After two years of riding the emotional roller coaster of soaring hopes and the plummeting sorrow of miscarriages, my daughter Sarah’s wait for a child finally came to an end. Then it happened: she arrived — blue and lifeless.
The long labor came as no surprise to the doctor or to Sarah; the doctor talked of a cesarean during the last few appointments. Sarah was a first-time mother and she would be laboring with a posterior baby. The baby is turned backwards, with her spine on the mother’s spine, usually resulting in an extremely long and very painful labor. The plan was to stay home and labor as long as possible.
Sarah endured the first 20 hours of labor while walking and resting in the comfort of her home before entering the hospital.
The plan worked. Sarah progressed enough to show that she could have her baby without surgery, but the long labor had already taken its toll. It was decided that she needed help to endure the many hours of intense labor that still lay ahead — an epidural was administered.
More than 20 hours later, as I stood by her bed along with her husband, six sisters and one concerned mother-in-law doing her best imitation of a fly on the wall, my Sarah gave birth to her first child. Pearl made her world-debut to a cheering crowd.
“A girl! A baby girl!” There were giggles and tears; her Daddy’s side of the family has an average boys to girls ratio of 10 to 1. Seldom is more than one girl born per generation — she was truly a special gift. I was thankfully surprised that the staff did not have all nine of us escorted off the floor for disturbing the peace.
Within seconds, my joy turned to solemn apprehension when normal procedures and customs began to change. Rather than placing the new bundle on her mother’s chest, the doctor graciously turned her back to Sarah, placing herself between the little blue infant and her mother’s anxious gaze.
Without words — only direct eye contact and the wave of a finger — I began giving orders to my younger girls to leave the room immediately. Reading the grave expression on my face, they promptly filed out of the room without question. The room began to fall silent, and tension and fear quickly replaced the excitement as we waited for this precious baby to breathe. Time stopped in anticipation for any sign of life.
Sorrow began to overtake us one by one. As new somber faces began to enter the room, those of us who loved her most were left feeling helpless. We prayed through silent tears and bated breath. With his head back and eyes turned toward heaven, the new father fell against the wall for support and slid down to his knees. Our prayers must have sounded to God like a frantic mixture of cries for help, demands and defiance, all rolled into one as we began to face the unthinkable.
My daughter turned to me with terror-filled eyes, shaking her head no. All she could utter was “Mommy!” My children, let alone grown children, seldom call me mommy. I could read volumes of hope, despair and questions in her tear-filled, pleading eyes.
That one simple word instantaneously translated to, “Help! You’re my mom. You always make things all right. You have to make THIS all right. Make this not be happening. I want my baby!”
Sorrow washed away my voice. All I could offer my daughter was my embrace and arms to cry into. We waited while eternity hung in the air.
Then it happened. A small squeak no louder than a tiny mouse was heard across the room, and was immediately punctuated by our nervous elation.
We were immediately hushed by doctors who needed to hear more than a faint squeak. We fell silent once again, this time with hope brushing away fear, waiting for another sign of life.
That sign came eight full minutes after her birth, the longest eight minutes this family has ever had to endure. We welcomed our tenth grandchild — our precious little Pearl.
Within our gratefulness for God’s mercy in sparing the life of our granddaughter, there is yet another aspect of Pearl’s birth, a part of God’s design for the structure and foundation of the family that has all but vanished from our society today, that came into play just hours before Pearl made her perilous entry into the world.
You see, the epidural that was given to Sarah when she first arrived at the hospital had only worked on one side of her body. As the hours of labor lingered on, the medication wore off and another dose was administered. Then, shortly before she was ready to deliver, that dose ran its course as well.
Sarah had progressed to 9.5 centimeters when a nurse came in and offered her a shot to ease the pain. “This is a narcotic,” she explained, “so it will make you drowsy.”
“Isn’t she almost completely dilated?” I asked.
I turned to Sarah and our eyes met. I didn’t say a word. I didn’t need to. She could read my expression as clear as words on a page. “You don’t need it. You are almost there. We can get through this without it.”
Sarah simply told the nurse “No,” and with a sigh and a slight shake of her head, the nurse left the room.
As she returned to the nursing station, my daughter-in-law overheard the nurse report that Sarah had declined the offer for pain medication. Disgust tainted her voice as she added, “It was the mother. She didn’t want her to have it, so Sarah didn’t take it. I think she would have if she wasn’t in there.”
She was absolutely right. Sarah would have taken it, and her husband, so weary of seeing his wife suffer, would have been grateful for it as well. There was no way of knowing that little Pearl could not have survived one more dose of narcotics.
That potentially lethal dose was turned down, through the grace of God, and the guidance of a mother who had given birth many times before.
We tend to think of our roles as mothers ending when our children turn 18. Our roles as mothers never end; they just change with every passing season.
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