Monday, April 24, 2006

Bathroom Birth - All of Grace

By You I have been sustained from my birth;
You are He who took me out of my mother’s womb.
My praise shall be continually of You.
Psalm 71:6

My birthing story was not supposed to be a bathroom story.

This was how my blog was supposed to begin, at least according to what had been floating through my mind the past several months:

I had never known what a midwife was before I moved to Washington. The most I could recall was that they had something to do with the Dark Ages. I had this vague picture of ladies dancing around a large black caldron in the forest...

Then I would continue that when we moved here, I quickly learned that as an alternative to a doctor, a midwife was actually a woman who was trained to deliver babies and could be quite skillful; and, that midwives still existed today and were well-respected. Several of my friends delivered their babies with Charlotte, who they all adored and and swore by. In fact, it often seemed that every time I met a woman, Charlotte was her midwife. And rather than the traumatic, nightmarish experience I had always heard birthing portrayed as, they described one in which childbirth was supposed to be a wonderful celebration, which a woman's body was designed to do. Though A.J. was born in a hospital, I chose to go with Charlotte for my second pregnancy. I was so eager to write about her, so that from my own experience I could attest to her giftedness and the amazing birth we had.

Well, the closest I ever got to Charlotte during our second baby's birth was when my cell phone dropped to the ground beside me and fizzled out in my blood, cutting Charlotte off the line.

It is 5:58 in the morning, March 27th 2006, and you are Charlotte answering your cell phone:

Charlotte: Special Delivery?
Grace: (calmly) Hi, Charlotte. This is Grace Mark. I think my water may have just broken. And I'm feeling - hold - on --
Soft thump as if cell phone drops to a carpet. Then, in the background, Grace screaming: Andreeeeeeeeeeew!!!
A moment.
Andrew: (calmly) Hi, Charlotte. This is Andrew...
In the background, Grace screams an excruciating wail calling out to God, shouting pleas to Him.
Andrew: (breathing as if walking, speaking a little faster but still calmly) Um, I think Grace is going into labor.
Charlotte: (Furrows eyebrows straining her ears to get an idea of where Grace is in her labor) Okay, now can you make it to the Everett birthing center?
Andrew: Um --
Grace: (full blast) IT'S COMIIIIIIIIIIIING!!!!!!!!
Half-second of silence.
Andrew: Oh my gosh it did come!
Hollow thump as if cell phone hits tile floor. Silence.

Charlotte stares wide-eyed at her phone, then looks to her assistant, who is flurrying around the room grabbing her keys and bags. She looks at the clock. It is 6:03 a.m. A woman who has been in labor for the past 48 hours is laying on her bed in the background.
Charlotte: (eyebrows furrowed) They're going to call us back, right? We still need directions.

When's the Baby Coming?

Labor with our first child, A.J. awakened me in the morning with contractions that were unmistakably two-and-a-half minutes apart. As the hours wore on, and the pain increased, I wasn't sure how much longer I could endure. By the fifth hour, I stopped progressing and the doctor had to break my water for me. From being awakened by my contractions to giving birth, it was about six hours. He arrived a few days within his due date.

This time, the night before I gave birth, I had insomnia, not uncommon during my pregnancies from the second trimester on. I was feeling some sensations in my lower abdomen, but I've had stomachaches that were worse. I started to time the sensations, but they didn't seem regular. I sat down with my What to Expect When You're Expecting book and began to read the section on "How to Know When You're in Labor" repeatedly. Everything that pertained to me said that true labor could be a month away or an hour away. With A.J., I was having false labor a month in advance and was walking around at 5 1/2 centimeters (you want to get to 10 cm.) for a week-and-a-half. Since none of what I was feeling coincided with my labor with A.J., and the book was shedding no new light, at 3:30 a.m. I decided to take it's advice to go to sleep. Anyway, the baby wasn't even due for another three weeks. Don't worry, the book assured me, if you're truly in labor you won't sleep through it.

5:30 a.m. I hear the shrill cry of Andrew's alarm clock. My heavy eyelids creep open, allowing in only a sliver of dawn light. I am dozing and waiting to hear Andrew stir, so I can ask him if maybe he'll stay home from work today. I have a feeling the baby might come. I try to speak, but the heavy weight of sleep seals my throat silent. Helpless, I pray that God will thwart Andrew from leaving if I am right. Dozing. Again, the sliver of grey, morning light. A few feet away, the kind of heat that emanates from someone deep in sleep floats towards me--my love has not deserted me for work yet. Suddenly I hear - and feel - a "pop." A gush of liquid. Uh-oh, I think. That fits the description of what my mother-in-law said happened when her water broke (course she still had 13 hours to go of labor).

