To do it justice, Mercy’s birth story actually begins back in 2020. After being blessed with some time after weaning Steadfast to both detox and chelate from heavy metals, we were hopeful that God would create new life in my womb. But months went by. Months, and more months. Many women ache when another cycle cycles through and there is again blood, and with the blood departing the body, so hope departs the soul. I have been one of those women. I tried to rest in God's hands, thankful for my dear children and family, trusting in God’s timing. I even started a part-time job, which helped to ease the empty feeling. Yet, my womb continued to say, "Never enough."
Perhaps, something was wrong. In January of 2021, I went to my naturopathic doctor who took seriously my history and symptoms. She ran some tests. We waited weeks for results. I went to the appointment to receive my diagnosis: PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome), a cause of infertility in many women. But, for me, God had other plans: the day before that appointment, I had taken a pregnancy test. It was positive. God had deigned to give me “the blessings of the breast and womb.” Another arrow in our quiver, another olive plant around our table, if, of course, the baby would continue to grow and be delivered from womb to world. And a diagnosis of PCOS made that a very questionable assumption.
My team of naturopathic doctor, chiropractor, and midwife cared for me well throughout the pregnancy, including getting me on progesterone right away in order to keep the pregnancy viable. It was a very uneventful pregnancy, and we were very grateful, especially after so many complications with our previous birth. I measured quite normally, despite some folks’ comments about how big I was carrying! First trimester, second trimester, third trimester. God is good, and we were getting close!
But no mama with impending labor and delivery is without fear. I struggled during that last month with a wide-range of fears, from the baby being born without a limb, to being still-born, to dying in labor. It’s one thing to struggle with unfounded fears, but another know people in real life who have lived these fears, to know that these fears are very real possibilities. How would I manage to cope with not only the physical pain of labor, but the possible emotional losses that can only be borne from having loved? I found myself very grateful for a pastor I knew was praying for me, and the comfort of Christ’s love found in His body and blood in the days leading up to my due date. I also prayed a great big prayer, because as a child of the King, why not? Lord, let this labor and delivery not hurt! I know that doesn’t really happen, but I trust that You could make it happen. Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. (Ephesians 3:20-21). But, not my will, but Yours be done. I did what I could to have a healthy pregnancy: I took my herbal tincture everyday, drank my pregnancy tea, and ate my dates. But, whatever would happen, we would be in God’s hands. Pain or loss, Or shame or cross, Shall not from my Savior move me Since He deigns to love me.
I awoke Saturday morning, Oct. 16, around 7:15 and needed to use the bathroom. I had a contraction on the way there, which was not all that unusual—I had been having Braxton-Hicks contractions for about a month whenever I moved positions. But this contraction was pretty strong. I counted to about 30 by the time it vanished away. After using the bathroom, I noticed some bloody show, and shortly after, felt another 30 second contraction—strong enough to make me pay attention. Back to my room, and another contraction. At that point, I figured I was not going back to bed.
The night before, I had ordered all of our groceries for pick up that morning, figuring it was pretty safe that I’d not be having the baby in the next 12 hours...Maybe I was wrong! Ryan was out of the house, picking up those groceries when I woke. Having gone back into my bedroom, I grabbed my phone and called the midwife. Normally, I’d have waited longer to be sure of a regular pattern of contractions, but they were close enough and strong enough I thought I had better give her a heads up, even before calling Ryan.
The midwife answered, huffing and puffing. I updated her about the duration and frequency of the contractions as she continued to huff and puff. I wondered what was going on, the poor midwife! Turns out, the Mankato Marathon had just started, and my midwife was running the 10K! Well, run faster, dear! In fact, I was not the only mama in the practice in labor. This amazing woman would finish her race, and just continue to run from mama to mama for the next 72 hours!
After I hung up with the midwife, promising to keep her posted, I called my doula. She would be on stand-by, ready to come when I next called. Finally, I texted my husband, who was patiently waiting for a week’s delivery of groceries for a family of 8 in the Walmart parking lot. He’d be coming home soon, and then, the fun of unloading the trunk could begin!
At some point between the bathroom and my bedroom, I saw my 9-year-old son making pancakes for the family in the kitchen. We smiled and he sweetly said good morning to me. All the kids seemed under control, and I went into my room, pulling out the bin of birth supplies from my closet. The contractions continued to be about 2 or 3 minutes apart, pretty much disabling me as they took place. It was as if I skipped early labor altogether and fast-forwarded right into the signposts of active labor! I stripped the sheets off my bed and made it again with fresh sheets on the bottom, a shower curtain in the middle, and brand new (bleachable) white sheets on top—no small feat for a woman 40 weeks along!
