Three years ago I stood on a sunny, warm pavement in front of 14 Chemin Malombre, a newlywed with a van full of IKEA furniture and heart full of baggage. Two years ago I paced our apartment floor for six hours of pain, walked down six flights of stairs, into a taxi that took me to the hospital where 50 minutes later I held my crying firstborn having absolutely no idea how to care for and love a baby.
I am lying on a bed in Urgences (emergency), contracting every five minutes, and it feels fine. There is no way they will keep me here, I think to myself, I am not in labor. It’s early, these contractions are too weak, unless I’ve forgotten what contractions feel like.
But they keep me, I lie on my right side in the cold room, trying to cover my feet with useless hospital blankets. I close my eyes, trying to fall back asleep. Husband eventually arrives after our babysitter went to our apartment to look after Little Boy. We talk, laugh, just sit there and wonder how long this is all going to take.
I’m clearly much stronger this time around. Labor is really not painful at all, I marvel to myself and to him. I don’t even need any of my pain management strategies.
She walks into the delivery room like a warm breeze. She’s beautiful, my doctor, with wild, grey-brown, curly hair, she’s in top shape, I love listening to her Spanish accent. There’s the cervix check – the fifth, and there were at least two more to come.
I’m going to break your water now, and then we’ll see what happens, she says. I know from the way she is talking that she thinks it will go very quickly, but I know from what my body is saying that it won’t be happening any time soon.
It’s warm, amniotic fluid, I don’t remember that from the first time around when my water broke while I was throwing up into the toilet an hour before Little Boy was born, warm like a cup of tea falling from a counter top where it stood 30 minutes after the water boiled, falling down without anything to stop it. It’s gushing over the birthing ball where I sit, leaning on the bed, as I rotate my hips on top, hoping this means dilation of some sort.
We can see trees outside, all green, the sky is blue now, our room is eerily silent except for Husband, me, and the sound of the rubber ball squishing against the floor.
He pulls my worn blue Bible out of the hospital bag he packed before leaving our apartment this morning and starts flipping through it. He turns to Isaiah, and his eyes fall on chapter 66. He starts reading.
Before she was in labor, she gave birth, before her pain came upon her, she delivered a son.
This is incredible, Husband says.
“…For as soon as Zion was in labor, she brought forth her children. Shall I bring to the point of labor and not cause birth?” says the Lord.
Neither of us knew the passage, but in one moment, God is standing in this white room like my own personal midwife, holding my face is his hands and saying, Did you think you would go through all of this difficulty for nothing? Did you think the three years of sorrow and pain would just keep going? Were you wondering if anything could come out of this? Would I, the one who took you through labor, not cause birth?
And I know it in my heart, I will give birth to a son, but I also know that today I will give birth to something else.
This is the day when the three-year season of pain and difficulty ends; this is the day my new season of life is born.
I can hear her voice through the speakerphone in the delivery room, midwife to my left, Husband on my right and in a strange way I’m still captivated by the Spanish accent, You can get an epidural, the oxytocin will make your contractions more effeeeeeshyent, you haven’t failed, the sentences are running together, another contraction is coming, I can’t listen anymore.
It is 4pm, two hours now since she broke my water, 12 hours since I’ve been in the hospital, and 15 hours since the weak contractions first began. Labor is not progressing, the words no woman ever wants to hear. My cervix has been checked at least five times, a procedure I started hating after the first check in Urgences at 4am, and every time there are tiny movements toward effacement, but I’m not even dilated. In my head I’m trying to tell myself, Hours upon hours upon hours more of this, even though my body is saying, Please make the pain stop, please leave me alone.
And I see it, the days and the nights, the long days the even longer nights of waiting these last three years of waiting and waiting and waiting for something to change. A movie with scenes from the past three years of loss plays, of Husband coming home and me saying, I’ve had a moment, a revelation, I feel great now, everything will be different, and then it would last for a little bit and then fade away. The sadness returning, the heaviness still there.
It was a season of getting on with it, of getting up multiple times at night when I didn’t feel like it, of caring for people when I needed care myself, of feeding others when I needed food, of aching loneliness.
And there is no epidural that can take away that pain. There is no oxytocin that can make the process go faster. Sometimes you have to wait the season out, live in it and find ways to survive in it.
I ask her for a few more hours, Can we see what happens in two hours and can I make a decision then? She says of course, there is even a hint of laughter in her voice.
I expected it to be easy, if I’m honest, everyone says that a second delivery is easier and quicker than the first, and my first was easy and fairly quick at seven hours. I was so strong through the first one, so in control, no screaming, no crying, I was totally into it, like a well-trained athlete completing her event and being handed a gold medal at the end.
