When I found out I was pregnant for the first time, I purchased a number of books about childbirth and pregnancy. I specifically remember avoiding the chapters about potential complications, because I knew my tendency to be a hypochondriac. I also felt that it was unlikely that I would be one of unlucky few who suffer birth complications. I didn't want to worry myself needlessly.
Unfortunately, I did become a statistic. The morning after giving birth to my firstborn, a nurse entered my room and stated that the amount of potassium in my blood was alarming. After she re-ran my blood work, the Doctor diagnosed me with HELLP Syndrome. I had never heard of it before I was diagnosed with it.
On the day I gave birth, I had right upper quadrant pain and right upper back/shoulder pain. My sternum was also very sensitive. Throughout my third trimester, I had multiple nose bleeds a day and life-disrupting acid reflux. I also had migraines throughout my entire pregnancy.
I was exhausted and confused when I was diagnosed with HELLP Syndrome. I had lost quite a lot of blood and was on multiple medications, so my brain was very foggy. I remember breaking down and sobbing in the arms of a kind nurse after being transferred to a different hospital. I felt heartbroken and scared. I didn't know what to do or who to trust. Everything had gone terribly wrong.
Six months after our wedding, we found out we were expecting! We were so elated. Like most first-time parents, we did a lot of research to prepare ourselves. I remember buying pregnancy books, watching documentaries and TV shows about childbirth, and doing tons of research online. Joshua and I decided pretty early on that we wanted an all-natural homebirth. We hired a Doula and began seeing a Midwife for prenatal care.
Like most women, I was horribly sick for the first trimester. Even the taste of water made me nauseous and I often had days-long migraines. I started getting bloody noses really early in my second trimester. By the end of my third trimester I was getting multiple "gushers" a day. It was very obnoxious, but I was having a winter baby, so I just chalked it up to the dry cold air. I also had terrible acid reflux throughout my pregnancy. In the final weeks, I could no longer lie down to sleep at night and nothing seemed to bring relief.
Two days after my due date had passed, I began to feel the beginnings of labor. I also developed a very uncomfortable pain under the right side of my rib cage, up my sternum, and in my right upper back/shoulder. I mentioned the pain to my Midwife, who said it didn’t sound typical of labor pain. She suggested I go to a chiropractor, so I did. Immediately after the appointment, some of my pain was relieved. It returned in full force by that evening. It hurt to breathe and I could not sit up straight. Since the chiropractor had temporarily helped, I just assumed it was all part of the process and didn't mention it to my caregivers again.
On January 19th, 2013 we had a water birth at home. The labor was very normal and the atmosphere was surprisingly quiet. My husband was a great birth coach and together we worked well through the contractions. My Doula commented that someone should have videotaped our labor for birth education videos because of how smoothly things went and how well we were able to utilize pain management techniques.
My Midwife began pushing on my uterus and told me I needed to get up and use the bathroom. I told her I would pass out if I tried. She urgently convinced me to try getting up anyways. I threw up. My Midwife and her assistant half-carried me into the bathroom where I immediately lost consciousness. I don’t know how much time passed, but after a while, I woke up on the floor and my Midwife was yelling, "call 911!" She administered two shots of Pitocin in an effort to stop me from bleeding to death. I was desperate not to go to the hospital, and asked her not to let them take my baby. I had read horrible stories about homebirth transfers in the USA and was only half-lucid.
Only moments later, firemen were in my bathroom and asking me questions like, "Do you know what day it is?" In the meantime, Josh had been abandoned with tiny newborn Jonah and had no idea what to think. No one explained to him what was happening. He later confessed that he had feared I was dead when he saw me lying unconscious on the bathroom floor. The first time I really felt fear was as they carried me down the steps of our condominium. I had been asking everyone, “Where’s Josh? Where’s my husband?” but no one would respond to me. I started calling out for Josh. He appeared at the top of the stairs with a ghostly look on his face and our son in his arms. He didn't respond to me and it frightened me. In retrospect, I think he may have been in shock.
