I find birth stories to be breathtakingly beautiful-a window into one of the life changing moments of a family. So this is one of ours. It was very different from my other births, and found it difficult to write. But I did. It may be raw, unexpected, and a trifle long….but it’s ours. Part of our family history now. And I would like to share this small window with you.
Our third son was born at 6:44 am—Christmas morning 2016.
His was a different birth than my others, and carrying him mirrored that in many ways. Of the nine and a half months of pregnancy, I spent more than six of them sick to my stomach, whereas during my other pregnancies, it was closer to four at the most. I was in a new city, and in a new house, and was in the care of a new midwife (the midwife who delivered my other three was unavailable for this birth).
Although my body carried this baby similarly to the prior occupants, everything was different. Everything felt unnervingly new; like referencing a map from the country while walking through a city’s busy downtown. They both have roads, but the familiar landmarks were in the wrong places; congested paths existed where there were once grassy slopes.
This was my fifth pregnancy in four years. I knew deep down we were always meant to have him, but didn’t expect him to make an appearance in our lives at that particular time. I was sure that we would have more time between him and our last baby, but surprise! In the dim light of that damp spring morning, two vivid lines revealed a different plan. A different timeline.
And a completely different year to come.
I was overjoyed as well as apprehensive. Excited for this new tiny life and all the amazing unknowns that accompany him as he grows, but worried about the months to come. Would this be like the other pregnancies? Easier? Worse? How would I juggle caring for three little ones under the age of four, a husband who works two jobs, and settle us all in a house we had moved into a mere two weeks before?
The months to follow were hard. Continuous nausea made eating a daily struggle. Nearly every other day during the third trimester I endured excruciating muscle spasms in my sides, often waking my husband in the middle of the night with my gasping cries. The sleep I did get was often plagued by nightmares, forcing me to wake myself again and again in order to shake those visions of terrifying helplessness that return every pregnancy. And during the day, I struggled to care for our other three children, too young yet to handle many tasks on their own. I did the best that I could, accepted any help that was offered, and daily prayed for strength in order to survive.
I was tired.
Not an “I didn’t get much sleep last night” kind of tired, but the kind of exhaustion that seeps into your bones, filling them with a heavy desperation for rest. My entire body felt bruised; each grab and touch from little hands pressed painfully deeper into my sensitive flesh. Every cry became a thousand times louder to my ears, as I cringed in preparation for the hundredth one in a single hour. Every movement my body was forced to make ended in fresh pain, as I crawled through the minutes leading to the moment I could lay myself down once more.
And yet, I loved this little boy. I felt trapped within a body that no longer responded or functioned the way I needed it to; trapped within a body rapidly hurling toward the ordeal of childbirth; trapped within a body that everyone and their mother had an opinion about, but no one heard my voice. And yet, I loved this little boy. Throughout the weeks and months, his tiny presence nudged me back to the same conversation with God, “Please. When will this little one arrive? I’m so afraid. Please, I don’t have the strength to do this again.”
“Soon, Daughter. Have I not been faithful before? I shall be faithful in this too. Soon.”
I am incredibly thankful that my God is a patient God, and His tender mercies often took shape in my mind as Psalm 121:
I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD watches over you— the LORD is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
The LORD will keep you from all harm— he will watch over your life;
the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.
The week before Christmas, I began to withdraw into myself, growing more quiet than usual, and often seeking solitude from the household din. For me, this was a common practice in the days leading up to labor; a way to settle myself in preparation for the task to come. But this time was different. Those moments no longer provided the peace of mind they had in the past, only a weary desperation. Like a caged animal, I would find myself roaming around the house, unconsciously searching for an escape from both the physical and mental walls confining me.
I had hit the “fight or fly” point of childbirth preparation, and this time, my first instinct was to fly.
I don’t know why I was so afraid this time. I knew that I shouldn’t be; I had given birth before. Three times in fact, at home, with no pain relief. And though I am no superwoman, there was absolutely no reason why I couldn’t do it again. Both the ultrasound and checkups that week showed the baby and me to be fine, and ready to go.
But that was the problem. I wasn’t fine.
By the time Christmas Eve arrived, I had been having contractions on and off for the past few days. My mother and sister were in town for the holiday, and had prepared a sumptuous dinner for us all. Our little kitchen was filled with the tantalizing aromas of a Christmas feast, and the fellowship was a welcome distraction. Our little ones were all tucked into their beds, still buzzing in anticipation for the morning, while we adults settled in for a relaxing evening.
Dec 24th, 7:00 pm: Shortly into our meal, contractions began again, but this time with more force and regularity than before. I remembered how this felt—this strange secret signal of the body, and had wondered how it would begin for this child.
With our daughter it was shock and blissfully ignorant excitement—as sudden as that first gush of amniotic fluid—surprising and life changing in one moment.
But with our other boys….I was awaken by their first contractions—like hearing a distant bell tolling a coming change. Each time I laid there wondering if this was it. Was this the first of the moments that would lead to a new name…a new face…a new life?
Each time, I knew the answer was yes.