By about 9:00 a.m., my husband and children had put away all of the groceries, and the little ones had been sent out to the back yard to play. My teen girls were in the living room on the couch when I asked my husband to walk with me out in front of our house. I turned to the girls to ask that they keep an eye on the younger ones, and saw that my daughter’s face was all red—she had been crying. I was shocked and asked what was the matter. She said that Daddy had told her she couldn’t take a shower and it was very frustrating. I looked at her and paused a long time. I think I paused long enough to have a contraction. I told her I was in labor, and we were going to need all of the hot water for the birth tub. The anger melted off of her face, and changed from frustration to embarrassment. We told them we needed them to step up now, and help with the younger kids, and they rose to the occasion, as we had previously discussed. In fact, the children were thrilled to be herded downstairs to watch movies and eat the fun food I had purchased and placed in a bin for them. Later, I heard that one of my sons brag that he was the first to know today was the birthday for the new baby: he had come in a little earlier to get a drink, and had seen Daddy unpacking the birth tub.
I found some shoes to slip on—not an easy thing with my perpetually swollen feet. Ryan took me for a walk on the sidewalk across the street. During those contractions, I could feel things moving lower. The contractions felt more effective, and were increasing in length and intensity. We turned around at the end of the block, to walk toward home. As we did, I paused in a neighbor's driveway to breathe through a contraction. Unfortunately, a delivery truck from the street put on its blinker to enter that exact driveway at the exact time. I literally could not move out of the way! I tried, but my hips would not go! The driver looked extremely confused, and then drove way, rounded the block, and tried again. I was out of the driveway by then!
Around 10:00 a.m., we called to update our doula and she updated the midwife. The doula came over shortly. At this point, I’m not sure of the order of things, but I remember sort of walking around the house randomly, stopping for contractions against the coffee table and the cabinet in the bathroom. Ryan was setting up the birth tub, and I started to cry a little. I told the doula that I felt panicked. I knew from the signposts of labor that I was getting closer and closer to transition—the most overwhelming and difficult part. I didn’t want to do it, and it was already so difficult, how would I survive. Raelene assured me that the midwife would be to the house soon, and it would be okay. She and I went for another walk across the street while Ryan worked with the pool. While walking in the fall sunshine, Raelene rubbed my lower back. But, I felt distinct sciatica pain down my left upper leg during the contractions. Thankfully, it went away between contractions. I was so grateful to not have back labor that hurt the whole time, like I had for some other labors. Between contractions outside, I was able to chat with Raelene, and I felt mostly like myself, but reality was slowly slipping away and before long, I needed to fold and collapse inside of myself to survive.
I wanted to get back into the house and be on my hands and knees for awhile to see if that might help the sciatica go away. As we were crossing the street back into my driveway, I was happy to see that the midwife had arrived and was bringing her supplies into the house. I headed to the bathroom, and groaned deeply during a contraction there—everyone seemed to make note of it, and they talked about it later as the beginning of transition. Next, I went to my bedroom floor and got on my hands and knees. It did seem to relieve some of the discomfort. The midwife came in and took my vitals, right there with me on the floor. The baby and I were doing great. I eventually landed in my bed and the midwife checked my dilation progress at my request. However, I didn’t want to know what it was. It might be too discouraging. However, I hoped I was at least at 5 cm out of 10. (I had been at a 2 at my appointment a few days earlier. After the birth, I asked how dilated I was at this point, and it was 7 cm.) I can’t remember clearly what happened next. But, I must have gotten out of bed again, and then returned, but on the other side of bed. From the nausea and panic I was feeling, I knew transition was imminent, and I knew from book learning, practice, and experience that I needed to be lying down in a runner’s position in order to relax and allow transition to pass through me, rather than fight it. There was absolutely nothing I could do. I had no choice but to give in, and cling to Jesus.
Around 11:00 a.m., I laid on my side on my husband’s part of the bed. Raelene brought me some notecards that I had previously prepared with Scriptural encouragement. I clung to these cards both physically and emotionally, focusing on one theme at a time as I breathed through contractions, now 90 seconds long.
What God ordains is always good:
Though I the cup am drinking
Which savors now of bitterness,
I take it without shrinking.
For after grief
God grants relief,
My heart with comfort filling
And all my sorrow stilling.
I groaned and moaned and blew raspberries. Waves of pain intruded my body, stretching beyond what could be possible. After grief, relief. There will be relief, soon. And a sweet baby.
I squeezed the card, crumpling it as another pain overtook me. He cannot desert me. I flipped to another card with another contraction. Give thanks in all circumstances. A few years ago, I could not have given thanks, considering the suffering that seemed to tear through me. But the Lord has patiently taught me. Thank you, Lord, that I am safe, even in this pain. Thank you for the little one whose heart is beating. Thank you for a husband here. Thank you for these birth helpers. Thank you <breath> thank you <breathe> thank you.
