Encouragement for C-Section Mamas

Surprise of all surprises, C-section birth has become a topic I am passionate about. It has been almost three months since Joey was born (has it really been that long?) and even now new feelings and emotions and memories come up.

I also know of several expecting mothers who are facing the possibility of a surgical birth for one reason or another. This is an incredibly personal experience and, like all incredibly personal experiences, everyone and their brother has a deeply-held opinion about it. I most definitely do not want to presume upon someone else’s experience, but I do want to offer my own experience, a little advice (which may be taken or left), and an empathetic ear. I hope you find this encouraging and helpful.

The biggest thing for me was not knowing quite what to expect. Hopefully sharing some of my experience will help.

For me, anticipating a surgical birth was by far the hardest part of the whole thing. Phrases like “major abdominal surgery” and “higher risk of ____” whispered in the back of my head. I also dealt with the emotions of feeling like a victim of Murphy’s law and feeling like a “failure” if I couldn’t manage to have a vaginal birth.

I had an emergency C-section, but I had a week to prepare for the idea. I know other people will have different time-frames: everything from a planned caesarean with weeks or months to deal with the anticipation to a completely unexpected emergency surgery with only minutes or, at most, hours of time to contemplate what will happen.

Remember, though, that you are not a failure if you do have to have a C-section!!! I know for some women the idea of a surgical birth is traumatic. It does not have to be. I know one of the hardest thoughts for me was, “Now I’m just another statistic,” because I had heard so many times how awful it is that 1/3 of all births in the U.S. these days are surgical. Yes, if you have a C-section you are in that category. But you and your baby are not just some statistic. You are a brave mother doing what you need to for the health and safety of your baby, and that makes you strong, loving, unique, special, and beautiful.

Also know, and repeat this to yourself over and over, that having a C-section does not mean you are somehow less of a woman or less of a mother. Your body is not broken and your baby is not less of a baby. You still grew a baby inside your body for nine months (unless you had her 2 months early like I did… heh) and you will still love that baby like the true mother you are. You will still be getting up in the middle of the night to feed your baby. You will still worry when he has a fever. You’ll still read to and play with him, teach him, hug and kiss him. You will still be celebrated on Mother’s Day. Having a C-section still “counts” as giving birth.

I say these things because some ignorant people will tell you differently. Do not pay any attention to them. They have no idea what they are talking about. I also mention these things because even three months after Joey’s birth I wrestle with them. I have talked to some mothers who were perfectly satisfied with their caesarean experiences and never felt loss or negative emotions. I am so happy that they were able to celebrate the birth of their children that way. I know that for myself and many other C-section mamas, the joy is mingled with disappointment. If that is your experience, it is completely normal and healthy. Acknowledge the disappointment along with the joy, and find someone with whom you can talk it through.

Remember too that the circumstances of this birth are not a surprise to God. He knew in advance every detail of the birth of your child. In His love and wisdom and goodness, He orchestrated the specifics of your baby’s entrance into the world. You may wonder why God called you to this, but know that this is a beautiful expression of His love and grace and goodness to you and to your baby – the baby He knit together in your womb and whose every day is already written in His book. Let this experience be a grace-filled experience.

I also didn’t know what to expect in the surgery itself and immediately afterward in recovery.

First, there will be a lot of people involved. I was surrounded by dozens of nurses, the anesthesiologist, NICU personnel, and, of course, the doctor. The surgery happened very quickly. The spinal block I had only took a few minutes to work, and then I was on my back on a slab under theater lighting with a huge blue curtain blocking my view. I was wheeled into the OR at 11:40 pm and thought there was no way Joey would be born that day. I was saying to myself that her birthday would be January 4. She was born at 11:58… on the 3rd. This is not going to be some long, drawn-out experience. It will feel fast and exciting! Let that be fun!

It did not feel like what I imagined a “major abdominal surgery” to feel like. I was so excited about the idea that I would be seeing my daughter in a matter of minutes that my focus was not really on the surgery at all but on the anticipation of the moment of birth. If you’ve had other surgeries in your life, know that this is nothing like those. Yes, it is surgery. But even more importantly, this is giving birth. It will be a unique experience unlike anything else you ever experience.

