<Warning: those with little to no interest in birth may want to skip this one! It is also very long! No pics.>
Friday afternoon Joe and Joshua finished installing carpet in the playroom. There are more details to finish up out there later, but the carpet was the last item on Joe’s work list for the week. It also meant that the playroom was ready for the children to actually use it! So after supper, we took the younger children out, with plans to sit and watch them enjoy their new space!
But I was restless, and reluctant to sit down with Joe or to hold still at all. After puttering around a bit, I told him I might be losing more plug and was going in to the house to see what was what. My hunch was right, and I could feel that Verity’s head was down fairly low.
When Joe asked what that meant I answered that I didn’t think we’d be waiting six more days for this birth. He began packing the car.
~Here I want to explain, just to keep confusion to a minimum, that my midwife has a private midwifery practice and only does home births, no hospital deliveries. She has been my midwife for just over 17 years now, and has done my prenatal and post-partum care, even for the twins (born by C-section), Stephen (a planned hospital VBAC), and now Verity (another planned hospital VBAC). She has become a trusted and valued friend over all these years. We wanted her to be with us for Verity’s birth just like she was for Stephen’s, not in any official capacity, but as a friend. I’ve teased her that I wouldn’t know how to have a baby without her there. In this story I will refer to her as M.~
I called M. to update her and she asked if I thought it was amniotic fluid. I didn’t think so, but not long afterward I began to question that, and called her back to tell her I wasn’t sure. She lives 45 minutes from our home, but providentially, she was just leaving to pay a home visit to someone who lived in our general area, and said she would stop in at our house briefly on her way there.
When she stopped, she gave me a ph test strip to determine whether the fluid that was leaking was truly amniotic fluid. It was. My water had broken. Time to go in to the hospital. She went on to her home visit with instructions to me to call her when I wanted her.
After a flurry of phone calls, and since it was now past the children’s bedtime, it was decided that a friend would spend the night here and see the children off in the morning to the house of the friends where they’d be staying.
So off we went to the hospital, grateful that I did not have to labor in the car during the 45 minute trip, especially because the hospital is 30 minutes away and we had to travel through heavy traffic, with many stops. During the trip, I got one single contraction that felt like a very light, very short, but real one. All the rest were the same Braxton-Hicks contractions I’d been feeling for months.
[We found out later that the policy at this hospital was different from the hospital we’d used for Stephen’s birth. When I checked in at 11 PM, they counted that hour from 11 until midnight as one day. If we’d known that, we’d have waited another hour, since I was not in labor. More on that later in this story.]
One of my first questions for the nurse was, “Which midwife is on duty?” And was excited to hear that it was NOT the male midwife in the practice!
Not having felt any more than the one real contraction, and that one very unimpressive, I was flabbergasted to hear that I had dilated to 5 to 6 centimeters and the baby’s head was down! Wow–5 to 6 centimeters? How did that happen without any labor? That was a first for me! But since I typically go from there to being fully dilated fairly quickly, I asked them to call M.
I felt a bit like I had lost my bearings. Ummmm, women can’t dilate to 10 without laboring, can they? How would I know what was going on if I was dilating without labor??
I made the rash statement that I would rather feel pain so I could tell how I was progressing. And another not-well-thought-out statement that I was not afraid of labor.
I should have qualified that statement. I should have said that I was not afraid of the kind of labor I had with babies #2 through 9.
The OB on duty came to discuss my options. The OB on duty was a female! Thank you, Father! The options were to either try walking for an hour and see if that would help things progress, or to start pitocin now that we knew the baby was positioned for birth. Regular contractions would help push her down further and “lock her in place.”
Joe and I talked, and decided to try the natural method first.
Then I was surprised to see my Dad and his wife come into the room! So the four of us marched up and down the hallway and chatted for an hour. All this time amniotic fluid had trickled occasionally, since the baby’s head stopped it from flowing out more quickly. But right near the end of that hour of walking, it began to come in gushes.
