Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Birth Story

Can't you feel it ever closer?
We breathe it in and then we exhale.
We touch both sides and now eternal
standing closer to the veil.
-All Saints' Day, by Carrie Newcomer

I've been anxious to write the birth story. Actually, I've written and rewritten it over and over again in my head and on paper these last seven weeks. In truth, I feel like I have multiple birth stories and wasn't sure which one I wanted to tell.

My water broke while I was simmering a big pot of soup and baking pumpkin rolls one Saturday afternoon when Matthias was just shy of 37 weeks gestation. Right at thirteen hours later I was holding him in my arms. I only felt contractions about six of those hours. No epidural. The world watched its first triple crown winner since Secretariat race as I lay in bed that evening waiting for real labor to start. There was an influx of laboring women and my midwife joked she was having her own Breeder's Cup that night. She said I was her American Pharaoh.

Matthias was healthy and a couple weeks later I had made a near complete recovery.

Sounds lovely (and obnoxious), doesn't it?

Told another way, I went into pre-term labor one weekend after a long, hard pregnancy that had me pretty sick and mostly in bed for 18 out of 37 weeks. I chose to take Cytotec after having no progress and no real contractions for several hours after my water broke. I can't really find words to describe the pain. I would have had an epidural if there had been more time. I required stitches and Matthias suffered a broken collar bone. While I delivered him quickly, the final stage of labor (after the baby) sort of stalled. I then received a dose of Pitocin. I continued to bleed and no one was sure why or where specifically it was coming from. My midwife had to be careful in choosing medications to help stop the bleeding because I was also at risk for blood clotting due to other complications of the pregnancy. I passed out five times in the next twelve hours. I eventually received a blood transfusion. The IV line quickly failed and leaked blood into my ever swelling arm for a little more than an hour before anyone actually thought to check it as I complained of throbbing from what I understood should have been a relatively painless process. I had three back-to-back migraines. In some ways I feel cheated of my son's first week of life.

That's really more drama than I care for.

The birth story I really want to tell (while being honest about the good, the bad and the ugly) is one of God's grace.

I was not interested in having biological children. I was actively and diligently trying to prevent them.

I felt what I would learn eight days later was my very first pregnancy pain and symptom while I was singing Turn my heart, O Lord. These waters were slow to turn. Because when I did see those two little lines I immediately began praying for it not to be so.

Even when I realized the Lord was asking me to be pregnant. Even after I had prayed for years for Him to make clear to me what He wanted me to do -- and expressed my willingness to do anything. This was an assignment I didn't want to take.

Though my heart and my attitude were ungrateful and rotten, He was sweet to me throughout. It isn't hard for me to believe that every baby ever born is appointed by God, but I felt especially aware that Matthias was so.

I received a card from a local ministry with a very specific prayer and scripture they were praying for me that spoke directly to some of my fears and anxiety. Before they even knew I was pregnant.

Once, about midway through the pregnancy, I was feeling especially burdened. I began to worry I would always think of Matthias as a burden. And I began to feel sorry for him. I worried he would always feel like a burden to me, and I didn't want him to carry that load. I wanted him to be confident that he brought joy to my life. And I prayed that one day -- even if it would take years -- I could tell him with complete honesty how joy-filled his life was to me.

While I was praying, my husband was out having lunch with a friend. Randomly and off the topic of their conversation, this friend felt moved to tell my husband he knew that Matthias would bring us so much joy in the years to come. It seemed odd to Johnie, but he came home and told me about it. It didn't seem odd to me.

Due to lupus and antiphospholipid antibodies, Matthias and I were at risk for a whole laundry list of complications and significant health issues. Miraculously, we escaped them all (save for what was technically a pre-term delivery). That didn't stop me from worrying and praying about them. As I poured out my heart to a trusted spiritual director in the early weeks of my pregnancy, she beautifully prayed for grace to surround my womb. It became a prayer I continued to offer.

How poignant, then, that some of the first words out of my midwife's mouth when she saw me in labor were, "You're going to have a baby tomorrow. I love Sunday babies. Sunday's child is full of grace."

Beyond that, I had prayed and prayed for an early November birth. My due date was smack dab in the middle of the eight day span between the anniversaries of my grandparents' deaths. I didn't want to have a baby during that time and wasn't sure I could bear my child being born on the same date I lost my precious grandmother. The Lord answered those prayers beautifully.

Just for fun and to show just how well He knows me and loves me, the Lord more specifically timed Matthias' birth at precisely one minute prior to the end of Daylight Savings Time. My good friends know the day we get our hour back from the government is my all-time favorite day of the year. The first hour I spent with Matthias was that redeemed hour. Plus, we think it's pretty cool that his medical record says he was born at 1:59 a.m. but received his first shots, his first diaper and began nursing in the minutes leading up to that.

In the weeks following, as I prayed about a positive screen for a possible genetic defect, I would realize his birthday is also All Saints' Day.

I felt like God was telling me during those weeks of not knowing about my son's health that Matthias belonged to Him and I could trust Him. I know well that God doesn't protect us from all infirmities, but was relieved to learn the Lord spared him and the positive screen was the result of a (relatively minor) deficiency in my own body.

While I initially had some complications after his birth, a couple weeks later I recovered almost completely. Seemingly overnight. I and many others had prayed for my health throughout the pregnancy and the days following the delivery. It was like a miracle. I feel like the Lord healed me. My midwife admitted at my follow-up appointment that there was no medical explanation for me to be doing as well as I was so quickly.

I trusted that the Lord would answer my prayer for joy in time, but I was surprised with how quickly it came. Newborn babies are my absolute favorite people. But I was quite ill on Matthias' first day. I was passing out and struggling through a migraine. Our sweet friends were visiting throughout the day (I welcomed them), but each time Matthias would be wheeled into our room to meet people I would tense up at having to manage this squirmy little stranger.

Johnie was instantly enamored. I wasn't. When he asked me if I thought Matthias was cute I said, "I don't know." (That was also the moment -- I kid you not -- Matthias chose to give me the stink eye for the very first time. I still wasn't sure how I felt about his looks, but that at least made me chuckle.)

It was in the early minutes of November 2nd when I fell in love. A nurse brought him into the room so I could feed him. But he was sleeping so soundly and I didn't feel like wrestling to get him to nurse. So I just laid his little body against mine and felt the rise and fall of his breaths. I rubbed my hand up and down the little back I had felt inside me just days before. I looked up at the clock and realized Matthias had one more hour left of his very first day of life. And he and I spent it alone in the dark and quiet. I wept and thanked God for the miracle of his life. And the joy I have felt has only increased from there.

I have always defended motherhood as a high calling. But I didn't think it was for me (and still know it isn't for everyone). I didn't realize how much fulfillment one can find in changing diapers and cleaning spit up. The joy in fighting through bleary-eyed exhaustion to hold a sleeping baby and drink in that precious peaceful face for just a few more minutes. Sure, it has its hard moments. I have times of anxiety and frustration and sadness and every other emotion conceivable. But some cliches have merit. The rewards truly are immeasurable for me.

Boy, how those rivers turned. And they flow with joy and contentment I have never felt before.

Yet still, as warm and fuzzy as that sounds, my very first words to my newborn son will forever and forever be: Oh baby... You almost killed your mama. And if I had to sum the whole thing up in one sentence, that'd probably be it. I would only add but for the grace of God.