Eventually, I turned onto my back so the midwife could check my dilation. Everyone seemed to think I could push soon. However, there was still part of my cervix that needed thinning out. Just a few more contractions on my other side, everyone encouraged. I turned over.
The wave of pain opened me up, vulnerable. I was helpless. I wondered about the animal noises I heard, and realized they were coming from my own vocal chords. There was no escape, only Jesus. My husband messed up my hair with a wet washcloth. My doula rubbed my back and I told her to stop, and my midwife looked in my eyes, nodding and encouraging. I read another card.
In Thine arms I rest me;
Foes who would molest me
Cannot reach me here.
Though the earth be shaking,
Ev'ry heart be quaking,
Jesus calms my fear.
And thunders crash;
Yet, though sin and hell assail me,
Jesus will not fail me.
Someone took the card from me and told me to relax my hand. The pains were low, so low, ripening, ripping. Jesus, calm my fear. Jesus, help me. Jesus, don’t fail me now. I can’t do this anymore!
I was rolled over: It was time to go to the tub and push. I remember saying very calmly, “Oh good. I love to push.” I don’t know if I was serious or not. But it felt like I needed to say something. The contractions were one on top of another. We only made it to the doorway, but Ryan, my rock, was there. He braced himself in the door frame and told me to relax into him. I moaned, and gave in, placing my whole weight in his arms. Oh Lord, help! Will this never end? I breathed, and breathed and breathed, the pain opened and opened and opened ‘til I couldn’t go on, but then, gradually died away.
I pulled off my dress. With the help of a stool and some people guiding my arms, I stepped into the warm, soothing water in the birth pool. There was a second midwife near the pool, as well as a student. My instinct was to float on my belly. I grabbed the side of the pool and held on. Another contraction came while I floated and tried to relax, but this time, I felt my body taking over and pushing out of my rear. I said, “Am I pushing now?” I remember nothing but silence for a moment, perhaps because it was so obvious that I was, indeed, pushing. Quickly, though, I was assured that I was pushing, and could push. Midwives were hovering around my rear, but (no pun intended) I really did not want to be in that position to give birth. I needed my legs to hold me up for squatting, to ground me. I thought about asking for music, but couldn’t remember how to. However, I did manage to call for the children to come up from downstairs. They (and my nephew) came up, and I remember telling my littlest ones that Mommy was going to have the Baby, and I would make a lot of noise because it was hard work, but we were all safe and it was okay.
I scooted back to the opposite side of the tub and squatted with the little seat under me. Another contraction came, and I concentrated, all the while noticing so many faces around me. I thought it was probably a good thing to not have invited anybody else, because it was already pretty crowded once my whole family crammed into the room. I moved my hand down low and felt; from another delivery, I remembered the little soft ripples covering a hard surface—my baby’s head, probably a little over an inch in diameter. I didn’t think there was any way that head could fit to get out of me. But the next contraction took care of that: as it rose in intensity, I pushed my hand in toward myself, as I felt fire down below as the baby’s head was born. I heard myself making noises, and even amid the fire, relief: I was almost done. The contraction receded, yet only the baby’s head was outside of me; the remainder of the body was still in my body, a miracle. It was a God-given pause, something I’d never experienced before with my 6 other deliveries. I wasn’t sure that was okay, but the team assured me it was. And, surely, when the next contraction came, the shoulders were assisted out by the midwife and the rest of the tiny body slipped out and was brought above the waterline. Never during labor had I felt my waters break. It must have happened during that final push! Before its first breath, the midwife peeled off the caul (amniotic sac) which covered the baby’s head and torso! The baby was handed to me and placed on my chest. I saw my doula taking photos, and I remembered at a previous birth I tried to smile for the photos, but this time, I didn’t need to act, I just felt so overjoyed!
It has never been an easy thing to keep myself afloat in a birth tub, all the while careful not to rub my recently stretched lady-parts in the wrong way on the birth seat, and also keep my baby’s head above water. I was grateful to have my husband holding me up from outside the pool so I could hold the baby, and the midwife with an extra hand on the baby, too. In my mind, maybe about a minute went by as the midwives checked vitals and stabilized the situation. Then, I thought to scoot the baby a bit and see the gender. I announced that she was Mercy Louise. With choosing her name, Mercy Lou, we honor the memory of my mother in Heaven, Kim Louise, and remember God's goodness. "With the Lord there is mercy, And fullness of redemption." I was genuinely surprised, and delighted, that the baby was a girl!
My job wasn’t finished, yet. I still had a placenta to deliver, and it took its sweet time. I tried to nurse Mercy, since the uterus often contracts from breastfeeding. After much “coughing” and “hacking,” it came, and was delivered to a floating bedpan in the birth tub, which made me laugh. During previous births, it was somebody’s job to hold a silver bowl into which the placenta was placed. When we were preparing the kids for the birth in the weeks prior, Rose had enthusiastically offered to cut the cord. She did so while Mercy was on my chest in the tub. She remarked that it was much thicker than she imagined!
