About Me,  birth story,  Family Life

The birth of Zelie Grace, part deux

(Part 1 here)

Where were we? Oh yes, induction by house cat.

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.”

That’s all.

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.

(P.s. a great read for pregnant mamas/birth professionals of every stripe)


  • Catherine

    How wonderful! I haven’t had five, but my spoiled number 4 was a dream pregnancy. The new thing for me was lying in pre-op (c-sections are the m.o. for all my babies) with the nurses pinching and pressing on my shins in disbelief that I had zero edema (37 y/o mama) at 39 weeks. It’s so wonderful to have these stories of births that you want to share whenever people look at your brood out of the corner of their eye and try to count without you noticing. Take heart, young mamas! That first difficult pregnancy or delivery is not necessarily a prediction!

  • Melissa H

    What a beautiful story and a beautiful little lady! Your timing is so perfect—I am due with my 5th baby tomorrow (also am advanced maternal age, 44?!?) and grateful so much for this little one who was a surprise but has been a blessing, too. I, too, am questioning do I try to go natural or go for the epidural—have always gotten an epidural with all previous babies. Thank you for writing and sharing and God’s blessings upon you and your family.

  • Sunny

    Loved this post! My granddaughter is named Zelie, too! It really resonated with me when you wrote, “I am forever mistaking my own efforts and willpower for God’s grace.” He is a generous and loving God, so I am learning to lean more on Him in all circumstances. I used to think that if I just worried enough it would help my prayers along. But He wants our complete trust that His Will is what’s best – so the outcome will always He wants for us, and I am amazed at the way things sometimes turn out – often far better than I could have ever imagined! God is good. All the time.

  • Nancy Schaub

    So glad to receive Part 2. I am convinced St, Francis had a part in th, at least where “cat doula” was concerned. Your daughter is beautiful, as is her name. My first grandchild was named Elisabeth which is her beautiful mother’s middle name (first is Megan). I was adopted as my Mom had had 8 miscarriages. (We were meant for each other). When expecting my daughter, I had no ine passing labor stories on to me. My Mom’s sister had chosen ether and I knew I did not want that. My OB/GYN in Milwaukee had been named Irish Catholic of the year and he was not about to allow anything that could interfere with what he called “natural and beautiful” – so natural childbirth it was. What did I know? While intense, somehow I made it through the four hours with just a little pain med – always aware that if I hollered, it better be a prayer since I was in a Catholic hospital. I was in awe of this exquisite being that the Lord entrusted to me – when I wasn’t wondering just how I was going to manage. Fast forward 5-1/2 years to my second child who was to be born in the hospital where I worked, just outside Philly. When I told the new OB/GYN that I wanted natural childbirth, he looked at me as if I had some jumbled brains. Somehow I managed it again and was blessed with less than 4 hours of labor and a beautiful son. I know it was nit throigh myself alone that I got through them so easily. God and His angels were with me because I put all my trust in Him. My third was even quicker – 7-1/2 minutes – but not nearly so uneventful. I had a feeling something was going to go wrong and never wanted to blame the doctor who delivered son #1 – so I chose the tennis buddy of the doctor for whom I worked. Without all the details, let’s just say he made a monumental error in judging the baby’s weight when he scheduled me for a C-section. My beloved third child was born 6 weeks early with hyaline membrane disease because of his dating error. The hospital dis not have a NICU so he had to be sent to a NICU in Philly. I awoke to my Jewish doctor holding my Rosary, saying “Tell me what to do with this. We will do it together and the baby will be okay” – my first knowledge anything was wrong. I will forever bless this man and the pediatrician who hand-bagged my son until the NICU arrived. Matt was 9 days in the NICU and I did not see him until day 5, when I was released. I had enough presence of mind to have him baptised in the hospital before he left. I have never been so scared. However, God was in control. Matt was born on St. Valentine’s Day and two days later, my birthday, the neonatologiat called to tell me he was breathing on his own. Best birthday ever. The night of his birth I woke to find the OB crying, with his head on my mattress. In that monent, the Lord reminded me that the doctor was merely a human and subject to making mistakes. He knew he had made a buge mistake – with the baby’s size thrown of by a hidden fibroid, and I knew hus heart was breaking. I forgave him immediately. It was not how I planned to have my third and last child but somehow, through it all, he was always in God’s hands. Each is a rare gift, in his or her own right and I am forever grateful to the Giver of Life who gifted each to me. I have had many opportunities to be grateful for my Catholic faith but their safe deliveries might be the greatest. May God bless you and yours – even the cat – always.

      • Nancy Schaub

        Yes, he and the pediatrician were the stars of the day but really, God put them all exactly where I needed them. Once the baby was home, I somehow felt a hospital Baptism didn’t count (I know it does) but put my poor child through it again – dressed up this time and wailing his head off. Dear Father McCartney decided to tell every parent there that there was one mom who felt a hospital Baptism didn’t count., while looking right at me. The blessing after all the fright was how positively healthy Matt was afterwards. Another blessing.

  • Mom of Six

    God has never officially spoken and given me the go-ahead. But I think he’s OK with epidurals too. 🙂 I’ve had 3 unmedicated deliveries, but with last 2 babes have enjoyed a spinal and an epi. They took away pain, improved my mood and memories of these births, and the babies were just as healthy as any of my others. It seems to me the potential side effects are greatly over-exagerrated to new moms.

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