I was very surprised by the size of the incision. I don’t know why, but I always pictured it being… smaller. Know that the incision is not small. Mine is about 6 inches long, from one hip to the other. However, if you have a low transverse incision, it will be easy to hide below the panty or bikini line. It also will be fairly thin and the color will fade with time. I also struggled with feeling like I was no longer sexy. Don’t think of this scar as an “ugly” scar. This is not some accident that left you marred. This scar is a beautiful battle wound, a permanent mark on your body that you can point to for the rest of your life and say with joy, “See, I’m a mother!”

Having said that, recovery was not nearly as bad as I imagined it would be. Yes, you will be sore for a while. Take what you need to manage the pain. Get up and move as much as you can as soon as you can. It will be difficult at first, but it is so important for your recovery. Heed your doctor’s instructions. Have someone come over for 3-4 hours per day for a couple of weeks to hold your baby so that you can get a solid block of uninterrupted sleep every day. Don’t be afraid or too proud to ask for help. You will need lots of it, and that’s ok! You just gave birth!

Finally, there is a lot of information out there about surgical birth and VBAC. Read plenty of it. However, keep in mind that much of it is aimed at preventing the need for a C-section. This is good information for a lot of women. If, however, you find yourself in a situation where a C-section is medically necessary and inevitable, this information can be quite unhelpful and downright discouraging. It is okay to disregard what doesn’t help!

Here are some questions to think through before your C-section that I found helpful:

  • How many support people can I have with me in the Operating Room? Many hospitals only allow the husband. If possible, it is nice to have a second support person (like a doula or your mother or a close friend) in the OR with you, or at least waiting in the recovery room. If your baby needs to be taken to the nursery or NICU (even for a little bit) your husband can go with your baby and your second support person can stay with you while you are stitched up and in recovery.
  • What kind of anesthesia will be used? I loved my spinal block – it was quick, temporary, and just the right amount of numb. It was also only minutes before the birth, so Joey was not groggy when she was born but was wide awake, alert, and taking everything in. Epidurals and full general anesthesia are also available. Think through what you are most comfortable with and also what your doctor recommends for your specific situation. With the spinal block, I was numb to any and all pain but I could feel the “pressure” of the birth – meaning that I experienced Joey’s birth, which was very special to me.
  • When will your caesarean happen? Granted mine was an emergency and happened while I was in transition. Consider what you and your doctor are comfortable with – especially if yours will be planned. Also remember that labor is good for both the baby and the mother. You both need those contractions and the release of hormones. If you are comfortable with it, ask if you could be allowed to begin labor spontaneously and go through some labor before your surgery.
  • Ask about options during the surgery. For example: Is there a mirror available so I can see the birth? Can you lower the curtain just enough so that I can see the birth without seeing the incision? Will pictures or video be allowed? Can I have skin-to-skin contact with my baby as soon as possible (if both the baby and mother are stable)? How soon after birth can we begin breastfeeding? Is delayed cord-clamping or gentle caesarean an option? What kind of incision will be used on my uterus (which may have an effect on your ability to VBAC)?
  • If there is a possibility your baby may need to spend some time in NICU (because of premature birth or other health-related issues) make sure to take time to interview one of the NICU nurses! Ask about procedures in the NICU: What kinds of equipment will be used? Are babies given bottles and/or pacifiers? What shots are required in the hospital? Can we opt out of any of them? Will I be able to start breastfeeding right away? If my baby is stable can I hold him or her? Do you allow or encourage Kangaroo care (skin-to-skin)? How often and how long can we visit? Can we bring other visitors? How can I provide breast milk for her feedings when I am not able to be present? What kind of emotional support is there? Do you have private rooms? (I may write a similar post later about coping with having a baby in NICU.)
  • It’s not too soon to start thinking about your next birth experience. There are tons of good resources for mothers who wish to attempt a VBAC (vaginal birth after a caesarean). Read read read. And then read some more. Talk to your doctor. If you don’t like what she says, find another one. Acknowledge any feelings you may have about it. (For example, I am working through a fear that if I have a successful VBAC next time it won’t be fair to Joey. This is simply not true. I love Joey with all my heart and she will never be “less of a real child” than any other children I may give birth to vaginally.)

