Strength and Courage, Four Hospital Births – Cali

All my childhood I wanted to be a mom. I identified with the thought of being a mom, and even with being a stay at home mom. It’s something my soul has always longed for, something I have always truly believed was what I am here on this earth to do and be. I thought I’d love everything about becoming a mom. But I don’t think I ever once thought about actually being pregnant or giving birth until I was married and it was logically the next step to take.

It didn’t all happen as I expected even though, looking back, I had a pretty textbook Christian girl life – graduate high school, fall in love, serve a church mission, get married, graduate college, start a family. My husband and I planned to wait about a year before starting to have children because I needed to understand some new health issues first. Then, six months into our marriage, I had what felt like a period gone wrong. My gut told me to take a pregnancy test, and it was positive, but the line was extremely faint. A week of skipped classes and blood tests and ultrasounds later, I was in emergency surgery for a potentially life-threatening ectopic pregnancy.

I never thought my first pregnancy would be so traumatic. I recovered physically, but my heart ached to have a baby of my own. Every time I saw someone announce a pregnancy or birth on social media, my achy heart jumped with joy for them but cried a little more for my babies. Mother’s Day the next month had a whole new meaning and a mountain of new feelings.

When we felt like the time was right, we started trying, and after a few months, I got pregnant again. I was terrified. The thought of losing another pregnancy haunted me. It mentally felt like my chances of having another completely unlikely, unexpected, and uncontrollable, entirely painful experience went from 1% to 99%. 

A couple weeks later, my baby was among the 20% of pregnancies that end in miscarriage.

My heart was aching again, breaking again, and my body felt like it was hosting an internal massacre. The doctor recommended waiting at least two cycles to try again, but we still felt like a baby was waiting to join our family as soon as we could get her here. We waited one month and then I got pregnant for the third time. It felt different, but I was still scared out of my mind. 

I graduated two months before my due date with a degree in Psychology, and I felt like I did everything I could to prepare to be a mother. I didn’t really prepare much for the labor and delivery, but of course, I Googled every possible version of “how to know when I’m in labor” and “what will my baby look like” as if I’d find answers to the unknown. I planned to have a hospital birth with an epidural and only my husband in the room, but that is about as detailed as my birth plans were.

I hoped to make it full-term and go into labor naturally, but six days before my due date my doc looked at me and said, “you’re done, huh?” And I was. So swollen, so big, in so much pain in places I didn’t know could hurt. He offered to schedule an induction for the next day then offered to strip my membranes. Both of those procedures meant very little to me at the time but I knew they could help get the baby out, so I agreed. 

Thankfully, my labor started as soon as the membranes were swept, and I didn’t have to be medically induced. I also thank my Heavenly Parents that my pregnancy turned out to be completely normal and my labor and delivery experiences were beautiful, peaceful, and complication-free. Our rainbow baby was born a healthy 8.5 lb girl at 39 weeks 2 days. This girl was the dreamiest, squishiest baby. She only cried when she was hungry, tired, or poopy and looked you in the eye and tried to smile from week one. By two months old she slept 8 hours a night, she passed all her milestones with flying colors, and by 18 months she had hundreds of words.

When our girl was just shy of a year, I kept having feelings like I was missing someone. Thoughts like “go get the baby” or “where’s the baby?” kept going through my head, even when my girl was in my arms. I knew in my heart a little boy was waiting to join our family and we felt God giving us the okay to make that happen.

I miraculously got pregnant again, but then the panic came again too. Because I was so busy taking care of our daughter, the first trimester seemed to go more quickly than before. I also think having a previously successful pregnancy and birth calmed my nerves a bit. I still called the doctor frequently, asking about new pains, and I still had a couple extra ultrasounds to make sure the baby was in the right spot and growing well. But overall, my second pregnancy felt a lot more physically and mentally tolerable.  

Sixteen days before our son’s due date, my amazing doctor, bless him, offered again to strip my membranes. I had been dilated to 3.5cm for a few weeks and we wanted to see if we could kick my contractions into high gear. And boy, did it work! I drove home from that appointment with strong contractions two minutes apart and told my family it was baby time.

A few days before my son’s birth, I had the thought (which I now know came from God), to do some research on natural labor and birth. I lazily You-Tubed one or two instructional videos before bed, then foolishly moved on. But, again, I hadn’t thought too much about birth or labor preparations, so I naively went into that night thinking it would be like my past birth, taking 24 hours, being peaceful and pain-free.

Now would be a good time to do a dramatic, slow, sarcastic laugh.

