One Year Later: Our Birth Story
One year ago this week, our beautiful boy was born. He is heaven itself, pure joy in the form of a little boy, our best gift, our precious blessing.
My heart is full.
You might have noticed that I've been quieter this year about our story. Opening up and loving to share all the Lord does and things we walk through is normal for me and has been part of my heart and ministry for years. Sharing about my waiting journey and singleness, sharing struggles, sharing our love story, writing my book about our stories - separately and together. But, this year, I was quiet (I even switched for a while to a private Instagram account that many of you followed, because I needed to step away from the public-ness of IG and just take some time to breathe.) This week, last year, we walked a journey that was dark and painful in so many ways but led us to the greatest gift.
But it can be hard to tell the story when you're in the thick of it, and not even right to tell it, sometimes. Sometimes you need to pour it out on pages and press "Publish." And sometimes, you need to quietly open up a personal journal and process and just be, write or talk it out with the closest ones, cry it out, grieve it out, live it out, and sometimes that looks like silence or even retreat.
The truth is, this time last year we were rejoicing... but we were also reeling. Weston's birth story was full of trauma and in so many ways, it went completely opposite of what we had planned for, hoped for. Even writing this post, though it sounds vague at times, is terrifying and oh so vulnerable for me. But I am ready now. Story telling is powerful and I believe with all my heart it is one of the ways God works, heals us, connects us, and redeems our brokenness. Simply telling the truth and being raw and real is powerful. It's a complicated dance of not over-sharing, respecting those in the story, not telling parts of the story that are not yours to share, keeping sacred things sacred, and then speaking boldly what can and should be said, opening your heart, and being real and vulnerable. There is power in that. Even through the fear. My hope and prayer is that some new and hoping, or hurting mama, or dad, someone planning and making decisions for their baby's birth, someone hurting from the pain of something completely different than what we have walked through...will find hope, will feel "not so alone," will be touched and changed, that the Lord would use my open hands and honest words to somehow and some way do something good.
Maybe, someday, I will tell the whole entire story, and all the details. They are hard to tell, it's a lot of ugly truth, and pain. Maybe I'll write it in a book someday.
I don't know.
What I do know is that this week last year, we walked through the unexpected. And we ended up healthy and whole. We are grateful and full. And yet, the beautiful, perfect birth we planned and anticipated for our son went very, very differently than we expected, and that hurt. Especially this mama's heart. Sometimes, especially in the "blog world" it feels as though I'm the only one who had less than a magical childbirth experience. And when it is traumatic and horrible and even terrifying, your world is rocked. When you almost died and you could have lost your baby, you reel at the thought. When the people you trusted to keep and care for your life and your unborn baby's life drop the ball, let you down, screw you over, make poor decisions, or just prove to not have the experience, quickness, or ability to care for you in the way they should have, it stings.
My pregnancy with Weston was very healthy and rather easy breezy. We were fortunate to have no bumps in the road. Mid-way through the pregnancy, we chose to switch from our OB to a midwife, and chose an out of the hospital birth. So many people close to us had wonderful, healthy out of the hospital/midwife births, and after so much research (and we hate to research), so much talking, so much praying, so much thinking, we decided to go that route. As a blogger, I had seen many many shining stories of natural birth experiences. And I wanted our boy to be brought into the world in the most peace-filled, sweet, natural way possible. I wanted candles and warm water baths, calming scents of soothing essential oils, scriptures whispered, worship music softly playing, a supportive team of people we trusted. I had planned every detail. And I cared. I cared so so much.
Every birth is different, every family is unique, every mom and dad and baby has their own needs and story. We just felt that, after hearing so many glowing stories of births at home and at birth centers, without much medical intervention, we wanted to go with that plan. I'm not known by those who love me to be the physically toughest gal on the planet... I'm a girly girl who has never played sports and tends to be very sensitive and tender at times. But I knew I could do it. With God's grace and strength. I wanted to be strong for my boy, not to prove something, but to truly do what was best for HIM. There were a myriad of personal reasons why we chose the kind of birth we did for our first baby. And we spent endless hours hashing through questions and talk with our midwife and doula and one another as we made our plans. After what we experienced, I have a completely different perspective on birth, in general. That's what happens when you actually go through something, instead of just reading about it or imagining it. Perfect vision is 20/20.
In some ways, I truly believe the "trendiness" of that natural birth experience was glamorized and fueled at times by fear and a certain agenda, on some YouTube videos we saw, documentaries we watched, blog posts we read, stories I heard. It almost seemed as though "a hospital birth will leave you feeling cold and uncared for." And "an out of hospital birth is quite as safe but a much warmer, more wonderful experience!"
I also had it on my heart to trust the Lord to give me the strength to endure the pain of labor without meds. I didn't (and absolutely don't) think medical intervention is wrong or bad (it's life saving and good) but I personally had it on my heart to endure the pain and the Lord put some very specific promises on my heart to hold onto during labor. It's all very personal and not something I want to share today, but He placed on my heart some specific promises about our baby's birth being in His hands, about believing for miracles, holding tight to His strength and not mine (because I'm not a physically strong person) and believing a pain free birth, even! I didn't share all this with everyone, but Daniel and I held our hands open to God, believing and trusting His best plan for our precious boy's birth. And we truly did expect it to be nothing short of magical and wonderful.