Sure enough, when they next checked her position, she was no longer head down. Worse, she was in a very high transverse position, curled up under my ribs facing downward, with her cord also dangling downward. And since my water had broken and I was so dilated, I was at risk for her cord to prolapse. I had to lie on my back and stay put.
Given all the circumstances, I just knew that the OB was going to push me for a C-section.
But she didn’t. She amazed me by telling me that she was going to do all in her power to *safely* help me have a natural birth. Then remarkably, providentially, another mother decided she wanted a C-section!
The OB said that there was no reason I couldn’t just wait while she did the C-section, and we would re-assess things when she was finished. This was between 1 and 1:30 on Saturday morning.
So everyone found places to rest, and we waited. Dad and his wife camped out on the loveseat in the empty labor and delivery room across the hall. (It was a quiet night in the maternity ward!) Joe, M. and I chatted for a bit, then they both dozed off, leaving me to my own thoughts.
This is what came to my mind as I lay there, not yet tired enough to sleep…
“I guess the logical thing to do at this point would usually be to pray.”
“But Lord, you know the big picture, what needs to happen, and I don’t.”
“I know you will bring it about, whatever it is.”
“I trust that what happens is what You know is best.”
“Be still, my soul, the Lord is on thy side; bear patiently the cross of grief or pain,
Leave to thy God to order and provide; in every change He faithful will remain…”
For the rest of that waiting time, the words to this hymn came to me over and over, and I had to try hard not to wake the others by singing aloud. I felt no anxiety at all, just an anticipation to find out what it was that my heavenly Father would decide to do. Looking back, knowing clearly that I had many, many reasons for human fear and worry, I am in awe at the absolute, supernatural peace that He gave to me.
After two hours of waiting, the OB came back into the room and checked Verity’s position with the ultrasound machine again.
Her head was DOWN!!! Hallelujah!!!
This time we didn’t hesitate to start the pitocin. They started it at the lowest level and set it to increase every twenty minutes.
At the beginning, I sat drowsily feeling hardly anything. By and by it began to feel like real labor and not long after that, I needed Joe so that we could manage this job the way we usually do–I pace the floor between contractions and when the next one comes, I sit and he stands so that I can lean into him and relax.
It eventually got intense enough to tell me that I was nearing transition, so I asked to be checked.
But I found out that pitocin is an unnatural, lying servant. It gets the job done (usually) but it lies about what it’s doing and when it’s doing it.
I have had enough experience with natural labors that I can usually tell approximately how dilated I am by how I am feeling. Before I knew that it wasn’t to be trusted to tell the truth, the pitocin told me to get ready to deliver the baby soon, and I believed it.
The hospital midwife told me that I still had plenty of cervix left. The pain was getting worse. I began to wear down. I asked how long it would take? How would I know when the baby was coming? I had completely lost my bearings as to what my body was doing.
It seemed to me that with all the potential issues looming with this birth, that the hospital attendants weren’t paying very close attention. Most of the time, just Joe and M. were in the room with me.
At some point, I grew so exhausted that I felt like it would be impossible to stand and walk between contractions. I asked M. if it would slow down the process if I were to just stay sitting. She said it wouldn’t. I said, “Do you promise? You’re not just trying to make me feel better?” She reassured me that sitting would actually give the baby’s head more space than standing. So I sat and leaned on Joe. The pain was so great it took every ounce of effort I had to stay relaxed.
Then even the effort to stay upright seemed to require impossible amounts of energy, energy that I didn’t have in me.
Again, I asked M. if lying down would slow the process down, and to please tell me the truth. She told me that the pitocin was doing the work and I couldn’t stop it by lying down. I still hesitated, as it went against every fiber of my being to lie down in labor. “Lie down, Sue,” came M.’s voice. I lay down on my left side.
