Birth & Parenting Series (23): Blessed Through Preeclampsia
This is our 23rd guest post in the Birth & Parenting Series! The other 22 guest writers’ stories may be found here. Contact me (email@example.com) anytime if you’d like to share your story of your child’s arrival, or a parenting perspective.
This girlfriend shares her story of her harrowing birth experience of her sweet daughter. My heart races along as I read it and is filled with relief and joy at the ending. I hope you find the beauty in her story as well. I feel blessed to be able to share it! She blogs over at Mom of My Word–follow her and hear her journey.
One year ago, the Lord gave us the gift of sweet Cadence. When I first began to write this story, I asked myself the crazy question, “Is it silly to ask God to bring suffering into our lives because it helps us see him more?” After experiencing the joys that rocked my world one year ago, I hope to be able to say, in the words of Dr. John Piper, “Bring it on.”
Two weeks before Cadence was born, we sat in the sanctuary of Bethlehem Baptist Church to hear Jason Meyer, our new Pastor for Preaching & Vision, describe the surprising road that led him to what was initially an undesired role. As he challenged what God ordained to be his path to become our new pastor, God challenged him: “What if this is how you get more of me?” We remembered feeling stung by those words. They were powerful, sweet, and terrifying. For the previous nine months, we had prayed that God would use Cadence for His glory. As Cadence was kicking and hiccupping away the night before my water broke—just two days before she was born—I told her a story about a little girl who asked her parents about Jesus. About who we were and are apart from him, about the chasm between God and us, and about the sure hope we have through Jesus who creates a bridge over the chasm and walks us across it. Who lives inside of us and never leaves us or forsakes us. The story ends with the little girl expressing a desire to walk with Jesus and how mightily Jesus uses her for his kingdom. This was and continues to be our hope for sweet Cadence. We were not expecting God to answer that 9-month long prayer as early as the day Cadence was born—and we certainly were not expecting that God would first use Cadence in our lives before anyone else’s.
On the morning of February 2, 2013, my water broke—three weeks early, very unexpectedly, and following an incredibly busy month for both of us. Our labor and delivery became everything we never imagined they would be. God was good to us. We got up the next morning after laboring at home, not having slept from counting the minutes between contractions all night. We got to the hospital at 8 am, not realizing that we would not be leaving until one week later. After checking in, our midwife determined how my labor was progressing. I was 90 percent effaced—great news. Cadence was ready to come out! But I was only two centimeters dilated. Because my water had been broken for 26 hours by that point, our midwife said I needed to be started on pitocin. Our birth plan was already being transformed. And this meant more than just a brief check and a quick return home. It meant checking in. But Cadence’s heartbeat was just where it needed to be. Our nurse noted that my blood pressure seemed higher than normal, but mentioned that we would simply check it again later.
As I rolled around in our room styling my new hospital gown and received my low dose of pitocin, our midwife came in to discuss two things: my higher than normal blood pressure and protein in my urine. Suspected culprit: preeclampsia. We had heard of preeclampsia—from Downton Abbey. It was what Sybil, one of the main characters in the show, had died from in the episode we had watched the previous week. By God’s grace, only one of us remembered that at the time, and he had the discernment not to share that with his already fearful wife until after the delivery. Our midwife explained the condition—that it means I would be at risk of a stroke or seizure during the course of delivery. She told us that the diagnosis only comes after six hours of monitoring my vitals. I cried after she left the room. I was scared. Chad sat down on the bed in front of me as I sat still on the ball. We prayed together and he reassured me that everything would be alright.
Our wonderful doula arrived soon after we heard the news. We filled her in and continued laboring. We fought through my contractions as they became more severe. We met the obstetrician on call to whose care we would be transferred if I were to be officially diagnosed with preeclampsia. By God’s grace alone, I handled the contractions very well. My nurse came in multiple times during this period to check my blood pressure levels. They continued to rise, rise, rise. Cadence’s heartbeat barely flickered from a steady 140 bpm. We continued to pray—we prayed that God would sustain Cadence, and protect her. We prayed that God would bring my blood pressure down. God did sustain and protect Cadence, but he chose to do that through an entirely different means than what we had prayed for.