And in many ways it was.
But as the story unfolded, it was also terrifying, painful, and extremely traumatic. And that is the hard part.
Weston was due on June 14, 2016. And he was born on June 23, 2016. Nine long days of waiting, hoping… it’s all full of details, but we since we chose a midwife, we chose not to induce, and to wait for our baby to come naturally, on his own. The last day before we would need to then move our birth plan to the hospital, our midwife helped things along with some natural induction, including recommending Castor Oil (maybe some day I will write more about that experience, but all I can say now is: I know that for many mamas it works like a charm, and we took it very seriously and trusted our midwife and we researched it extensively before choosing it…. but in my experience, it was awful. Picture getting the most severe stomach flu of your life combined with the worst food poisoning of your life a few hours before giving birth, meeting your baby, and trying to breast feed. Being 10 months pregnant – and it was also 113 degrees outside that day -- and going through that was physically exhausting and horrific, and ended up completely dehydrating and wearing down my body, which is not a recipe for a successful birth or new momma journey, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. But I am not here to give advice and am not a medical professional ;)
I went into labor the night of June 22nd. After nine days of holding our breath, trying to be patient, praying and praying and crying and waiting, and hoping.
Looking back, my labor was (by grace) rather easy. I never felt (during the laboring phases) as many women describe… I never felt like “I was gonna die” and I wouldn’t even call it terrible pain. It felt like very bad menstrual cramps. As I see all that happened from our viewpoint today, I truly think the Lord gave me a special grace in that. He is so kind. And it went fast. I was not even sure I was in labor, to be honest. That’s how painless it was. I labored mostly in our shower at home, under the hot water… holding onto Daniel and the shower curtain rod (which I later realized I held onto so intensely, it broke!) It wasn’t severe pain, it was just intense. We talked to our midwife and doula, and they told Daniel that if I was talking, I was not ready to come to the birth center. It would be hours, still. I suddenly felt what I later realized was the urge to push…my mom knew it and told the doula, “She needs to go NOW.” We ran to the car, and it all began changing and happening fast.
Transition happened for me in the car. I held peppermint essential oils up to my nose in a washcloth as Daniel tore down the dark road, minutes to the birth center. Driving down, and realizing…I need to push. I have to push.
It all happened in a flash. And no one was ready. The midwife arrived at the center as we did. And despite my baby being nine days past due, and despite the fact that the midwife had tried to naturally help start my labor that morning, nothing in the birth center was prepared. My world was spinning and I knew my baby was coming, but I remember being shocked. The birthing tub was being bleached, the oxygen tank was not set up. We rushed into the birthing room at the back of the serenely decorated birth center. The bed wasn’t ready. I remember standing in the middle of the room, holding onto my terrified but strong as steel husband, and everyone around us was rushing madly about like chickens with their heads cut off. It felt like chaos. The atmosphere was the opposite of peaceful or calm. There were no candles burning, no birth tub ready full of warm soothing water. My pregnancy was complication-free (which is why an out of the hospital birth was a “safe” option) but I did test GBS positive, and so we had a plan for an antibiotic IV to be administered during labor. It was not ready. My midwife grabbed my arm and called me over to squat on the floor next to her as she fiddled frantically with the IV and needle. She was shaking and frantic. Trying to find a vein as I tried valiantly to stay still and kept moaning and screaming, “I need to push now.” She told me to wait, to hold it, to keep from pushing. (And any women who has every experienced childbirth knows, that is impossible.)
“Hold it in?” Really?
She frantically kept trying to find a vein for the IV and I continued to tell her that the baby was coming now. Shaking, she dropped the IV and all of it spilled across the wooden floor. She told me to lay down and she checked me.
As I laid on the not-ready bed, the room spinning and my body cringing, my midwife blurted out the F word.
“We are %$#@#$ having this baby now.” She said, with a tone that seemed terrified, panicked and a little angry.
“NO time for the IV. %$#@.”
My heart began to slowly break that moment (and it didn’t stop for the next 24 hours.)
Really? At the birth of my baby? My long-awaited, long-prayed for baby? The baby I’ve dreamed of and wished for… my whole entire life? At this sacred moment? His entry into the earth? And she said the F word? It was just so unprofessional. So off-color. So nasty. This was our baby’s birth day.
My birth team consisted of what proved to be a frantic, panicked and unprepared midwife, a timid and quiet medical assistant, and a terrified doula. I will never forget looking around that room and feeling more vulnerable than I had ever felt in my life. And yet, I had never felt stronger. In the midst of the chaos, I took control of the room. I had to. I began telling every one what I needed. Directing people to do certain tasks, to get specific items.
As I began to push, the IV tossed aside and never administered, we thought, “This is it! He is here.” I started out by laughing and talking as I pushed. It was not really painful, and it was a relief. I joked with Daniel that his pant’s “fly was down!” And we all giggled.
