As a young girl, I read that one out of every ten babies in the United States was born by C-section. I remember thinking, “If I have ten children, I will probably have a C-section in my lifetime.” But who really has ten children anyway? So I dismissed it as a very unlikely possibility. Despite the fact that cesareans have become more and more common (one out of every three births), I estimated that my chances were dropping. I was healthy and strong, educated in natural childbirth. I had beautiful, easy deliveries…eight of them! Although theoretically, I knew that anything can happen in this life, and I was not exempt from the risks of childbearing, I never thought it would happen to me.
I was so excited to be pregnant with my ninth child. I became even more excited when I found out that it was a girl! I had longed for a girl for so long, that I had almost given up. I felt the overwhelming joy of a dream come true. Yet along with it came a suffocating fear.
I had never before worried about the life of any my unborn babies. I just loved them, prepared a room for them, and anticipated a future for them. Yet this time I began to wonder if my preparations were in vain. What if I never got to hold my baby girl in my arms? What if I never got to dress her in all the pretty clothes? What if the sweetness and the tenderness of who she was, left my life forever?
I didn’t speak of these thoughts. If I uttered them out loud, they might become more real. Finally one night I tried to explain it to my husband, and I began to cry. Why was I crying? The baby was healthy and moving around in my belly. This had been my easiest pregnancy yet. There was no reason to worry.
“I think you have fear with this baby because she is so connected to the promises of God,” Chris said. At that instant I realized that it was true. We had already named her Annalise Promise which means “Oath of God” and “Graced with God’s Bounty.” Her name was a sign to us that we would be entering a season of promises fulfilled, promises for abundance. We had always prayed for that season. We had been looking for it ever since we had gotten married, straining our eyes across the horizon for any sign that the prosperity might be on its way. We felt deep in our bones that God meant for us to have more than enough of everything we needed, everything our children needed. Yet we hadn’t been able to live in that prosperity, cycling between the highs of great opportunities and the lows of dashed dreams.
Now we were having a girl whose very name meant the Boundless Generosity of God, and I was terrified that I would never be able to keep her or God’s Goodness, that both would slip through my fingers no matter how hard I tried to grasp them.
Of course I realized that God does not work that way. This fear was not from Him, yet He would take it from me, I was sure. I laid my fear at His feet and He gave me hope and joy and promises! He had me read Zephanaiah 3:14-20 over and over again. I could almost hear Him rejoicing over me with happy songs. I could feel Him hold me in his strong arms. I could sit back and watch him fight for me and gain the victory! I did not have to fear disaster! He was holding my little girl in His hands and she was safe!
My other babies were always head down in my womb, settling into a familiar position that I knew so well. But this little girl would not do that no matter how much we talked to her, coaxed her, and prayed for her. She would flip and turn and end up in all sorts of positions.
I was becoming quite nervous about her position as I headed into week 37. Our whole family had been hoping for an Easter baby which was only days away, yet Annalise was still not head down. I would lay in bed at night, tired yet unable to sleep. My belly was so big, I found it hard to breath. I could feel her do flips inside of me.
“I think we need to get another ultrasound to check on your placenta. If it is too low, that may be why the baby is not able to descend.” Mary, my midwife said as I was getting close to 38 weeks.
I had no intention of getting another ultrasound, but the night before Chris had expressed concern about the same issue. I felt peaceful that Annalise was safe and sound in God’s hands, but for Chris’ peace of mind, I agreed to go in and get checked. I prayed that if all was well, I would go into labor before the ultrasound. A peaceful homebirth was my heart’s desire. I would rehearse the wonder and beauty of it in my mind to cheer my weary bones. Yet I also prayed, “Don’t let me give birth at home if you want me in the hospital.”
Labor did not come and I found myself lying on a table in a darkened room. It only took the ultrasound tech a few minutes to see that placenta was covering the cervix.
“I am so sorry!” Mary said, “I know how much you wanted a home birth, but we just can’t deliver you at home. If the placenta is born first, your baby could die. You will need to choose a hospital and I suggest you go in tomorrow. It would be better to get a C-section as soon as possible so you don’t go into labor.”
I was in shock. I couldn’t believe what was happening. Yet, I knew that it was what God wanted. Otherwise He could have easily moved that placenta and brought labor on the week before. When I returned home from the ultrasound, all I could manage to do was cry. Most of my other eight children were around the house playing or doing homework after school. My oldest daughter hugged me and said, “It will be ok, Mama.”
I tried to believe her. I cried and grieved the loss of my perfect homebirth. I had wanted to be close to my other children. I had wanted a fast and easy recovery that would allow me to continue taking care of the needs of the home and homeschooling. I tried to wrap my brain around the fact that I had offered my body to God as a living sacrifice, to carry this child of promise, and He was going allow doctors to cut into me tomorrow.
The next day Chris and I began the work of getting ready to go to the hospital. As soon as Chris’ mom had heard about the situation, she had started driving to Pennsylvania from Florida. She would be able to get to our house by the evening to take care of the other children. How that eased my mind!
