The first thing I thought when I woke up was, ” I don’t want to do today.” I’m pretty sure it was the first thing I said too. After that, I don’t remember much. I know Tim and I read the Bible together and prayed before our feet even hit the floor. I know this only because some good friends told us the day before to write everything down. It was the first helpful thing anyone did for us. Thankfully we took their advice and have notebooks, physical and technological, dedicated to Helen’s story.
I know we ate breakfast and I know we played with Anna Beth, again, because I wrote it down. My parents took Anna Beth out, somewhere, and Tim and I moved slowly, in a thick fog, not being able to see where our foot would land next. We decided that we’d go together to get Tim a haircut. He needed one anyway and I knew that our friend, Jill, was going to take pictures of our family that we would cherish forever. It’s a weird thing to concern yourself with on a day like this, how your husband will look, but I did.
We got dressed. I put on my “Super Mom” t-shirt that my mom bought me in December. I needed to believe those words in order to face what lay ahead for me today. I had just begun to wrap my head around labor and delivery the past week. I wasn’t quite ready for it, but then you add the unbelievable emotional weight of birthing a baby that won’t breathe and you find yourself staring down the impossible. Somehow, these cheesey words from Old Navy gave me a little snippet of strength.
We drove to town. The snow was still covering the fields as we passed. The roads were clear and the sun was shining. Tim parked the car at the edge of town and I remember having to climb over a pile of snow that the plows made in order to get out of the car. I remember praying that we wouldn’t see anyone we knew. We walked down the street and into the barbershop. We sat together and waited as Karate Kid played on the TV. I remember watching the older men in the shop wondering what was the hardest thing they lived through. Could anyone tell we were on the brink of ours?
The rest of the visit to the barbershop was pretty uneventful until a family with three young boys walked in. Tim was in the chair and the sweet woman cutting his hair said, “Looks like it won’t be too much longer and your life will look a lot like that.” I think Tim politely laughed and said “Yea..”. He and I looked at each other, sharing a sadness that no one else could see. I pulled my coat a little tighter around me. This was the first moment I remember expressing gratitude for our story. I was thankful that I only had to endure one comment from a stranger about our baby rather than weeks worth, knowing full well she wouldn’t have the life that others saw in my round belly.
She finished up Tim’s hair, he paid, and we walked out, back to the car to head home. I suppose we ate lunch or tried to. While Anna Beth slept, I tried to sleep, preparing for the long night that lay ahead. I couldn’t. At 3 pm, we called the hospital as requested to see when they’d like for us to come in. I remember her saying so casually, like this wasn’t the worst day of our lives, “to go ahead and come in.” I was so shocked. I was expecting her to say, “come in at six” or at eight, not now. I wasn’t ready. I asked her if we could come at five and she said sure.
Tim and I began packing our things. I went into Helen’s room and picked out the only outfit she would ever wear. I packed the stuffed animals and blankets that we most cherished and had hoped one day she would too. We were ready early, one of the only times in my life, and sat downstairs playing with Anna Beth waiting for time to past. Our friend and Pastor, Matt, came over to pray with us before we left. The burden I was carrying must have been all over my face. I remember him saying, ” You’re just watching the clock aren’t you?” Indeed I was.
We said goodbye to Anna Beth and made our way to the car, then drove the 40 long minutes to the hospital. I suspect it was another quiet car ride. We parked and walked into the hospital just like thousands of other moms scheduled for induction, but excitement and anticipation weren’t in our being. We were overcome with fear and sadness. Or I was. I was terrified of induction. I had heard so many horror stories about Pitocin and I did not want this drug in my body, let alone to deliver my dead child. But, this is where the story gets good. So good.
Over the next 6 hours, God’s kindness would rain down on me. We anticipated a long, suffering road of labor, instead, we saw God’s goodness everywhere.
For starters, the midwife I had the best relationship with was on call. Our nurse, Annie, was spunky and delightful. Everyone we had with us that night was a gift from God. They checked us in, got me all situated, and had me order dinner. At 7:30 pm, they gave the first drug I would take for induction, Cytotec, which is used to ripen the cervix to prepare for labor. It’s the same drug that is given to women who have had a miscarriage. Annie had told us that it would give me period like cramping, then in the morning, they’d give me another dose if needed, if not, they’d start me on Pitocin. Our main goal for the evening was to get some rest.