But the pushing continued. For hours. The midwife said it was normal for new moms and that sometimes babies needed time. We trusted her.
We pushed and pushed and his head crowned, he had hair! Sure he was almost “here”….. and the pushing continued.
I pushed for a total of three full hours. Almost four. Hours upon hours, pushes upon pushes.
It felt like three years.
Many things happened in those moments. It was all very shocking and, of course, new for us… a blur that just dragged on and on and yet a flash that seemed like a moment. I was given an oxygen mask, but it was broken and kept falling off my face. The room was hot and stuffy. I remember getting very scared at certain points, terrified that Weston was not okay. Afraid I couldn’t keep going. Completely exhausted. Terrified. We were assured by the midwife that everything was fine, “he was just stuck.” Stuck?
I felt totally and absolutely exposed, afraid, defenseless, vulnerable.
Something was wrong.
We later found out, the midwife did not realize, Weston was in an extremely unique position. It was what they call a “complex presentation.” I have now, through research and talking to a few friends who have had similar situations at births, discovered that this is very, very, very rare, but that midwives and doctors are trained to watch for this to occur and to know what to do in this case…. And yet, our midwife clearly didn’t know to check and did not know what to do. Because of this complex presentation, it is a miracle something worse did not happen in those moments. We shudder to think.
I felt as though no one knew what they were doing… my medical team did not make me feel safe or cared for. There I was, lying naked (in the chaos, we didn’t have a chance for me to put the dress and top on that I planned to wear for the birth) on a messy bed, gasping for air, sweat drenching my hair, trying to push…. For three long hours… when I had no strength left. But I continued to fight. Because that is what mamas do to keep their babies alive. I later told Daniel, “If Weston’s life had not been on the line, and it was just mine? I would have given up.”
In the last days of my pregnancy, Daniel came to me with a song. “I wrote it for the baby.” He said, and smiled. The most hauntingly beautiful melody, on piano and viola. He called it “Peace.” I had a whole playlist planned and set on my phone for Weston’s birth. Because of the chaos of it all and the trauma that would unfold, we never got to it. But, when I started pushing, I begged Daniel to play “the song.” And he played it, on his iPhone, over and over and over and over. Until yesterday, I couldn’t bear to hear that melody, and had not been able to listen to that special song… not since Weston’s birth day. It will forever bring a flood of memories back and take me back to that birth center, in those hours that we hung somewhere between heaven and earth, when it felt as though all the powers of darkness were trying to take us down, take him down, and kill, steal and destroy… and when we could feel the Holy Spirit moving and working… as we waited and worked for our baby.
During those sacred hours (and I can say this because of my former admittance of being a complete weak girly girl) I was bada**. Every power and force in the universe was in me. I could have taken down a building. Taken on the world. I was strong for my boy, and I am proud of that. But, I am also incredibly grateful and humbled, knowing those whispers of “Jesus, come. Jesus, help me” — it was Him. Breathing real, tangible life. Giving strength. I’d never in my life experienced the supernatural strength that rushed through my limbs and muscles and bones. I could have taken over the world in those hours.
I began to realize, as I pushed, in the whirlwind of the moment, that my birth team was not prepared and not confident in the way they should have been. The room felt like it was spiraling out of control. The way you a woman feels and how she is treated in those sacred, close-to-heaven moments as she gives birth to her baby, stays with her forever. It isn’t something you shake off and it isn’t something you probably ever forget. That experience is seared into your heart and mind, all the days of your life. If you felt supported, cared for, safe, and elated… you won’t ever, ever forget it. And if you felt vulnerable, or forced, alone or unacknowledged…you won’t ever, ever forget it. And those moments of vulnerability seared something on my heart that I don’t think I will ever really forget.
I cannot say enough about the strength of Daniel in these moments. Words really aren’t adequate for that kind of courage, that kind of support, that kind of strength. He literally held me up, as I was forced by the midwife into every position imaginable (of course I was absolutely willing and jumped right into the positions she commanded, to keep our boy’s heart rate up and safe, to keep him alive and healthy.) He breathed along with me. He was the definition of strength and safety. He was the reason I was able to do what I did that day. (Later, the midwife and doula raved about how Daniel was a male doula. They told me how lucky I was to have him, and how they’d never seen such a hands-on husband or dad, ever.) We had a professional photographer at the birth, and when I received the photos, tears just streamed down my cheeks as I watched Daniel in every one. Active, “right there”, 110% engaged, breathing along with me… his face looks pained and terrified in every photo, as though he literally felt the physical pain along with me. He is my rock and the reason our love and marriage strengthened that day. My mom and sister, two of my best friends, were at our side the whole birth. They were a silent, interceding, supportive strength. Locking eyes with my beloved mama was the power that gave me courage. She stood across from me, staring into my eyes the entire time, just as she has always done, since I was a baby – giving me life from her life. If she would move even slightly out of my line of vision, I would beg for her to come back. I could not do it without my eyes on hers. My dad, in the waiting room, pacing, listening, probably terrified, and talking to the Lord, as he always does. Knowing he was out there made me feel safe. Mandy, my best sister, was our silent calm in the storm. She played the music over and over, offering sweet words, placing a cool wash cloth on my forehead, praying and praying and praying. She updated the very concerned family and friends via text, as they waited miles away, with bated breath and concerned prayers lifted up.
