sDuring my pregnancy with Gabby, I read Holy Labor by Aubry G. Smith. Smith’s book introduced me to the concept of co-laboring with Christ as an inspirational understanding of childbirth.
Dear Gabby Jane,
Like every aspect of my pregnancy with you, the onset of my labor was unexpected. Although I’d been having false labor for about two weeks, I certainly didn’t expect my water to break at 10:30 PM on September 8th. Honestly, when I suspected that my water had broken, I was a bit panicked. As I was Group B Strep positive, I knew that if my water had truly broken, I’d have to be admitted to the hospital right away, before my labor had a good chance to get rolling on its own. In fact, when I talked to the midwife on call, she actually told me that I’d need to be induced, which, I was sure, would be the end of my natural birth plan.
I half-convinced myself that my water hadn’t broken at all, and that I’d arrive at Vanderbilt University Medical Center only to be told that I’d peed in my pants. This thought was potentially so embarrassing that I almost stayed at home. However, after a few phone calls with your nana, my experienced mom-friend Mary, and my doula, Jenna, your daddy and I trundled ourselves off to the hospital at about midnight. I kissed your big sister Debbie Joy goodbye, crying a little because I didn’t have the chance to explain to her where Mommy was going. My mom-friend Rachel settled down on the futon for the night to stay with Debbie until your Nana came in the morning.
Despite my trepidation, my excitement grew as I checked in at the emergency room at Vandy. I laughed as I saw Jenna arrive at the hospital with all her birth doula supplies, completely confounding the security guard with her bulky bags. As soon as we were admitted to triage, I could no longer be in doubt that my water had really broken…there was a flood of biblical proportions that let me know that you were really on your way! The midwife on call showed up to evaluate the situation, once again suggesting that induction would be the way to go. However, I insisted that the mild contractions I was having would be sufficient to propel me into full labor. I was at 3 cm already, and, the midwife compromised, if I continued to progress, she would continue to let me labor naturally.
As soon as we got set up in our labor and delivery room, Jenna and I went to work trying to get the contractions rolling. Jenna prepared the room in such a way that I felt immediately at peace. Birth affirmations written by my friends papered the walls and tables, and string lights softened the florescent setting of the room. Photos of Debbie reminded me of the beautiful outcome of the difficult experience of labor. The contractions flowed in gently as Jenna and I walked and swayed around the room and out in the halls of the L&D unit. For a hospital that was, I know, full of laboring women, the halls were so quiet and peaceful; Jenna and I seemed something of an oddity to the observing nursing staff. I opted to let your daddy get some rest before the intense part of labor started, and before I knew it, he was snoring in the chair in the corner.
During this early period of labor, I felt bathed in the hope and love of God. Every time a stronger contraction hit, I smiled and told Jenna, “This is a really good one!” “That’s so great, Susannah!” she told me. “You’re doing this! You’re in labor.” Even as the contractions started to strengthen, I reminded myself of the words of Isaiah 43:2: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you…” I felt the power of God flowing through me to enable me to bring you into the world.
That feeling of hope and power dissipated somewhat after the midwives came in to check me. I was hopeful that after hours of labor that I would be further along, but I was just dilated to 4 cm at about 4:15 AM, and you were still floating at -2 station. While this progress was enough to prevent me from having to be induced, it was little enough to make me dissolve into tears for the first time (of many) that night. It was also just then that active labor really kicked up. The increase of pain coupled with the relatively small progress made me feel discouraged enough that I needed to wake up your daddy to join the labor party.
There’s no nice way for me to describe the next ninety minutes of labor. I’d like to frame it as “pressure” or “waves,” like many of the natural birth advocates I know do, but I can’t represent it honestly except by saying that I’ve never been in more pain in my life. There were moments of peace even during contractions to be sure…moments when I swayed and groaned in your father’s arms, moments when I heard Jenna whispering Scripture in my ear. But for most of the contractions during those ninety minutes, coming on the heels of each other with just a short breath of rest between, I felt utterly out of control. The water of the shower, and, when I finally received it, self-given doses of nitrous oxide did not seem to help at all. My groans often escalated to screams, and I begged everyone in the room, over and over again, “Make it stop! Please, help me! Make it stop! I can’t do this anymore! HELP ME!”
As I’ve reflected on my birth in the week since, I’ve sometimes felt shame for the desperation and panic I felt during those 90 minutes. I wish that I’d been able to present myself with the stoicism that our culture typically associates with strength instead of the tears, screaming, and pleading that I actually showed. But here’s the thing that God has shown me, sweet Gabby, so evident in your very name, which in the Hebrew means “God is my strength”: In my weakness, God was strong. In my weakness, God filled me with a supernatural strength to finish the task before me. I’m reminded of the words of 2 Cor. 12:
My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.
In the end, God displayed his power and presence through filling me with the steadfastness to endure, even through my protestations that I could not.
And it was through those 90 minutes of incredible pain that I felt myself joined with the Passion of Christ. In the midst of contractions, I found myself tuned into the voice of Christ crying from the cross—himself desperate, himself out of control,
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Christ was not impassive. Christ was not stoic. The Christ who labored for the redemption of the world was sharing in my labor of giving you life. The ugliness of Christ’s agony, just like the ugliness of my labor, could be made beautiful by the life it selflessly gave to others.
Just when I felt I could take it no more, just when I finally screamed to the nurse to get me an epidural NOW, the midwife told me that my dilation was complete. I didn’t believe it. I told the midwife I had no intention of pushing you out, that I was too scared, that I needed the epidural. “Push,” the nurse urged me. “It’ll relieve your pain.”
I did push. And, believe it or not, I felt no pain from then on, although I was receiving no medication. I realized that I was pushing out your head, your shoulders, your whole body—and I was so present and aware of the labor I was doing to give you life. My fear and agony were gone, replaced by the determination to meet the beautiful miracle that God was giving me.
When I held you in my arms at 5:52 A.M., all I could say was, “We did it, Baby Girl. You and me together, we did it, we did it.” Hearing your first cry, looking into your wide-open eyes, I saw the life that made everything I’d been through that night more than worthwhile. I knew when I saw you that, as terrible as my pain had been, I would suffer the same a thousand times just to hold you a single moment in my arms.
In the background, perfectly (though unwittingly) timed, played “Alive,” by All Sons and Daughters:
We’re alive, alive, alive we’re singing;
We’re alive, alive, alive and we’re shaken;
We’re alive, alive, alive, alive in you.
That night, and truly, throughout my pregnancy, I joined in God’s labor to make life. I walked with God from the glory and ecstasy of creation at your conception, through the pain and ugliness of the cross during my labor, and to the joy of new creation at your birth, the new creation that awaits us at the end of all other things. Although I will never forget that night’s pain, I will recall it as the window through which God showed me the drama of his redemption of the world, that births us all into whole and new life.