The following story is the absolute hardest experience of my life – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. But I want to be clear that this is not a pregnancy or labor “horror story”. I’m not sharing this to gain sympathy or to scare expectant mothers. I am sharing this because it is also one of the absolute most beautiful stories of my life, and if I had to go back and re-live every single minute of it over again, I would do it in a heartbeat. I don’t even need a moment to think about it.
We think my labor may have started Christmas day – at 31 weeks 4 days. Up until that point, my pregnancy had been textbook perfect. Sure, I had the occasional symptom like morning sickness, but everything was normal, the baby was perfectly healthy, and I was low-risk. I had even been feeling the normal Braxton Hicks contractions ever since about 16 weeks – even before I distinctly felt baby’s movements, so it was not unusual that I was feeling contractions Christmas day. The day was just so busy, and I was pushing myself so hard, that I didn’t realize quite how many I was feeling. It’s not like they were painful, just noticeable, so I didn’t really give them much attention.
Until I woke up the next morning to blood. The first blood of the entire pregnancy, and it was more than just spotting. I freaked out. I called my midwife, but she was out of town because of the holiday. Her backup answered and calmed me down, assuring me she would do everything she could to get a hold of her. I called my doula who also calmed me down and said she would try getting a hold of the midwife for me. I lay down, put up my feet, and drank a lot of water just in case it was dehydration or overexertion. Finally the midwife called me back and told me to keep an eye on it, assuring me that I probably just broke one of the brittle capillaries in my cervix, and to go straight to the ER if it got worse or if I started noticing regular contractions.
So I took it easy that day. My sister came over in the evening to hang out and play games. Around 9, the bleeding suddenly got worse. Austin took me to the ER, and poor Ande stayed home and worried.
Our doula met us at the ER as the nurse hooked me up to a monitor to see what the baby and my uterus were doing. They never checked my cervix or did an ultrasound, but they did notice I was having regular contractions 3 minutes apart. I didn’t feel them at all until I saw them happening, then I thought maybe I started to feel that something was happening maybe.
The on-call decided to give me a shot of terbutaline to halt the contractions. They monitored me for another hour, and they sent me home when it looked like I had stabilized.
The next morning, my midwife called to follow up. She asked me to come up to see her that afternoon, so that day (Friday) Austin and I drove the 40 minutes up to her birth center. I felt a lot better than the night before – I had calmed down, and I was merely curious what our midwife would say. She brought me right in and pulled up the ultrasound. The baby was in footling breach position, so she suggested that maybe she had been kicking against my cervix – breaking some of those little capillaries and causing the bleeding. This didn’t surprise me; I had been saying for a week that I felt the baby was trying to kick her way through my cervix!
Then she had me lay down so she could check my cervix. I was 100% effaced and 4cm dilated – and the bag of waters was bulging with the baby’s foot visible through my opening cervix. Yikes!
Suddenly everything became complicated. Suddenly she became very serious, had me lay down and stay still – so that I wouldn’t rupture the membranes – and explained that she was going to call an ambulance to transport me down to the hospital in Rapid City just to be on the safe side. She didn’t want me sitting upright in our car for that 40 minute ride, just in case something were to happen.
Austin and I got nervous. We were both crying. He held my hand, stroked my hair, said he loved me, reminded me that God was in control and good.
We waited for the ambulance. They came and picked me up, put me on their gurney, and took me out. Off we went. Toward Spearfish… the opposite direction from Rapid City. The paramedic explained that he didn’t think we could make it safely to Rapid City, and that a doctor was waiting for me in Spearfish with the OR ready to go. As soon as we got there, they were going to wheel me straight in to a cesarean.
They hadn’t communicated this to me, my husband, or my midwife before we had left. They just decided to do it. For some reason, he thought I was in active labor, that my water had broken, and that the baby’s foot was hanging out! I corrected that notion right away.
Then his phone rang. He hung up and rolled his eyes and made some off-hand comment about politics.