After six hours of contractions growing in severity and climbing blood pressures, I got the official diagnosis: severe preeclampsia. It was now 3 pm. This meant the beginning of magnesium sulfate—which then meant a transfer of care from our midwife to the on-call obstetrician. I hear our doula’s words echo in my mind shortly after we got the diagnosis: “Now we are getting into page two of your birth plan.” Page two. I turned to page two in my mind. Page two was our “this is for any unplanned events and emergencies” page. We wrote page two never wanting to execute page two. But there we were, staring it in the face. Our goals remained the same. What did we want? Healthy mom, healthy baby. God’s keeping of all of us.
No one really told us about what magnesium sulfate would do, and we are so thankful that we did not know much about the drug beforehand. But the symptoms hit nearly immediately—I experienced double vision, nausea, more severe contractions because my pitocin levels were increased to counter the effects of the magnesium sulfate, and cloudy thinking and slower processing. My memory of the few hours that followed is somewhat hazy, but I do remember vomiting in a bag that our wonderful nurse held out for me. That, and the fact that I was only dilated 3.5 centimeters dilated by this point—30 hours after my water broke. My contractions had been going really well, even on pitocin. But magnesium sulfate had changed the course of the day. It was awful, and yet wonderful because God sustained my life through it.
My body felt totally shot. The contractions had been getting worse because of increasing levels of pitocin, and the magnesium sulfate made my body feel like it was on fire and getting hit by a car, all at the same time. But still, our Cadence’s heart rate remained steady. In the words of our doula, God was making me experience the sacrifices motherhood require, in small and major ways. Death to self, life to child. My body may have been experiencing greater strains than ever before, but Cadence was safe, healthy, and as far as we knew, unaware of the trouble her mother was experiencing.
So there we were, at 6:30 pm—36 hours after my water broke, 8.5 hours after being started on pitocin, continued high vitals and dilation of only 3.5 centimeters—we began to consider a caesarean section. We had taken a Bradley Method class, hoping for a natural birth. But here we were. Our consideration was primarily motivated by our concern for Cadence, whose heart rate had miraculously remained stable even though by this point my blood pressure readings remained high, I had received multiple doses of pitocin and magnesium sulfate, and I experienced severe side effects. We faced an uphill battle as we fought for our choice against a doctor who wanted us to continue laboring despite the circumstances. Though my problematic high blood pressure necessitated continued doses of magnesium sulfate, we were discouraged from meeting our healthy daughter as we faced the unknown of any health consequences through continued labor at the point we were at.
During our prayer and continued conversations, Chad had a conversation with our doula about our options. She asked Chad if I could do this. He said unequivocally that I could, but through their conversation, they both agreed that a C-section seemed like the best option for Cadence and for me. After Chad stepped out of the room, I remember lying on my right side as Chad’s mom held my hand. I never knew what Chad did during that time he left the room, and I am thankful for my ignorance. Unsure what to do and fearful for the well being of his wife and daughter, he walked into a dark, empty waiting room to cry. He called one of our best friends to update him on what was going on. Our friend’s voice started in an upbeat tone. Then he heard his friend’s choked up response. Oh no, what’s wrong, he asked. They talked and prayed. I knew God used that conversation which was a mystery to me to give Chad the clarity I never really felt with how I felt physically and mentally by that point. He walked back into the room with no sign on his face of what had ensued. We talked briefly and he knew what we needed to do, and I agreed. We ultimately agreed with our doctor to receive the spinal epidural, check to see how many centimeters I was dilated, and move forward with the C-section if I was not dilated eight centimeters or more. Because of our doula’s careful ear, we discovered that our doctor had attempted to order a labor epidural through a whisper to the nurse on her way out of the room. We corrected the nurse, and moved on. We were shocked and disappointed by our doctor’s bedside manner, but we thank God for that doctor. In the end, she fought for what she thought was best for us. And perhaps we did not follow what should have been the most statistically and medically effective path. But we knew that what we did is what God wanted us to do. And that doctor did a wonderful job in the hours ahead.