Finally, you may need to just talk out your experience. Surgical birth is the kind of thing you only truly understand if you have been through it yourself. Find another C-section mama who will be able empathize with you. Find someone who is willing to just listen without giving their 2 cents about everything. You can always call or message me if you would like. And never underestimate your husband. He went through this with you too. He was there from conception to birth and now the process of raising this child with you. Let this be an experience that strengthens your relationship!

Dear brave mothers facing C-section, I hope you have a wonderful birth experience in spite of the circumstances! I would love to hear your thoughts as well in the comments below. If there is anything I did not address that you would like to pick my brain on, I am an open book. There is no question too personal! (For the sake of saving the general readership from TMI, I did not address topics like post-operation physiology or sex after a C-section, for example. I would, however, be more than willing to share thoughts about these things in a private message if you would find them helpful.)

In the meantime, I pray God blesses you with a beautiful birth experience and a perfect, healthy baby!


Welcome Home Joey!

One happy Mama! Doc had just given the order for Joey's discharge!

One happy Mama! Doc had just given the order for Joey’s discharge!

After 24 days in the NICU, we finally got to bring sweet Joey home with us yesterday! What a wonderful day! 24 days seems like a very long time, but it also seems like such a short time. For Joey, it’s most of her life. It struck me yesterday as we took her down the elevator and out through the hospital’s front door that she had spent her entire life in that building so far. We smiled when we realized that the drive home was her first car ride. It was her first cold winter day outside. The first time coming into the warmth and comfort of her own home. It may sound cheesy to call the moment “magical,” but it is also very accurate.

And the last 24 hours at home have been nothing short of absolutely fantastic. When I woke up in the middle of the night, it wasn’t to the cold and ruthless pull of a breast pump, it was to the warmth and nourishing of my own sweet baby girl. We all actually slept well last night, despite the fact that I didn’t have the monitor beeping to tell me she was ok. I will admit that my ears were fine-tuned to Joey’s noises, and every squeak and shuffle woke me, calling me to watch her breathe. When I got up this morning, the first thing I saw was my beautiful daughter and my amazing husband. We finally felt like a family. I didn’t have to hurry up and shower and get dressed to rush to the hospital today. I was able to snuggle up with Joey and go about the day normally, but with the beautiful addition of a daughter to spend it with. We played and organized the nursery and folded laundry and read stories and sang songs and ate and rested together throughout the day. And the best part is, I didn’t have to tell her “goodbye” at the end of it all! We just kept going right on into the evening together and will continue into the night together and into tomorrow morning together and on and on together as a family.

All bundled up and ready to go home!

All bundled up and ready to go home!

I love being a stay-at-home mom. I know I’m still in the “honeymoon” phase at the end of only the first day, but this truly has been such a wonderful day.

Joey has done remarkably well. We are just in awe of how God continues to bless our little family. The nurses kept remarking how incredible it was that she was able to come home a full month before she was originally expected to go home. It is incredible to me that if she had gone full term, Joey would not have entered our lives for another month – I’d still be very pregnant, and this beautiful little girl would still be hidden in the depths of the womb.

Having said that, she is still very premature – 4 and a half weeks premature at this moment. While healthy and strong enough to come home, she is still small and vulnerable to the world. She still has to wear a small monitor any time we are not directly handling and looking at her – as I type this she lies in the bouncer next to me all snuggled up, and under her blanket and adorable onesie the monitor keeps an eye on my daughter’s respiration and heart rate, ready to let me know if either drops to dangerously low levels. So far, the alarms on the monitor have been silent. I pray God keeps them that way.

She also came home on medicine to stimulate her brain and lungs to “remember” to breathe. It is normal for preemie babies to have something called “periodic breathing.” It is just what it sounds like – they’ll breathe normally with the occasional long pause simply because the immature brain stem “forgets” to send the signal to breathe. Usually she can bring herself back from a stall like that, but just in case she doesn’t, the alarm will let me know I need to come stimulate her. Again, I’m not worried about this. She only needed stimulation a few times while in the hospital and never needed any further intervention. And she hasn’t even needed stimulation in several days.

Snuggling with Daddy on the couch at home!!

Snuggling with Daddy on the couch at home!!