Thank God for politics. Austin and our midwife had gotten wind of what was going on from the EMS crew that stayed behind and fought hard for me – calling Spearfish, calling my backup doctor in Rapid, calling the ambulance. By the grace of God, they changed his mind. We were already in Spearfish, minutes from the hospital, and it’s like the hand of God reached down from heaven, picked up the ambulance, and spun it 180º around and gave it a push toward Rapid. I am so thankful He did that.
It’s amazing thinking about what would have happened if we had just gone a few more minutes and made it to that hospital. I doubt I would have been able to put my foot down strongly enough to stop what they were trying to do. They would have cut me open and pulled my baby girl out 8 weeks early without even trying to stop labor or give steroids for her lungs. It would have been a traumatic disaster.
But He didn’t allow that to happen. All I can say about that is Thank God Thank God Thank God.
Instead, he took me to an incredible medical staff at Rapid City Regional. The best OB there agreed to take me on as her patient even though I had not seen her before. The nursing staff embraced us and made us feel so cared for.
The doctor verified that I was dilated to 4cm and monitored me for a little while. Sure enough, I was contracting without realizing it. They decided to put me on fluids – in case it was dehydration – as well as magnesium sulfate to stall labor long enough for the steroid injections to give the baby’s lungs a chance to develop (48 hours). She also added an antibiotic drip in case I ended up positive for group B strep – a lab test that would take 2-3 days to come back. Moreover, I was only allowed to eat ice chips for about 24 hours in case I did need to go under anesthesia for an emergency C-section.
The next 48 hours were by far the hardest of my life so far.
Magnesium sulfate is a very effective, very harsh drug. Within minutes I was experiencing extreme hot flashes. They put a fan directly on me, stripped off all the blankets (and most of the hospital gown), put cold compresses on my face, and fed me ice chips. It barely gave me any relief. Within hours, I lost strength in my limbs and it took two nurses to carry me to the bathroom and hold me onto the toilet – which had to be done because the drug can affect how your kidneys process fluid and they had to monitor my intake and output. It became easier to put in a catheter. I was on strict bed rest, necessitating compression cuffs on my legs to prevent clotting. I lost my brain – worst brain fog of my life. I don’t remember that entire Saturday except for vague memories that people visited and read to me from the Psalms, and I cried over God’s goodness. My vitals and the baby’s vitals had to be constantly monitored. I joked that I felt I had been plugged into the matrix – IV in my left arm, finger pulse monitor and blood pressure cuff on my right, compression cuffs on both legs, catheter, fetal heart tone monitor and contraction monitor on my belly. I couldn’t lay on my back because of the weight of my uterus against the nerves and arteries, but my hip hurt from laying on my side. It took a nurse to help me switch from side to side. I had two steroid injections in my thighs for the baby’s lungs. These are not quick injections – they stick in the needle and take their time slowly pushing the drug into the muscle. Then the muscle aches for hours. A week later, I still had bruises.
Yes, I did say I cried over God’s goodness. It would be easy to wallow in self-pity while going through an experience like that. Like I mentioned earlier, by far the most difficult 48 hours of my life. But God did not for a moment abandon me. There are little graces – that Friday morning I put my glasses on instead of my contacts. I never do that, but He knew I would not need to be worrying about it later in the day. He brought psalms (especially Psalm 139) and various praises (especially “Blessed Be Your Name”) to my mind constantly – graciously causing me to dwell on beauty and wonder and grace and not on pain and suffering and fear. We didn’t have a single so-so nurse. Every single nurse that attended me went above and beyond to show me incredible, personal care. He provided encouragement to my husband while he had to watch me go through all of this, granting him the grace to sleep through my moans, but also working through him to be a solid, loving, tender, strong rock for me in ways he can’t even imagine. (I fell even deeper and deeper in love with my husband through all of this.)
About 12 hours into the 48, I remember looking at the clock and realizing that I was not even half-way there yet. My stomach sank. I whimpered. And God strengthened me. It’s a strength not in myself. I learned that I am very very very weak. And God is very very very strong.
Because somehow, the next time I looked at the clock, there were only a few hours left of the 48. (I was not kidding earlier when I said I don’t remember Saturday.) We celebrated when we hit the 48 hour mark. I knew at that point that even if the baby did come early, her lungs had a chance! What grace!
