I've sat on this post for a while now. Carefully wondering if I wanted to share it. I usually love reading birth stories, but I also know there is a part of me that runs to the "what ifs" and the "I should'ves," when I start reading them - a comparison game. I also know that for some who are unable to have babies of their own, who have a lot of trauma related to their birth stories, or suffered child loss, that reading other people's birth stories can bring a lot of pain and weight. Please hear my tenderness when I say this -- your story is beautiful and has value. My story does not represent the "right way." I share this story as a mark of an important event that makes me me. As a reminder to myself that my story is beautiful. That my story has value. And most of all, that I have a good God that fights for me.
I asked David to write this for me a few days after Mary Rose's birth and I cherish it.
Blair is holding her phone and cues up a song as we leave the house on the way to the hospital. I’m holding the wheel and praying for green lights and no cars. The familiar melody begins and the simple lyric fills the silent air:
Rock of Ages, when the day seems long
From this labor and this heartache, I have come
The skies will wear out, but you remain the same
Rock of Ages, I praise your name
What began as a quiet morning has quickly escalated into a battle. Blair is 12 hours into labor, but the last 4 have been increasingly difficult. I know things will get harder, but what if they become too much to bear? I know life could be in the balance, but how close will things get to something unspeakable? The lyrics hit me in a way I’ve never heard them, and I gaze into the face of a woman writhing in pain.
Labor. Whatever my own self-righteous definition of labor was, I’m having to redefine. This is quite a different thing from digging a hole or building a deck. She is there, silent, without any control over the pain she is experiencing or, as we were about to find out, the circumstances of Mary Rose’s arrival.
Six hours earlier, Blair gently woke me. It was 6:24am.
“I cancelled my appointment.” She said it as if it were a sports score—and my wife doesn’t care about sports. This Tuesday morning is now the 5th day after her due date, so the appointment was set to check on the baby. I was slow to understand, so she very calmly informed me that this meant she was in labor and had been for most of the night. She knew this baby was coming.
We spent the next couple of hours together as a family, eating, cleaning, and doing the miscellaneous things to prepare for a couple days at the hospital. Oh, and we sang happy birthday. Because this 19th day in July was when our now 5-year-old was born. Magnolia blew out candles and opened presents with just the four of us huddled around our table.
Henry went down for a nap around 9:00, and Magnolia went next door to play with a friend. Blair’s contractions were beginning to do more than just catch her breath. She had been in touch with her doula earlier in the morning, and Lauren showed up around 10:00. Over the next two hours, Blair’s contractions were very regular and increasingly painful. Lauren and I took turns helping provide pressure and presence through them, eventually simultaneously attending to Blair. The frequency and pain of the contractions had now gotten to a point that we knew this little girl would be here in a few hours. We loaded the car and left just before noon.
Rock of Ages, you have brought me near
You have poured out your life-blood, your love, your tears
To make this stone heart come alive again
Rock of Ages, forgive my sin.
The second refrain passes and my mind and heart are racing through all the promises of Jesus and all the fear of this moment. There is too much here to process, so my heart is swelling with anticipation. Another contraction hits like slow burn. Her body goes rigid and her face is lined with an agony I rarely see. What if I can’t help her?
We arrive at the hospital and are forced to wait in the general waiting room for 30 minutes because of construction to the building. The foreboding sense of losing control is setting in as I watch Blair endure contractions while sitting on an exercise ball in front of complete strangers. A natural birth at a hospital with her doctor had been the gist of her plan; this is not. As she gets in the rolling chair to ride the elevator to the labor and delivery floor, I tell myself that the “planned” sequence is continuing. Boy, am I wrong.
We get to the triage room and a nurse attaches a couple sensors to Blair’s stomach, one for the contractions and one for Mary Rose’s heartbeat. These sensors are to indicate, along with a check of the dilation of her cervix, if she is in labor and how far along she is. To the nurse who checks her cervix and reads the monitors, neither of these confirm that she is in active labor. To us, however, Blair has been in labor for the past 12 hours, and the last couple have felt like battle. We are told to wait for another check in an hour, hoping to see confirmation from the sensors before then.
So, sitting in a triage room and looking for some magical event to happen on the monitors so we can be admitted to a proper delivery room, we wait. And Blair is in pain. She gets back onto the exercise ball beside the bed and over the course of 30 minutes goes from intense pain to excruciating agony. Lauren and I are doing everything we can to provide help through the contractions, but the time between them has basically vanished. There’s no time to decide what to do or how to do it. Blair hasn’t been admitted, so no form of intravenous, oral, or epidural medication is an option. Her cervix was supposedly only 2cm just 45 minutes prior, so we are completely bewildered with no time to consider the implications of such confusion.
Rock of Ages, when in want or rest,
My desperate need for such a Savior I confess.
Pull these idols out from my heart embrace.
Rock of Ages, I need your grace.
The blood has completely left Blair’s face. Her pale, yellow pallor surrounds two distant eyes, as her face screams but her lips scarcely utter: “David, I can’t do this.” This is it. This is the moment all the biggest questions were waiting for. My mind is spinning, searching, and demanding answers, but my heart is held by surety and peace. We know she needs to be checked again. Something is wrong. Blair knows what it feels like to endure contractions at 9cm because of Henry’s birth. And this is well beyond that. But how? Isn’t she just supposed to be around 5cm now?
We help her into the bed to be checked, hoping to have confirmation from the nurse that she’s progressed and that Mary Rose will be here soon. The 20-30 seconds after the last contraction that allowed the move to the bed have passed and another one is rolling in like an avalanche of pressure and fire. Blair screams then yells: “She’s coming out! Her head is down here!” The contraction passes and she sits back for the bewildered nurse to check her. Blair’s last scream and the bloody glove confirm the same thing: Mary Rose is coming out. Finally, things make sense. I go from damage control to being witness to the birth of my third child with absolutely no warning.
Mary Rose’s precious head comes out as the next contraction rolls through. Ecstasy is coming alongside pain now. Confusion is being pushed out. Another contraction hits. Blair screams long, starting low and ending in the rafters as Mary Rose’s shoulders, body and legs slide out. The nurse clears her airways and wipes her off while Blair repeats softly, “Give me my baby.” Lauren and I shout Blair’s request, and Mary Rose is finally set onto the chest of her mother, tucked beneath her chin.
As Mary Rose’s lungs and eyes are assaulted by an unknown world, her ears and body take in the overwhelmingly familiar feel and sound of her mother. Blair speaks truth over this child of grace. She speaks of things revealed in the Garden and confirmed at the Resurrection. Blair, this woman of labor, gives birth in the midst of confusion and turmoil to a child fearfully and wonderfully made. Mary Rose’s arrival answered all my questions with a resounding yes. Yes, God loves you. And yes, he chooses to reveal that through pain and beauty.
Despite our lack of control, nothing was in question. The promises of a Creator, Healer, Savior are true. He whispers them to us as he holds us in his warm embrace.
Rock of Ages, my great hope secure.
Your promise holds just like an anchor to my soul
Bind your children with cords of love and grace.