Finally, we have done everything we can to protect her from the harsh flu and RSV season this year. (It’s bad… our hospital alone in our small town had 3 near-fatal cases of the flu in the NICU and PICU last week alone.) We are so excited to have everyone meet our Josephine, but we also hope you understand that at this time it is so very important that she not have many visitors, be brought into public places with many people, or be touched or held by many people – especially children and anyone who has anything even remotely resembling a cold or flu symptoms. RSV is notorious for seeming like a mild cold in an adult or older child, but being deadly for an infant – especially a premature one.

Again, we can’t wait for you to meet our daughter, but we are also going to be very protective of her health and safety until flu and RSV season ends this April or May.

And finally, I cannot say “thank you” enough to the many people who have poured out love on our family by providing meals and gifts and prayers and messages of encouragement. You have been such an incredible blessing to our family through such an incredible, life-changing season. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts!

On mommy's lap at home!

On mommy’s lap at home!

Guest Blogger: Dad’s Eye View “God in His Abundance Will Add His Favor and Grace”

I am continually amazed at how much grace and mercy we have received from God over this last week. Joey is doing an amazing job, breathing on her own, basically keeping herself warm, and feeding herself decently. As I am typing this I am in the NICU right now and as I look around it floors me how blessed we have been. I will explain this a little later.

When I first met with our doctor he said that he is amazed at how well 32-33 week old babies are doing. Five years ago it would be so much harder to work with that young of a kid, but now they seem to be much better. That is God’s grace. She started breathing on her own 2 hours after she was out of the womb. That is God’s mercy.

We have been blessed with being able to meet other parents in here, as well as talk to some old friends that have gone through what we have gone through and that has been amazing. Thanks Joel! To hear about similar stories and struggles has been greatly encouraging. We have heard about many of the other kiddos in our NICU that are not doing as “well”. One might be life flighted to Denver to have surgery! I cannot even imagine trying to deal with that. There isn’t much to be said about the daily routines with Joey. We wake up, go to the hospital. Cry. Hold Joey. After 4-5 hours go home. Cry. Sleep until the evening because we are emotionally exhausted. Go back to the hospital. Hold Joey. At 10pm, we have to peel ourselves away from Joey, sob uncontrollably, and drive home without our girl. Oh ya, Meg pumps every 3 hours, even overnight. Sounds like fun right? That is pretty much our daily routine.

Now we have also been blessed with how amazing our church family and friends have been. As you can see by our busy schedule, we do not necessarily have time to cook dinner. Well, they have brought over dinner ever since we went to the hospital on 12/31. And they have meals planned all the way through January!

Wait, don’t forget that because of what my Dad and Dave and ultimately God has done with Armadillo’s I get to have 4 months off and God timed this baby so that she came during the off season. This means I can spend all the time I want here with my girl and don’t have to worry about work. How narrow minded and self centered I am though as I have been blessed with meeting other parents and hearing the struggles they deal with. One even lives hours away! They have to juggle with work and driving back here to see their kid.

Now I look at all these blessings that God has provided for us and say to myself “Ya, I deserve this, I have been fairly obedient to God. I try my best to follow his rules. I go to church every Sunday, I read the Bible, shoot, I have even started evangelizing! Plus, Meg and I have prayed a lot for this little girl so God kind of has to do this for us. Everyone has told us how amazing parents we are, and we are really good parents. We have read a lot of books to prepare us. We read the Bible to Joey every day. On top of all that, God is love so He had to do this for his children. Right? Isn’t that what Christianity is all about? Obeying God so he can bless me here on earth with a beautiful family and children? Or maybe an amazing job that gives me time off over the winter?”

The reality is, I deserve none of this. I deserve eternity in hell for my transgressions. Sometimes I don’t want to drive over to the hospital because of the inconvenience. When Meg was in labor, I didn’t want to keep running back and forth to the hospital because all those trips were exhausting. Of course I quickly dismiss those thoughts but I still have them. That is the first instinct of my sinful heart. I am a sinner and so is my wife. She would be the first to admit it. We do not deserve this beautiful child. We do not deserve such a wonderful church family. But despite all of these things, God has chosen to bless us. We don’t deserve any of these blessings, but we have gotten them anyway. You see, we are all sinners and deserve God’s wrath. We have rebelled against a perfect and holy God. Meg and I have tried to “earn” our salvation by doing “good” works. So have you. If your faith is in anything else besides the work of Christ, or if you try to add to His work with things you have done, then you are in trouble. You need to surrender your life to Christ. And only God can do this miraculous change in your life. We are all sinners and need to repent.