They kept me in the hospital for a few more days to be monitored. I sporadically kept having regular contractions for short amounts of time. I even started feeling them. However, it all calmed down, so they sent me home Tuesday morning and put me on bed rest.
And we experienced another incredible outpouring of grace. We were the objects of incredible love. I will never ever again underestimate the ministry of providing a meal to someone. Even now I weep with gratitude. I know it seems simple – signing up to bring a meal over to a family. But dear brothers and sisters in Christ, you have no idea how you so blessed us by removing that burden from our backs. You gave us the gift of rest and nourishment. All three of us.
We had three wonderful days of rest at home – in our own bed, on our own couches, in my own clothes. We were expecting 8 more weeks before I was due, so we didn’t even have our hospital bag packed before! We made that priority number 1 when we got home, and I experienced even more sacrificial love from my husband as he ran all over the house with the list of things we would need and put together our hospital bag. In fact, he cleaned the whole house, ran errands, and wouldn’t even let me get up to get my own water refills. I don’t deserve such an incredible husband. I couldn’t have imagined romance like that in my wildest dreams, but God is so good to us. I hope I can show my husband that kind of love – God help me.
We settled in to a restful routine. Both of us did. We realized we needed to embrace the time of rest God had given us, and take full advantage of this time to do everything we could to keep the baby in as long as possible. Every day makes a difference for her development.
Then Thursday night, I started contracting regularly again. It had been exactly one week. And this time I was feeling the contractions. I wouldn’t call them painful, but they were definitely uncomfortable. 10 minutes apart for about an hour. Then 5 minutes apart. We drove back to the ER. They checked me – still 4cm. They decided to monitor me overnight and, of course, as soon as they strapped me up to the monitor the contractions stopped. But then they picked up again in the morning half an hour or so before they were going to discharge me. So they gave me another shot of terbutaline and kept me for two more hours. We noticed that I contracted regularly any time I was vertical – sitting or standing – and I stopped contracting when I lay down. Probably pressure on that bulging sack of waters?
They sent me back home on horizontal bed rest Friday morning.
Friday afternoon, I started contracting every 10 minutes again.
Oh boy. Even when laying on my side. For hours we wrestled with this. What should we do? Are we going to be running back and forth to the hospital every day for weeks until she’s born? Do I just have an irritable uterus? Am I going to be in labor for weeks?
I was stubborn. I stuck to the irritable uterus theory and just breathed through contractions when they came and rested otherwise. Austin went about his business, checking on me from time to time to make sure I was ok.
Friends brought over dinner. Austin had other friends upstairs helping us clean up the house, and he got into a really good conversation with them about spiritual things. And didn’t check on me for a whole hour.
One hour. It’s not that long of a time, and earlier in the day that would not have been a big deal. But something happened during that hour. I became utterly frantic. I fell apart and turned into a basket case. He came down at the end of the hour to a wife in a puddle of tears, not coping with “mild to moderate” contractions (as I stubbornly described them) that were happening every 7-10 minutes. He planted himself next to me on the bed, rubbing my back and tenderly stroking my hair and my face, downloaded an app on his iPad, and started timing contractions for me. I refused to go back to the hospital. What good would it do? The contractions would probably stop as soon as we got there anyway, so they’d hospitalize me for one night, and then send me home again, right?
Then around 9:30 the contractions changed. I felt like I’d been hit by a bus and suddenly I couldn’t just work myself through them. I needed his help to calm me down, put pressure on my back, get me through them. And I started bleeding again. I couldn’t be stubborn any more. I agreed to his insistent urging to go back to the hospital.
I couldn’t even get up the stairs. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was in super active labor. I had to pause every few steps, kneel or lay down, and work through incredibly intense pain.
We got me out to the car, lay the seat down, and Austin started driving. I was so thankful at that point that we only had to drive 10 minutes to the hospital, and not 40 to the birth center. Grace. He drove me right up to the door, got out and brought a wheelchair straight to me, helped me into it, and then took me inside to get registered. I couldn’t even sign my own paperwork because the contractions were coming one right on top of the other at this point.