It wasn't until Jonah was 9 months old that I began to allow God to help me work through what I had experienced. I was forced to confront my feelings because I found out I was pregnant again. I was excited, but mostly just terrified and angry. I did NOT feel ready to face giving birth again. I fell back into depression. How could I face this? I wasn't ready! I couldn't do it! For the next nine months, I lived in terror of HELLP Syndrome. I cannot tell you how many trips we took to the emergency room in fear of it. I felt consumed by my anxiety. The closer we got to our due date, the more dread I felt at the idea of delivering our baby.
The much anticipated day finally came and it was time to face my fears. We packed our bags and drove to the hospital. Once again, Josh was an amazing birthing partner - reassuring, prayerful, and supportive. The hospital had a Hydrotherapy room, which contained a huge jetted tub. We made use of it almost immediately after we were admitted. I had awful back labor, so the water jets felt great on my back. We set up a CD player with worship music, dimmed the lights, and just cuddled together through the contractions. When I gave birth to Jonah, the romantic aspects of labor could only be felt in retrospect. However, this time it felt very romantic and intimate throughout the labor experience. It was also a great time of worship and connection with God. He was using my body to glorify Himself through the ushering in of new life. I deeply felt my dependence upon him. My inadequacy. I thanked Him for being in control and for being my strength. The time Josh and I shared in that room will forever be a favorite memory.
After a while, we got out of the tub and moved back into the Labor and Delivery room. At this point, I had small panic attack. It hit me that the pain was only going to worsen and I had no choice but to move forward. I fearfully admitted, “I can’t do this…” Josh kindly reassured me that everything would turn out OK. He prayed through the contractions with me and reminded me that I was made to give birth. His words and prayers helped to calm me. Through each contraction I relied on Josh for physical, spiritual, and emotional support. He listened to me and observed me intently – ready to fill any need I might indicate to him.
When I was ready, nurses helped me onto the bed and raised the back so I could lean on it in a kneeling position. The pain accompanying each push was unbearable. When Jonah was born, I was pretty quiet throughout the labor and only yelled a little towards the end. This time, however, I could not hold myself back. I was loud. I was verbal. I screamed till I was hoarse. Josh told me later that his initial response to my change of personality was, “Oh my gosh, she’s dying.”
When I was pregnant with Jonah, I had trusted that my body was created to give birth. I had believed my body knew what to do and had the innate power to do it. But then my body had betrayed me and I nearly died. So this time, as one excruciating contraction followed another, I felt deeply in my heart that I was incapable of giving birth on my own strength. My flesh said, “This can’t continue. I cannot give birth to this baby. I won’t survive it. It is too much for me.” God kindly whispered back to me, “You can’t do it. I can do it for you.” So with each push, I found myself screaming, “God can do it, God can do it!” My Spirit took over and acknowledged God in one of the most crucial moments of my life. It was one of the most profound spiritual moments I have ever experienced. Never before have I felt so stripped of pretense and so genuine before God. So entirely dependent upon Him and surrendered to Him.
When the Obstetrician arrived, he requested that I move into a position that involved lying on my side. As I did so, my unbroken bag of waters actually started emerging. Moments later it broke. Josh held my hand and with only a single contraction, I pushed our new little baby out into the world. “It’s a baby! Thank you, God. Thank you, God.” I burst with relief and joy. Joshua helped catch the baby and then placed our little newborn into my arms. I was overwhelmed as I stared down into his perfect little round face. It really was perfect, too. There was hardly a blemish on it. No conehead, no discoloration, no bruising, and minimal swelling. He didn’t look like he had been born just moments earlier. Calvin Silas Hawke was born on July 4th, 2014. His birth was everything I had hoped my homebirth experience would be - intimate, spiritual, natural, without interference, and surrounded by people who respected our birth plan. There were no complications before, during, or after birth!