From here until the birth, I can’t remember anything outside my personal swirling nightmare of insistent pain. There were only a few thoughts left in my head. One was the memory of my first birth experience, my only other birth with pain of this magnitude. But with that birth I tensed myself against the pain, and I cried. Now, feeling the same pain, I thought, “Don’t cry, don’t fight it, breathe, relax. Help me, Jesus. Help me, Jesus, help me, help me.” Over and over until it seemed to be one single thought, the only thought left in the world.
In retrospect, it would have been so perfectly poetic in a modern Christian novel sort of way, if during this time I had been thinking, “Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.” Wouldn’t it? Guess I wasn’t up to thinking in poetry by then. I was desperate like Peter walking on the water. “Lord, save me!”
I have no idea how long this part lasted. I couldn’t open my eyes, there was nothing left anywhere except pain and Jesus there helping me.
Suddenly I felt the familiar feeling of the head moving down to be born. I said, “She’s coming.” Immediately I heard M.’s voice, “Ring for the nurse,” and then, as the baby’s head emerged, her voice saying to me, “Easy, easy, easy, easy.” I tried as hard as I could to follow her instructions. She knew what needed to happen.
The baby’s head was born. There was a silence, then M. said firmly, “Push, Sue. Push her out now. Push. Push.” So I did.
And she was born, slippery wet and warm. I opened my eyes and looked down to see my baby, my Verity. I reached for her, but her cord was too short. (Short cord. Hmmm.) She was pink and wiggling and very much alive. It was over, she was safely here.
There was a flurry of activity as the hospital personnel came into the room and asked what was going on. M. explained that they had rung for the nurse as soon as I told them the baby was coming, but that the baby had come before the nurse did. They asked her what she did.
“I did what you would have done,” she said, “I delivered the baby.”
I found time in my post-birth euphoria to feel badly for her, knowing that the hospital staff might view these irregular proceedings with a rather skeptical eye, and hoping that it did not cause her undue trouble. I did not, however, feel sorry for the staff. If they had been so concerned about being there for the birth, they would have been there for the birth. Sounds like common sense to me, anyway. In fact, if it wasn’t for our utter belief in the sovereignty of God over all things, and knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that He had this special gift tucked away waiting for us all along, we would have good reason to be put out that the staff did not attend this particular birth a bit more closely. The could-haves, you know. M. told me later that after Verity’s head was born, she turned blue. She needed to get out of there immediately.
But since there is no such thing as a chance accident, and could-haves exist only in our minds if at all, we are left with profound thankfulness to the Lord for the amazing way in which He brought this birth about. I will cherish it as the most perfect birth He could possibly have given me. Far better than I could ever have asked for, if He had allowed me to ask.
Shortly after Verity was born (and while I was still in a vulnerable position, waiting for the placenta to be delivered, and being cleaned up), I heard someone ask where the neonatologist was. Someone else answered, “She…” (I don’t remember where they said SHE was, I only heard the SHE.) I immediately asked, “Did you say, ‘She?'” It was true! A couple of friends told me later that they kept waking through the night to pray for me and Verity. One of them had specifically prayed that God would honor my desire to have only females present during this time. He decided to fulfill this desire–again, a request that He had kept me from making, telling me that He already had the situation well in hand.
There were lots of people in our room for a while after the birth, and it all seemed like just so much meaningless chatter that was unrelated to me. But M. stayed and watched over me and helped me to be comfortable. I don’t remember what the others said, but whenever she spoke, I heard every word. Now maybe she’ll believe me when I say I don’t know how to have a baby without her.
After I had nursed Verity as long as she would stay latched, my father and his wife came in to see her, and he prayed a patriarchal blessing over us before they left. I was humbled that they would give up their night of sleep to keep this vigil with us.
Over the next two days, the staff we had the most contact with seemed intrigued by the fact that we were clearly rejoicing over this baby’s birth, that she was baby number ten, and by her name. Many, many people asked us what it meant, which of course was an open opportunity to speak the truth!