Tim and I watched Jeopardy and then the UVA vs Tech basketball game. At some point, I fell asleep for about 45 minutes. Around 9:30 pm, Annie came back to give me a Benadryl which we had decided to take earlier. I tried to sleep, but the cramping was too much. About 30 minutes later I called our nurse back in to ask about the cramping. They had started coming in waves, like labor, and I wasn’t under the impression that those were normal for this drug. Annie said the nature of my cramps were normal and she offered me some pain medication.
I hadn’t planned to have any medication during the birth, but this was a totally different scenario, so I asked her to explain to me all our options because, aside from an epidural, I wasn’t sure what my options were. We talked through it all and I decided I didn’t need anything yet. The cramps started to get stronger and more painful. Tim and I talked a lot about whether I should take one of the narcotics offered through an IV. I really struggled with this. I had it in my head that once I take one form of pain relief, then an epidural becomes inevitable, which I very much didn’t want. I also didn’t want the “loopy” side effects of the drug, especially when she was born. I wanted to be myself, but we decided that getting sleep was the most important thing.
About 30 minutes later, we called for the nurse again and told her they were getting more intense and that I wanted one of the medications we discussed. They starting getting my IV ready. My midwife had ordered some bloodwork, so they were trying to get those as well. Apparently, though, I have tiny veins which were making it difficult for the nurses to do what they needed to. I remember Annie calling in another nurse to try the IV. Meanwhile, my “cramps” were getting stronger and stronger. I still had it in my head that I wasn’t in labor. This was supposed to take a long time, this drug was just really bad. The next thing I know, I’m telling the nurses I need to push.
Fortunately, they never got the pain meds in me. What a gift! I didn’t want to be loopy when I held my girl for the first time. The nurses began moving quickly and my brain entered the fog that surrounds labor. They checked me and I was in fact, ready to push. I remember telling Tim multiple times, ” I can’t’ do this. “, something I never even thought when delivering Anna Beth. The emotional pain of delivering a stillborn was too much to bear. This was too hard. Helen was here about 10 minutes later.
There was silence.
My body exhaled.
The room was still.
I know the first words out of my mouth were “Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus.” I truly didn’t believe I could bring her body into this world. I didn’t believe it. But God.
The nurses didn’t lay her on my chest. They wrapped Helen in a blanket while Tim cut the cord, the lifeline that failed her. Quietly and gently, they handed her to Tim. I saw my sweet girl, snuggled tightly by her father, just like she was being held in heaven. I’m not sure how long it was before I held her, but it was one of the most cherished moments of my life.
Our plan was for our friend, Jill, to come to take pictures of our family for us, hoping she would capture those first moments once Helen arrived. As you can probably guess, she didn’t make it in time, there was really no way she could have. This isn’t even disappointing to me because Jill still captured some of the most precious and hard moments of our life. I don’t have to cling to the memory of our daughter’s face, I can see it, with my own eyes, every day.
That night we enjoyed our girl. We admired her hands, her feet, and her sweet face. We held each other and clung to God.
I don’t tell you this story to boast of my “easy and fast” labor. This is not a prideful war story. I tell you to boast in my God, to share with you, that when we are at our lowest, hardest, most unimaginable and painful moments, He sees us. He is kind and loving. He saw my immense pain and gave me so much grace, so many blessings. Four hours of labor with Helen is still the hardest thing I’ve ever done. God knew it would be, so He picked me up and carried me to the other side.
After Anna Beth was born, I fell in love with birth stories. I loved telling AB’s story and loved hearing other women’s stories of birth. That Tuesday morning, I said ” I don’t want to do today. ” I thought this would be a story too painful to retell. But God is in the business of miracles. Not only do I love telling this story, but I find myself wishing I could relive those 16 hours from Tuesday night until we said our final goodbye to her body on Wednesday. Miracles indeed.