Thomas’ Birth Story
“Are you ready for tomorrow?” my dad, the expectant and hopeful grandfather, asked me over dinner. It was an honest question, but I couldn’t hold back the tears any longer. “But you know what to expect.” he replied, seeing his words had the opposite effect he intended.
“Yea. That’s why I’m so scared. I know exactly what to expect”
It was the night before my second scheduled C section, and my parents had arrived in town to take care of my barely-15 month old while Nick and I were in the hospital having our second surprise baby.
The road to that day was nothing short of hell.
My husband Nick and I had painstakingly learned and practiced the Creighton method as soon as our first surprise baby was 6 weeks old. She had been a scheduled C section because she was full breech. It was an experience I never wanted to repeat. We wanted to leave room for more surprises considering our first had come rather unexpectedly. Repeat C sections would create complications, and it is widely recommended that women should have no more than 4. We had been told to wait 9 months before conceiving again to attempt a VBAC.
When our daughter was 8 months old, I began feeling inexplicably nauseous and having strange food aversions for a solid week before I thought to take a pregnancy test. The test was blazing positive before the full 3 minutes had even passed. I collapsed on the bathroom floor, fear and anger, disbelief and shame overwhelming me. All the hard work and money we spent on NFP seemed to be for nothing.
A sonogram confirmed that I had been pregnant at that point for a month. In the following months, feelings of guilt and shame were only amplified. I experienced feeling totally abandoned by God, a pain and emptiness so excruciating that I began to question how God could be good. My doctors, strangers, and even family and friends made all sorts of comments. Some judged us for the close spacing or told me I needed to just be happy. Once, I even heard that my sorrow was harming my unborn child. When I tried to open up about how much pain I was in, I was quickly shut down – “Talk to this person”, “Say this prayer”, or “Read this book.” Presumably once I did, all the pain would magically disappear. It all served only to send me deeper into darkness. One night, I dreamed that I miscarried my son, and in the dream I felt relief. To this day, that dream haunts me.
Looking back, I should have been in therapy, but I didn’t have the courage or strength to go. A therapist would just judge me like everyone else or ask me why I wasn’t on birth control, I reasoned. I couldn’t bear the thought of paying for more derision.
I held out hope that somehow I could attempt a VBAC, but the information I scoured either seemed to stoke fear or be based on individual experiences I couldn’t apply to myself. My OBGYN referred me to a high risk doctor at 32 weeks for an ultrasound to measure my scar and make a final determination. Nick joined me for the appointment. The doctor stormed into our room with my results. “I don’t know why you’re here,” she began with eyes opened wide, voice hurried and agitated. “I don’t know what your doctor was thinking. You can’t attempt a VBAC because the spacing is too close. I don’t know why you’re here. Your scar isn’t thick enough and it wasn’t going to be. There’s just no way any doctor would allow this because the risk for rupture is too high.” The words flew out of her mouth faster than I could blink. I stuttered out some excuses, and even an apology for being there. I couldn’t look anyone in the eye as we left the office, breaking down once we got to the car.
God, can’t I catch one single danged break?! You can’t be good, not if this is how you treat those who are faithful. What did we do wrong? We didn’t use contraception. We tried to use a new method of NFP to the best of our ability, and we paid bookoo bucks for it. Do you just not care? Do you like causing pain? You know the implications better than I do. More C sections means more complications and fewer healthy births, and NFP clearly doesn’t work. I need to avoid a pregnancy after this so I can take care of my family and myself and just flipping heal, but clearly you won’t let that happen. Do you want me to just keep having babies and C sections and die, and deprive my husband of his wife and my children of their mother? How is that love? If this is the reward for faithfulness, I do not want to be faithful.
You say you are good, but I know the truth. You aren’t good.
I don’t trust you.
After that outburst, I shut God out. I couldn’t take the pain anymore. I knew that getting angry at God gave him the power to work my anger for good. I was so angry and so hurt, that I didn’t want God to have access to any part of me. From then on, I fell back on faithfulness. I went through the motions of mass and even confession, but outside of that, I didn’t speak to God.
There were many consolations going into my first C section. It was the first Friday of Lent, and I went into it with the Cross specially on my mind. We had been able to go to mass that morning, and I had gone to confession two days before that.
This time, there was no sleep the night before, no morning mass, and no God that I could feel in my heart. As we sat in the waiting room after checking in, I just stared at the floor, my mind overwhelmed with the memory of the last surgery and grueling recovery. A nurse came to tell a man in the waiting room that his wife’s labor was progressing well and they’d be keeping her – a natural childbirth. Lucky woman.
After I was settled in triage, the nurse came in to tell me I’d be waiting a little longer, as another woman who had been in labor for 10 hours needed to go in ahead of me for an emergency C section.
