editor’s note: typically we try to limit blog posts to 1500 words, but this will be longer… a lot longer. It originally was posted in parts in the author’s Facebook Notes. For the first time, and only here on TheoCult, can you get the complete original series together at last.
What Will Happen On This Day?
This was my last pregnancy. He knew it. I knew it. We had figured that out long before we discovered we were having twins. Long before the monstrous final trimester that had me unable to sleep, sit, stand or even breathe without great difficulty. Around week 34 I found myself begging my midwife, Susan, to move up the induction date. I don’t know how much more of this my body can take.
My legs and feet were swollen, packed with lactic acid. Getting to sleep was an hours long process involving not eating anything after 6pm (due to acid reflux), taking a shower, stretching, putting lavender oil on my feet (due to restless leg syndrome), propping my feet up (due to swollen feet), and surrounding myself with pillows (due to my body aching in every imaginable place). Once asleep, I would wake in a panic from strong, regular contractions that had me calling Susan in the middle of the night only to have them recede, leaving me wide awake once again.
Getting to the hospital would be a 40 minute affair, and with my previous history of quick labors and deliveries coupled with the fact that these twins were going to need a whole team of support staff, we all knew that we had to leave as soon as labor was a distinct possibility. I cannot tell you how utterly exhausting it all was, the whole lot of it. But rules are rules, and these little buns had to bake in the oven until week 37 for the best case scenario, because let’s not forget that identical twins carry high risks for complications like stillborn births and twin-twin transfusion, plus many other fun things. “Your body is a better incubator than a NICU unit. Surrender yourself to the process”, Susan steadily reminded me over and over again. And so we did, one day at a time.
But here we are, the magical number of week 37. Eden (6) and Lana (4) are safe at their grandpa’s house. Justin and I are together, driving to the hospital basking in first light of the morning, holding each other’s hand, smiling, crying softly here and there. Remembering. Feeling these babies move together in my womb for the last few times. Wondering at what they will look like, who they will be, how our lives will change, what will happen on this day.
What will happen on this day?
Let us pause in life’s pleasures
And count it’s many tears
As we all sup sorrow with the poor
There’s a song that will linger forever in our ears
Oh, hard times come again no more.
We arrive at the hospital and are greeted by Susan and a team of nurses waiting to stick me, tag me, de-robe me, document me–you know, the usual. Nothing can dampen my spirits, not even the dreaded IV which the nurse has to attempt several times before she can find a good vein. Yes, my birth-date is 5/3/81. The bracelets keep coming. Every time I think they’re done, someone fastens another white band around my wrist.
I look down. The latest one is red and bears the number “348” in little red stickers all the way around the band. The number gives me pause, knowing it to have followed me in different circumstances throughout my life, our house number for example. Taste and see that the Lord is good. The words tumble from my mouth as an accidental declaration of that ancient Psalm 34:8. “That’s your blood transfusion bracelet”, the nurse says with a smile. They all smile, every one of them. You’d think we were at a spa or something. I nod.
What will this day bring?
I wonder at this unwritten page for the thousandth time.
My Baby Is Falling Out of Me
We arrived at 7am. It is currently approaching 11am.
The induction is going quite slowly (especially for me, who is used to popping babies out like there’s no tomorrow). Susan has started me on a very low dose of Pitocin, which hasn’t honestly seemed to do much of anything for the past hour or so. Her next step is to use a Foley catheter which is essentially a small balloon that expands and opens a stubborn cervix. Though I have been having regular contractions for weeks now, I was only dilated to less than 2 centimeters, and the Foley catheter will hopefully increase it to at least 3 and potentially give the ol’ gal a shove in the right direction, so to speak.
The process is smooth and painless, if not a bit odd. I have only one problem: I am 37 weeks pregnant and I haven’t peed since our arrival, which is several hours beyond what is comfortable at this point. I’m feeling a bit leery going to the bathroom with this thing inside of me. “Is it going to fall out?” Susan assures me that it is quite secure because, after all, she only JUST put it in and there is no way that it is going to fall out that quickly. She has other things to attend to, so she leaves the room while Justin and I scootch me off the bed and into the bathroom with all my entanglements including an IV line with the Pitocin and this catheter thing which is taped to the inside of my leg.