The title of this blog post is what Josephine Anneliese means. The only reason we have this girl, the only reason we have the other temporal blessings, is because of the greatest blessing of all. Being saved from God’s wrath. The reason we named her that is not because of the those temporal blessings, but because of what Christ did on the cross. You see, God treated Christ as if he had lived our lives and poured out his wrath on Christ, so that God can treat us as if we had lived His life. That is the abundant grace that we have been given. 2 Corinthians 5:21.


Dear Joey

JoeyDear Joey,

Welcome to life my beautiful daughter! These few days are the first moments of eternity for you, and that is an incredible thing. It has been such a delight watching you take it all in, your wide eyes gulping in bits of this enormous world you have found yourself in. Every experience – every moment, sight, sound, smell, feeling – a new thing.

This is quite an incredible world you’ve come into. I look forward to the day you take in your first sunset, the first time you notice flowers blooming, the moments you first feel the warmth of the sun, the bite of wind, the refreshment of rain, the beauty of clean snow. As your wonderful mind grows and matures you’ll begin to experience creativity, design, the beauty of logic and order, the wonder of art and music and dance.

And in your life you have been blessed with parents full of love for each other and love for you. It is a deep, unconditional love that God has filled us full of, so full that it overflows into you. You’ll grow up knowing the security of a love that never diminishes and is not dependent on what you do or say, but is constant just because we want to give it to you. If you grow into the most talented, most intelligent, most beautiful, most outgoing and charming, most well-behaved young woman we have ever known, we will love you. Please understand, my dear daughter, that we won’t love you because of these things. Your life is not about pleasing your daddy and me. We are pleased with you just because we wanted you and loved you. If you grow into a failure, forever struggling with school, shy and unable to make friends, defiant and strong-willed, disobedient and willfully wicked, we will love you. Nothing you ever do will cause us to love you any less. We will love you through it.

As your mother, I desperately want your life to be full of wonder and beauty and happiness.  I don’t want you ever to experience pain or disappointment or tragedy or loss. I don’t want you to struggle with sins and their consequences. But I know you will.

This beautiful, large, incredible world is under a curse. It’s an ancient curse that runs deep, touches every part of creation, and spans back to the very beginning of the world. You’ll feel this curse every day of your life. Some days it will just be a whisper – a small disappointment, the 24-hour flu, frustration when you don’t want to do what your daddy or I ask of you. Some days the sting of the curse will dig deep and hard – a harsh rejection, an unforeseen tragedy, a result of a sinful choice.

You need to know, Josephine Anneliese, that while this curse is very real and sometimes very close, it does not have the final say. We tell you all of the time about Jesus, and I look forward to the day your soul understands and trusts what it is that we’ve told you – that He has conquered and defeated this curse, taken away its power, and will completely abolish it from creation when He returns. Your very name is a reminder of this Joesphine Anneliese – God will add his grace and favor in abundance.

Someday, if I haven’t already, I will tell you the incredible story of your birth, of how you entered into this beautiful, cursed world. From the very beginning of your life, sweet Joey, you are a picture and testimony of the grace of God. Whenever I see you, hear your name, remember the incredible first moments of your life, I remember God’s amazing, life-giving, curse-conquering grace.

I love you my beautiful daughter. I can’t believe God chose me to be your mother, but I am so glad He did. I thank Him every day for giving you to us, for allowing us to be a part of the incredible story of your life He is writing. Always remember, every moment – the good and the bad, the beautiful and the hideous, the easy and the difficult – all of it is a gift of grace from a loving God. Always remember that no matter what you are loved more than you can comprehend, just because we want to love you. Your life will not be defined but what you succeed or fail at, or by what you achieve or experience or miss, but by who loves you.

Welcome to eternity my beloved Joey. I look forward to every moment of it with you.


Guest Blogger: Dad’s Eye View

Call me Austin. In a hole in the ground there lived an Austin. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. I thought it would be cool if I started my blog post with a really cool opener.