“Oh my gosh!” I replied. “I can’t imagine.” That poor woman. At least I’m just having a C section, not going into labor first.
“Is there anything I can get you while you wait?” the nurse asked.
“Double cheeseburger?” I responded in jest.
She let out an amused huff, and sported a cheeky grin. “I can’t do that.”
My first C section had been painful spiritually. My second C section was painful physically. I didn’t realize until too late that my spinal was being administered by someone other than my anesthesiologist, who was supervising a young woman in training. She had to stick me around 5 or 6 times before she got it right. The surgery was infinitely rougher, and I jokingly thought that should I have abdominal surgery in future, the doctors would find my organs had been rearranged.
At one point, the doctors pushed hard in my abdomen which ignited the severe tension pain created in my shoulders from the ill-administered spinal.
Drawing in air was excruciating. “I can’t breathe.” I whispered.
The anesthesiologist tried to reassure me, “Yes you can, just breathe, in and out.” I didn’t have the air to explain what was happening.
Just get this baby out of me now!
In a culture that praises unmedicated childbirth, it was a strange experience to be awake for the birth of my children, but to be physically disconnected from bringing them into the world. On the one hand, it was something I wanted to end immediately, but also something I felt I should be thankful for going by so quickly. Finally, Thomas Fulton was born. I was stitched back up and he was laid on my chest.
Something indescribable happened as I was being wheeled into recovery. It was as though God decided the darkness was over, and he turned the light switch in my soul back on.
I learned from my first C section that my brain doesn’t do well on narcotics, so I refused them. Even though the pain was just as bad as before, I was able to walk my small wing of the hospital the day after surgery, and went home feeling lighter. The very next weekend, I felt up to going to a local brewery with Nick while my parents kept the kids.
Over the next two years, I sorted through all the darkness and doubt, as well as the sudden disappearance of it all. Nick and I invested in learning the Marquette method, and the relief that came with the switch was almost immediate. I began speaking about my experiences and advocating for better fertility awareness and NFP education, focusing on the need for honesty, openness, and above all, no whitewashing.
At mass one Sunday, I heard the words of Christ from the cross in the gospel:
“My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?”
They hit me like a ton of bricks, as if I had never heard those words before. The moment Christ was doing the will of his Father perfectly, he felt abandoned. I realized my feeling of abandonment was a gift. God allowed me to taste the abandonment his Son had experienced when he took on our sins and died for us. My pain wasn’t a punishment for wrongdoing. My pain was my Lord and Savior inviting me to get to know him better, to get to know the kind of Love that suffers intensely for a dreadful sinner like me.
My cross was an invitation to intimacy with my God that I did nothing to deserve. Just like Christ, my cross had to be carried. It couldn’t be taken away by anyone, and I couldn’t fast forward through it or even pray it away. Neither me nor anyone else could see that from my Calvary. It could only be seen after my Easter morning.
Despite all the beauty God began weaving out of the darkness, I wasn’t ready to trust him with my fertility again. I began to get so frustrated with myself. It just felt ridiculous.
“What else has to happen, Jesus? Why can’t I let go, even after all you have shown me? How do I trust you again?”
His response was immediate and gentle: “Just start trusting me.”
“And this is how I know you’re a man.” I retorted, annoyed, “because only a man would oversimplify this.”
But of course, he was right. I had all of Scripture, the lives of the saints – and my own dedgum life – to show me reason after reason why he was trustworthy. There was nothing more for him to prove to me. Trusting him was a decision I could make if I wanted.
“Ok, Jesus, but you’re gonna have to bear with me.”
The next week, Nick and I were returning to our apartment with our kids around 8:30pm, and it was pouring rain. Parking was notoriously bad after 8pm, and we were likely looking at a long, wet walk to our building with our two littles in tow. “Ok, Jesus, I know this is juvenile, but gotta start somewhere. Please give us a parking spot close to our apartment.” As soon as we pulled in, we saw an open spot precisely in front of the door to our building. I smiled. It felt like Jesus had just been waiting for the opportunity.
Some time later, I asked Jesus why, even though I had processed the whole experience and was filled with joy because of the fruit it bore, the memory was still painful. I heard his voice clearly in my heart repeating these words to me:
“The cross is love. The cross is love. The cross is love.”
The purpose of this kind of suffering, this taste of love, was to refine my love of God, and to make me capable of loving others better. My soul and my body will forever carry those scars, fuel for the passion God has instilled in me to never be afraid to enter into someone’s pain. The person I had longed for through my experience of darkness was the very person God wanted to make of me. Every time I share my story or listen to someone else’s, God has reaffirmed for me how the cross he gave me has a purpose.
Now, I look at my children and relish telling them that their lives are so precious that the mere fact they exist taught their mother of the fathomless love of God.