The Strength in a Mother’s Weakness
From the moment the midwife told me about home birth early on in my pregnancy I knew it was exactly what I wanted and I was determined to have it. After going from high risk to low risk I actually qualified for a home birth and spent the rest of my pregnancy promoting it to everyone. I am not really sure why I was so hell-bent on it, perhaps it was that I was never really able to trust doctors or that hospitals freak me out or that deep down I’m a hippie and love doing things freestyle. But I became quite proud about my home birth plans and thought them optimal. Thinking back, I probably thought it the most impressive manner of labour because it was natural, free from intervention and you can say that you did it ‘the way it’s meant to be done’ aka from start to finish with no help, just brute strength. Approaching my due date I actually was excited for my first contraction and referred to labour as the Olympics — you prepare yourself for it mentally, physically and emotionally and then you give it all you got and don’t give up until you get the prize. REALITY. COULD. NOT. BE. FURTHER. FROM. THIS. Let’s just say I got the shock of my life…
Having had multiple friends who had two hour labours, I got it into my mind that if I planned to do birth the natural way and if I prayed hard, God would give me a two hour labour too. My testimony would be that God answered my prayers powerfully. But the weeks approached and passed and I still had a baby in my belly. Despite having practice contractions for weeks, I got all the way to my due date without any sign of baby. On the morning of my due date I couldn’t sleep because I was so impatient and disappointed and I was tossing and turning and begging God to let me go into labour that day. At 5am, after a night of no sleep, I heard a pop, ran to the bathroom and waters gushed out. My husband and I were in our glee!
That glee continued throughout the day as I started to get contractions 20 minutes apart and then 15 and then 10. I breathed through them like a champion and even went to the park when they were 7 minutes apart. I was telling my husband how easy I found it, that the pain wasn’t much, arrogantly and prematurely standing on the Olympic podium like Usain Bolt thinking, I’m a natural. But then my contractions came to a halt for a few hours. By that point I was really lacking sleep so I tried to rest but on laying my head down the contractions came back and this time like daggers in my lower abdomen, making me keel over and let out a whimper in-between my breathing. My husband did everything he could to help me through them. I could not have done without his presence, encouragement and humour. We started to time them in hopes we could get the midwife there soon to start the magical home birth process so I could step back onto the podium again. But hours later I was still not contracting regularly enough though they were close together and frequent enough to bring me to my knees in agony every time, weaken my body, take the breath out of me, make me cry, raise my temperature and give me a faint feeling. By the time the midwife came I had nothing in my tank but was willing to push through a few more hours. That was before she told me I only dilated 1cm and probably had about 22 more hours of WORSE contractions before I actually gave birth. I immediately raised my white flag of surrender. I no longer cared for the podium. I just wanted the pain to go away. I wanted to quit. I had nothing left in me and was only half-way there. I was defeated far before the finish line. But the thing with labour is that it’s not a race you can step out of, your baby will come whether you give up or not.
I got into the bath, as the midwife suggested, to ease the pain, and stayed there for three hours, searching for any kind of rest and respite I could get there. I was pale, my eyes rolling back and I was sinking into the water, weak and unconsolable. My husband, lacking sleep himself, held onto my arm so that I could relax my body, praying all the while and sacrificing his own great need for rest. At one point I even swallowed some water because I fell asleep and sank. It was then I truly started to beg God for all the mercy he had stored in heaven to give me a break from the pain. That was when, in the midst of another contraction, feeling as though I might die, I admitted my weakness and asked God for help. And that was where he put on his best armour and stepped into the battle.
I was already booked into the hospital for an induction because my waters broke early so I was at risk of an infection. I went to the appointment, which was supposed to be at 7am but they made me wait in a room in the hospital until 3pm. During those eight hours I was able to sleep, still having contractions every 20 minutes but they were relatively mild. I prayed through each one and then fell into a deep sleep in between. I woke up feeling refreshed and ready to do the induction as soon as possible. Although I was rested, by the grace of God, I was extremely fearful of the contractions coming back fast and furious before the hospital assigned me a room. I didn’t want to do labour twice without any help. Surely I would not make it the second time around.
A room became available just then and I was ushered into it. By that time I had dilated to 2cm, one step closer. As the midwife examined me my contractions grew closer again to one in every 7 minutes. I begged Jesus to pull me through each one. She gave me a sweep to encourage the contractions and it did exactly that. By the time I got to the labour room I was having them every 5 minutes and each one made me cry. The anaesthesist came soon after but as he was injecting my back with the potent painkiller I was having contractions and having to sit really still during them. My husband squeezed my hand as the tears rolled down my cheeks. All I could think of was the blissfulness that was near, when the anaesthesia would kick in. By God’s grace it worked quite quickly and I didn’t have to feel another contraction for the rest of the labour. All I felt was the pressure and the tightening but no daggers and no feeling to faint or cry. But that didn’t stop my heart rate from averaging out at 100 for the rest of the 10 hours I was in labour.
