Jon pulls the car up to the door of the hospital. I know where to go and what to do. I’ve done this many times before. He drives off to find a parking spot, and I waddle towards the elevators. As I wait with several other people for that ding, I feel eyes on my stomach. The elevator door opens and there goes another contraction. It starts low in my abdomen, working its way up, and finally constricting everything from the bottom of my sternum to the top of my pubic bone. The elevator door opens again, on the third floor, and I waddle off in pain.
I register with the lady behind the desk. She calls a nurse. I hear her say, “We have another 28-weeker. Rule out labor,” as another contraction starts.
A young blond nurse appears a few moments later. She looks me over and quickly says, “You’re having twins?”
“No,” I laugh nervously.
“That would be too many babies?” she asks.
“Oh, no. That’s not it. I just don’t think my body would be able to get twins here safely.”
Now I see her wheels turning. She is trying to figure out when she has taken care of me. What’s the story?
I recognize her too, but I am too exhausted to try to remember.
We walk into the triage room and she hooks me up to the monitors. Cool jelly and round, hard disks on my sore abdomen. She turns on the computer as Jon walks in the room. Her face looks overwhelmed and concerned as she scrolls through my obstetric history.
I can only imagine what she sees: hyperemesis gravidarum with 20-pound weight loss with first pregnancy, home health needed, hemorrhage, stillbirth of second pregnancy, kidney infection, placental failure, preterm delivery of third baby, NICU stay, postpartum pneumonia, third-degree tear, etc., etc., etc.
She begins to ask me questions about my son’s stillbirth, if I’m nauseated, about my preterm labor issues in previous pregnancies, what medications stopped labor in the past, and about my youngest’s NICU stay.
Contraction after contraction comes up on the monitor. Not the small little ineffective ones. The big ones that last a minute and a half.
I’m trying to answer her questions, but it hurts, and I am so tired.
Her face looks more concerned the longer she stays in the room. She finishes checking me in and tells me the house doctor will be coming in to see me soon.
She leaves the room and my hazy mind begins to wander through the stories my medical history does and does not tell. The chart tells the short version, the bare facts, but it leaves out that I am a human.
My chart will not state that I was an idealistic, optimistic, 24-year-old, hardworking, full-time RN, who had only been married two months when I discovered I was pregnant with my first.
I was so ecstatically and contentedly happy when I found out I was pregnant. From the moment I saw those two little pink lines, I had a plan. I would work until the day I delivered. I would eat super healthy and exercise as long as possible. The doctors would not be inducing me. When I went into labor there would not be an epidural or other medication and of course, I would breastfeed my baby. That was just a given.
My medical chart doesn’t state that those dreams started to shatter only weeks later as I was unable to keep food or fluids down.
It won’t state that I gave into IV fluids and anti-nausea medication with tears and fears. Fears my baby wouldn’t survive. Fears my baby would have birth defects because I wasn’t strong enough to hold out, to tough it out without medical intervention.
Only I could tell the story of how every day was a battle with my identity and my faith. Only I could recount that it was agonizing to no longer be a hardworking, caretaker or all natural or unshakably rooted in my belief in God, and the list just went on. Only my husband saw Mark 9:17-29 written on the mirror in our bedroom: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.” That was my only hope on the good days. The only thing I knew to be true was my unbelief.
My chart will state that I have a history of 23-week stillbirth of my second pregnancy, but it will never describe the numbness and surreal experience of delivering my son seven hours after I walked onto my unit to start work on that May day. It won’t describe how I ate the lunch I had prepared for my nursing shift at 6 p.m. while I held my still, sweet boy in my arms for the first and only time.
The blond nurse with the concerned look will never fully know from an accurate history what toll the preterm labor issues and placental insufficiency took on my mind and my heart as I daily grew my third baby. All the while knowing she could end up in the grave next to her brother.
I sit and contemplate these things as a very different woman. I am 30 years old. My faith has stronger roots.
Roots that have grown into a God who does not answer why questions often. A God who slowly, softly, and compassionately reminds, “I am good. I am trustworthy.”
The idealism of perfect births and perfect parenting and well-behaved children is long gone. In some ways this is sad, and at times, it is a little jaded, but mostly this is acceptance of the truth of living in a broken and cursed world.
God does not expect someone else’s best from me. He expects my best, in my circumstances, with my body. Sometimes this means taking supplements for milk production and pumping every three hours for six months to give to my preemie the best start and sometimes that means formula feeding to keep the postpartum depression at bay and at other times it means just getting out of bed on the day my milk comes in for a baby I love who is already gone.
Yesterday, my best looked like barely hanging on as I labored for six hours in hopes I would walk out the hospital door, still pregnant.
Eight hours after coming into the hospital, the blond nurse walks into my room. She tells me she and the doctor feel confident my labor has stopped. I am now safe to go home.
I remember now. She had been my nurse only weeks earlier when I had gone into triage for bleeding. As I gather my things she says, “Maybe I will get to be your nurse when you come in to deliver.”
“Yes, in 10 weeks,” I smile.
Only God knows what tomorrow will bring. Only God knows why my past brought so much pain.
Three years later and now I am 33. I have three little girls on earth and a baby boy in heaven. My third baby girl was indeed born 10 weeks later at 38 weeks. Her being born healthy and full-term was more than I ever expected.
Take heart, mama. You are doing the best you can with the circumstance you have been given. No one deserves more cheering on as they walk through conception and pregnancy than those who are doing it after loss. I am cheering for you.
Previously published on Sharing Magazine