I will someday tell Weston of all the love surrounding us in those moments. It held us up.
There were terrifying, touch and go moments, and if time had gone on any longer, we would have transferred to the hospital in those next moments. In all the pain and blur, and a terrifying few moment, I remember just letting go, pushing as hard as I possibly could.
Words cannot describe the pressure, the pain, the force. It felt like a Mack truck was ramming and rushing through me. As I pushed one final time, I felt like I was free-falling….I let go, I whispered, “Jesus, come… help us.” And as Weston slid out, my body completely ripped apart.
I will never forget the feeling of lifting his little body onto my chest and crying the happiest tears of my life. I wept. He was perfect and he screamed, loud and strong.
In a fog of pain and complete shock, I remember how beautiful and cute he was. How he looked so much bigger and older than we imagined! How strong he was. He was so so strong. So brave. He was the bravest, strongest, best baby boy in all the world.
When experiencing severe physical trauma, your body goes into shock. I knew I was not okay. I knew something was off.
I’m told (and now see in photos) we sat on the bed for a little while, a new family of three, admiring our boy. I’m told Weston was passed around by my parents and sister in those moments, loved on and doted over. I’m so glad he was, but I don’t recall it.
He was beautiful, I knew that. And he was healthy, I knew that. He was ours. He was here.
But, I was in so much mind-altering pain, my body seared and shocked. White as a sheet, pale as a ghost, shaking hard, bleeding fast, torn completely open from the inside up in four very severe places. I remember shaking. I remember a shot in my thigh. I remember the midwife quickly shoved a white cutting board under my naked backside. I remember, in those moments, I quite literally felt like a piece of meat, laying in what felt like a pool of blood on that bed.
More painful to me than the scary, lengthy pushing phase or the absolutely horrible physical pain of tearing as Weston was born, was that I don’t remember those first moments. And that is what hurts the most. The midwife called another midwife in to examine me. They were making phone calls and chatting quietly in the next room. My family and Daniel were terrified. They knew I clearly needed to get to the hospital, that my birth injuries were intense and needed immediate care.
It was, again, such a chaotic, unknown, unexpected atmosphere, that we didn’t get “those moments” you dream of with your newborn.
We didn’t get to sit and count his little toes.
I do not remember kissing his itsy bitsy lips or really locking eyes with him.
I can’t tell you what his tiny hands looked like.
Mom tells me that I did. That I was a mama. That I kissed him and soaked him in and nestled him against my chest. But I don’t really remember.
The hours that followed were the most horrible and painful of my life.
From my belly button down, it felt like a war zone. Breathe, just breathe. The midwife suggested I “Go home. You should be with your baby, and your tears are not that bad. It’s okay.” I felt as though she was crazy. Go home? We chose to go to the hospital. And thank God we did. We later discovered that if I had “gone home”… I would have surely bled to death.
As the MA attended to Weston, and my family watched close by, the midwife stood me up to shower. I couldn’t imagine how I would possibly walk, let alone shower. But I did it. I mustered up strength as I staggered into the cold, tile bathroom. Holding the hot shower head in my shaking, weak hand, I sat on the bench in the shower. I’d never felt so weak. Daniel sat across from me, his eyes pained with worry. My new baby crying somewhere in the next room. I knew Mom was with him, all was well.
Someday, when I am an old lady, sitting in a glider rocker in a home or some wooden porch by the sea, with nothing but memories and time, I will still remember exactly how I felt when I stood up, got out of that shower and looked in the mirror. I looked into my reflection, my white as the clouds reflection. I was there, yes. But I wasn’t there. I felt as though I was hovering, somewhere above that birth center. I’ll never forget that haunting, out of body experience kind of feeling.
The midwife agreed to have me go to the hospital down the street, but she insisted it was such a minor birth injury that it would be a quick, outpatient procedure and that I would be back here with my new baby in no time! Daniel stayed back at the birth center with our fresh little newborn, not yet named. Thank God he is an older brother in a family who welcomed thirteen babies, because he knew exactly how to care for our brand new son.
I threw on the black dress I had worn into the birth center, just hours before. I walked out to the car, we drove down the street, and I got out of the car and walked down the sidewalk into the Emergency Room, holding onto Mom. I have no idea, no clue, how I walked, in the state I was in.
The sun was coming up. I remember the air was more crisp than I’ve ever felt in my life. Clean. Cool. The sky, all blue and pink above. I was extremely aware that morning. So “in the moment” and highly sensitive to everything around me. And yet, I also felt as if I was not there. Like I was not in my body. Like I was somewhere up above in that pink and blue sky, suspended in air, watching the story unfold and play out. I remember stepping into the ER, and nearly passing out. Breathe. Breathe.