My wife asked me to share my thoughts and side of the story. It all started one night in May… But you probably want to hear more about the birth. Well I think what I would like to share is about how great God is. God is the giver of life, and the sustainer of all things. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

When we first found out about Meg being dilated 4 cm we both kind of broke down. Yes, I cried. It happened a lot. Get used to it. But God is strong. God got us through it. I called our doula, Shannon, to let her know that we would be headed to the hospital in Rapid. We loaded Meg up in the ambulance, and sent her on her way. I stayed behind to help with paperwork and finishing up at the birth center. This is when I saw God doing His thing. The ambulance was headed to Spearfish, the opposite direction. God simply said “Meg will go to Rapid” and BOOM! She was on her way to Rapid. When the ambulance was stubborn, Meg was “under the care” of the doctor in Spearfish and wouldn’t give her up, when life was out of control, God was in control and took care of Meg and my little girl.

The next 2 days were rough.  Meg was on Magnesium Sulfate, which is a rough drug.  Meg could not stand up, could not sit down, basically could do hardly anything but sleep and lay down.  This was a hard time for me because I wanted to help.  I am the man and husband and I should be able to fix everything.  But I couldn’t.  God could.  God was intimately involved in my wife and my daughter’s life and he was in control.  Our pastor came to visit and Meg asked him to read Psalm 139.  Go ahead and read it quick.  I will wait.  So you can understand that I just wept at this, right?!  Do you know what this is saying?  God, the creator of the universe, of everything, the Almighty, Awesome God, Sustainer of all things, knew my little girl intimately.  He knew exactly what was going on, and will go on.  He knows the first words that will come out of her mouth.  He knows the precise moment she will crawl, walk, smile, because he has ordained it from before time began.  He knows what she will do in life, who she will marry, how many kids she will have, the list goes on!  God is orchestrating every minute detail of her life and she has never once nor ever will be out of the incessant care of God’s loving hand.

We finally got discharged on Tuesday and were right back in the hospital on Thursday night.  They let us go Friday morning and we were right back in Friday night.  In the midst of all this God was working his magic, getting my daughter ready for an early birth.  “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.”  Right before they let me into the room I was sitting with my doula and we prayed together.  Then I told Shannon her name.  I wept again.

Josephine Anneliese Brummer was born.  Talk about a life changer!  Right away they started working on her to make sure she was ok.  I followed her into the NICU.  They let me touch her and talk to her.  She was breathing well.  Good.  She was very alert.  Good.  The next 2 hours seemed to fly by as I watched the wonderful staff at the hospital work on her.  “She is doing great” they kept saying to me.  Glory be to God!  You see, God does not just say that He will lose none of His children, but His constant interceding is how he does it.  He did not allow Joey to be born a second before she was because God knew that when she was born was the perfect time for her to be born.  He simply would not allow anything else to happen.  He delayed her birth for a week because He keeps His own.  God is intimately involved in His children’s lives.

This post is not about a baby being born.  This post is not to show you how amazing Meg was, and how great of a husband I am.  As a matter of fact, I was not great.  I should have showed my wife more attention than I did.  My wife did not handle things well.  There were plenty of times that both of us despaired and did not run to Christ.  My wife and I are sinners in desperate need of a Savior.  I can’t count on 100 hands how many times we were selfish sinners during that week leading up to Joey’s birth.  I am writing this post that you might hear the good news of Great Joy that is Christ!  He is the one that has chosen to bless me with such a wonderful child.  The only one that can give me true joy is Christ, not my wife, nor my daughter, nor anyone in my family.  Only Christ is that fulfillment for me.  If the above story went any other way, any worse way, Christ is still where my joy is found.  Josephine is precious to me because Christ has given her to me to care for and love.  If you are reading this and do not have a personal relationship with Christ, let me implore you, read the Bible, and pray to God to save you.  He is the only one that can, the only one that can give you true happiness.  God is at work, whether you want to admit it or not, and you have a choice to either submit to his wondrous authority, or futilely attempt to rebel against it.  My prayer is that any who read this will give the glory where it is due, and that is God.  To God be the glory forever and ever, Amen!