It was ten long hours. They say the epidural helps you to sleep but when you have a monitor next to you showing your baby’s heart rate go up and down, you really can’t find the will to drift off into la la land. They gave me only a small does of hormone to speed up my contractions but that made my baby’s heart rate go down due to distress. The heart rate dipped a few times, sometimes taking minutes to go back up. My own heart rate rose when this happened, despite my desire to stay peaceful and strong. I also had a relentless temperature of 37.5 which verged on problematic because it could have meant I had an infection that would effect the baby so they monitored it. It only went down when I took paracetemol. My baby’s heart rate was also then very high for hours and hours.
With each examination I was right on the mark — I had to dilate by 1cm every 2.5 hours or else they would have had to do an emergency delivery. I literally was on the mark, making the labour nail-biting. Nearing the end of the labour my contractions were so strong I could feel the pressure of them on my abdomen despite having the anaesthesia. My baby could feel them also. His heart rate started to drop with every contraction as it squeezed his chord and stopped oxygen from reaching him. All I could think about was him in distress. Finally I dilated to 10cm. They made me push immediately as his heart rate skyrocketed again and my temperature was still high. I pushed as hard as I could with every contraction. I was doing well but they weren’t so happy with how he was doing. They also found meconium in the waters, which meant he had done his first poo that also raised the risk of infection. The doctors rushed in for the 10th time, carrying with them a forceps. They used this, and a scissors, to help pry my baby out urgently. Thankfully he came with two big pushes, first his head and then the rest of his body. He finally arrived. He let out an enormous cry.
At that point, having not felt pain for 10 hours but having seen him in distress, I had much more respect for him than I had for myself. I felt as though I had given up on fighting the pain and was blessed with the numbing anaesthesia but he didn’t have this option, he had to go through all 42 hours of labour in his own strength. Yes they say babies are built for this but they also say women are made for giving birth. I know there are some women out there who this is true for but it wasn’t for me. With my baby in my arms I couldn’t help but tell him how proud I was of him for enduring something so difficult and persevering through the stress of it. I found him so brave and patient. I also found the doctors very professional, friendly and careful.
I originally wanted a home birth, no painkillers, no induction, no instrumental delivery and I wanted to also give ‘birth’ to my placenta naturally, not cutting it until it came out. Instead I got the strongest painkiller, a hormone drip, a forceps delivery, the chord cut immediately after birth and finally, I had my placenta yanked out for 40 minutes piece by piece. It couldn’t be any further from my plan. It couldn’t be any further from the highest place on the Olympic podium of labour. What’s more, while the report says my baby got 9/10 for the way he handled the labour, it was written down that I was in great distress. It is there in the records, I was weak.
I was weak. Too weak to make it past halfway. Too mentally weak to get my heart rate down as I stressed through the active labour, seeing my baby’s heart rate go up and down. My body was so imperfect, dilating at the slowest pace acceptable for a vaginal delivery. My body was broken, overheating and fainting with every contraction. My will was broken, fearing the pain. I had nothing left in my tank and had to depend completely on God. God orchestrated the slowing down of my contractions, the timing of the induction, the dilation of my cervix and the safe delivery of my baby boy. He kept him calm throughout even though I was stressed. He looked after my baby despite my brokenness. He did this throughout my pregnancy. I wanted to do it all. I wanted to be the hero of the story. Instead my baby was the hero. Instead God was the hero. The very best thing I could have done was admit I was weak.
And truly in hindsight I feel as though I’ve had the best birth possible. I experienced what can truly happen when we become ok with being weak, when we reach out to Jesus and decide to trust him instead of ourselves. When we give the podium over to Him. Then we experience the magnificent presence of God throughout. Then we see miracle after miracle. Then we see how strong and how powerful he is in our weakness. Then we find ourselves on the other side of the storm in peace, whole, signing His praises and truly understanding the meaning of life.
I now venture on my journey as a first time mother with a significant key to success — don’t be afraid to be weak, to admit your brokeness, to reach out your hands to God and ask him to take over and finally to see him show up in the most amazing ways. Here’s to being so weak yet so strong, by the power of God. Here’s to having the sweetest baby in my arms as a result.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12:9