After the cord was cut, it was time to get out of the tub. My goal of isolating all of the messy, gooey, oozy stuff of labor in the tub had been met, and the water sure started to look nasty! Throw in a towel (literally) that was used to wipe me and the baby, as well as some stool from both of us, and the water no longer held the attraction it did before the birth. Mercy was handed to my husband, and the birth team grabbed some clean towels and helped me out. They offered a step stool, but I couldn’t figure out how to use it while keeping my balance. I paused for a long time, standing in the water. Someone suggested that maybe I was waiting for towels to be put down on the floor? I said no, I was just waiting to see if my hip would work, as it constantly gave out during that last trimester. Eventually, I climbed out, and was surrounded by people offering me towels, now that my modesty had once again kicked in.
I shuffled a few yards and sat down on some chux pads on my husband’s side of the bed. Someone helped me out of my wet top and grabbed a clean, dry pajama shirt for me. The children went back downstairs, waiting to be called again when it was time to check and weigh baby Mercy. I felt so happy and relieved that labor and delivery were done, and I had a healthy baby with all of her limbs. The birth helpers worked busily out in the dining room, cleaning up the birth tub and all of the equipment. The doula and Ryan mostly stayed with me and baby Mercy, as we worked to learn to nurse together.
The midwife checked my bottom and offered a stitch or two, if I wanted. But, I preferred to sit “like a mermaid” for a week instead. I have to say that this birth was the least traumatic to my nether regions, and I really felt no stinging at all, the peri-bottle an unnecessary afterthought. When my husband brought me the placenta smoothie, I drank it down like a big girl, with every hope from prior experiences that it would help ward off post-partum depression.
Once the house was cleaned up, and the first milk was drunk, the children gathered around my bed to see Mercy’s check-up. She seemed healthy in every way! Mercy was 21 inches long, with a 14.5 inch head, and 15 inch chest! When she was placed on the scale, I thought it said “10 lbs 15 oz”! In fact, it only said, “10 lbs 1.5 oz,” but that’s still a pretty big baby! I told everyone that she was our third largest child, but when I investigated later, it turns out she actually my second largest child, only to be beaten by her big brother, Newman, at 10 lbs 12 oz, holding the record for the birth center in St. Peter for several years! Grace gingerly placed Mercy’s first diaper on her, with Joy and Rose looking on.
The midwife went over some additional post-birth instructions with us. Very quickly, it seemed, almost abruptly, all of the birth helpers left our home. The next mama was getting ready to deliver, and they needed to go to her. It was just “us,” all 9 of us :) It was a quiet time for calling family and friends and sharing the good news of Mercy’s birth, but there was someone I couldn't call.
My heart hurt in what should have been an overwhelmingly happy time—I could not share the news with my dear mother. Mercy was my first baby since my own mother had her dwelling moved to Heaven. I touched Mercy’s toes, and wished my mama could caress them. She always had a thing for feet. I put Mercy’s hand in my own, and reflected that, this side of Heaven, my own mama’s hand would not hold Mercy’s. Yet, God from eternity knew this. He also knows another burden of my heart: We have only a few short years left together as a family in these “glory days” with all my children under one roof. Soon, my oldest will launch into the world. If there are to be more children, I want them now or never, to preserve my idol of family: all of us together. Surely, I am not getting any younger. My husband is nearly fifty. Will we both be around to see Mercy walk and talk and grow and love and marry and give us grandchildren? Perhaps not, just as my mother is not here to welcome Mercy at my father’s side. Or, Lord have mercy, will I outlive all my dear ones, to slowly have them taken from me, one by one, in our “brave” new world? The fear, the sorrow, is real. Love can be loss. Even a week later, my baby has grown, and we have lost the innocent moments of a newborn. My biological clock, and my familial clock, tick loudly. I ache for the ticking to quiet, to enjoy my new little one simply, without extra burdens. Denial will not make the issues go away. Only trust in God’s mercy can. The same hymns, the same Scriptures, that supported me in labor, will support me in life, and in death.
God is good. His mercies are new every morning. Whatever loss that love will introduce into my life, God knows and He gifts. Our times are in His hands. Not only did He mercifully answer my prayers of an exceedingly abundant healthful labor and delivery (even if not pain-free), He also sent Jesus to the cross to forgive me of my sins of idolatry, of always longing and wanting and never being content, of being fearful, and sorrowful and lacking in thanksgiving. I hold Mercy as a reminder of His mercy, His love, His patience to forgive sinners, even me, even Mercy, His own child baptized into Christ.