“Pregnancy doesn’t have to suck…You are in charge of your birth!” these messages, and countless others like them, fill the world of pregnancy blogs. These two statements in particular continue to disturb me. Time and again I’ve revisited the blog where they were posted, composed a blistering retort, and then deleted it before hitting “submit”.
My husband Adam and I found each other in our mid-thirties. When our paths crossed, we dove into a relationship knowing we’d found the mate God had prepared for us. Life together moved fast. Somewhere in my mind, I felt we needed to make up for the years apart. Our marriage has been full of joy. The first two years we continually said, “We’re grateful, we have a great life.” I remember wondering, could life really be better with a child? Although we both entered marriage knowing we wanted to adopt a child, having a biological child was not a priority. We lived life not planning to expand our family until we were prepared to adopt.
In February of 2015 Adam drove me to an urgent care center; I was experiencing severe stomach pains. We were told we were pregnant and that I had no other medical problems…but the pain could mean an ectopic pregnancy. We went across town from the urgent care to an emergency room. Disbelief and joy, then concern for the life of our child, quickly followed. During that four hour visit we decided we were thrilled and accepted this child as the next step for our family. Then, our emotions changed as quickly as they had arrived. While preparing to leave for the night and return for more tests in the morning, a doctor entered our room. The initial pregnancy test was a false positive, but the doctor didn’t know why. In the following days I learned I had experienced a ruptured ovarian cyst.
The desire for a child grew within both of us from that brief hope of new life in the Urgent Care. Yet neither of us articulated this change in desires to the other. Two months later I was back at the doctor with the “Flu”. The doctor patiently listened as I cried in her office about all my ailments. Then she put her hand on mine and said, “Stephanie, you don’t have the flu, you’re pregnant!” I immediately dismissed this and explained our false positive two months prior. I was resolved that not until further tests confirmed the initial result would I accept the news. Later in the day, a phone call confirmed my pregnancy.
This life growing inside me became our focus. Waking or sleeping, I was abruptly in tune with this little person taking charge. I couldn’t stay awake past seven pm. “Morning sickness” was a 24 hour companion. Additionally, we were planning a move to Iowa for a new job. I began to experience a slow elevation of my blood pressure the week of the move. This consistent rise in blood pressure brought additional daily ailments. Despite my physical condition, we were assured the baby was growing, the heartbeat was strong, and the pregnancy was on course. This assurance abruptly changed at our 28 week appointment. My blood pressure was impacting our child. The home birth we were preparing for was now impossible. A few days later we drove 60 miles for an appointment with a midwife for an assisted birth in a hospital. Our appointment was cut short and we were immediately sent to a maternal fetal specialist. After a battery of tests, we were told our baby was experiencing intrauterine growth restriction. The placenta was not providing the nutrients the baby needed and the baby’s intestines and femurs were showing signs of delayed growth because of this condition. The doctor ordered strict bed rest and appointments 3 times per week for monitoring.
“You are in charge of your birth!” rang in disbelieving ears. The days passed slowly, Adam was out of the country and my mom who lived five hours away swept in to care for me. At a checkup, the doctor ordered a C-section as soon as I reached the 32 week gestational mark. Adam returned early from his work trip. Medical staff told us about possible complications from both early delivery and the baby’s growth restriction. Anxiety, fear and guilt weighed heavy during those days of waiting. I have trusted God and his provision in my life for many years, but my faith was challenged with the certainty of an early delivery and the fear of impending complications for the baby.
At 32 weeks and 6 days, Vivian Jane entered our world with a beautifully loud scream. Her scream reassured the operating room full of medical staff that our little girl was breathing on her own. She was quickly placed in an isolette and whisked to the NICU, where we remained by her side for seven weeks. That time in the NICU remains a blur. We sat long hours by her side, incessantly listening and watching all her monitors. We were inundated with information from daily tests, and anxiously waited for new results and markers of progress. When we walked the halls of the NICU, we heard the cries of other children, and saw the pained faces of other worried, sleepless, parents. This became our new normal. Again we were not in charge of our pregnancy. We relied on medical staff to teach us how to care for our 2 pound 13 oz daughter, still developing in a mechanical womb. Vivian beat the odds. Countless miracles followed her birth: she needed minimal oxygen, her brain and eyes developed according to her gestational age, and she steadily gained weight. Despite our anxiety, lack of control, and immense loneliness, we found joy in her life.
Our journey to parenthood was not in our charge, my pregnancy and delivery was neither blissful nor smooth. I battled pain, worry, fear and doubt. I doubted God, his plan, and his care for my child. I felt immense guilt because I couldn’t carry Vivian to full term. Today, we have a delightful, thriving, 5 month old, 10 pound baby girl. I continue sorting through the emotions: doubt and anger toward our situation. In that raw emotion, however, I am learning to trust and ask God for help again.
Help me, God, to heal, to forgive myself, to accept your sovereign plan, to trust you. Our daughter’s coos, and the joy on her face, help replace those fear-filled memories with promises of abundant life.
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This is beautifully written, Stephanie. Thank you for sharing your family’s story.
I agree with you that very often we are not in control of our pregnancies or our “birth experiences,” as things so often go off the plan.
I don’t fault the people encouraging women to “take charge” of their pregnancies and birth experiences, though, because of the way the medical establishment can man-handle our healthcare according to their own convenience or ideology.
I have been pregnant and given birth twice, but the 2nd time was at 23 weeks gestation, and my little girl didn’t make it. So, like so many others who have had miscarriages, stillborns and other complications, I know that there is very little we can control, in our pregnancies, our “birth experiences,” or really anything else in this life.
I’m all for people taking charge of their own healthcare and not being bullied into a planned C-section (for no good reason), epidurals, pitocin or other drugs (or even having the baby in a hospital if they want a home birth).
The problem, as you so eloquently stated, is when we think we have much control over anything at all.
Our lives are in the hands of God, and the sooner we learn that, in our pregnancies, in our birth experiences, and in everything else, the better.