MamaI never imagined that we would be one of the families with a newborn in NICU. Sure, I’d seen pictures and heard stories of other couples that had to deal with it, but they never really connected with me on a deep level. It was so foreign to anything I had experienced that it just didn’t seem personal. I could sympathize on some level – I could imagine that it would be difficult, but I didn’t really understand.

To be honest, most of my life has been relatively simple. Until just a year or two ago, I had never really been through anything I would call “hardship,” and I kind of settled into the mentality that nothing bad would really ever happen to me. Optimism isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when it becomes your status quo, your basic expectation for life, it can make coping with the difficult things even more difficult when they happen.

I have to admit, there was more than a small part of me during the week leading up to Joey’s birth that was confident everything would “turn out ok.” I was sure she had flipped to a head-down position. I was positive that we would be able to hold off labor for weeks until she would be considered term. I knew that she would be born perfectly healthy and day-dreamed about bringing home our perfect little baby, showing her off to family and friends, getting into a routine, settling into our new life as a family.

And here we are.

I have peace with Joey’s birth story. God graciously gave me a whole week to make peace with the idea that I just might have a C-section and not a natural birth. If I had needed an emergency surgical birth the first day we went to the hospital with preterm labor symptoms, I have to admit I would have been devastated. In fact, both the paramedic and the OB said it could happen that first day and I broke down in tears both times. What happened to my perfect little dream? But by the time I actually did need the C-section a week later, I was thankful to God for an excellent medical team, a healthy baby, and a smooth recovery. Again, I am not at all disappointed by our birth experience. In many ways I am very thankful for it.

I knew going into the surgery at 33 weeks that our baby would not be able to leave the hospital with us, but I had not really prepared for the idea that she would be in NICU for weeks on end. Really, how can you prepare for something like that?

We met with one of the NICU nurse practitioners a few times in the days leading up to Joey’s birth. We asked all kinds of questions about what their protocols were, what their staff was like, how often we could visit, if they were open to skin-to-skin/kangaroo care and nursing and so on. I had not even imagined at that point that I would need to know how to cope with the experience emotionally.

So what does it feel like to have a baby in NICU?Pink

Maybe it will help to describe our typical day right now. We wake up around 7 or 7:30 and I pump breast milk. Then we shower, eat breakfast, and grab what we need for the morning. We get to the hospital a little before 9 so that we can be present and participate in Joey’s 9 o’clock feeding. Before we can even touch our daughter, we have to scrub from our fingernails up to our elbows with a rough brush for 2 minutes in warm, soapy water, rub alcohol-based hand sanitizer on our hands, and don a clean hospital gown over our clothes. I attempt to nurse if she is awake enough, and we supplement the rest of her feeding through a drip. Then we hang out, hold her, rock her, read to her, sing to her, cuddle her until her feeding at noon. (She eats every three hours.) I attempt to nurse her again. I may pump once or twice while we’re at the hospital and leave the milk there for the nurses to use during her feedings while we are away.

We’ll usually leave after the noon feeding and run an errand or two if needed, then head home. For the most part, I sleep through the afternoon – waking once around 3 or 4 to pump again. We eat dinner around 5 – usually when someone graciously provides a meal for us – and then get ready to head back to the hospital from 6 to 9 to be there for those two feedings. Sometimes we don’t stay through 9:00 if we’re too tired.

When we get home, we get ready for bed and I set an alarm for every 3-4 hours over night to wake up and pump. I usually fall asleep praying and crying.

The first thing I didn’t expect was the exhaustion. Yes, part of the fatigue is from the recovery from major abdominal surgery. But it’s more than physical tiredness. My heart and soul are tired.  The baby is not at home with us through the night yet, but I am still waking up regularly to “feed” her. If I don’t establish and keep my milk supply, I won’t be able to nurse her well when she does come home, and they will have to supplement her feedings with formula. It is very important to me to be able to feed my daughter! Moreover, all the emotion involved just drains you.

There is a cocktail of feelings. Joey has good days and bad days. There are ups and downs. Today was an up – her breathing was better and more consistent, she was holding her body temperature really well, she successfully nursed for quite a while at 9 this morning, she slept peacefully in my arms as I rocked her and kissed her face. Yesterday was a down – she had several breathing episodes, she had difficulty nursing and eating and spitting up a lot, she cooled down a little too much and we had to add layers of clothing and swaddle. It is hard not to allow the emotions to run amok with the ups and downs – joy and elation with the ups, despair and discouragement with the downs.