We waited, in the ER, in a curtained off section of a room, for a few hours. I’d been given some pain medication, and so I do not remember feeling pain in these moments. As the minutes and hours drew on, my heart began to sink as the reality began to hit…my baby and I are not together, on his first day. My husband and baby and I are not where we should be, together in each other’s arms. And as the reality set in, it hurt like hell.
Every doctor and nurse who came in as we waited, asking me questions about why I was sitting in the Emergency Room, gasped with shock when I told them “I just had a baby,”
“Just now?? Like today?”
“Yep, a few hours ago.”
The OB/GYN on call came in. He looked concerned. And he treated me with nothing but absolute respect and kindness.
My midwife told him he needed to quickly examine me and “stitch me up with pain killer.” She wanted me to get back to my baby, where I wanted to be. But, I knew that was not enough. And so did he. He nodded his head, patiently. “She has been through enough. She needs surgery. I can tell. We are admitting her and preparing her for the Operating Room now.”
I remember being wheeled upstairs. I remember a text popping up from Daniel, gushing with words of love and pride and care for me and our beautiful new boy. I stared at my new baby’s face on the cell phone screen, my heart melted with sweetest joy I’d ever felt. And the deepest sadness. Oh, he was beautiful.
The midwife left to go check on Daniel and our newborn at the center. She would bring him formula and try to feed him. My first dreams of breastfeeding, dashed. But, in light of the physical injuries I faced, I knew I needed more care than just “a few stitches and some lidocaine.”
I remember the Operating Room. It was big and freezing cold. They placed me on the table, team working around me, calling things out. Bright, bright lights. White, white walls. The anesthesiologist stood at my head, and his assistant said, “Why is she here?” I answered, looking up at him, “I just had a baby and have some severe birth injuries.” “Uhhhh, huh?! At home?! Like, in your backyard?” He said, jokingly chuckled, looking at me like I was crazy, making me feel like some kind of strange animal. I quietly answered, “No, with a midwife at a birth center.”
My doctor knelt down by my side. He looked me directly in the eye, not above me looking down. And he gently placed his hand on my shoulder and said, “I have six babies! You are doing great, and you are going to be okay. We are gonna get you back to your baby as soon as we can.”
He smiled warmly, kindly, confidently. Like he understood. Like he knew what he was doing. And he knew we would be fine. Someone put a few warm, thick blankets on my chest. I sighed, a sigh of relief. And I finally, for the first time in the past 24 hours of giving birth to my son, felt safe. Taken care of. Someone knew what they were doing. Someone had a protocol. And they were care-filled, in control, purposeful, and I was safe. My arms tied to my sides, my legs strapped up far above me. Slowly, I remember drifting off under anesthesia, breathing a sigh of relief and letting myself drift away and rest.
Back at the birth center, Daniel rocked and fed our baby (who didn’t want a bottle). He looked into his little eyes. He laid him on his chest. He was there for Weston, he was there for me. He was exactly what a father should be. And he made me so incredibly proud, and thankful for the gift of a man he is and the strength of his character that pours out in the form of blessing on our lives every single day.
The doctor guessed my surgery would take about 45 minutes, maybe an hour. Mom paced the waiting room. She called the midwife, but she didn’t answer. She had gone home to sleep.
Hours passed, and everyone was terrified.
Three hours later, the doctor came out.
It’s typical for birth centers to release families a few hours after birth, send them home and then check on them in their home. It was time to go.
Daniel found the little bag I had packed and slowly unfolded Weston’s “going home” outfit. All alone. I cannot tell you how many times (especially with a 9-day-late baby!) I sat at home, folding and unfolding, smelling, kissing those little outfits. Imagining what it would be like to dress my new baby for the first time in his first little onesie or sleeper, and slip a soft hat on his perfect little head, to watch Daniel strap him into his new car seat and take him home. I had placed several outfit options in his diaper bag, labeled with a Sharpie: “To wear if he’s under 8 pounds.” “To wear if it’s hot” “To wear if he’s over 9 pounds.”
Daniel dressed him. All alone. In his gray “Worth The Wait” onesie, a little white hat, and tiny blue and white striped mittens.
When I woke up in recovery, my eyes fell on a clock. I felt queasy and numb. A nurse sat beside me, smiling. “You are doing great, sweetie! The surgery went well! And I just have to tell you: 20 years ago, my son was born and I had 3rd degree tears just like yours, and now I am completely fine and he is in college!” I smiled. But my heart started to sink. The hands on the clock were far past what I’d imagined or hoped. How was Daniel? How was our still not-yet named baby doing? Where were they? Mom came in, her eyes pained. I took my phone and opened up a text from Daniel: a picture of Weston in his going home outfit. Hot tears stung my eyes.
I missed it.
I started to realize that those “very first” dreamed-of moments I’d imagined my whole pregnancy… or really, my whole life – every time I played Barbies or dolls, were gone.
It was all so far from the plan or the dream.
But I was thankful my boy was doing okay, that he was alive, that I was alive, that we would soon be together. I hoped.
