Our baby’s due date came and went without the first sign of nearing labor. Each following day could have been the perfect beginning of a birth story. The day Randy discovered the song of the wood thrush and absorbed himself in writing a piece of music using the intervals of the bird’s song. There was the day our four-year-old got sick and threw up all over the carpet. And the next day, when Randy decided he couldn’t bear to look at the carpet anymore and ripped it up, determined to finish the floor before the baby came. The unforgettable night a bat flew into our house and absolutely vanished somewhere inside. The kids and I hid behind closed doors while Randy turned our entire house upside down until 2 a.m. looking for it. I finally drifted off to sleep while imagining every possible scenario of us leaving our children in the middle of the night with a bat lurking in the shadows of our house. Or the hilarious conclusion to the story the next afternoon, when Kells, our nine year-old-son, came screaming down from his bedroom saying he found the bat. The creature had been sleeping on a small bookshelf on the wall by his bed, resting poetically under a slanted paperback copy of The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. It was literally inches away from his face and gave a (and I quote:) “blood-curdling shriek” when Kells disturbed him. This would have been a great start to the birth story. But that day passed and another came.
No contractions to time, no reason to get excited, just a surreal feeling that even though it seemed like absolutely nothing was happening, our boy would be coming soon. Three days before the end of my 42nd week of pregnancy, I called a friend who was a labor and delivery nurse to ask her how she would advise me if I ended up having to be induced. She didn’t give me any advice. Instead, she asked me if she could pray with me. We prayed and I found that there was still fear there, so deeply-buried that I had thought it was completely gone. I confessed to her and to God–I just don’t know if I can do this again. I cried and she told me to really listen to what God wanted to say to me. I felt the words rise up, “Peace, beloved.” And the gentle reminder that this birth would only be a moment, and that God would be with me through it all. I held onto those words.
The following day, 5 little trees I had ordered weeks ago came in the mail. Randy and I planted them in the late afternoon. I talked to my sister on the phone, laughing that maybe that was the last thing I was supposed to get done before the baby was born. When we sat down to dinner, I started having mild contractions. They kept on coming, about 10 minutes apart. It didn’t matter if I stretched out in the bed or walked around. Even though they weren’t very strong, they were persistent enough for me to take notice. This continued for about 3 hours. Finally I told Randy I thought we should go to the hospital. It was about a 25 minute drive, and once my labors get going, sometimes they go fast. I called another sister and let her know it was time, and she headed our direction to stay with the kids. As soon as I hung up, Randy said, “Are you sure? You seemed pretty lucid talking to her on the phone.” He had seen me at this moment eight other times in labor, and admittedly, I wasn’t breathing hard, I wasn’t having to focus intensely to get through the contractions. I was aware of this, too. I was truly hoping this was labor, but I wasn’t positive. I responded, exasperated, “I don’t know! I just don’t know. I think this is it, but I’m not sure. I just think we should go.” He packed up the car, we told the kids who were still awake goodbye, and headed out. I was still having mild contractions, still spaced 6-10 minutes apart. We listened to some music and sang along. On the drive in the dark car, I suddenly felt scared, and a feeling of absolute dread came over me. I didn’t say anything about it. I just kept singing. But all I could think was–I want to avoid this pain. I tried to calm myself by singing. By reminding myself of the words, “Peace, beloved.” But I felt so frustrated to already be second-guessing myself, knowing that I was nowhere near done with the hard work. And I wasn’t even sure if I was actually in labor yet.
We pulled into the hospital parking lot. We got out of the car, and I walked in to the ER to sign myself in. I was aware of all the people around me who were probably wondering if I was really in labor. I answered the questions and filled out my paperwork. And then, to my great surprise, in the middle of handing over insurance cards and signing my initials, standing right there at the reception desk, my water broke! I was so relieved to know that this was actually labor. Somehow, that gave me courage and a new resolve. We were going to see the face of this baby. And it would be soon. There was no question about it now.
They wheeled me back to my room. I had an incredible space of probably 45 minutes where the contractions completely stopped. I was able to talk to the nurses, answer all of the preliminary questions, get checked (I was six centimeters dilated), be monitored, etc. without having to stop to breathe through contractions. I was aware this was mercy.
Our nurses were precious and unbelievably sweet. They were attentive and sensitive to my needs, and they recognized that the best way to support Randy and me was to give us time alone. My doctor met me and told me she would be there when I needed her. What a relief to have good care in labor.
I had asked Randy if he would bring a guitar and play some songs for me. I love Randy’s voice more than almost anything in this world. And I love to hear him sing and play music. After Rune’s birth, where I realized that singing through contractions was an incredible help to me, I knew I wanted music again. But I felt somehow that if Randy could lead me, it would bless me and our baby. For about two hours, I paced the room, singing with my husband. Joining our voices in worship, in reverence, in awe of the deep love of God. I was aware that singing not only took the edge off the pain, but having words to hang onto was like having a lifeboat in a wild storm. And though I knew I was in the middle of labor and that it was going to be harder still and a little like walking in complete darkness, hearing the voice of my beloved husband singing along with me made me feel like he was holding my hand all the way. I didn’t feel alone.
After these two hours passed, I started to feel completely exhausted. I told Randy I was soooo tired. I just wanted to lay down. It was about 3:00 in the morning. I kept thinking about that verse in Psalms, He gives his beloved rest. I longed to just go to sleep and wake up to a baby in my arms. I closed my eyes and tried to rest in between contractions. When one would come on, I would start singing. If I didn’t sing, I couldn’t bear them. So I sang out, louder and stronger with each successive one. I was shaking, tired, desperately hopeful that I was getting near the end. Randy had put my playlist on the phone and was now by my side, his hand on my back, telling me I was doing great, reminding me we were going to see our sweet baby today.
After a few of these contractions, I felt a violent shove from the baby which burst the rest of my water. I knew he was wanting to get out of there. I told the nurse, who had been coming in every thirty minutes to monitor the baby, that I’d like for her to be in the room with us now.
I changed positions and braced myself for pushing. A few uncomfortable contractions passed on the bed where I tried my best to push. I felt I needed to move, so I got up and walked over to one of the chairs at the table and rested my arms on the back of it. And I pushed. I wanted it to be one push and over. But it was more. And they were hard. Every contraction was harder and longer and bringing me that much closer to the face of this baby. And each one caused me to cry out in prayer to God for his mercy and deliverance. Those final hard holy moments of birth are the places where I have learned to trust God with the deepest, innermost parts of my being. I wanted to avoid the pain, but reflecting back, I know that it is in these moments I have encountered the tender, intimate, and personal love of God with the greatest clarity. Finally, there was the last push. The split-second suspension between agony and ecstasy. And then the holy moment where life exploded forth from my body, and I witnessed the beautiful, tiny face that had been hidden in the secret place of my womb.
The best feeling in the whole world. The greatest joy. The deepest peace. The sweetest relief. The hardest work. The prize of all prizes. The ecstasy of it was worth every bit of pain.
As I rested my newborn on my chest, everything inside me could feel the meaning of the words I whispered to myself through the storm. “Peace, beloved.”
He brought me through.
It was only a moment, and I was never alone.
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