Bear in mind that it has been QUITE some time since I have been able to see anything past my bellybutton (which, by the way, has seen better days), so when it comes to matters of the bathroom, I pretty much have to take my best guess at where the toilet seat will be, etc. Additionally, Baby A has been sitting so low on my cervix that I have felt like she was going to slip right out several times while urinating. This is partly why when I sat down to pee and felt a rather large, slippery thing begin to FALL out of me, my FIRST thought without being able to see ANYTHING down yonder was MY BABY IS FALLING OUT OF ME!!!! CATCH IT! CATCH IT!
Flashback four and a half years ago. I was sitting in the VERY SAME hospital in the VERY SAME bathroom on the VERY SAME toilet in the middle of a contraction when I felt my second daughter begin to make her appearance. I guess that toilet has it out for me.
NOT AGAIN! NOT AGAIN! The baby is hanging by the umbilical cord and swinging around hitting my legs. Blood is spattering everywhere. AHHHHH!!!! SUSAAAAANNNNN!!!! Justin is running in and out. I’m trying to catch her. WHY CAN’T I CATCH HER??!!! My hands are bloody. There is blood on the wall. WHAT IS GOING ON??!!! I CAN’T SEE ANYTHING!!!
Susan is here. Naomi. It’s the Foley catheter. It worked fast. I am shaking with a combination of adrenaline and relief while Susan wins the prize for being the calmest midwife on the planet. She steadies me and removes the catheter which has been careening around between my two legs like a ball on a paddle. There will be no toilet babies for me today. The humor of the situation does not escape us, Justin and I are laughing until we are crying but also trying to calm my trembling hands. Well THAT just happened. It is quite some time before my heart stops racing.
Since the catheter fell out, that means that I am progressing fairly quickly (that’s more like it), and Susan announces that she is going to break my water and, if history is any indicator, this will kick my contractions into gear. Prepare for action! The water breakage goes off without a hitch and… nothing happens… for at least 15 minutes.
And then, like a light switch, I feel my contractions go from light and regular to the horror-film-squeeze-your-eyelids-shut-and-start-panting-feels-like-a-corset-can’t-breathe kind of contractions. I’m close to transition. I know it. Right then and there I realize with great clarity that if I am going to get an epidural I need to do it NOW (probably ten minutes ago, actually) and the other certainty growing inside of me is that WHY ON EARTH WOULD I NOT GET AN EPIDURAL?! WHO CARES HOW I HAVE DONE IT PREVIOUSLY? I AM HAVING TWO BABIES FOR PETE’S SAKE!
In this calm state of mind, I communicate my request to Susan directly and definitively, who then calls for the anethesiologist (who by the way turns out to be a real diva) who begins the process of explaining and preparing me for an epidural. Meanwhile, Susan is eyeing me suspiciously and stays nearby so that when the nurses lay me on my side and I begin gesturing frantically in a downward motion and mouthing the word “baby”, she whips me around and says, “Yep. Baby A is right there. Push whenever you are ready.” (Cue the diva anesthesiologist throwing up his hands and storming out of the room. Really, I am SO SORRY that you do not have the opportunity to stick a needle down my spine. You went to ALL THAT trouble, after all. But at least you can go back to your room now to eat your bowlful of m&ms with the brown ones taken out. #sorrynotsorry)
The support staff in the room increases rapidly to include a nurse for each twin plus a few more to assist Susan and now Dr. Carini as well, the attending physician who will step in whenever appropriate.
My body knows what it is doing when it comes to delivering babies.
Her head is out.
Good job, Naomi. One more.
Here it is, a textbook delivery. That moment of exhale, of release, of her body leaving my womb. Susan catches her and lays her on my chest. The world pauses for all of ten seconds as I see her face for the first time. While many of the details following this are lost to mind, this moment is etched forever. She is a masterpiece. Our little Aubrey Esther, who was nestled against my womb every time we saw her in an ultrasound is here curled up on my chest. Ohhh my sweetheart.
Then they whisked her away. We had slowed down to reach the top of the ride, but it was about to drop. In 3…2…1…
Tears & Pleading
Author’s Note: For this section, I have asked my husband to write his own memory of what happened next. At this point, Aubrey was delivered safe and sound. Baby B, who we call Scout, was still lying in a transverse position across my belly. Apparently she enjoyed it.