Recently, I found a lost voice mail I had received from Daniel while I was in surgery and he was about to head home from the birth center. I’d missed it in the craziness of that day. His voice sounded so terrified, so shaky, so scared, so concerned. Praying hard. I cried for a solid hour when I found it the other day, and I will save that piece of our history on my hard drive forever.
There were reasons Weston was not admitted to the hospital with me, and it is complicated. My doctor did not recommend me leaving. He said it was best for me to stay a few days in the hospital, to recover, to watch for hemorrhaging and other complications. He said my injuries were far, far worse than he had anticipated. Third, almost fourth, degree tearing in many places due to the abnormal position Weston was in as I gave birth to him. He said he’d only twice seen anything similar to what I experienced and that it was extremely rare. I would recover, hopefully, but may need two or more surgeries. But it looked good.
As the nurses wheeled me on the gurney into the Maternity Ward, we passed by rooms full of families, big balloons bumping against each other, people carrying fragrant roses, and mother after mother with their newborn babies. I will never forget crossing my arms and nodding my head and shutting my eyes tight as the tears streamed as we wheeled past all the happy smiles and sounds. Hearing the newborns cry made my heart lurch in a way I’d never before experienced. I shared a room that day with another new mama. Every time her baby would cry, I would reel and weep. The physical pain hurt. But empty arms and my newborn away at home without me as I sat in a lonely, cold hospital bed was far, far worse. That stands as the single most awful memory of my life and sometimes I wake up in a cold sweat at night, reliving that feeling in a nightmare.
Looking back, perhaps we could have handled parts of the situation differently, but because Weston could not be admitted into the maternity ward, as I had been GBS positive and he was exposed without antibiotics. There were rules, and agendas of our midwife, I believe now, and so many layers…. All in all, birthing out of the hospital presented specific and unique challenges to us that we did not expect, and that caused the separation that we went through that day. I have changed my mind about so many of the things I used to believe and think about birth. So many of my personal opinions made a 180 shift. So many thoughts swirl in my heart, and I don’t want to go through it all here now. But what I do believe (and Daniel is beside me on this, as with everything) is that a mama should choose – without comparison or judgment – to do what is best for her and her family. If that’s hospital birth, do it. If that means choosing a midwife as your care provider, go for it. If it is having a scheduled c-section, do it. If it’s getting an epidural, you get that girl! If it’s formula feeding, you feed that baby! And if it’s breastfeeding, you’ve got this, mama. For your baby’s birth, do what is best and what will make you the best mom you can be, feeling empowered and strong. And when it doesn’t turn out like you plan, oh mama.. you are not a failure, you are not alone, hope is not lost. But, put all shame aside and do not – for a moment – let in an ounce of guilt or shame for grieving the loss of the dreams you had, the plans you made, the hopes that got up so high… like a hot air balloon, and then were dashed violently to the ground. I just want our story to be one that does speak the truth that needs to be said, that I believe with all my heart based on the experience we endured (and a message that is is not ever said in those complication-free birth stories: out of the hospital birth carries with it the possibility that if something is wrong with mom or baby, if (God forbid) something “bad” happens, you may be separated if mama or baby needs to be admitted in the hospital. In our situation, it was unfortunately a “perfect storm” of sorts…causing us to truly have to be separate.
My nurse was an angel. She was understanding and sweet. She took care of me, and she begged my doctor to let me go home to my newborn. I wish I could have stayed, under his orders, as I respected him, but I had to get home to Weston. The next hours and days unfolded in a blur. Getting home to my boy was happiness itself, but pain colored it all. I will always remember, though, how special I felt. I felt so so special to just be holding this magical little person. He was heaven, itself. He was the most amazing person we had ever met.
We ended up taking Weston back to the hospital that first evening, and waiting again in the ER. Hours spent. A long story. More trauma and pain and disappointment. But thankfully, all in all, we were “okay” and for that we are grateful.
The next days and weeks that followed were full of overwhelming love for our boy, but a lot of pain, fear, and some major unknowns. Tests waited on. Trauma recalled. Because of the physical trauma and then the difficulty it caused, it was from the “newborn bliss” that so many mamas describe. Because of the pain I was in, nursing really didn’t work out, even though I tried and tried, with help from a lactation consultant.
I honestly don’t remember much from those first weeks, except little blips. The pain, oh the pain. It was ten out of ten on the “pain scale.” Twenty out of ten. My recovery was awful, but our sunshine boy was the light through it all.
In the fog of those days, I remember doctor appointments. So many pads and those huge diapers. Searing pain at every movement. Tears streaming every night as I sat on my phone, reading through similar birth stories and similar birth injuries, hoping but fearing -- would I be able to have a normal life? Use the bathroom? Walk? Etc? I will always remember the way Weston felt as he laid on my chest. Warm and cuddly and perfect. The way Daniel let me sleep in the middle of the night as he held our new boy on his chest, how he didn't sleep at all and just watched us, took care of us. I remember Mandy bringing my favorite Starbucks order every day. And Mom and Dad cleaning the house and making food and beaming at their grandson. I will always remember Daniel's twin brother, Caleb, flying from Maryland to California to be with us, and how he listened to my stories of what had happened that first day; how he made delicious mac and cheese and how it is the first meal I remember eating postpartum.