Every single thing about my second birth was different, except the part where I left with a baby. I got to the hospital dilated to 6cm, made it to 10cm before I was even given a delivery room or the epidural, and shook in fear while I delivered my boy 7 hours after contractions started. I essentially was the woman in every movie, screaming while being wheeled down the hallways and watching the nurses and doctors frantically prep the delivery room just in time for the baby to pop out and join the crying.

It was painful in every way. I actually had the thought, “This hurts so bad it doesn’t make sense. There’s nothing left after this. The next step must be death.” I was given the option to just finish the birth naturally, but the thoughts of birthing another 14 inch noggin and feeling that ring of fire and an almost inevitable episiotomy made me sick. I had so much fear and thankfully, God stepped in. My doctor is a family member, and one of my closest friends miraculously ended up being able to work as my nurse. They fought for me. Despite the many reasons the hospital had to not give me an epidural at that point, I was able to get it just 20 minutes before my baby shot out. 

Without an amazing team and without the epidural, I likely would have passed out and missed the birth of our son. I had been praying for months to know what to name our baby boy, and when nothing came, I started praying for an “ah-ha!” moment when he was born. God knew what it was, and as soon as our baby was placed on my chest, a name that wasn’t even on our list came to my mind.

For reasons I still don’t understand, our son hated being a baby. He was miserable, we were all miserable, and the pediatrician we saw at the time unfortunately only suggested earplugs as a solution for all the crying. I also got incredibly sick the day after giving birth and was sick about every two weeks for the first year postpartum. Mentally, I went a little nuts. Having a degree in Psychology and coming from a family with mental health disorders, I knew I needed to ask for help. I asked, and asked, and asked until I felt like I was begging. When my family finally realized I was really, truly struggling with postpartum depression, help came from them, from friends, my doctor, and a counselor.

We all somehow survived that first year of our son’s life on this earth, and people started asking, “so, any more kids for you?” Honestly, I thought I’d never want to have another baby at that point. But I knew that my past self wanted a big family so I often answered with “one kid at a time” and secretly grumbled at people who asked. My answer to “how many kids do you guys want?” became, “however many we get before I’m 500lbs or I completely lose my mind.”

They thought I was joking more than I really was.

Eventually, and sooner than I expected, the “go get the baby” thoughts began. So we prayed in our 600sqft apartment that God would make things alright if we trusted Him and continued to grow our family.

Each year we pick a one-word theme to focus on as a family, and that was the year we named “Prepare.” I prepared myself physically and mentally any way I could to be able to bear and birth another baby without totally going crazy. I began much-needed allergy shots, found treatment for my chronic sleepiness and pains, I got a gym membership for the first time, I did trauma therapy for lingering PTSD from my mission. We started preparing financially and tried imagining where to put a third baby in our tiny home. God heard our prayers again. A perfectly cleaned and renovated, perfectly located rental home was put in our path, and two weeks later, we got a positive pregnancy test for the fifth time.

My fear of a new pregnancy going poorly was swallowed up in my fear of another traumatic birth. I dragged my sick, exhausted body through that first summer trimester with a two-year-old and a one-year-old always sitting on me. Once I made it to mid-second trimester and got some energy back, I set to work, determined to be prepared for any possible outcome. I spent hours daily, researching birth, natural birth, cesarean birth, how to recover, how to cope with three kids, how to prevent PPD from catching me again. I realized one day, I was so enveloped in my preparation, I forgot the point of it all – I was having a real live, Heaven-sent baby! I was subconsciously trying to avoid my past trauma by pretending I could stop all the scary, painful parts of pregnancy, postpartum, and parenting, from happening again. I didn’t know how to be excited for a new baby when I had so much fear.

During my fanatic research, my good friend (also my labor/delivery nurse with my son) invited me to what she called a “Joyful and Spiritual Birth” class. It felt like such an answer to prayers, and little did I know, my life would forever be changed by accepting that invitation.

I had heard friends explain how tender pregnancy was for them, how connected to God they felt when their baby kicked inside, and I always just expected that to happen for me. When pregnancy, birth, and postpartum were traumatic and painful, I thought I must just be broken and not spiritual enough.

At the beginning of the spiritual birth class, I acknowledged every possible fear I had about pregnancy and birth. It became clear how badly I needed trauma therapy for my most recent birth and how badly I needed to let Christ heal my heart for the next one. I finally realized how ill-prepared I was spiritually for any of my births. Spiritual preparation for birth hadn’t ever crossed my mind before.

For months during that class, I made time for birth centered spiritual study and discussion and I felt like my attitude toward pregnancy and birth started to finally change. I slowly went from terrified to worried to actually excited about my upcoming birth experience.