And I remember seeing Little Boy for the first time in the hands of the midwives. Two closed fists raised in the air, legs spread wide, face twisted in an angry howl. Strong, fierce, independent.
Little Boy was born of my strength, but today I know Baby will be born of my weakness.*
God’s back in the white room again and talking to me out of Isaiah 66.
Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river…I will comfort you, you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. You shall see and your heart shall rejoice; your bones shall flourish like grass, and the hand of the Lord shall be known to his servants.
Words that burn in my soul, the promises I hold in my heart, I will extend peace, I will comfort, your heart shall rejoice, your bones shall flourish. And I say yes to all of this, with Husband’s hand in mine, I say, Yes, to this season, I receive it with eager, open hands.
You have to help me decide, you can’t sit this one out, I’m your wife and this is your son, I turn to Husband, and we go back and forth, to get the epidural or not, to take the oxytocin or not.
Let’s ask God for a sign, he says, and so I do. If there is no change after the next round, I will take the epidural first, then the oxytocin.
We leave the delivery room and head for the stairs, walking up and up and up and down and down and down, focusing my mind on the sound of the pink ballet flats slapping against the concrete.
Another cervix check, and I feel so tense and tight, anticipating the discomfort and pain but not the surprise on the midwife’s face or her words, There’s a leeetle change.
Still not fully effaced but only millimeters away, we have our sign.
“You’re a bag of sand and there’s a hole in your toe — and the sand just keeps trickling out. Just let everything that comes on, trickle on through. Don’t hold on… Just breathe and let go.”
– Ann Voskamp, How To Breathe Through the Hard Times
I’m standing between the counter with all the official equipment and the bed when I hear the words, and realize all my muscles are pulled tight, so I let go and the force of the next contraction empties my bladder on the ballet flats, and then I can feel him, the small lump in the small of my back, moving.
You have to call the midwife NOW, it’s time to push, I tell Husband, RIGHTNOW, trying to convey the urgency even though I can’t believe it.
I run – well, it felt like running – to the side of the bed, hold on to it and start pushing through my contractions. Husband’s on the other side telling me I can do it, the midwife in charge walks in looking bewildered, You need to push??
She checked me just an hour ago, and I wasn’t even dilated.
And I say something like, yes it feels like that but I suppose I don’t know for absolute certain, and as much as I told myself I would never push without finding out if I was completely dilated, I knew I was going to keep pushing.
Activity all around us, I hear her in the background on speakerphone with my doctor who is kind of yelling and they have switched from French to Spanish, and Spanish sounds much better than French when there is high drama involved. Two other midwives materialise, green paper on the floor, I’m thinking I should get on the bed, but no one seems to care, so I push anyway.
This is it, ICANFEELHIMCROWNING, I tell them, wondering why I’m having to tell people what is happening, mystified as to why no one seems to be doing anything more dramatic than just standing there and waiting. With Little Boy, the midwives told me when to stop pushing, when to keep going, they told me everything, and I followed their instructions.
Today, I work with my body. I know when to stop pushing, when I need to pant, when the head emerges, then the body, the rush of water and blood and it’s finished. My son is crying, my husband is crying, and me?
I’m standing by the side of the bed, still holding the mattress and sheets, my legs are shaking.
Shaken but standing. Holding on because I will not let go of You.
The midwives hand him to me, a shivering, huddled ball of white-coated flesh, head touching his knees. He was born three weeks early and a tiny ball with skin like tissue paper.
He curls into my chest, like he’s trying to go back inside, and after three years, I know today that this is what I must look like to God.
The girl who tried so hard to be strong and together and on top of it and in control, she’s finally where He wants her. Out of control, hands wide open to receive grace, strength all gone, I’m here in all my glorious weakness saying, Take me, please take me, feed me real food, give me back my life.
So one season gives way to the next, life comes out of death, sadness flees and joy abounds, I was tested and tried, a crushing burden laid on my back, there was fire and water, but I am resurrected again, You have brought me to a place of abundance.
*I take this phrase from my friend Kristen Frantz’s own birth story – I’ve tried to come up with a better one myself, but her line that I read years before I had my own children so perfectly captures my own experience.
I’ll announce the winner of the Desperate book giveaway tomorrow. This post is Day 31 of 31 Days of blogging in October. I am writing this month about my first season of motherhood, sharing stories and lessons that stayed with me from that time. (New to this series? Start here and follow the links to each day’s post.)