I was taken off of magnesium sulfate just before the surgery. Chad was whisked away to put on scrubs while I was wheeled into the operating room for the spinal epidural and prep for surgery, still with double vision and half awareness of what was happening around me. Once I was fully prepped for the C-section, Chad was permitted to join me again. He sat beside me and held my hand and talked me through the moments that followed. His face and the sound of his voice were the two things I remembered most vividly during the surgery before Cadence was born. But I remembered every minute of the surgery—the anticipation I experienced in the minutes before our daughter was born—me asking Chad, so is it really a girl?? Yes, it was a girl. I was more alert than I was for most of that week we remained at the hospital. I anxiously asked Chad for a play by play—and as she was placed down to be wrapped up, she clung tightly to his finger. She was a surprisingly small baby—4 pounds, 13 ounces. I cried as she cried, and the nurse told Chad he could bring her over to me so I could give her a kiss. I experienced the rush of emotions from hormones that are released when you have a vaginal birth—not something you are supposed to experience with a C-section. It was joy I had never experienced in my life up until that point. But I was concerned. 4 pounds, 13 ounces? Why was she so small?
Chad reassured me that she was healthy and thriving. But we had discussed beforehand that if Cadence ever needed to be taken anywhere, Chad would leave me to go be with her. So off he went to Special Care with our daughter because of her low birth weight. I felt such a high that the minutes that followed in stitching me back up went quickly. What felt like just seconds later, I was in the recovery room with one of the nurses, slowly facing the world around me with more and more clarity as the effects of magnesium sulfate waned. Slowly our visitors joined me—Chad’s mom, my mom, our dads, and then eventually, Chad.
I eagerly heard reports from our parents about Cadence—what she was doing, what she was like, what family members with whom they had already shared the news, the tale of how Chad shared our daughter’s name with our parents as they all met at the elevator on their way to Special Care, who she looked like, how she was doing. I desperately clung onto every word they uttered so that I could savor the moments for which I was not physically present. I wanted to know everything about her because I couldn’t see her, I couldn’t hold her. All I wanted to do was be with her. Cadence. Cadence. Cadence. I kept trying to recreate the picture of her face in my mind, the one that reminded me so much of her daddy.
I wondered why I was still lying in the recovery room when all of this excitement was just within my fingertips. Cadence was not far from me, and yet I felt miles away from her. Then I found out why I had not yet left the recovery room, why I had not yet gotten to see her. I was diagnosed with another condition—uterine atony—the fancy term for problems with my uterus not firming up following the delivery. Treatment: a kind, apologetic nurse performing incredibly painful abdominal massage every 5 minutes, with nothing to drink and nothing to eat except ice chips. Nothing about the contractions before Cadence was born or the effects of magnesium sulfate on my body prepared me for the pain I felt as the nurse dug her palms deep into my abdomen—the very part of my body that had been Cadence’s home for the last nine months. In the midst of screams and cries, I was thankful for the clarity God gave me—to be able to reassure the nurse that I knew she was doing what she needed to do for my well being, and to be able to rejoice during the brief respites I experienced from the massage.
My mom fed me ice chips as I bore through the pain. Chad stayed with Cadence the longest, so we were already in the early stages of the abdominal massage by the time he made it to the recovery room. I had enough time to fill him in on what was happening and ask 100 questions about Cadence. Each series of abdominal massages felt more and more severe—my mom and Chad had to look away because they could not face me as I screamed and cried out in pain. The massage had continued because my condition had not changed. After about two and a half hours of this on-and-off cycle, at around 1:30 am, the nurse informed us that she was going to take us up to one of the private rooms, and that the massage would continue through the night. I cried and braced myself for what was to come. I could not imagine another minute of that massage. I cannot remember why, but I was no longer even permitted to consume ice chips. My mouth was dry, and I was hungry, tired and drained. I was originally going to be able to see Cadence in Special Care, but in light of my condition, they informed me that I would not be able to see Cadence until later that morning. It felt like an endless string of bad news.