What was a village of people bringing life upon life into a room quickly became a lonely island to a desperate man.
Scout, stubborn as ever, would not turn in Naomi’s womb. Susan checked the baby’s heart rate and, seeing that it was going down, called it out to the doctor. He confirmed and the village scattered in preparation for an emergency c-section.
Naomi missed what was going on as she was see-sawing back and forth between breathing exercises and groans from a sore belly which just had been appropriately pummeled, trying to have Scout flip. She, in her daze, asked what was happening. Her face sank from pain to worry, her brow furrowed and her eyes elongated… “No…no…no…” she whispered.
What we didn’t want to happen did. Birth can tear up a woman’s body, exponentially so with twins when one comes vaginally and another by c-section.I was thrown scrubs, whipped them on, quickly texted some people to pray, and went to her side again as they started to wheel her out.
“I’ll be right here with you,” I said.
But that was a promise I couldn’t keep. The cocktail of emergency and the number of people that needed to be in the surgical room pushed me out and I was left to myself under the dim fluorescent lights of a back section waiting room as my family faded in either direction from my sight.
The next 30 minutes can’t be understood chronologically, only emotively and philosophically. A moment of crisis is a wormhole in time, bending minutes and seconds in on themselves, reordering randomly the calamity of the clock as grief transcends its texture.
The fatal facts were two-fold: Scout wouldn’t start breathing and Naomi wouldn’t stop bleeding.
And there I am… in an existential wasteland… in No-Place. Aubrey was in one part of the building, Naomi and Scout in another, and myself somewhere torn between. I recalled thinking back to when we found out we were having twin girls and trying to wrap my mind around the amount of femininity that was going to be in our house and how the heck were any of us going to survive it. Now I started pleading with God, whispering out loud: I want all my girls… all of them. I knew that things did not have to turn out just fine. It’s not that I was despairing, but life and death are too complex a thing. To think that by being a Christian somehow makes our family completely untouchable in this present age to calamity suppresses the intimacy of faith and lament with God. There was no-place at the moment we could all be together and whole and I didn’t know how things were going to turn out.
They say there are five stages to grief: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. In the midst of waiting for how personal catastrophes are going to turn out, the first four elements are all preset, but they aren’t steps one after another, they are a blitz of needy children all grabbing for your attention at once. The final element, acceptance, since the outcome hasn’t yet been determined, is replaced with a more malleable marauder: what-if.
What if Scout doesn’t make it? What if she does but has brain damage? How are we going to take care of all our kids? What if Naomi doesn’t make it? Would I re-marry? Could I re-marry? What would be best for the girls? Would we move? What if the doctor comes out to me and says that they can’t save both Naomi and Scout and that I right now need to choose which one to save? Who would I choose? My daughter or my wife?
Whereas tears and pleading were exhausting my emotions, the endless hypotheticals were barraging my brain. Yet there were moments of respite, where tears were caught, and loneliness found another.
The majority of pictures of God in the scriptures are of a masculine nature. We shouldn’t simply dismiss these as only a cultural construct from a patriarchal society. Rather, we should understand that it was a patriarchal culture, but not dismiss these characteristics as non-important. What we should do is recall that Yahweh (God) is Spirit (in Hebrew, a feminine noun), that masculinity and femininity are both part of God’s image, and we should take specific note of when explicit feminine illustrations of God show up in scripture.
My mom passed away ten years ago, never getting to see any of our kids. In this worm-hole I was waiting in, I especially missed my mom. I needed my mom at that moment. But she wasn’t there. Susan was.
Susan would come out every few minutes to check on me and tell me what was going on. At one specific instance, who knows when, my face found her shoulder as tears turned into shameless weeping. Susan became my re-embodied mom for a few seconds; in the strength of her femininity she allowed the weakness of my masculinity to pour out. Susan was now clothed in Naomi’s blood and my tears, wearing our suffering on her scrubs.