Suddenly, I am screaming. I'm not sure why I'm screaming. Am I in pain? Am I just panicking? Confused?

Then, just as suddenly, I stop screaming.

I get up from our bed and amble to the bathroom. I call for Andrew.

I start screaming. Andrew comes into the bathroom. I ask him to pray for me. The screaming stops.

I dial my midwife on my cell phone. "Hi, Charlotte. Um, I think my water broke."

I return to our bedroom. "Hold - on -- " I drop my cell phone onto the carpet and stride into the hallway shouting at the top of my lungs. I walk into the hall bathroom, place my palms onto the counter, lean on it, and cry out to God. "OH LOOOOOOORRRRRRRD!!! I CRY OUT TO YOU!!!!!!!!!! I CAN'T DO THIIIIIIIIIIS!!!!!!!!! PLEEEEEESE HELP MEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!"

I don't know what's going on. My screaming seems involuntary and is so intense I'm not sure if I am in pain or just confused. Perhaps the pain is so profound it is like sticking your hand under water so frigid that for a moment you're not sure if it's scalding or freezing. If you had asked me then if I was in pain, I probably would have told you I didn't know. Suddenly, I feel the urge to push. Oh, I better not push, I think. The book said if you feel the urge to push, don't, because a baby might come.

Then, just as quickly as it had started, in a moment, perfect calm.

No pain at all.

I'm talking to God out loud. Suddenly it starts again. Unlike a normal contraction in which one can describe how it feels and where, this just feels like my entire body is about to explode all over the flesh-colored tiles of the shower and walls. "ANDREEEEEEEEEEEW!" I scream.

It is as if my body has cracked wide open with three massive contractions.

Andrew is in the bathroom with me now. I am facing him. "Okay, Grace. Okay," he puts his hand on my shoulder and looks me in the eye. Relaying what Charlotte is saying, he says, "Now just breathe." For a moment, I think I'm wrong. Perhaps I am just in the breathing-through-my-contractions stage of labor that Andrew apparently thinks I'm in. I blow air out of my mouth: Puh puh puh like the nurse had instructed during A.J.'s birth, trying to delay me while the doctor sat down to prepare to catch A.J.. Eyes wide open, I'm trying to focus on Andrew's large eyes. But the urge to push is like a locomotive speeding down the tracks. I realize, there is no way I can "puh puh puh" twenty minutes or more until my midwife arrives.

Then, for the first time this entire experience, I recognize a feeling that is similar to labor with A.J. -- the baby's head pushing to slide down. I realize Andrew does not understand what is really happening. I feel an enormous urge to push. "IT'S COMIIIIIIIIIING!!!!!!!!!!!!" I scream at the top of my lungs.

It is as if I can see what is happening in my birth canal. First the head, then the arms, then the legs bent at the knees. The baby shoots through me like a massive bullet.

It happens so fast that what I had anticipated to be the most excruciating part--hadn't even hurt. "Oh my gosh it did come!" Andrew drops my cell phone onto the floor and picks the baby up. By God's grace, he remembers what he had seen the doctor do at A.J.'s birth (and a Rescue 9-1-1 episode from his childhood), and begins to lightly tap the baby on the back and clear her mouth of any fluid. He delicately helps her open her mouth to get the baby (gender still unknown) to take her first breath.

From awakening to birth, probably no more than 15 minutes has transpired.

Lying on the Floor

Charlotte tells Andrew on the phone to have me lay down on the floor. Now, after you give birth, your body starts pumping adrenaline. So, I am thinking clearly at this point: Okay, Grace. Now you have to stay alive and the baby has to stay alive, so stay focused, and no matter what happens, don't pass out, and make sure the baby doesn't start turning blue.

Andrew is not one to panic, but once the baby starts breathing, he stares quietly at the wall. He gently pats baby's back, occasionally looks at baby, but mostly just stares at the wall. Maybe he is in shock. So, in check-off list fashion, I tell Andrew what to do:

Call Charlotte back to give her directions. There's blood on the floor. Tell Charlotte there's blood on the floor.

She says to call 9-1-1.

Andrew leaves the bathroom to grab the landline in the kitchen and dials 9-1-1, while Charlotte is on his cell phone.

My legs are convulsing. Tell her my legs are convulsing.

She says it's because of the adrenaline.

I'm cold I'm cold I'm cold. I'm soooo cold. Blankets. Blankets. Blankets. I need blankets.

He covers me with a blanket while he is giving directions to Charlotte. He wraps the baby in a towel and places her on my chest.

I'm cold. I need blankets.

Another blanket.

I'm cold.

Another blanket.

