I sat up in the darkness, listening to the soft breathing of my husband and babies. They were sound asleep. The voice inside me whispered again. “You’re pregnant.” Immediately, a praise song welled up in response. This had happened with both of my other children–waking up, somehow knowing that I was pregnant, even though I had no symptoms. Just as before, I picked up a pregnancy test later that day to confirm what my heart already was singing.
My parents, grandparents and parents in law were all Pentecostal/Charismatic preachers. The confidence that God speaks to us was knit into my soul before I can even remember. But I had also seen some…misapprehensions?…of what God was saying, including some people who were likely mentally ill (one lady who attended our church was sure that God was showing her little green men hiding behind the pulpit). I learned to seek God, pray, study the Bible and wait before indiscriminately accepting any flight of imagination, mine or someone else’s, as the voice of God.
With all of my kidlets, pregnancy insomnia turned into my special time to sit at His feet and listen. Before, God had encouraged me and told me special things about the children inside me. This time, there was something else: a strong impression that I needed to do this birth differently. And I really, really wanted it to be my imagination. But it wasn’t.
My own birth took place in Mexico thirty years earlier. My mom recalls watching a black cat roaming the halls while she was being wheeled into the delivery room. My dad comfortingly told her that it would keep out any rodents. I was a breech baby, and the cord was wrapped three times around my neck. The doctors were certain that there would be profound brain damage. Although things turned out OK, my birth was terribly painful and frightening for my mom. My little sister’s birth was just as “exciting”, and the easiest birth by far was the planned c-section with my little brother.
Those stories had influenced my expectations, and with my two previous births I had had an epidural at the first possible moment. In both cases, that had led to a slowing down of contractions and Pitocin to get things going, followed by a cycle of topping off the epidural and raising the Pit again. I was perfectly happy with that. The idea of unmedicated birth was as appealing to me as an unmedicated root canal. So why couldn’t I get rid of the still, small voice telling me I needed to birth this baby without pain meds?
After a couple of months of praying and only having the voice get stronger, I gave in and told my husband that I was thinking of birthing naturally. He swallowed a few times, clearly searching for words that wouldn’t set off his hormonal wife. He was happy to support me in whatever I wanted, but he didn’t think I could do it and was afraid I was setting myself up for guilt and disappointment when I didn’t follow through. That seemed to be the general consensus among our friends and family. Except for Heather.
Heather and I had met in the nursing mothers’ room at church and had quickly bonded over our agreement on all kinds of parenting topics. But when she described her homebirths, I could only smile and nod, inwardly wondering why on earth she would choose that. She was so passionate about empowering women in birth that she was becoming a midwife. When I blurted out that I thought I needed to do this birth without an epidural, her calm assurance that I could was balm to my soul. She went on to supply me with all kinds of material to prepare for the birth and offer her services as a doula.
For the rest of the pregnancy, I soaked up everything I could find about birth. I kept halfway hoping that the little voice would go away, that I could just write it off as one of those weird things that happens during pregnancy. The doubts kept screaming at me. What if I was wrong? What if this was all for nothing? Worst of all, what if I failed?
When I finally went into labor, a part of me kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. It was intense, but not nearly as bad as I had expected. Would it reach a point where it was suddenly too hard? Heather came over and we chatted between contractions. She made me relax and laugh with stories about her son as the labor progressed.
When we arrived at the hospital, one of the most moronic sequels to Planet of the Apes was playing. I was so inwardly focused that I just laughed and tuned it out. My OB came and hung out next to Carlos through some contractions. I remember the sound of them laughing, but the joke never registered. Then it was time to push.
Up until that point, everything had been so relaxed and calm. Suddenly, everything changed. My water broke and my OB’s face went white as a sheet. He and the nurse looked at each other in horror. One of them said, “Oh, crap!” Then he began yelling at me to push.
Just as I had tuned out the obnoxious noise of the movie, the yelling seemed muffled and distant. Then Heather spoke quietly in my ear that I needed to get the baby out right now. Her calm, low voice penetrated in a way that the shouting hadn’t, and a couple of pushes later, our daughter Elena was born.
It wasn’t until everyone had caught their breath, including Elena, that my doctor explained what had happened. When I started to push and my water broke, they saw that she had a prolapsed cord. Normally, that results in an emergency c-section, but there wasn’t time. Thankfully, her heart rate never decelerated, and her Apgars were fine. I asked him what would have happened if I had had an epidural and Pitocin like in my previous births. He looked at me steadily and replied that she would have died, or at best have had severe brain damage. Listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit had likely saved my daughter’s life.
Today we are celebrating her fifth birthday, but I still feel as though I’m the one who received the gift. We are much stronger than we know, and a still, small voice is more powerful than any roar of doubt.