And as I sat in that white kitchen chair, slowly eating, I felt that “yes” once again resonate through my being. Contractions were ten minutes apart, and half way through dinner I decided I couldn’t eat anymore (though I’m glad I did when I could!). My mother suggested that I go rest, so I curled myself up on my bed to watch an episode of Downton Abbey, all the while breathing through each contraction. Through the door, I could hear the homey sounds of kitchen cleanup—splashing of soapy water, dishes clattering, all mixed together with warm voices raised in laughter. The more I listened, the more tense I became; I wanted so badly to join them.
But I couldn’t; I was in labor.
Dec 24th, 9:00 pm: My husband slipped quietly into the room to check on me. No more than a quick glance at my face told him that I was not fine. He settled himself near me and asked what was wrong. With his presence warming the room, and knowing that he wouldn’t leave me alone until I told him, it was simply a matter of seconds before my emotional dam crumbled.
I sobbed the phrases, “I’ve ruined Christmas. It’s my fault he’s not here yet.” and, “I’m scared. I don’t think I can do this.” Between them I quietly moaned through contractions in an attempt to stay relaxed. That didn’t work. I was afraid and exhausted, now all the more so from the tense crying of the last half hour.
My husband spoke comfort to me, reminding me that I did not ruin Christmas for everyone. Babies arrive when they arrive, and as we’ve learned with the others, there is little I can do to rush them. My mother and sister understood, and they just wanted to make sure I was taken care of through all of this. The kids too would be fine; they are all too young to be attached to any Christmas tradition, so no feelings were hurt there.
He did, however, recommend that we call my midwife, since the contractions had been consistent for the last couple of hours. She would want to be aware of what was happening.
I agreed, and asked him to call her for me. I had texted her earlier that day when I lost the plug, so she wasn’t surprised to receive our call. As my husband updated her, I carefully pushed myself up and tried to collect my nerves.
Then I heard the phrase, “I’m so sorry, but I won’t be able to be at your birth.”
My midwife had been dealing with some health issues during my pregnancy, and my labor kicked in at a time when she couldn’t physical handle the midwifery duties that it required. Her co-midwife and their assistant would come to take care of me. I was well acquainted with both, liked both, but my sense of comfort and trust was highest with our primary midwife. Labor requires a great amount of support, and one of the two people I leaned on the most would not be there.
All of a sudden, the frail thread holding my broken pieces together snapped, leaving me open like an exposed nerve—raw, and unprotected.
My husband held the phone out to me, but I pushed it away shaking my head and sobbing. Another contraction hit and I leaned on the bathroom counter for support. I heard him in the next room tell our midwife that he would call her back, then quickly returned to me. He kept trying to hold me, to reassure me, but I couldn’t bear it. All I could do was shake my head over and over again, saying “I can’t do this. Not without her. I can’t do this.”
Eventually, he coaxed me back to the bed, sat next to me, and held my tense hands in his warm ones. He asked if I wanted to stay, or go to the hospital instead. I glanced around the room, taking in the pile of birthing supplies in one corner, and the baby’s crib waiting for its little occupant. Everything was ready for a routine homebirth. I had wanted a routine homebirth again so badly.
I turned back to him with panicked eyes and whispered, “I don’t know. I don’t know what to do.”
So my husband, being the problem solver that he is, pulled his phone out again, but this time dialed his brother and sister in law, both of whom are doctors. I fell silent, and shook my head again when he offered me the phone. I knew that if I tried to speak, I would break down crying again. So in brief terms, he filled them in on the situation: Natashya was in labor, contractions were ten minutes apart, she was exhausted already and unsure if she could handle several more hours of this at home.
I heard my brother in law’s voice—so much like my husband’s—calmly asking questions about the pregnancy and my current state. He recommended that, due to the baby’s gestational age and my exhaustion, we go ahead and transfer to the hospital. There I would have access to a few more options that I may need this time around.
Then I heard my sweet sister in law’s voice telling me it was okay. Even though I couldn’t respond, she knew I was listening and spoke directly to me. It was okay to need something different this time, and that is exactly why the hospital option was there in the first place. This is why we have a plan B, and it is okay to use it. The baby will be fine, and I need to be where I no longer felt afraid, where I could have the opportunity to rest. Her words were a soothing balm to my frantic heart.
Dec 24th, 9:30 pm: My husband hung up the phone, and asked me once again, “What do you want to do?” This time I took a deep breath and said, “I want to go.”
Within ten minutes, we were all set to leave: hospital bag pulled out from its hiding spot, both of us dressed, and the baby’s car seat installed. I hugged my sister (who was still up) goodbye, and gave her instructions for the kids’ stockings in the morning.
As I propped them up on the piano, I felt a small twinge of regret that we would not be there to see our little ones open them in a few hours, but was thankful that my sister was there to make it special for them.
We piled into the car, and pulled out of the driveway into the night.
As we rolled along, I gazed up at the stars and thought about how our church family would be leaving the Christmas Eve service right now—a service filled with candlelight and holy words. Christmas Eve has always held a strange, otherworldly-like calm to me, and even within our car, making our way to the hospital, I felt it. The night before Christmas always whispers, “Something is coming”, and I heard it within me even as I grasped my husband’s hand through each contraction.
