After an animated 20 minute drive to the hospital, we arrived around 1 am and were swiftly checked in to the natural delivery suite.
Apparently I was so calm the nursing staff assumed I must be in want of the Cadillac of birthing tubs, and was offered that luxury upgrade frequently during my stay in hotel hospital. To which I replied calmly, between contractions: LOLOLOL.
I was so sure when we sidled up to the nurses’ station that I’d be sent home, with my advanced-maternal-age tail tucked between my legs, but lo and behold, I was escorted directly to a delivery room, and the midnight cat calisthenics I’d performed in the street had progressed me to “7, maybe 8 centimeters.”
What the whaaaaat?
Anyone who is familiar with the entrances of the older 4 of the Uebbing crew knows that this is not a normal pattern of labor for me, and since I had thus far only cursed at the cat and was not attempting to strangle anyone with my IV line, I couldn’t imagine that this was “real” labor. I just could not.
In fact, here’s how sure I was that I wasn’t really anywhere near baby time: I SENT THE ANESTHESIOLOGIST AWAY (never never do this) because I wasn’t “sure” what I wanted to do in terms of pain relief. In retrospect this seems foolhardy at best and…I won’t say what, at worst. But I really did need a little time to process what was happening: namely, that I was in active labor (apparently late in the game, too) and I wasn’t in excruciating, universe-ending pain.
That, my dear readers, turns out to be the difference between posterior and “normal” or anterior presentation of le babe. Because, unlike her siblings, this little piggy was facing the right way, mommy wasn’t teetering on the precipice of a psychotic break.
It was a really wonderful and peaceful departure from my previous 4 childbirth experiences, and I am profoundly grateful to have had this particular aspect of my motherhood redeemed.
That alone makes going for an unwieldy number of children “worth it,” on some level.
Once I’d sent away the magic doctor, I spent a few minutes alternating between prayer and repeatedly asking Dave “What is happening? Why is this happening? Is this really happening?” and received a very clear invitation from the Lord to go ahead and get the epidural if I wanted to. I was struggling a bit with feeling like this was a test I was somehow failing: as if by resorting to meds I was forgoing the opportunity to have a beautiful, unmedicated birth experience. And maybe I was. But I spent a few minutes in conversation with Him and here is what He said to me:
“I just wanted you to know it could be like this. I love you. You’re free to choose.”
He wanted to tell me a different story about bringing new life into the world. And I was convicted in these precious moments of labor/prayer that this more peaceful birthing process, cat corralling notwithstanding, was His gift to me. No strings attached. Meaning, I didn’t have to be a hero and try to go au natural.
I am forever mistaking my own efforts and willpower for God’s grace. Imagine my surprise when they give out again and again, and I realize that without Him I am nothing.
He was offering me a beautiful gift: a labor experience saturated with peace and the supernatural grace to remain present, in the moment. It was honestly the best thing I could have asked for, and the last thing I would have thought to ask for. Because I knew how labor “went.” I knew my story: fear, pain, suffering, and trauma. That’s all I believed giving birth could be, and I would have taken that knowledge to my grave before sweet Zelie’s birth.
Now I think of the gift I can give to my younger sisters and, one day, my own daughters, whispering to them an alternative narrative, and I am so overwhelmed by the beauty of it.
At one point during my moderate travail, Dave leaned over and whispered to me: “If it’s a girl, we should use Grace in her name, because there is so much of it here.”
And there was. There was so much grace.
And there was a profound feeling of freedom, too. I really felt invited by the Lord to choose the path of least resistance and to let Him write a new story with this delivery, and so I did.
I took the drugs, no regrets. And in God’s providential design, that anesthesiologist I sent away in a moment of uncertainty was only able to come back once I was teetering on the brink of 9 centimeters, barely before I passed the deadline of the point of no return. Once the drugs were locked and loaded, I rested for a bit and resisted a couple offers of “if you let us break your water, baby will be here in 10 minutes.” Thinking back, the first few offers were made pre-epidural, and the entire nursing staff was very eager to help me achieve a natural birth, which I give them major props for.
Those gals wanted to see a natural birth, gosh darn it, and they’d given me the primo natural birthing suite to prove it – and I was sorry to disappoint those lovely ladies, but having personally experienced the last few centimeters of labor a time or two, I was certainly not about to attempt round 5 in a hot tub.
Anywhoo, the drugs kicked in, my doctor came in with his icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe and propped it opposite the end of my bed, and then we chilled out for a somewhat uneventful 45 minutes, at which point I consented to AROM and felt some serious “pressure” which confirmed me in my drug-seeking decision because either that epidural was on the lighter side, or this baby was huge.
(Spoiler alert: baby was not huge, and I walked from the delivery room to recovery, so epi-lite it was)
Finally it was show time. And after 8(!) excruciating minutes (sure beats 4 hours!), during which I may or may not have vocalized glory to God for pharmaceuticals, little Elizabeth Grace Uebbing was born.
As happens not infrequently in high-altitude deliveries, our beautiful little 7 lb, 11 oz princess was pretty blue and needed some blow-by oxygen assistance to get things rolling. Less typical was her being whisked fairly quickly off my chest and carried over for inspection by the neonatal team. I watched in mounting anxiety as the room filled up with doctors and nurses, a small crowd forming around her bassinet across the room.
I was yelling out to her from my hospital bed “Elizabeth, mommy loves you,” because I’m pretty sure I read in the scary chapter of What to Expect When You’re Expecting that you should do that, and at some point in so doing, I looked over at Dave and said “that’s not her name. I don’t think that’s her name.” He nodded in agreement from his post at her crib side, trying his best to look unconcerned for my sake. As the minutes ticked by and more doctors filled the room – now the respiratory team had been called in, I heard the announcement – I grew more and more concerned.
I began praying aloud while my doctor stitched me up, asking the Holy Spirit to fill her lungs, pleading with her to breathe, breathe, baby girl.
At one point I started praying fervently for the intercession of St. Zelie Martin. “Zelie” was on our short list of names, but I wasn’t sure Dave was fully convinced, and I didn’t want to force a name he didn’t love. I began asking St. Zelie to plead my girl’s case in heaven, begging that her oxygen levels would come up and that she wouldn’t be headed to the NICU.
Looking back, I don’t recall thinking she was actually going to die, but I was very worried that she was going to be intubated, and that something might be wrong with her lungs, because 20 minutes in, she hadn’t made a sound other than gasping a couple times. I remember specifically choosing to petition St. Zelie because she had lost so many of her own babies, and because she could sympathize with my aching mama heart to have my girl whole and in my arms. I also recall being unbelievably at peace despite the circumstances, which is a miracle in itself considering my temperament.
Finally just before the 30-minute mark we head the most beautiful sound in the world: our baby girl’s cry. Soft and undemanding (as it is still, for the most part) but very much alive and well. I shed a few tears of relief as they wheeled her, not to the NICU, but back to my arms, and we re-named her Zelie Grace Uebbing.
And she has brought nothing but grace to our family since the moment she arrived.
She is the fruition of my motherhood in a powerful way that I wouldn’t have expected from a fifth baby. So few people go this far, as I am reminded on a daily basis when we’re out and about, and honestly, were it not for the Church’s teachings on contraception and openness to life, neither would we have done so.
Zelie was not in our plan.
But she was in His.
And we are so thankful.
Exhausted, overwhelmed, and occasionally weepy. But so very grateful.
St. Zelie Martin and holy Mother Mary, full of grace, pray for us.