Then there is that dreaded moment at the end of the night when I kiss her on the face and walk away from her crib and out the NICU doors to leave the hospital. My heart skips beats at that moment every night. Tears well up behind my eyes and my stomach sinks. Austin reaches out and grabs my hand, reminding me that this really is what is best for Joey. Hugs me and reassures me that we’ll be ok. Whispers in my ear that he loves me, that God is good and in control, and Joey is in His hands.

I struggle. I feel like as Joey’s mother I should be able to provide everything she needs. I should be able to just take her home, nurse her when she is hungry, swaddle and cuddle her to keep her warm. But the reality is I cannot provide everything she needs. Because she was born so early, her little body needs a lot of help that I simply am not able to give. That’s hard for a mama’s heart to deal with.

But there’s an even deeper issue here. The reality is that even if she was born a perfectly healthy full-term baby, I still wouldn’t be able to provide everything she needs. Only God can do that. I’m learning how to let go – even of my one-week-old infant daughter. God blessed me with a beautiful little girl, and as much as I want to claim her as all my own, she’s not. She belongs first and foremost to Him. I cannot even provide the air she needs to breathe – only He can. I cannot provide the heat her body needs to maintain – but He can. I cannot provide the neurological synapses that tell her reflexes that she is hungry enough to demand food – He can. What I can do is trust her completely to His care and do the best with what He has provided for me to care for her – a mama’s love, milk from the breast, and an incredible NICU staff and equipment.

I wrestle. I want so badly for Joey to be a part of our day-to-day lives. I want her sleeping in our room while we sleep. I want to see her first thing in the morning when I wake up. I want to cuddle her on my chest while we relax in front of the TV in the evening. I want her to see the colors and shapes, hear the mundane sounds, smell the unique scents of our home – her home.  I feel like I have one foot in and one foot out of parenthood – I have a daughter, but she’s not in my real life yet. She has spent the entirety of her short life in the hospital – part of me wonders if she’ll feel at home when we get to bring her back here. Part of me feels like she can’t know us if she’s only with us a few hours a day. Overall, I feel like we have bonded really well as a family, but she has spent more of her life with the NICU staff than she has with her own mommy and daddy. I have a really hard time with that.

We had an amazing birth experience. I don’t feel like we “missed” anything there, but were blessed with something beautiful. I have a hard time saying the same thing about the first week of Joey’s life. I almost feel like we’ve been cheated out of an important time in Joey’s life, and we’ll never get it back.

I never ever want to wish away any of Joey’s life. I want to cherish every beautiful moment of her infancy. I don’t want her to become a toddler too quickly. But I also know that she may be in NICU for weeks more, and I crave the end of that. I can’t wait for it to be over, for her to be stable, for that moment we get to strap her into the car seat and take her to the house she will spend her childhood in.

Once again I’m face-to-face with the hardest question of my life: do I really trust that God is good? In many ways over the past two years of hard, I’ve learned that God is good to me. But now I have to answer whether God is good to Joey.

I have to face that I am not in control. Neither should I be.

None of this surprises Him. Joey’s stay in NICU didn’t catch Him off guard. He didn’t have to react to the unfortunate circumstance that brought her here.

“Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.”

~Psalm 139.16

I have to trust that God not only knew this would happen this way, but that He planned for it to happen this way, and that the plan was good. Sometimes, that one’s hard to swallow. How could something like this be good? Yet, I know it is. I know God allowed Joey to be born healthy at 33 weeks; I know He brought her to an incredible hospital with an amazing NICU; I know He’s provided caring nurses and doctors who have done more than just the status quo, but who go above and beyond to really care for the babies and their parents; I know He gives Joey good days and overall progress, even though it feels slow; I know that even though it seems like it right now, this stage of life will not be eternal but will come to an end at some point; I know He gave me an encouraging and loving and tender and strong husband with which to go through this.

So much grace.


Joey’s Birth Story

Josephine Anneliese BrummerJoey
11.58 pm
4 lbs 1.4 ounces
17 inches
7 weeks premature

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.

Yep. Breech.

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.