There are some things that I cannot explain with even the least bit of reason—times when I find myself staring God’s grace in the face before I have the opportunity to explain it away. This is one of those mysteries. As we were moved upstairs into the room, I was switched into a different bed. The nurse did some light massage, told us to get some sleep, turned off the light and left the room. What ensued the rest of that early morning was not consistent with what we had been told by our nurse just moments before. I was supposed to be up all night, but was now being told to get some sleep. No staying up. No more massage. We were done with it all without a word from our nurse. And of course we did not ask about the change of plans. February 3 was a day full of miracles, and we are so thankful that God opened our eyes to just a few of them. Looking back, we see so many more evidences of grace than we did even being shortly removed from the day God gave us Cadence. God protected us from the knowledge of my preeclampsia until the day Cadence was born. He protected us from nine months of fear—fear that would not have changed the course of anything he had already ordained to occur.
Things did not get easier beginning the morning of February 4. My blood pressure continued to remain high, my milk was not coming in, and I was put on magnesium sulfate and taken off of it two more times during that next week. There were more tears and more hard days ahead. But I have wonderful memories from our week at the hospital, with the joys only bolstered by the hard days we experienced. God blessed us with amazing nurses, all of whom we remember by name. I remember the hands that held mine and held Cadence, got us the supplies we needed and the medicine that kept me healthy. The faces that came to see us when they were not assigned to our room, when they were on break from their shifts. The family members who cared for Cadence and cared for us that entire week. My mom who helped me shower and use the restroom. Chad, who held my hand, prayed with me, held me, and helped me walk. And most of all, the sparing yet wonderfully sweet moments when I held Cadence in my arms, and for many firsts, experienced her hiccups, went down to Special Care to see her, fed her, changed her diaper and snuggled closely. I would have performed that abdominal massage on myself for the rest of the morning I was spared just for these precious moments I enjoyed. God is good. All the time.
And then after the hospital had become my home, I was given the okay to be discharged on Sunday, February 10. As I took my last shower in the room and ate my last lunch, sitting upright in the bed that had belonged to me, I watched my family pack up our room and get Cadence ready to go on her first journey away from the hospital. I had so many confusing questions and emotions circulating in my mind as we left the hospital. Why did I feel so sad? Why was it my heart’s desire to remain there? The answer came in the following morning’s Charles Spurgeon devotion Morning and Evening based on 2 Corinthians 2:5—“For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too”:
When the barn is full, man can live without God: When the purse is bursting with gold, we try to do without so much prayer. But when our shelter is removed, then we want our God when the house is purged of idols, then we are compelled to honor the Lord. “Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD!” There is no cry so good as that which comes from the bottom of the mountains, no prayer half so hearty as that which comes up from the depths of the soul, through deep trials and afflictions. They bring us to God, and we are happier; for nearness to God is happiness. Come, troubled believer, do not fret over your heavy troubles, for they are the heralds of weighty mercies.
I feel knots in my stomach as we drive by the hospital where Cadence was born—not because of the sadness associated with the place, but because of the joy and comfort associated with it. A beautiful poem recited in an old gem of a John Piper sermon brought tears to my eyes as it so aptly captured what I myself felt so deeply but could not express in words:
I stood a mendicant (beggar) of God before His royal throne
And begged him for one priceless gift, which I could call my own.
I took the gift from out His hand, but as I would depart
I cried, “But Lord this is a thorn and it has pierced my heart.
This is a strange, a hurtful gift, which Thou hast given me.”
He said, “My child, I give good gifts and gave My best to thee.”
I took it home and though at first the cruel thorn hurt sore,
As long years passed I learned at last to love it more and more.
I learned He never gives a thorn without this added grace,
He takes the thorn to pin aside the veil which hides His face.
We have an amazing God—One who loves us so much that he would give us thorns so that we may appreciate glimpses of his beauty to which we would otherwise be blind. We have friends and family members who have experienced far greater forms of suffering than we ever have at this point in our lives. But we have been incredibly blessed through what we have experienced, and we knew we needed to share God’s goodness and faithfulness in the only circumstances we have personally known.
What should the Christian’s desire be after tribulation? When we experience God’s great comfort, are we to ask God for more tribulation? Does that make light of suffering? I cringe at the thought of asking God for suffering, but if God gives me more of him through suffering, then at least I know that I am supremely loved. And never alone. After all, we were richly blessed through preeclampsia.