I feel like I got hit by a truck.
Emotionally. Physically. Mentally.
The most beautiful truck I’ve ever seen.
Okay, so maybe that’s not how people often describe new parenthood. But walk with me.
Saturday, February 6, 2021. My family had traveled all the way from Texas, braving COVID, dealing with work and school absences, all to meet our baby. And two days before they were to return home, I was still pregnant. We spent the day relaxing, eating, playing games, looking at old photographs, and enjoying each other’s company. I had been having mildly uncomfortable contractions all day, like I had been practically all week. I had made my peace with the likelihood that I would still be pregnant when they left.
A final hurrah before the chaos of the newborn stage, I thought.
That night at about 7:00 p.m. while we ate dinner, I started timing my contractions, curious but sure they’d be all over the place without a pattern. I didn’t really know what I was doing, and the sensations felt too weak, I was sure, to be anything like early labor.
To my surprise, the contractions seemed somewhat regular but pretty far apart. When my parents and siblings departed for their AirBnb with tentative plans for the morning, I shrugged off my timing efforts and spent some quiet time with my husband. Around 11:00 p.m., an hour or so after we’d gone to bed, the contractions intensified. I slept intermittently through them and woke my husband to ask him to help me relax.
By 7:00 a.m. on February 7, they were three minutes apart and longer than a minute. On the phone with the midwife, I had to stop talking to breathe through one. But it didn’t feel like the agony I had expected, just discomfort.
“We’re going to the hospital,” Walker said a little after 7:30 a.m.
“But it doesn’t feel that bad yet. What if it’s too early?”
My husband shot me a flat look that brooked no argument. We had discussed this, and I had previously entrusted this decision to him.
He made coffee and loaded our bag into the car, and I got dressed.
The morning was cold and clear, and the sunshine lifted my spirit as our tires hummed along the loop highway on the way to the hospital.
Is this really happening?
Part of me was convinced I would shortly wake up from a dream. I wasn’t entirely wrong.
When we reached the hospital and I was examined, they found I was dilated eight centimeters. Already past the textbook “active labor” phase and into transition! I almost cried with joy. We were going to meet our bambino, and labor had been relatively easy so far. Certainly he would be born that afternoon.
Before noon, I was fully dilated. By 3:00 p.m., however, progress had stalled, though the contractions kept coming. I still didn’t feel the urge to push, though I thought for sure that I should, so by 7:00 p.m. and after another exam, the midwives gave me the go-ahead to try.
Neither my husband nor I knew we still had more than eight hours to go.
After almost three hours of pushing in different positions and a manually broken water, bambino hadn’t made an appearance.
I was terrified, exhausted, and convinced I couldn’t do it. The midwives left to discuss options and returned to offer us these:
- Pitocin (synthetic oxytocin) augmentation to make the contractions stronger.
- Epidural and vacuum delivery.
- Epidural and c-section.
The Pitocin option immediately turned my stomach. I had waited so long to go into spontaneous labor because I had wanted my body and my baby to dictate the timing of this birth. I couldn’t bring myself to accept an augmented labor now, when I was so utterly exhausted.
But the other two options meant an epidural and either an assisted delivery or a major abdominal surgery, which both carried additional complication risks.
I was so tired, I forgot everything I had read, researched, and considered so carefully. Part of me was ready to throw in the towel with a c-section, and the other part was frozen. Scared. At a loss. So I looked to my husband, who had been with me every moment of my almost twenty-four-hour labor.
“What do we do?”
“Well,” Walker said, “Both options mean an epidural. And you don’t want a c-section unless it’s unavoidable. So let’s try the vacuum.”
“Okay.” I nodded, trusting that my husband had my best interest at heart even as I thought, I can’t do it. I had entirely forgotten everything I had read about this self-doubt being a good sign that labor was progressing as it should. Instead, I felt adrift. Useless.
Getting the epidural was a surreal experience. Walker sat in front of me, and I braced my hands on his knees, shaking uncontrollably. Of course I would then feel the urge to push, when I couldn’t. The anesthesiologist worked quickly and competently, and I was asked to lie down.
For four hours we “rested” as we waited for the doctor who would do the vacuum delivery. February 7 ended and February 8 began. Despite the ease of the contraction pain, the pressure was still there in waves, and I didn’t sleep. Nurses came in to turn me or adjust my medication or monitor the baby’s heart tracing. Half my face fell asleep, and I was connected to so many wires and tubes that no matter my position, something was always pinching or pulling.
We’re going to die, I thought more than once as I listened to the baby’s heart rate and tried not to cry. Or this will never end. Bambino and I will be stuck here forever.
Looking back now, I see how ridiculous that thought was. But I believed it. During those four hours of darkness, I felt utterly abandoned, despite the wonderful medical professionals, my steadfast husband sleeping on the pullout chair beside my hospital bed, and the fact that God was with us in that room, protecting our baby from distress. The midwives told me he had the best tracing of all the babies in the unit at the time, despite my long, arduous labor.
I felt trapped and hopeless, and despair overwhelmed me.
Before that night, I had asked God many times for the strength to labor well and bring him glory, knowing He would give me what I asked. When reality spiraled out from under me, fear and pain clouded my thoughts, and I forgot my prayers, but He sustained me anyway.
When the doctor arrived, things moved quickly, and my memories are blurry. My bed was broken down into a table. Almost a dozen other medical professionals arrived—NICU attendants, the anesthesiologist, nurses, the two midwives, and the OB-GYN. Spotlights were turned on. My husband held my hand.
Luke was born more than an hour later, and a flurry of activity followed. I had torn severely, so the doctor spent a careful hour stitching me up while our baby was weighed, checked, cleaned, bundled, and given to me and my husband.
“You did it!” Walker said, tears in his eyes as he leaned down to kiss me, and our baby boy—a boy!—was placed on my chest.
“I didn’t do anything,” I replied, gesturing vaguely to the bustling room. “It was all these wonderful people.”
I thought that was the end. But it wasn’t. The next three days would be the most difficult of our lives. Most of my family, sadly, had to leave without meeting Luke due to COVID restrictions. Walker got sick with a fever, and though the COVID tests came back negative, he couldn’t remain with us in the hospital. Thirteen hours after Luke and I were discharged, we had to rush back to the ER.
By the grace of God (and my mom’s valiant efforts to keep us fed and hydrated and rested), we survived those frightening days.
Our little boy is now two weeks old. He’s sleeping against my shoulder, healthy and whole. The past two weeks have been a testament to God’s faithfulness. I’ve never before felt such overwhelming gratitude, love, terror, and anguish in such a short time period.
I’m still trying to process the entire experience of Luke’s first week and enjoy the baby he is, and, during this time, we’ve been truly blessed by selfless acts of kindness and support from family and friends. My heart overflows with a strange mixture of emotions I’ve never before experienced together. I am so undeserving of the sweet blessing that is our son and feel so very unprepared for the challenge of motherhood. But I know God has equipped me with what I need to persevere.
Even though I don’t understand it all yet (and may never understand everything), I am confident that God answered my ultimate prayer with a resounding yes. I wanted Luke’s birth to glorify Him and to be an example of His great love.
And in the darkest, scariest moments, when I felt nothing but pain, He was there. He protected Luke and me. God’s own son conquered death so that I might live, and I realize now why women choose over and over to walk through such agony for the sake of their children.
They are worth it. We are worth it.