Something was indeed coming.
Dec 24th, 10:00 pm: We arrived at the hospital, contractions still going strong. He offered to drop me off outside the ER, but I insisted on staying with him to walk in together. I had only just gathered myself enough to show a thin layer of composure, and if he wasn’t near me, I was afraid it would all fall to pieces again.
We were ushered through the ER to the labor and delivery check in desk. I sat down to fill out the paperwork, and answer as many questions as I could in between the ever increasing contractions. The check in nurse gave us a puzzled look and remarked that we were the calmest couple about to have a baby that she had ever encountered. “Well,” I said, smiling at my husband, “this is not our first time at this rodeo.” The nurse laughed and paged another nurse to escort us to our assigned labor and delivery room.
Within minutes, I was changed into a very awkward hospital gown, tucked into bed, and hooked up to the various monitors in the room. The baby was still doing well, and after the first check, I was apparently 4-5 cm dilated. Soon, the doctor arrived—a man with a calm voice and kind eyes—introduced himself, and asked why I came in tonight. My midwife had already called ahead and spoke with him, but he was still unsure why a woman, who had had three previous home births, would at the last minute decide to come to the hospital, especially when there was nothing physically wrong.
I explained as clearly I could, and as he took in my faltering words and tired features, I think he understood as best as any man could.
Together, he, my husband, and I made a quick plan. The doctor had already ordered the epidural I had requested, and, as we also requested, would wait to first see if my labor would progress on its own before administering any Pitocin. Since everything looked fine, there was no reason to rush at this time. We were thankful for the calm and understanding atmosphere in which we had found ourselves.
Dec 24th, 11:30 pm: The anesthesiologist arrived to administer the epidural. He was a big man—tall and broad—and not at all what I would have expected (not that I’ve actually met very many anesthesiologists…), but very friendly and kind in his tone. After a few misses that resulted in shooting pains up and down my right leg, he settled on the right spot to place the catheter, and I was ready to go. My body shook for a while following this ordeal, and was tucked into bed to wait for epidural to take effect.
A small portion of my right leg has been permanently numb for over a decade, and soon I felt that strange sensation spread to my entire lower body. My legs felt oddly heavy, and after a short while, could not move them at all. Sure enough, the pain of the contractions became dulled, and I felt myself relax for the first time in weeks. A nurse checked me again, and I was now 6 cm dilated. At that, she left us to rest.
Dec 25th, Midnight to 3:00 am: The strange thing about epidurals is that it doesn’t eliminate the pain, it just removes it, as if you were experiencing it from a great distance. By the time the contraction hits, you still feel it, but without the strength or intensity. I still moaned through each wave, but was able to remain relaxed and even slept between each one. As the hours ticked by, my labor did progress on its own: 7 cm, 8 cm, and then 9 cm.
Dec 25th, 4:00 am: I was now 10 cm, and the nurse asked me if I felt the urge to push, but after my insistence that I didn’t feel it yet, left me once again to sleep.
I lifted my unborn son up in prayer for the dozenth time that night, and nodded off.
Dec 25th, 6:30 am: Still very drowsy, I began to notice more hustle and bustle in our room. More nurses arrived, stirrups were unfolded, and the little baby heat lamp was warmed. For a moment, my mind panicked. Is everything alright? Is the baby alright? What is happening? But a nurse leaned over to smile at me and say, “Your baby’s coming! Get ready to push!”
Get ready to push? Honestly, I still didn’t really feel much urge to do so, and I was worried I didn’t have enough strength to hold myself up, let alone push. I remembered how much energy and concentration birthing required. Apparently this baby was coming now, and I was swept along before I could dwell on it greatly.
But if he was coming, I was ready, and I found that I was no longer afraid.
Dec 25th, 6:44 am: I remembered how to push. And I remembered how to effectively push. So much so, that the doctor barely had time to catch our son as he made his way into this world. Two strong pushes, and he was out. My body heaved a sigh of relief, and our newborn son was placed on my deflated stomach.
I glanced up at my husband and gasped, “He’s green! We have a Grinch baby!”
Then his tiny wriggling body nudged mine, and I saw past the green goo that covered him from head to toe. This was our son. I heard his kitten like cries as he searched for me. This was our son. I saw his perfect features that both mirrored his siblings and yet were entirely his own. This was our son.
Within seconds he was whisked away to be examined. He had passed meconium in the womb which explained the green goo covering him, and the NICU nurse needed to double check that none of it had been ingested or inhaled. As the other nurses cleaned and adjusted me back into bed, I could see his little limbs flailing in the examination cart across the room. His cries were strong, and I sensed no worried air about the room, so I simply laid back and waited. I was beyond spent, and still needed a few moments to comprehend that the job was truly done.
The morning sun was spilling through the windows as they carefully placed his bundled form in my arms, filling the room with a sense of warmth and golden newness that matched the occasion.
He was beautiful, and he was finally here—our little boy, our Lion cub.
I beamed up at my husband and said, quietly chuckling, “Merry Christmas!”