Somehow, they got me back to a labor room.
I couldn’t get my own gown on. The nurse helped me as I collapsed onto the bed. My doula showed up.
Now let me take this moment to say, I don’t care whether you’re planning an un-medicated water birth at home or a scheduled C-section. You need a doula. She assured Austin that I was ok when I could not. She reminded me how to breathe and use low tones and loose lips to work through contraction pain when all I could think about was “Wow this hurts I need to scream.” She recognized that not only was I in active labor, but I was in transition and moments away from the urge to push. *Spoiler alert* She also was able to stay with me in post-op/recovery for an hour and a half, when they wouldn’t even let my parents come in, so that Austin could stay with the baby. She helped me “debrief” the experience and fed me ice chips because I was shaking so bad from hormones that I couldn’t feed them to myself.
My doctor was not on call, so we waited for the on-call doctor to arrive. Meanwhile they checked me.
More than 8 cm. They aren’t sure precisely, because the amniotic sac was bulging so badly they couldn’t get an accurate measurement.
And baby was still footling breech.
They brought in an ultrasound just to be sure, all the while prepping me for an emergency C-section.
Surgical birth it is.
Austin got all scrubbed up and grabbed his camera. They wheeled me in and got the spinal block started and helped me get into position on the table as they put up the screen and prepped everything.
This isn’t what I had spent 8 months day-dreaming about. I had planned this beautiful natural birth. It was going to be private, in a quiet, dark room. I was going to give birth in water, reach down and catch my own baby as she emerged, and pull her directly to my chest to bond and nurse.
But God in His amazing and wonderful foresight and grace, knowing His perfect plan for the beginning of our sweet little Joey’s life, gave us an entire week to learn to trust His goodness in the birth of our daughter. I can say full of confidence and joy and peace that I was not in the very least disappointed by the experience of birth I had. I don’t feel like I “failed” or like I was somehow cheated out of something beautiful. On the contrary, I feel like I was given an incredibly beautiful gift, and I cherish every moment of the experience.
I didn’t know what to expect with surgical birth. I kinda had this idea that you go in and lay under this big blue curtain, numb to the whole thing until they bring some baby over to you and tell you its yours.
It wasn’t like that at all.
Yes, I had the spinal block. And yes, there was a big blue drape blocking my view. (Thank God… I didn’t want to see them saw me in half!)
But the reality was I felt the whole birth and it didn’t hurt me at all. I felt the doctor cut into my uterus and pull me open. I felt him get a good hold of my baby girl. I felt her as she slowly emerged from my body. And when they brought her over to me, it wasn’t just some baby, she was mine and I loved her fully and instantly.
Austin announced her name to the room – Josephine Anneliese Brummer. We picked her name months ago for its meaning: God will add His grace in abundance. Her name could not more perfectly describe how she came into the world if we had tried to plan it. But God has known her since before time began.
For a 33 week old baby, she was born incredibly healthy! 4 pounds 1.4 ounces, 17 inches. They had her on CPAP to get her to the NICU, and they had her under a 30% oxygen hood for a couple of hours. Since then, she’s been breathing room oxygen on her own. Thank you God for the miracle of her working lungs! Our NICU doctor keeps telling us she’s “a little pistol” and is boring – which you want to hear from a NICU doctor! She is so strong! Already she has been able to latch and nurse several times, is holding down her food, and I have been able to pump more than enough for her to be fed exclusively on breast milk with no supplement of formula. She is holding her body heat well and may not need to stay in the incubator past tonight. She is still tiny and we still need to master the art of nursing so they can remove the feeding tube they have been using to get my milk to her tummy in adequate amounts, but she is making leaps and bounds in her progress.
And she is just beautiful.
I look at her face and I don’t see a week of suffering. I look at her face and see the mind-blowing grace of God, the sacrificial love of my husband, the steady service of my doula, the excellent care of the medical staff, the overwhelming ministry of love of the Church, the joy of our family. Like I said, I don’t need to think about it, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.