Last night as I was putting Nora to bed, we kissed and hugged as usual. I turned to walk away but decided against being hasty. "Nora, I need another kiss. This is the last time Mommy will be able to kiss two-year-old Nora. Tomorrow is your birthday!" Nora's grin peeked from behind her paci as she stated, "Tomorrow I will be 3 years old, Mommy." Three years. Time flies, but it really does feel like she's three, if not older, because I have forgotten what day-to-day life was like before Nora came along. It seems like she's been mine forever.
Today was a day to celebrate Nora. It was a day to bask in the simplicity of being a little girl as I stood wishing I could play pin the tail. It was a day to realize I sometimes bite off more than I can chew. It was a day to be thankful for helping hands and willing hearts. And now, before I lay my head down, it is a day to reflect on this day three years ago, the day I became a mother.
I woke up at 4 AM on June 22nd, a giddy 20-year-old with big hopes and a belly full of baby. I would fall asleep again 24 hours later changed, with a baby in the bassinet next to me and a heart full of emotions it would take me months to process. It was one of the longest days of the year and the longest day of my life.
My God is faithful. The story I am beginning to write here is one that is still unfolding. Really, it is just a smaller part of the story of my life. Three years out from the beginning of this smaller story, I can see now that it was, in fact, just the beginning of something. This smaller something is still being written, but I am far enough out from its beginning now to see that it is something that required a sovereign Author.
My very first semester of college, I elected to take a seminar in women's health. I still remember how much writing I did for that little one credit hour class and how much I learned. The professor assigned a big group project for the end of the semester. My group chose to compare outcomes of hospital births, birth center births, and home births. We spent hours looking at research and compiling our project. At the end of our presentation, my professor looked at me and asked, "So if you ever have a baby, where will you choose to give birth?" I did not hesitate to provide my answer. "I will give birth with a midwife in a birth center."
When David and I found out we were expecting, just 4 months after we married, I felt two things. I felt sure I was having a boy and I felt sure that my body was meant to grow a baby, bring it forth, and continue to feed it. When I went into labor 9 months later, I knew I was having a girl and I was filled with a lot of questions of "What if...?" I knew that labor and birth were normal and generally safe, so I would try to keep it as natural as possible. I didn't want a lot of interventions, but what if?
Because of little doubts and on whims of convenience, when labor day came we had already made several decisions that decreased our chances of having a natural birth. We were ill-prepared and had set ourselves up, so to speak. To make matters worse, though we didn't know much about how it would affect my labor, the baby girl was not optimally positioned. I refused induction in the days leading up to my due date. I chose to go home from the hospital so that I could move about and eat while I was still in early labor. But that was about the extent of our natural labor and birth.
Once I felt the first pain of active labor, I swore to David and my mother that I would no doubt have an epidural. As soon as possible. I was scared. I was so so scared. I was scared of the pain and scared of the unknown. I was scared of being told to be still in the bed. I was scared of having to speak up for myself. I was scared of surgery. My mother had three C-sections. I felt scared that I would have a C-section, too, and I was scared of surgery.
The epidural led to immobility as I napped for hours. That initial intervention was closely followed by several others, but things seemed to be moving along just fine. Then after two hours of pushing there was a vacuum extractor, a baby blanket on my chest, and word sent to the family waiting, "It won't be long now."
But it never happened.
They took the baby blanket away. No more pushing. Pain. Calling in the OR staff. Sign on the line. Don't worry. The anesthesiologist is coming. Pain. Vomit. Anxiety. Fear. Panic.
I was scared of surgery. My greatest fear was coming to be real. And my epidural was no longer working. I tried my best to communicate this information. I heard a conversation about what drug to give now. I spaced out. I was tripping.
I blinked. I saw blue. Lots of blue. I saw lights swirling in big circles. I heard voices. I felt a hand on mine. "Your husband is here." I felt a moment of focus. "I am having a C-section. What happened? David? Did I tell you I love you?" I heard a baby cry. (This is the part of the story that is the most difficult to write, but it is the part that ultimately impacted my perspective of birth.) I did not know whose the baby was. I knew I heard the cries of a baby, but I did not know the baby was mine. It was 11:30 pm. David says they checked her out, then put her on my chest. I don't remember the moment, but we do have photos that the anesthesiologist took for us. I do remember her face being really close to mine. They untied my arm so that I could touch her. I said something about how swollen her lips were. They took her to the nursery. David went with her. I fell asleep a second later.
(I realize that not every mother who has a C-section feels so disconnected from her baby. The medication I was given, Ketamine, induces dissociative anesthesia and causes hallucinations.)
I slept for nearly three hours in the PACU before finally meeting Nora. The nursery nurse, bless her, did not give the baby any water, formula, or pacifier. When we were finally united, Nora nursed like a champ and never looked back. Despite the odds being against us, we were able to breastfeed without difficulty. That was God's grace. I didn't know at the time how vital that relationship would be, helping me bond to my baby I didn't know had come out of me.
Nora weighed 8 pounds and 9 ounces. She had a head full of rather long, dark hair. She had blue eyes and eyebrows that looked like they had been perfectly drawn with a pencil. I studied her. I was amazed at how intricately designed she was. I tried to soak in every little detail. She was beautiful and yes, she was mine! A good gift from God. In the coming days, we would spend hours together, nursing and cuddling. And I would spend those hours reflecting.
To be continued...