I sent a prayer request to all the ladies who had been to my baby shower a few weeks earlier. I also called my mom to explain the situation. She had been hoping to be at the birth, but I told her that I had to get surgery and she probably wouldn’t be able to see the baby until hours afterward. Mom happened to be at the ladies meeting at church. She stopped the meeting right then and there and asked for prayer for me!
A lovely thing began to happen. As I was trying to get ready, rushing around the house, up the stairs and down the stairs again, I started to receive emails and texts and calls from loving friends. They were praying for me and speaking encouraging words and offering help! One dear friend even prayed out loud for Annalise while I turned on the speaker phone so Annalise listen.
I was feeling an overwhelming sadness about having to endure a C-section, but I didn’t want Annalise to feel sad. I didn’t want her to feel like she was being torn from her safe haven too early or experience anguish on the day of her birth. The prayer I heard coming from the other end of my phone brought peace to my body and soul.
“Annalise will be so peaceful. It will be a sign to you.” I heard my friend pray.
Chris and I arrived at the hospital in the early afternoon. Mary was already there. It took hours for the staff to assess me and determine that the placenta was not actually covering the cervix but was dangerously close, only .9 cm away. Studies had shown that 90% of women with a marginal placenta like mine bled during labor and required an emergency C-section to save the life of the baby. Thankfully, I had not yet gone into labor and we could have a planned C-section.
It took several more hours to prep me for the C-section. During this time I felt oddly peaceful. God was in control and it was going to be ok. Finally at 8pm I was taken into the operating room where the anesthesiologist started the spinal.
“No pain. You will feel no pain, only pressure. No pain,” he kept saying over and over again.
I must admit that I didn’t believe him. How could I feel no pain at all during such a major surgery? Yet almost immediately, I started to lose feeling in my lower body. I started feeling woozy. My body felt so heavy. I was so tired, that I could hardly respond to the questions the nurses would ask from time to time. Before I knew it, Chris was next to me.
I heard the voice of a doctor instruct the intern on how to begin. I had never seen the doctor’s face. The intern had introduced himself and explained the entire procedure beforehand. He said he had done at least 50 to 60 C-sections in the past. He was friendly and I liked him a lot. The doctor, however, was gruff and rude to this nice intern, acting like the intern had never done a C-section before.
“NO, not like that! Not like that! Here, let me do it!” I heard from the other side of the blue curtain. I really experienced no pain at all! It was amazing to me. It almost felt like this procedure was happening to someone else. Even the abrasive voice of the doctor and the extreme pressure on my pelvic bone couldn’t bring me out of my medicated haze. But more than that, I felt the peace that surpasses understanding. I knew that God had every detail of this birth planned out for the best.
“She is almost here.” I heard Chris say with joy and excitement. I just couldn’t muster up excitement myself. I felt pushing and then a weight was lifted. I was lighter!
“She is here!” Chris said. Quickly the little bundle was taken to a table just a few yards behind me. I couldn’t see her, but I could hear her. She was crying for all she was worth! A good sound. I wanted to call out to her. I wanted her to know that I was close by, that I was so excited that she was here, but I didn’t have the energy. Someone brought her to me and placed her on my chest. She was little and perfect. I was too numb to hold her, so she was whisked away again, this time out of the operating room. Chris went with her and suddenly I was alone…so alone.
I was lying on the operation table in the middle of the large room. I was vaguely aware of nurses and doctors working to stitch me up. They were talking among themselves, but not acknowledging me. I knew that the bright lights were highlighting my nakedness and my gaping wound.
“My baby is here! She has been born!” I thought to myself. “Yet how could this really be considered her birth? I didn’t give birth. Is today really her birthday? I didn’t push her out. The doctors pulled her out. It didn’t feel like a birth.”
As these thoughts floated around in my clouded mind, sadness descended. Instead of feeling the overwhelming relief and bliss that enveloped me after the birth of my other eight children, I felt a stark and cold loneliness. I wouldn’t allow the weeping to begin. I knew it would overwhelm my consciousness. I didn’t want to meet Annalise in the recovery room with tears.
Soon I was being wheeled to where my baby was. She was placed into my arms and I got my first really good look at her. Her face was tiny and beautiful, and she was looking up at me with open eyes. So serene. So peaceful.
She was a sign to me that everything was going to be ok. I would heal. The sadness would fade. I had suffered loss, but it hadn’t been the disaster I had most feared. My little girl was safe. Safe too were all of God’s promises. Our finances were still in an unstable place. But I was certain that we would see His goodness. I was sure that Annalise would live a life marked by God’s generosity.
The bliss didn’t rush in and seep into every cell as I had hoped. It crept in slowly.
It increased slightly with every look into her eyes, every touch of her soft skin, every time she nursed.
My heart was full of sorrow and joy, but the joy would overtake and overwhelm, one miracle moment at a time.