Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Birth of Faith

The paper crinkled underneath me as I lay back on the hospital bed in the maternity ward.  My third child was due.  Dr. Alder had delivered Claire and Jackson, but he was not able to be here today.  Lou Gehrig’s disease had forced him to take a sabbatical in the year 2000.

I put my hand behind my head and leaned back listening to the baby’s heart monitor.  I wore the monitor like a white elastic belt, low, around my enormous belly.  Mike casually looked out the window and drank out of a paper cup filled with water.

June 2nd.  It was sunny and warm.  Nothing notable, nothing spectacular but the anticipation of the life inside me ready to greet the world was excitement enough.  I felt like a pro.  I’d done this before, twice.  The monitor beeped away rhythmically, assuring and steady.  The nurse came in periodically to check.  She smiled and made small talk.  I was an easy patient, a veteran of the maternity ward.

My substitute doctor decided, after checking how dilated I was, to speed up the process by breaking my water.  Before I knew it, a long slender plastic thing that resembled a crochet hook was poked up into my body as the doctor pushed down firmly on my mountain of a belly and I felt a bit of a pop and a warm gush escape between my legs.  The doctor left the room.

The anesthesiologist visited and had me roll to my left side and hold my breath as he stuck a needle into my lower back for the epidural.


“Oops” is not the word you want to hear when someone is using a needle on your spine.  My legs went cold, and instantly became numb and heavy.  He told me he had accidentally given me a spinal tap, meaning he had punctured a tiny hole in my spine.

“In a few hours, maybe as long as a few days, you will be able to feel your legs again.”

It was not permanent.

“Okay, I can’t feel my legs, but at least I’m not going to be paralyzed for more than a day or two,” I thought to myself.

Still, though, something was not quite right.  I hurt.  My back hurt, my belly felt suddenly more uncomfortable and heavier than ever.  A twinge of pain inside me made it feel like something had come undone.  The monitor began to slow down, and I felt a certain sense of dread no mother wants to feel in this particular position or any other, for that matter.

A few moments later, I felt the twinge again, a sharp pang, searing through the numbness of the epidural.  Something pulled inside of me.

I looked up at Mike, still sipping his water out of a paper cup.

“It’s not right,” I urged.  “Call the nurse.”

“It’s fine,” he replied mockingly.  “Don’t get all upset.”

He didn’t even move from his position, his casual lean.  Mike had a knack for becoming exasperatingly calm when the kids were sick or when I was worried.  It didn’t help.

“No, something really is wrong,” I pleaded.

I usually listened to him.  I usually assumed I was overreacting, because Mike often teased me and told me that I did.  This time though, I knew in my gut it was up to me to get the help.  Fast.

I stretched as best I could, awkwardly, feeling like an enormous, numb turtle stuck on its back.  The monitor was beeping at an alarmingly slower and slower rhythm.  I pushed the nurse’s button.

Someone came in right away, saw the readings on the machine, and immediately called the doctor.  They called the emergency C-section room and, all in one motion, clicked my hospital bed into gear and started rolling me down the hall.  Coming at us was another pregnant woman being pushed on her bed, and for a moment we were heading for some sort of labor and delivery floor joust.  The nurse pushing me waved them off, simply stating “Emergency C-section” and propelled me through the door.  Once inside, I recognized Shirley, the nurse who had helped me deliver Claire and Jackson.  She was waiting for the scheduled C-section.  She squeezed my hand.  She remembered me and would be there for this baby too.  A little miracle -- one that I needed.

The lights were bright.  I was scared but knew I had to stay calm.  If I showed any signs of panic or was overly emotional, I worried they would put me out completely and I had to know what was happening to my baby.

Two male nurses on either side of me like bookends looked into my face and asked me how I was doing, gauging my level of alarm.  My eyes filled with tears, but I said in a low voice, “I’m okay.”

They asked me if I wanted something to make me go to sleep.  I vigorously shook my head “no.”  They put a clear plastic mask over my mouth and nose and hooked the little elastic straps over my ears.

“You are going to be numb from the neck down,” said a voice.

Suddenly, the rest of my body went cold.  I looked up at the silver disk reflecting like a fish-eye view mirror and saw my own image with the male nurses on either side of me.  I felt the long, slow, warm streams of tears running down my temples as I watched the doctor cut into me.  No pain, just pressure.  The sawing back and forth motion I would only compare to cutting meat.  Don’t panic.

There was hushed conversation in the blue-tented area of my lower abdomen.  I heard the doctor say something quietly to the nurse about a herniated uterus.  The placenta had burst and separated from the wall.  My baby had inhaled blood and could not breathe.  I heard someone say something about how this usually only happened to crack mothers.  I watched in the mirrored disk of light a still baby being lifted out gently.  No one said anything.

“Take her to the NCU, she’s not breathing,” the doctor said to what seemed like an army of nurses.  He stayed to sew me up as the door swung open and my baby was silently rushed out of the room, out of his hands.  Out of my hands.

I could not fathom that this was really happening.  I have never felt as helpless in my life.   At that moment, I made a deal with God.  I kept saying to myself and God, “It’s not in my control God, I know.  I’ll do whatever you need me to do.  I see it’s not in my control.”

I had always been the type to worry, to somehow think the more vigorously I worried, the more control I would have over the situation.  I could worry a problem into submission.

Inside I choked back sobs and they simply exited in the form of small, broken-hearted, little streams down the sides of my face, the only part of my body I could feel.  I was more helpless than I’d ever been and ached to run after the nurse who had taken my baby so I could see her, hold her, and know if she was alive.  The nurses kept watching my face to see if I would panic and need to be medicated.  I kept talking to God in my mind.

“I’ll take care of her.  Even if my fate is to take care of this child for the rest of her life hooked up to machines or needing constant care, I’ll do it, God.”

At the same time, another part of my brain was pleading in the background.

“Please let her be okay.  Please let my baby live.  Please let her be alright.”

Everyone was quiet.  I couldn’t ask any questions. This was not the typical delivery for me, the excitement and joy were missing.  The faces surrounding my bed were sad and empathetic, not smiling and warm like I had pictured this morning when I packed my overnight bag for the hospital.

Mike stood next to my bed and didn’t say a word.  There was nothing to say.

45 minutes passed.  I did not know if my little girl was alive or dead, let alone healthy.  Finally the nurse brought me a picture, a pastel Polaroid of a chubby, red baby with matted hair and tubes coming out her nose, face pinched and crying.  I clutched it and gasped out a series of controlled sobs.

She was alive.  The nurse told me they had resuscitated her.  She had already been pulling at the tubes to get them out of her nose with her tiny hands.  She was a fighter.  My Faith was alive, and she was kicking.

From the Illumination prequel Before the Light (not yet released).


  1. I read this with a lurch in my stomach, even though I knew she was alive. We are all so vulnerable during childbirth. it's a miracle babies are born everyday and that moms survive. Hope you're having a wonderful Mother's Day, Sophia!

  2. As I write this, tears are running down my face. I almost lost my second child and my own life so this really moved me. Sending you big hugs on this Mother's Day!

  3. There isn't any fear that compares to a mother's fear of losing a child. Thank you for sharing this story of's not a carnation at the breakfast buffet, but it's what mothering is really about. Happy mother's day to my newest mother-friends. Although each of our days probably had some element of drama, we're strong women, we're moms, and we'll always be both. Hugs to you all!!

  4. Happy Mother's Day, Sophia. You have so much to be proud of. You've given birth to three children and you inspire others with your words.

  5. This really touched me. I am so glad this story had a happy ending. Thank you for sharing. Happy Mother's Day to you x