It didn’t seem possible. It didn’t make sense. God’s assurance was the only thing that got me out of the dark and fearful places I was in regarding birth. I felt the Spirit calm my soul and answer hot topic questions I had. For example, I always thought people who gave birth naturally were superhuman and a little insane. After my second birth being incomprehensibly painful, I was sure I’d never want to feel that pain again. But, God’s plan is always better than my plan, and I had gut feelings that it was important for me to consider natural birth. Week after week, I was led by spiritual promptings in my heart and my thoughts to really prepare for an unmedicated birth, and angel friends pointed me away from YouTube and toward trusted resources. I also clung to a God-sent personal promise that my family and I would be okay. Even if birth and postpartum were hard, I felt assured it would at least be a different kind of hard than it was last time and I knew we’d make it through.

This was the first pregnancy in which I felt major spiritual guidance and strength. I learned so much more about our Heavenly Mother. I felt Her cheering me on, sharing what it’s like to be a mother and how it feels to love your child. I realized Christ emulates our Heavenly parents equally and was truly taught and given experiences to understand us all. I started recognizing Christ’s willingness to feel, to really feel everything, to feel things for what they were.

During my separate natural birth class, Hypnobabies, I learned to have the mindset that birth doesn’t absolutely have to be painful. Yes, having your whole core stretched and twisted, your private pieces ripped and sewn back up, that’s understandably going to hurt. But I learned to forget my fears and biases toward previously painful experiences such as pelvic checks or membrane sweeps, contractions or pushing, and I adopted the thought, “what will happen if I just experience this and see for myself what it feels like right now?” It became exciting to experience each new part of those last few pregnant weeks. I was excited to experience labor, I was anxious to know what it fully felt like, physically, mentally, spiritually, for me to have an unmedicated birth. I began to understand Christ’s willingness to feel.

As it got closer to my due date and a new year began, we themed it, “Healing.” We prayed that we would have time, grace, and experiences that would allow for healing from past trauma and life wounds.

Again, labor and delivery didn’t go nearly as I expected, but I went into it with faith and excitement, instead of fear and dread. And it was beautiful. God again answered prayers and helped us find healing in ways we couldn’t have even known were possible.

Our second beautiful daughter was born only an hour and a half after arriving at the hospital, and it wasn’t a frantic rush, but a peaceful, life purpose-driven, spiritual experience. Instead of avoiding memories of that labor and delivery, I look back and fondly remember leaning against the wall to relax as intense, burning waves wrapped around my entire core 90 seconds apart. The pain created by fear of the episiotomy was replaced by a knowledge of what a natural episiotomy feels like and gratitude for good doctors. My physical healing was faster, my mental state more stable, our pediatricians more supportive, and our earthly family a little more complete. 

Everything that felt hard about my second birth, was somehow made right as we followed God’s voice through the third. Truly. Even down to seemingly tiny details like having an opportunity to make peace with the previously cranky old woman at the registration desk.

I wrote all that 11 weeks postpartum and was still constantly finding God’s hand in our experiences and healing. Those first couple postpartum months were hard, but almost solely because of a family tragedy and a worldwide pandemic. The God-sent personal promise that we would be okay, even if it was a different kind of hard than before, was kept.

Now it has been almost three years since the viral pandemic started, and almost three years since that joyous, spiritual birth day. I am also now one year postpartum with our fourth child, our second son.

We followed spiritual promptings to have another baby, and I felt like there was a specific little boy waiting to come to our family. When I started feeling pregnant and missed my period, I got a couple faint positive pregnancy tests. Very quickly after, I started to bleed again. The doctor almost didn’t even consider it a pregnancy because I was so early, which felt so devastating to my pregnant-feeling, and bleeding, mourning self.

God’s timing took control, miracles happened, and we ended up being able to buy and move into our first house two days before I started feeling pregnancy symptoms again. That time, when the test was positive, I could tell it was the little boy I had been expecting. We were so excited, and we felt like our family would be complete once he arrived.

About seven weeks into the pregnancy, I was so sick I went to the emergency room, dehydrated and weak. A lot of fluid, medicine, and a few doctor’s appointments later, I was diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum.

Due to the pandemic, my husband was able to work from home with a lighter workload, which allowed him to care for the kids and me. I think God knew it was the only way to keep me out of the hospital on IV’s all day. My angel of a husband fed the kids, took them to school, got me food when I dared eat anything, worked when he could, and kept the house running. Women from our church were willing to bring us meals three times a week for five weeks, until my symptoms lessened a bit. My mom also still worked from her home and came to help when she could. We were surrounded by angels that helped us get through that difficult time.