The weeks went on. Weston was tested for GBS and he did not get it. He was completely and perfectly healthy. It could have been much, much worse. I healed, slowly but surely. In fact, my wonderful doctor (who I literally adore! the Lord used him and his care for me to heal not only my body but my heart as well, because of his respect and care for me) told me he was shocked every time I had a check-up. Shocked at my healing and shocked it healed up so perfectly.
Due to his birth and some other issues, Weston was diagnosed at a few months old with Torticollis. This is a whole other story that stemmed from the story I am now writing, but it caused some health issues he needed that had to be taken care of this year.... and those broke my mama heart. (He is doing amazing now and the issues he had are fixed, praise the Lord.) And yet, I haven't felt ready to share any of this with you, my dear Internet friends, because my heart was very tender about it all. (I will always remember watching a Periscope video by Jess Conolly where she said, "If you are tender about something, don't post it on the internet." If a comment or even a well meaning question may make your cry or "send you over the edge", then wait. And so I abide by that as a public blogger and try to think through and be careful about what I share, and when, especially when it comes to our family.)
Grace upon grace covered and carried us.
In the scary moments we faced during that uncertain, terrifying day, and in the trauma that ensued in our hearts afterward. We reeled, for a while. We enjoyed our boy and we rejoiced in our gifts, but the memories were haunting, especially for me. I found healing every day in listening to this song and reading blog posts like this one. And being surrounded by so much loving support, listening ears, and understanding hearts.
I think it's easy for new moms who have healthy babies to talk about or even acknowledge the hurt that a traumatic birth can cause. It feels like shame and guilt, sometimes, to be honest. Because, you do not want to sound or be ungrateful for the greatest gift. Babies die, mamas die, and we are healthy and safe. But, I have come to find that a traumatic birth story is a real loss. It is a poignantly painful experience for women and it needs to be talked about. (Hence, this longest blog post of all time ;) This project was therapeutic for me to read through.
Here we are, one year later. Looking back, I know I've struggled with some post traumatic stress and pain. By God's precious grace and my surgeon's skill, I am 100% physically healed. That itself is a miracle! But emotionally, one year later, I am healed but hurting. It can be lonely to walk through a grief no one understands. It can be awkward and painful when you bravely tell parts of your story and it is met with awkward comments or silent and strange looks. All kinds of things can trigger the memories, and they come flooding back in flashes. Pampers commercials or gasping in the frozen aisle at Trader Joe's when I think I see my doula, and I really do not want to see her ever again. Or, the other day, when I took my mom to the hospital for a quick test (she’s totally fine.) As Weston and I waited for her in the waiting room, he started to get a little antsy and so I walked him out to a courtyard by a fountain beside a window that looked out to the big lobby. As if I was watching a movie, I noticed a little scene play out in the hospital pick up and drop-off: a mother, wheeled out, beaming, tired, and smiling, holding her tiny new baby wrapped in a pale blue blanket, wearing a matching hat and little mittens and pants that coordinated. Dad pushed her in the wheel chair, smiling ear to ear and you could just feel how proud he was. She looked oh so tired but oh so blissful. They pushed big “it’s a boy!” balloons into the car, loaded up flowers, laughed about something, smiled at the car seat. I imagined them minutes before, up in the hospital room, putting him in the going-home outfit, picked out well before. They placed their boy in the car seat in for the very first time. Side by side. Together. Heading home. Safely. Happily. How it “should” be. I stood, staring through the glass. Tears streaming. Heart lurching.
But then, my 9 month old little dream boy giggled about something and bounced in my arms. And I sighed and looked down, laughing with him. Oh so grateful. And really, really happy.
Walking through this past year, of joy and grief, has made me more aware of and think far more about the pain people experience... pain far, far worse than a traumatic birth story that ended in the happy life of a perfect one year old. The other day, my sister in law told me about an extraordinary couple, Sara and Billy Jack Brawner III. They lost their baby girl, Willa Rose, at 34 weeks. She died in the womb (watch their precious video here.) Willa's dad said this at her memorial,
"In my weakness, I began to question all of this. I didn't get it. It felt cruel. And I was mad. And then I was reminded that if my life seems unfair, I must remember that Jesus's life was anything but fair. And in the middle of it not seeming so and our world falling apart and all the chaos and the brokenness and the death and the mourning, SK [his wife] and I know that God is good and He is kind and He loves us and He is for us, and that He gives and He takes away and we are called to bless His name."
I read a book this year that stirred and brought healing to my soul. In it, the mama who lost her darling daughter to cancer wrote these words:
"This is the stuff of life: Mountains and valleys. Births and deaths. Laughter and weeping. And in my life, because I was an enemy of God and he showed me mercy while I was yet a sinner, I want to do right by him. Paul told us in 1 Corinthians 7: 'Let me say this, dear brothers and sisters: The time that remains is very short... Those who weep or who rejoice or who buy things should not be absorbed by their weeping or their joy or their possessions... For this world as we know it will soon pass away.'
