When I had my daughter, I was in labor for nearly 24 hours. I’d never had a baby before, and being the type of person who likes to be prepared, I had read all the information I could find on “what to expect during labor”. I would speak often with other mothers about their experiences, I was planning to sign up for childbirth classes -- the whole nine yards. Though a part of me knew that nothing would fully prepare me for what labor would feel like, I figured I would at least do what I could. From the very beginning of my pregnancy, the nurses, doctors, and midwives all asked me if I was planning to take anything for pain during labor. I’m not a big medicine-taker, so I was never completely sure how to answer that question. I would always respond with, “I think so, but we’ll see”. Obviously, they knew how severe labor pains could get and wanted me to have a realistic expectation of the experience. But nothing I’d heard or read or researched could’ve prepared me for what happened.
When my very first contractions began, the sensation was not quite like anything I’d ever felt before, but not unbearable. I had been tracking my pregnancy weekly through websites and online newsletters, so I figured I was right on time for Braxton Hicks contractions. I was only 23 weeks pregnant. There was no way I was in labor. But after about 15 hours of the mild, but continuous discomfort and pain, I called my doctor and soon after found myself in Labor and Delivery at the hospital. My contractions were nearly 6 minutes apart and not slowing down. The whole thing was progressing faster than my brain wanted to accept. But the fact that I wasn’t ready, became irrelevant. The fact that I was only 23 weeks pregnant, didn’t seem to matter. The reality? I was in full-blown labor.
There seemed to be a million things happening around me. Nurses rushing in and out, whispering to one another, sticking and probing me, trying to stop a labor process that was imminent. I was trying to keep up with everything that was happening along with fighting the long, painful contractions. I was doing okay, I guess. Although with how fast everything was going, there was no time to get me any significant pain relief. The one thing they tried to give me, my body rejected, so I was on my own.
This was one time in my life that I was really glad that I was a fast learner. See, I had been advised to sign up for childbirth classes around the 28th week of pregnancy. This is where they teach you how breathe and when to rest and how to push and all those wonderful tips that are supposed to help you through labor. But there I was at 23 weeks, on a delivery table being encouraged to “just breathe through the contractions”. They tell you to breathe through them because when you’re in true labor, there is no way to stop or ease contractions, but you can work with them instead of fighting against them. It took a little while, but eventually I found a method of breathing that worked for me. The pain didn’t stop, but I wasn’t resisting it anymore. Then at some point (it was such a blur, I don’t remember exactly when), we switched to pushing. And I didn’t understand. The midwife was holding my hand, telling me to hold my breath and push, and I just didn’t get it. I had just gotten the hang of “breathing through”, now they wanted me to hold my breath? Push? So there I was fighting the pain again, because I didn’t understand what the instructions were for. But this was it. My baby was coming. It was time to deliver. Then the midwife gave an order that flipped an “on switch” in my brain.
“Don’t waste the pain!”
I immediately got the message! The contractions, though so very painful, were helping to birth my baby girl. Each one was an involuntary push, but once it got to that critical point (though not a moment sooner), I had to help it out. For all those hours of mild, bearable discomfort to extreme pain, I was being prepared for this moment. And I couldn’t waste the pain.
After those instructions and about 3 or 4 more good pushes, I delivered my daughter, Karis Alayna. She was healthy and whole and beautiful. She was long. She had pretty hands and long fingernails. She had cute, fat little toes. Her eyebrows were full and thick. Her skin was brown and even. She had my nose, but she looked like her father. She was perfect. That was the very first thing the midwife said before I ever saw her:
And she was. But she was premature. She needed more time to develop. We had already spoken with someone from neonatal intensive care. They would try everything they could to save her. But their cut-off weight for an attempt was 500kg. My Karis weighed in at 484kg.
At 23 weeks, she didn’t have much chance of survival outside of me. My doctor had already explained to me before the delivery that she didn’t have enough lung tissue to survive, and I understood. But I also knew that my God could do miracles.
My baby girl was born alive. She lived for nearly 2 hours. Her mouth opened, though no sound escaped. She moved her head. I saw her tiny chest rise and fall as I held her in my arms. I told her that I loved her and I knew she could hear me. As my mother and father held her, the room was thick with prayer and hope. I have never known such hope. Alas, my daughter died. . .
Now, as I am faced with a new, unprecedented pain, I am reminded of my last instructions:
“Don’t waste the pain.”
As I find myself replaying the account of my baby girl’s birth, I am careful not to give the doctors too much credit. I sometimes wonder, what might have happened if they had tried to save her? I’ve seen smaller babies in the NICU. Couldn’t they have done something, anything? But God is still God. If He wanted her to live, He could’ve spoken a single word, He could’ve breathed life into her little body at any moment, without the help of machines and injections. God can do miracles, but He also does as He pleases.
“The Lord does whatever pleases Him, throughout all heaven and earth, and on the seas and in their depths.” Psalm 135:6 (NLT)
As I review that scripture, my faith grows. I’m reminded of where it needs to be redirected. I know that I have a relationship with God, as do so many others that were praying on behalf of my daughter. I know that He heard us. And before I began to doubt Him, I had to ask myself: “Is my faith in God, or in my ability to pray to God? Am I trusting in Him or in the strength of my prayers?” God is the Almighty, nothing is impossible with Him. Yes, He can do miracles. But what if He doesn’t? Just because He didn’t do what I asked for so desperately, is He not still God?
“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if He does not. . .” Daniel 3:17-18a (NIV)
I know that God loves me. I like to believe that all that He does and allows in my life, good and bad, blessings and rebuke, is because of His love for me. I don’t think any parent ever expects to outlive their child. It feels so unfair. It seems out of the natural order of things, but God does whatever pleases. I don’t know what this pain is for; at times it seems unbearable. I feel sad and angry and inadequate and cheated. It’s really hard. But God is still God. Just as my labor pains were a necessary part of bringing forth my amazing baby girl, I have to believe that the pain of losing her is serving a purpose in His plan for me. I am determined not to waste it.
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