Looking back to that moment, Susan was just beautifully being who she is (a midwife) and in being who she is, she imaged God to me, becoming a conduit of Yahweh’s presence. In the suffering and praise of the twenty-second Psalm, we get a multi-faceted, poetic snap shot of God as midwife (Yet you brought me safely from my mother’s womb and led me to trust you at my mother’s breast) then to God as mother (I was thrust into your arms at my birth. You have been my God from the moment I was born).
I never want to go through a time like that again; I am grateful for what I experienced there.
Back in the realm of time, Scout made it through and was breathing okay. I got to see my darling daughter being rolled by me to the NICU where she would get monitored and some C-pap to help her lungs. Naomi was still in question… bleeding was “under control” but by no means out of the woods yet. When they said I could see her, they warned me that she was gray due to the amount of blood she lost.
Gray she was, bruised and battered; she was also gorgeous as ever, like a queen who just came back from war.
Eight Units of Blood
someone is speaking. mush. mumble. mrrrhhhh.
“Naomi? You’re in the recovery room. We’re taking you to the ICU in a minute.”
“Ok… can you hurry with the pain meds….?”
I’m in the ICU. I don’t remember the journey it took to get there, but Justin says later that I moaned with every bump in the hospital floor. I don’t know why I’m here. What happened. I look down at my hands. They are swollen to a marshmallow-sized version of my normal hands. I have an IV in both hands now. My taste-and-see hospital band is now white. They used all the red stickers. I’ve had blood transfusions. Ohhh…
A team of maternity nurses enters my room. Oh crap. I know what this is. “Naomi, we’re going to check your bleeding and push on your fundus (belly area) to make sure it’s contracting.” PAIN. WHITE HOT BLINDING SEARING STABBING PAIN as her fingers press into my cranky uterus. Trapped animal noises escape from my throat. “Remember to breathe, Naomi.” I am so thankful for yoga in this moment which I practiced faithfully throughout my entire pregnancy. I know how to focus. I know how to breathe through things.
“Can I have more pain medication?” “You’re on something stronger than morphine, but I’ll see what I can do.”
The next few hours are a cycle of this process. The nurses come in, press on my belly, check me for bleeding, the lab tech arrives to check my hemoglobin (to see if I need more blood), I ask for pain meds and then fall into restless sleep whenever possible. I am so thirsty. The pain is a flood at best and a hurricane at worst. I am impaired by it to consider anything else at the moment. Every so often however, behind the volume of pain my heart persists this one thought…
…Somewhere in this hospital are my two baby girls.
One time I wake to find Justin at my bedside, his hand stroking my hair.
“Naomi, Alice is doing really well. She wasn’t breathing at first, so she’s in the NICU but now she’s doing great. I’m taking care of Aubrey back in the room.”
My daughter. She’s in the NICU. I can’t be with her. I don’t even know what she looks like.
I nod a misty acknowledgment. His eyes are soft and concerned.
“Sheri is here to stay with you overnight.”
“Ok. I love you.”
“I love you.”
A small kiss on the forehead. He walks away.
I love him. I can tell he’s shouldering a lot right now.
I’m so glad Sheri is here. I don’t want to be alone. I don’t know what is going on, but I know I can trust her.
The cycle continues. Every hour, more pressing. More pain than I have ever felt. More worried looks from the nurses. Something is wrong. My uterus apparently has been worked to the brink of exhaustion and is now on strike, and not the kind with the signs and the marching and the chanting. The kind where it won’t even get out of bed.
The doctor arrives. He is wearing a heavy jacket like he just walked in the door. Something is wrong. “We’re going to do an ultrasound to see if we can find any internal bleeding. If you are, we’ll need to do a hysterectomy.” My eyes fall. Even though I’m drugged up, even though Justin and I have already discussed and agreed that our quiver is full of little arrows, I know that I want my womb.
The ultrasound comes and goes and, to my great relief, there is no bleeding evident. The relief is momentary, however, because that means that they will need to continue pushing on my anything-but-FUNdus (as I have dubbed it) to try and get it to cooperate by contracting as it’s meant to do. Meanwhile, the lab report comes back that my hemoglobin (blood count) is hovering around a 5, so that means another blood transfusion. As a reference, it should be between 12-16 for a normal-sized woman. So the night continues with more cycles of massaging my angry uterus, me breathing through the pain, and asking for medication. Sheri is still here to help with anything and to advocate on my behalf. At one point, she shows me a picture of a smiling Aubrey that she had snapped on her phone. It is the kind of milk-drunk-sleep-smiling littlest baby smile, and it provides just the right mental escape needed for the next many fundus sessions. From that time forward, every time they come to press on my belly, I close my eyes and allow the vision of my sweet baby to rise in my mind.
