it! I can see the baby’s head. You’re so close!” made my heart swell as I realized that his heart was working right alongside mine, eager to bring our baby into the world. And come he did, all at once with one final contraction. He was up and on my chest before I even really realized he had been born. A bit stunned by seeing him, I blurted out “It worked!” If anyone laughed, I don’t remember. I was absorbed in meeting the person I had loved so long but never knew.
His slippery skin against mine, crying, wriggling, searching – it was what I had been dreaming of. There were tears of welcome, hellos, kisses, embraces. At 12:19am on November 1st, 2015, our son was born.
I wish I could say that’s where the story ended, that they cleaned us up and all was well. But don’t the lows make the high points even higher, don’t they give depth to our stories and add a wise richness to our souls?
Within 15-20 minutes, it became very apparent that the placenta was stuck, the umbilical cord having broken and contractions not forcing it out. Baby was taken and put under the warmer as I got back to work. The midwife, then a male doctor on call, tried to manually remove the placenta, the most excruciating part of the entire experience by far, making me desperately wish I had opted for the epidural they offered when admitting me. Between the removal and the repairs, it would be another 2 hours after delivery before it was all over. I thought it would never end.
But it did end. They brought baby back, and I nursed him, a comfort to us both. Daniel and I searched our son’s face and puzzled over his name, trying them on like one tries on clothes. We marveled. We yawned. We smiled weak smiles that had more depth to them than met the eye. And when we were alone, and after some sleep, we agreed.