I wish I could say everything went up-hill the rest of the pregnancy, but unfortunately circumstances just kept getting worse. The kids and I got sick back to back for two months straight until we found mold in our kitchen cabinets and walls. We had to tear out and tent off the whole kitchen and the master bathroom that shared a wall with the kitchen. We lived in a hotel for two weeks and then back in our kitchen-less house until after baby was born, had an emergency room visit for the 18 month old, our AC broke twice, car tires blew, and the whole time, we were dealing with traumatizing emotional abuse directed at me from several extended family members.

It honestly felt like God had not only forgotten us, but had fed us to the wolves.

I felt like I had no time to prepare for labor and delivery for this precious baby because I was always too sick, fighting panic attacks, working with contractors to fix our house, or running into some other significant trauma or problem on top of being a mom to three kids ages 4 and under. I honestly just hoped that my previous preparation would carry me through, and did my best to prepare in the ways I could manage.

Since my last two babies had been 16 days early, I really hoped I could have this last baby about two weeks early as well. I did all the things that had helped me go into labor before, and nothing worked. There was one particular day I really didn’t want to have the baby for various family reasons, and I thought I heard Heaven tell me, “It doesn’t have to be that day.” So the night before that dreaded day, despite the slightly harder Braxton Hicks contractions I started having, I went to bed without my hospital bag fully packed for the first time in weeks.

I woke up around midnight, bothered by the contractions, and kept trying to go back to sleep. When I couldn’t get to sleep, I tried showering because that usually calmed my contractions down. Nothing helped. Contractions were two and a half minutes apart. It was 3am at that point and I resigned to the fact that I was going to have the baby that day.

I grudgingly got to the hospital around 4am, was put in a room that said “do not use” on the door because that just seemed to be our luck those days, and baby boy was born just before 5:30am.

It was painful. It didn’t go as I had hoped at all. I was emotionally exhausted and felt betrayed by God. Baby boy seemed perfect and calm to me, but the nurses quickly took him and said he wasn’t breathing well enough. I didn’t feel joyous and spiritual, I felt confused and defeated.

Within the first month of his life, he lost so much weight, had to be specially monitored, and severely choked several times. Once, I had to call 911 and do CPR on his tiny little chest because he wasn’t breathing for almost two minutes.

It wasn’t one thing after another, it was always one thing on top of another. I didn’t understand.

I started to lose faith in the God I had known, and wondered if I would ever feel his peace again. I didn’t know if the darkness was coming from possible postpartum depression, from the ptsd, or from any of the other medical or physical life circumstances we were dealing with.

I felt stuck and I didn’t want to keep fighting. It took months of crying and praying, begging really. Months of nothing but surviving, barely making it by. It took countless doctors and prescriptions, friends and family and daily baby cuddles, but I finally feel like the clouds have parted.

Now that I can see a bit of metaphorical sunshine, I don’t think the clouds parted by happenstance, either. I think they were parted by Heavenly hands. I can see my prayers have been heard and my effort seen. I can finally see some of the ways I was carried through unbearable pains and that I was never really abandoned. I was just asked to inch forward in faith and hope, even when the path forward didn’t make any sense.

I don’t feel fully healed from the physical and emotional challenges I faced during that pregnancy and this first year of postpartum, but I feel stronger now, than I did before I got pregnant. I have learned lessons I didn’t know I needed to learn, and I’ve seen God’s hand extend farther than I ever had before.

I also feel like I don’t fully understand why my son was born on the one day I hoped he wouldn’t be born, or why it went against the spiritual prompting I had felt. I don’t fully understand why so many of the trials we’ve faced have happened, and I know I have a lot of learning and healing left to do.

But, I do know that I trust my Heavenly Parents more deeply now.

They have asked me to carry and birth these special children, and have prepared the way for them, even when I didn’t have it in me to prepare.

They know what my babies and I need, and will help us get there, even when I don’t know how to trust. They will fight for me and for my children, even and especially when I don’t feel like I have any fight left.

I never thought motherhood, and all it takes to become a mother, could be so hard. And I certainly never thought I’d be so grateful for the difficult experiences I’ve had so far. But I will forever be grateful for the opportunity to feel God’s specific love for me and see Christ’s atonement heal my heart. I will forever be changed by the peaceful, and the painful, faith-building experiences I’ve been given during this sacred childbearing time in my life. I will truly forever be grateful for the opportunity to see pregnancy and birth and motherhood as they were meant to be – spiritual, joyful, strengthening, and godly.