I'm cold.

A space heater and a blanket.

Finally: "Where's the ambulance?" I ask.

Twenty minutes from the call, the ambulance finally arrives. We later find out all emergency workers have just left to put out a house fire. EMTs from the next town, ten minutes away, have to come instead.

I had pictured giving birth at my midwife's birthing center in a jacuzzi birthing tub surrounded by women. It was supposed to happen at night and candles would be lit all over the room. Plop, the baby would come out and the warm water and my midwife's coaching might make me feel no pain. Afterwards, I would make my way across a few feet of hardwood floor and lay down on a king-sized bed. Things had gone as I had pictured it my first birth. I thought, other than the painless part, everything else might come true.

Well, rather than women, I am surrounded by big EMT guys who look like they would be more comfortable at a fire. Rather than a king-sized bed, I am laying in my blood on a cold, tile bathroom floor.

My midwife's assistant, April, arrives just after the ambulance. She helps me deliver my placenta (a half hour has already passed and I am running the risk of getting an infection if I don't deliver it soon) and stays with me in the hospital until the doctor is done working on the baby and me.

I am so incredibly thankful Andrew was there when this happened. Normally, he would have slipped out as early as 5:15 a.m. without waking me. But by God's grace, he overslept. I am so thankful that nothing can thwart the will of God. I don't like to even imagine what I would have done if he hadn't been there or if something else had gone wrong. There is God's sovereign plan and only God's sovereign plan. It can go no other way - Praise God.

While all of the surrounding circumstances went wrong - an unexpected birth, a late ambulance, and a midwife in the middle of delivering another baby (which almost never happens. After a 48-hour labor that baby was born an hour after mine), the Lord allowed our precious Grace Olivia and me to be perfectly healthy.

God was so gracious to us also in how our church was such a comfort to us. As soon as they heard what happened, a bunch of people came over, cleaned our bathroom and our whole place, decorating our room with our first baby girl things, trying to make our home as warm and welcoming as possible for our return. A constant flow of visitors kept us company in the hospital. And since the baby came sooner than expected, they sent meals daily to our home the three weeks until my mother was scheduled to come.

Olive Grace
Originally, we had chosen "Madeleine" if it was a girl (my favorite childhood author was Madeleine L'Engle). We had discussed naming her Grace, since my mother's name is also Grace and I wanted to pass on the tradition, but had decided to wait until the next daughter.

When this happened, however, I wanted her name always to remind us of how kind the Lord had been to us. "Grace" is a gift of God, though we deserve the opposite. I wanted to constantly be reminded of how God's grace had brought her into this world and kept her alive. I also wanted to remember that even though it wasn't what I had wanted, it was God's grace that I didn't have enough time to get to the birthing center. God's grace had caused Andrew to oversleep and allowed her to be born safely; He was fully capable of allowing me to know I was in labor sooner, but this was His better plan.

A.J. and O.J. ("Olive Juice")
I wanted her name to mean something like, "Grace All-sufficient," or "grace abundant." At the hospital, we were listening to a song by a friend of ours called It’s All of Grace (Click to listen)>. In all seriousness, I said to Andrew, "We could name her Olive Grace. Get it? Ol-ive Grace!" I relayed the story to my sister, Gayle, the next day and said my hormones must have been doing crazy things because that was like a bad knock-knock joke. (Like "Orange. Orange-you glad I didn't say banana?") Then Gayle said she always liked the name Olive, because an olive is a symbol of abundance and plenty. She then read me Psalm 128, which included: "...your children will be like olive shoots around your table. Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the LORD. (Psalm 128:3-4). So, All-of Grace, or Olive Grace meant exactly what I was going for - both ways! Andrew then suggested the name Olivia. We settled upon Grace Olivia Mark as her full name.

Andrew calls her "Gracie" and I call her "Olivia." It took a few months before we settled on A.J.'s nickname afterall. We figure Olivia's nickname will also just come.


  1. wow... what a crazy story! that will be a fun one to tell when olivia/grace gets older! praise God for His sovereignty!

  2. Amazing! How gracious our God is. I'm speechless.

  3. Amazing! How gracious our God is. I'm speechless in wonder.

  4. wow, that's an INCREDIBLE story of God's grace!! :) thanks for sharing and being so open about your lives. ~ Julianne

  5. Grace and Andrew,

    Providence and Benevolence abound! An Amazing testimony of God's grace indeed.

  6. Wow! That's amazing! Praise God for her safe delivery & for working things out... : )
    Glad you're doing well!

  7. Grace,
    I am so proud and excited for you! You had a baby girl! You're family is complete!! I'm so happy for you! All my love to you and your family.

    Love always,