This is the longest night of my life… but I am still living.
Hour after relentless hour passes and finally, after inconsistent results from the massaging, the doctor orders another test–this time an MRI–which will show more conclusively what is going on inside. Sheri has stepped out. They untether me and start rolling me down the hallway toward the elevator and this particular pair of nurses are distracted enough to ignore my pleadings for medication before we leave the room, so as each bump on the floor knocks me from side-to-side in my hospital bed, I again have to breathe through this pain. At one point they miss the elevator door slightly and slam the corner of my bed against the wall, which was enough to merit a small moan. Not exactly the ICU “A” team. By the time we get down to the correct room, I’m fairly sure that my medication has worn off completely, because when they move me onto the flat surface for the MRI machine it is one of the more painful experiences I have had in the hospital. But I am determined to get through this and to only do it one time, so I lay very very still and follow the instructions to hold my breath even if my mind is exploding with pain upstairs.
I make it. They have what they need. They load me up onto my own hospital bed and away we go back to my room. No sooner do I make it back then the nurse administers the pain medication for which I have been persistently asking.
She then announces that I am bleeding internally and I have to have a hysterectomy… RIGHT NOW. At which point I lose what little patience I have left for her and ask for Justin.
I am furious with her for putting me through that ordeal and then launching this at me when I am alone. I am emotional at the thought of having my womb taken from me. I am terrified at the reality that I am bleeding internally… and it will certainly kill me if we do not act quickly. And I am very very drugged up, so all of these emotions are rumbling underneath while here I am high as a kite unable to access them.
Within minutes Justin arrives, then Sheri. The news comes spilling from my mouth and it is clear that I am very, very upset but I am still having trouble coherently expressing myself. Thank God I married someone who knows me. He took charge of the situation, the nurse manager had words with the staff, and I don’t remember anything else except the awful tube they had to stick down my nose and, afterwards, as they were wheeling me toward the OR, the peaceful feeling that I was going to be taken care of. Within ten minutes I was back once again in the operating room. A fleeting thought… this could be it… before I succumbed to the anesthesia.
But I made it.
I needed more blood transfusions after that second surgery. When it was all said and done, I received 8 units of blood. A week after I got home, I was curious how many units were in a human body, since I kept hearing gasps from medical personnel every time I would say how much I received. I googled it. The answer was 10. Only 10 units of blood in a body. I had lost 80% of my own blood and now I have 8 different people to thank for their blood running through my veins.
I spent the next few days staring out the window and recovering in the ICU. I got to hold Aubrey for the first time in the ICU, and soon I got to hold Alice too. I missed all the little moments of Eden and Lana meeting the twins for the first time, and all the cute photographs that are usually taken in the first days. I have precious few.
But I made it. Alice made it. We all made it through. We’ve been catching up on the photographs ever since.
After a little while in the ICU, I started feeling good enough to sit up and eat solid food and to care what my hair looked like. You know, the essentials. They moved me to the maternity ward where Justin and I and the twins could be together. I was still very weak and couldn’t do a whole lot to take care of the babies except hold them a bit and bottlefeed them every so often. We worked on breastfeeding. I took a shower. I ate, I slept, I tried to walk. I was more swollen than ever–my sides looked like I was stashing melons under my hospital gown, and even the skin on my arms was droopy from excess fluid. My legs were unrecognizable (I will never complain about having skinny chicken legs ever again). The doctor was concerned I would get blood clots, so my legs were wrapped during the day and compressed at night by a machine.
The day before we were set to leave, the gravity of the situation finally hit me and the tears started to flow. Justin and I sat in the hospital room and talked and held our babies and wept together and thanked God for His mercy in sparing my life and the life of our little Scout. We knew it didn’t have to be that way. I cried over my poor wrecked body with it’s new scars, I cried over the absence of a womb, I cried over our lost moments, I cried over my husband having to carry so much by himself. We cried together at the void that could have been. I cried knowing that my life was a good gift from a good Father whose goodness does not cease in my absence of trust in Him or in an outcome different than the one hoped for. He is the potter, we are the clay.
