Though I had heard it before, it took going through labor and delivery for me to understand that every birth is a miracle. That a baby can survive such experiences before it takes its first breath, and that a mother’s body can recover after trauma is remarkable. And that is just the birth itself.
I have wanted to write about A’s birth for a while. It was six months ago, and the details remain vivid. The smell of the hospital, the emotions throughout labor, her birth and the long recovery process. But six months is really quite a short time.Lately, I have heard pregnancy and birth stories stories of several women I have gotten to know. Some stories have been quite straight-forward, while some have had moments of hilarity. Others stories are marked by emergency and trauma, and still others have ended too soon. I realize, as these women share, that these moments are intensely personal. The moment when a woman gives all of her self for the sake of bringing life into the world. I feel privileged when a woman shares such intimate memories with me. With friends who have struggled to conceive the stories are equally as personal and intimate to hear. And again and again, it hits me with the full force of a contraction – each birth is a miracle.
The choice to share our birth story is for others who may be wondering what it can be like to deliver in an African country, though ours is only one story out of many. It is also for those who have been praying with us, though you may not have known what exactly you were praying for. Many of you know that my mom was able at the last minute to travel and be with us during the birth, which was the first miracle out of many…
Contractions started 30 hours before we finally left for the hospital. What should have been a 40-minute drive to the airport (previously timed by my diligent husband), turned into a three hours journey, due to a Presidential drive through town. All traffic was halted – the worst gridlock we have seen in Malawi.
With the sweet aroma of diesel fumes and city stink, I closed my eyes – taking it one contraction at a time.
One of our sweet doulas (seriously, I can’t thank God enough for them both!) met us at the hospital and helped us check in, where we learned that the two private rooms were currently in use, and would be for a while, as they were planned Cesareans.
So we found ourselves in the general ward, listening as the news in Chichewa blasted from the Television. Not exactly the relaxing environment that I had envisioned – but those who were watching it left soon after we arrived, and we had the general ward to ourselves. (Miracle Number 2!)
Early on into our time in the hospital one of my doulas encouraged me to think of a prayer to say at the beginning of each contraction. The only prayer I could remember became more of a mantra that stayed with me to the end. “Your Grace is sufficient.” There was no space for deep moments of meditation – this was purely repetition, speaking life as my body worked to bring new life into the world. Eight hours of laboring in the hospital, and one hour of pushing later – my healthy, pink, 3.7 kilogram, full head of hair, more precious than I could have ever imagined daughter was born. (Miracle Number 3! And by far the greatest gift…)
Everything went as naturally as it could have (Number 4!)- thanks to my husband who physically held me up, laboring with me, and my birthing team who encouraged me to work with my body, and the Doctor who let me press on when the disagreeable nurse wanted to intervene…
After the most precious moments with our family of three, it was time to clean up and head to the recovery room. With blood pressure too low to move, I was hooked up to an IV that was removed the next morning.
Because there was no one else in the general ward, the hospital let Ryan stay the night with me (Number 5!)
I left the hospital in a wheelchair, too weak to walk. Expected after an over 30 hour labor. But several days later, and I was no stronger. One afternoon I woke from a nap with a start, rushed to the bathroom and soon found myself lying on the floor, barely conscious. We had no idea what was wrong. The possibilities ranged from mild to life-threatening. An hour from the nearest hospital, the scariest thing was not knowing what was wrong.
After several phone calls to friends who are medical professionals (6), we were back in the car that we had just brought our baby home in, headed back to the city to run the necessary tests.
Several weeks before A was born, we attended a church in Blantyre and were connected with a gynecologist from U.S. who has been working in Malawi. She helped us get blood work quickly (7), while another family from the same church found us an affordable guesthouse to stay in for the night. (8) One of my fantastic doulas gave us her freshly cooked dinner and enough snacks to make it through the night before we could see the doctor in the morning. (9)
After doctor’s appointments, more tests, prayers, food and medicine, we discovered that I had a UTI that was compounded with anemia and maternal exhaustion. I was terribly weak, but relieved that we had discovered the problem and were able to go home. This was manageable knowledge.
WIth my mom around cooking every meal, doing laundry and preparing enough freezer food to last us for a month, I had no reason to worry about my family being taken care of. With my husband waking each time our girl needed to eat, to be sure that I ate and drank each time as well, I felt strength that my body didn’t have. (10)
Recovery took much longer than expected from a natural birth, but it did indeed come.
Our miracle wakes me up from time to time, but as I have heard from many a mother before me, she is the best reason to lose sleep. I watch her tiny fingers play with the strings attached to my clothing. Her thumb bends and maneuvers, working to grab the bead tied to the end of the string. I am amazed as she discovers how to work them together to examine the object.
I’ve watched her learn everything from how to breath, how to eat, how to smile and how to laugh. I hear her laugh at the joy of grabbing the bead, and laugh along with her for days to come.