P31 girl was known for laughing without fear of the future, not sitting around crying about the past. She found a depth in suffering that made steady her confident steps heavenward. She was given so many good things to look forward to, and she wisely chose joy. There's no time to waste.
Real life is full of real people, and real people are messy. Bathsheba was messy. Sarah was messy. Even Mary was messy. We are undeserving and selfish. We screw up, we drop the ball, we blow it time and again. But here's what's so amazing about looking heavenward and choosing Jesus: it doesn't matter if you haven't been the perfect woman. It doesn't matter if you've been eclipsed by bitterness or marked by sin. It's never too late for you. This glorious future is not only for the Proverbs 31 girl who makes the rest of us look bad. It's for the hurting. The lonely. The bereaved, the grieving. It's for the woman who's hiding an abortion. For the woman who is in need of forgiveness, to be washed clean. It's for the one who has suffered abuse, who is going through a divorce. It's for the girl who has tried to take her own life, for the one who cuts herself to feel something, anything. And for the one who is tuned out, numb, dead to the world. Goodness awaits you! Goodness awaits me! Come with me, jump in, and feel the warmth of anticipation, even in the cold and dark night.
Can we please laugh together? Can we please honor God, the Giver? If he gives ice cream, lick up the last drop as it runs down the cone onto your arm. If he has given a warm day, let your skin soak up the sun until your tan glows. When he gives sweet moments, camp out there a little while, sweeping your soul with goodness. Let the food you eat not only nourish your cells, but let it be beautiful and delicious and flavorful and plentiful. Walk in the rain, splash in puddles, catch snowflakes on your tongue. Watch a spider spin a web. Explore the world with your preschooler, his hand in yours, sticky with peanut butter and fat with love. Draw eyeliner kitty cat whiskers on your six year old, then drink milk out of a saucer on the floor of the kitchen with her.
If he has given you babies, to love, pour it on thick. Rock and sing and kiss and bless, in the same way your Abba pours out on you. The home you have been given, have fun making it pretty. Pick your neighbor's flowers, put up drawings made by tiny, unsteady fingers, and paint the walls hot pink! Let music ring throughout; let singing and prayers abound, flowing freely from grateful lips. If he has given you a friend, a mentor, or a little sister, revel in the gift of human hearts knit together by truth. Use your gifts, use your talents, and point to the One who gave it all.
Sometimes, the goodness is right in front of our faces, and sometimes it must be unearthed, but it's there.
This is life.
It's strange and wonderful and terrible all at the same time. Feel free to laugh, and feel free to cry. Feel free to create and love and take chances in scary areas of your life, for we have the brightest future to enter."
- Kate Merrick, "And Still She Laughs."
Thank you for reading this story. I haven't really written in a long time (really since At Long Last!) and this ended up being a small book of a blog post, itself :) I just wanted to share where I (and we) "have been" this last year. Where my heart is. And where it is going. There is so much more to the story, and I have partly hesitated so much in sharing the birth story because I don't want any one to misunderstand anything I am saying or feeling or portraying... this is just our story and experience, and whatever yours is or was is beautiful and right for you. Also, this post I focused on the truth that we walked through a traumatic birth but I didn't focus much on Weston... that is because, it was not about him. He is sunshine and joy itself, and he is our greatest gift -- I will tell him someday, the story of how he was born, and I will tell him how brave and beautiful and amazing he was. He was a fighter and I am blown away by his strength. But, I this story does not color his story or his life.... his story is a joyful one full of sunshine, and on his birthday later this week, I will be sharing more of this past year's JOY he brought just be being "him."
I have found that the Lord makes the broken beautiful. I don't know what the Lord has for us in the future. If and when the Lord gives us more children, we will definitely be back with my wonderful OB who was on call that day and became my surgeon and we will certainly have an in-the-hospital birth (I know there are sharp, competent, caring midwives and safe, wonderful birth centers. But after what we experienced, we will never choose that experience again, personally! But every single story is different and right for each family of course, this is just our story) especially because next time (if and when there is one) there will be some special complications due to my injuries that we will have to consider, and truth is -- that is scary. It is still hard to hear birth stories, it's still hard to talk about them, it's even hard to see them on TV. It's hard when people don't understand why I have struggled this year or been a little MIA, in some ways. It's hard when people do not understand why the birth was such a big deal to me, or how I cared so so much about it. But it is good, too.
My heart is healing, every time my boy laughs and giggles. Every time I sit in the sunshine or swim in the ocean or talk to a friend or hold hands with my man. Or when I ran into my hospital nurse randomly at the local children's clothing thrift store and we hugged and cried and she was just thrilled to see me healthy and whole, because, she said, "There are some cases that come into the hospital that just stick with you. Yours stuck with me and I've wondered how you are since. I am so happy you are doing well."
There is beauty in the broken. There is redemption in the lost hopes and the pain.
Please, please, email me, sweet sisters, if you want to talk, if you have a sweet comment (I really don't want to rehash or get advice on anything that occurred in our birth details) but I would be thrilled to talk to you if you have been through something similar or a traumatic birth. We need one another and there is healing in telling our stories.