when grief and joy go hand in hand

My mom delivered seven children naturally. I witnessed four of those births. My siblings were born either at home or in a birth center.  The atmosphere was calm, peaceful, sacred even. I went to nursing school and intended to continue on to become like those midwives who so compassionately and tenderly assisted my mom in what felt like an act of worship to her Creator.

And when I finally had the chance to be pregnant, I jumped wholeheartedly into planning my own natural birth and finding a birth center and certified nurse midwives who would help me have the same experience my mom had. I didn’t want to have the kind of experiences I saw in nursing school of moms who either felt forced into inductions and epidurals, or who screamed blame at everyone around them as they pushed their babies into the world.

I loved every minute of my prenatal care and everything about my pregnancy was standard and low risk. My prenatal class contained new moms who wanted the same experience I did and we listened to the couple of veteran moms describe their horrific hospital experiences and we cheered each other on in our decisions to take control of our care and do it all naturally.

….I was a week past my due date and starting to get anxious that Justing would have to leave to go back to Afghanistan before Liam’s arrival. And then with just three irregular contractions, I was in labor and they were five minutes apart and we were on our way to the birth center at eleven at night. I progressed regularly and the midwife predicted a baby at dawn.IMG_8182

Dawn came and went and I was still only 9 cm dilated. She adjusted her prediction to noon…which came and went with little change.  Finally at three pm she told me I could start pushing. So push I did, in every position known to midwives. For the next three hours I pushed. Liam’s heart rate stayed consistent, but I made little progress.  Finally the midwife began to consider alternate options, still reassuring me that I was doing well, but that Liam kept turning his head and maybe he just needed a little help.

Just like that I was in an ambulance on my way to the hospital with the title “not progressing” over my head, with an EMS worker who didn’t believe me when I told her I’d been in labor and/or pushing for 22 hours

And then I was in a room with nurses who were draping me with sterile cloths and splashing cold iodine all over me and preparing me for the doctor, who told me he’d give me just one more chance to push.

I prayed with everything in me that my baby would turn his head and crown during that push and I became like the mom I didn’t want to be and screamed my way through that last push…and then cried when he didn’t come out. I had failed.

And all of a sudden I was in an Operating Room and they were ready to cut into me and Justin still wasn’t there by my side to hold my hand and my arms were strapped down and I couldn’t even wipe the tears away.

And then he was there in his sterile suit and holding my hand and telling me it would be ok, even as we smelled burning flesh from where they cut me open, and overheard the doctor cursing me for being so foolhardy to try such a thing as push for three hours.

And then there he was, the perfect eight-pound healthy baby boy, red and yelling and angry that he’d been so rudely pulled from his warm cocoon.  But just as I got a glimpse of him, he and Justin were gone, and I was alone again, out of control and away from my son who was experiencing his first minutes of life, away from his mother. And I felt like vomiting, from the anesthesia, and lack of food, and being so very cold, and tired.


Finally, after 24 hours of labor and 2 hours of recovery, we were together, as a family, and able to call the people who had worried for so long and wondered why they hadn’t heard from us, to share with them the good news of our son’s birth.

And that should be enough, the arrival of a healthy baby boy, and family near and far with whom to celebrate.

Yet, in those days to follow, as I struggled to even sit up by myself because of the pain from my incision, my tears were almost as frequent as Liam’s need to eat.

I had failed: the rite of passage that millions of women have gone through, I had not been able to do.

I mourned the loss of Justin cutting the cord, and of sharing Liam’s first minutes as a family of three, and the absence of any drugs in his tiny body.

I mourned the loss of the dream of having more than three or four kids naturally and of becoming a midwife (the idea of helping others delivery naturally is enough to give me a panic attack).

I’m learning that I can celebrate my son and grieve lost dreams simultaneously, and that God is near to the brokenhearted.

Over time, my incision has healed, and the pain has faded, but the scar remains.

With that scar and lost dreams, I am learning that my act of worship is less in the method of delivery, but in how I respond to the situations that come my way.

My act of worship is to praise the Lord for a healthy son, who brings joy to everyone he meets.

My act of worship is to let go of the what-ifs and trust that this was the plan the Lord had for me.

My act of worship is to celebrate that an emergency c-section meant ten extra days with Justin home from Afghanistan.

My act of worship is to pray for that calloused doctor who safely delivered Liam, but was none too encouraging about my future of having children.

My act of worship is to trust the Lord for new dreams and a new future.

My act of worship is to take every thought captive and recite His promise that I am a new creation, a beloved child of His, rather than a failure.

My act of worship is to surrender the fear I have of getting pregnant again and something going wrong because of scar tissue from this c-section.

My act of worship is to surrender the fear that I won’t be able to have any more children and trust that the Lord is in control of the size of our family.

My act of worship is to give thanks:

  • for a husband who never voluntarily left my side through the whole childbirth experience.
  • for a mom who held my hand and wiped my face and cried with me.
  • for family who sat in the waiting room for twenty-four hours waiting for a much loved baby to arrive.
  • for family who waited patiently for a phone call and worried when they didn’t hear from us for so long.

I am blessed: with a son and family and as I am, no matter what the future holds. I choose to trust the Lord.


the day J came home from Afghanistan


*All photographs except for the last one are compliments of Mandie Joy.

2 responses to “when grief and joy go hand in hand

  1. Oh my goodness….I am at work wiping tears from my face.. how beautifully put into words…. May God bless your family of 3 abundantly ❤

  2. Thank you, Rachel. I’m sure it was even hard to share this, but I’m glad you did. I have not personally had this kind of experience, but I have many friends who have, and who felt the same way; and I will be so glad to share this with them so they remember they are not alone. In the time to come I believe our loving God will fully redeem this for His glory and your blessing, as well as your being able to give others support through their difficulties. Your dreams of lovingly helping women with childbirth (or simply with the emotions after they’ve given birth!) don’t look over to me, just simply changed a bit. Again, thank you.

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