These tears would find us throughout the coming weeks and months. Sometimes a memory would be triggered and all the unfelt emotion from that specific moment would be unleashed. These episodes would leave me shaken at times, clutching the nearest stable object, and they showed me the deep need to fully process and heal, not skim over this experience. I would not be surprised to learn that I had developed some PTSD from the whole event. I needed a great deal of time and space to be able to find words and feelings–be they grief or joy–for each moment that happened. Thank you to the many of you who granted me that.
The week that we came home from the hospital, we stepped out from the support of the hospital staff into the strong arms of our church and family. People came at all hours to clean, cook, hold a baby or two, help with bottles, and take care of Eden and Lana. My mom flew out from Washington to stay with us for 3 weeks to help in the hard work of newborn twins and full time family. It was one of the more humbling and amazing experiences of my life to see how fully we were taken care of when we scrapped the compartments of how people are “supposed’ to care and opened our home wide to whomever wanted to help. It wasn’t all roses. It was messy, we were tired (the understatement of the year), I was rude sometimes, we had to find our way through it all.
Physically, I was still pretty beat up. I was still dealing with the effects of having lost so much blood along with having had two surgeries, so I was very weak and pale. I needed help going up and down the stairs and sometimes even getting out of a chair. My legs were still extremely swollen to the point that the doctor wanted me to keep them wrapped and do some mild exercises to keep the blood flowing. The second week that we were home, the swelling finally started to recede and I began to pee out a gallon of water at a time. I lost 50 pounds in water weight alone over the course of 5 days. Slowly, I began to function again. Within six weeks I was more-or-less back to my normal self, which is a good thing because I was going to need every ounce of strength I had to get through the next few months of horrible sleep.
We worked on breastfeeding, which was difficult since the babies essentially needed to be nursed, then fed bottles, then I had to pump to create more milk, so it significantly increased my workload. The lactation consultants at Ephrata hospital warned me that sometimes breastfeeding can take a hit after trauma, and I was so grateful that they gave me reasonable expectations and all the tools I needed (a breast pump, and a hospital scale) to give it a good try. Thank God, my body did not fail me. By four months, we had successfully weaned the babies off their bottles (except right before bed) and I had enough milk supply for both those babies. Tandem nursing is crazy, by the way. And that’s all I’m gonna say about that.
I am glad to be alive. I still can’t believe I get to be the wife of Justin Ryan Boyer. I am honored to be the mother of each one of my four beautiful, vibrant, silly and sassy little girls. I am here, and beauty is all around me, and where I have struggled in the past with my role as a stay-at-home mom and have questioned my value and significance in such a wipe-noses-and-butts-and-every-surface-countless-times-every-day kind of a position, I do not hold these things lightly any longer. No, I hug them tightly, I spin them around, I tickle-tackle them, I kiss him passionately (“ewwww!!!”), I embarrass them in front of their friends, but I do not hold them lightly. I live with my dirty kitchen floor that is crying to be mopped and remember that “I have TWO little sets of hands flinging food on the floor. Thank you, God. (And also ‘no no!’)” I gained through this experience a perspective that I could no sooner talk myself into than I could have flown to the moon. I could only welcome it when it came. I didn’t want to go through all that, but I’m glad that I did, because it changed me.
When I was a pompous religious youngster, I remember trying to develop callouses on my knees so that people would know that I spent a lot of time in prayer (wow, did I just admit that on paper?). It never really worked. No, in a grand twist of cosmic irony and humour, the only thing that has made me develop callouses on my knees has been the monotonous, mostly unseen work of raising my children–the diaper changes, the baths, the kneeling to dress and undress, to comfort, to catch a kiss, to play, to read a book. And when I notice these rough edges of skin, I remember that this is how it is meant to be. I know it’s not everyone’s lot in life, nor should it be. But it is mine. And I am happy to have finally found peace with it, to be HERE, in the loudly beautiful life we have, and to welcome a new season of enjoying each other together.