The nurse who gave us the hospital tour ended up being one of two nurses who cared for me during my stay. What I didn’t tell you earlier was that the night of the tour, as we were chatting in the NICU, she made the statement that she wasn’t trained as a NICU nurse, so she wasn’t comfortable caring for babies with special needs. She liked babies without problems and left the others to the NICU nurse. She was a very nice lady, and I’m quite sure she had no idea how that statement might come across to folks in our position.
Her words popped into my head the minute she entered my room and introduced herself. We recognized each other at the same time. While she was my nurse, every time she came into my room, she ended up staying and talking for long periods of time, about all sorts of family-related things. She was the one who helped us find a solution to the pump situation. We had pump parts for an outdated pump. She dug up an old one we could use. When Joe found out that we could use our old parts for the newer pump if we had two more pieces, she found some for us that had been used and returned to the hospital, re-sterilized and re-packaged, and were available for free! And told us that if we ever need any other replacement parts, we can get them there! By the time we left, and she was the one who discharged me, she was holding Verity and making a fuss over her, and hugged me and told me to bring all the children back in for a visit sometime.
The lactation consultant was also a very personable lady, and told me she had training as a NICU nurse. She had helped other babies with Down syndrome reach the goal of nursing, and she clearly knew what she was doing. So helpful to me even now! Interestingly, she was also a homeschooling mother, and we spent a lot of time talking about curriculum and other related subjects just as much as we did about the nursing. Again, every time she came into the room she ended up staying and chatting for a long while.
Then there was the neonatologist. She also spent a lot of time in our room talking with us. At one point, she asked us what “Verity” meant. When we told her that it meant “truth,” she simply said, “I thought so,” then listened carefully as I explained the significance of both Verity’s first and middle names. A look of shock crossed her face when I told her that we would have been disappointed if Verity had turned out not to have Down syndrome. I explained all the reasons why, and she listened, obviously trying to process this whole unusual scene!
At another time, she told us that when she had heard the news that a baby with Down syndrome and a complete AV canal defect would be born at this hospital, she went to her storage unit and dug up an old textbook on heart defects that she remembered had good diagrams and explanations. She refreshed her own memory by reading the chapter on Verity’s defect, and then she made copies for all the NICU nurses and had them read it, and gave them a little continuing education on the subject. She also made a copy of the chapter for us. She told us that not too long before, another baby with Down syndrome and a complete AV canal defect–just like Verity–had been born at that hospital. The parents decided not to have any repairs done to the baby’s heart. When she said this to us, we were all silent for a while. Then I said, “It’s hard for me not to have very strong opinions about that.” The doctor said, “Yes.”
Then we did a little continuing education of our own. We explained to her that if the baby had not had Down syndrome, it was likely that the baby would be forcibly removed from the parents’ custody in order to provide life-saving surgery. But when Down syndrome is involved, all the rules change. She hadn’t known this.
Sometime during all these interactions, it occurred to me that if most parents who give birth to a baby with Down syndrome aren’t prepared ahead of time, and they go through the kind of grieving that I did at the beginning, the hospital staff would only get to see the sad side. The parents probably don’t come back after the grieving period is over to explain all the rewards and joy that their child has brought to their lives. So it could end up being a vicious cycle, with the staff’s attitudes conveying sadness to the new parents. It’s a theory, anyway.
When I am able, I want to help this hospital put together a packet of information for new parents who receive a baby with the diagnosis of Down syndrome. And we do want to go back with all the children when we can manage it, and take some sort of homemade goodies for all the folks there who went out of their way to show their care for us.
To wrap up…
You know how disappointing it is to plan a surprise gift for someone, only to have them come to you and ask for that item? That’s how this birth looks to me. My heavenly Father wanted to surprise me with a good gift, and He didn’t want me to come begging for it this time.
“Be still my soul, thy best, thy heav’nly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.”
[P.S. Joe called me from work today to tell me that the CFO of the hospital reviewed our situation, and decided that they will not charge us for another whole day because of that one hour between 11 PM and 12 midnight. That makes a $600 difference! Thank You, Lord!!]