A Birth Story

It was early August. My mother, myself and my three children were packed into our van taking a drive across the country to our new home in Utah. My mom’s cell phone rang. Her sister was on the other end, crying. Their mom was in excruciating pain and had been hospitalized. Tests were being run but it looked as though this might be the end of a long battle with breast cancer for my sweet grandmother.

A couple of days later, while still in transit we received more news. The cancer had metastasized into her liver. She was discontinuing treatment except for medication to control the pain. She was preparing to die.

My mother and I, needless to say, were a mess. Driving and crying and lost in thought. I was 6 months pregnant at the time. How long would my grandma live? Would she get to meet her new great grandson? Could they control the pain so that her death wasn’t preceded by terrible agony? Could I somehow see her before she left?

A few days after we arrived in Utah, my husband defended his thesis in order to earn his doctorate in biology and then he flew out to join us. My mom flew to Houston to be with my grandma. She was prepared to stay indefinitely. Her work was very gracious in letting her do her job long distance. But my mom has always been someone you can count on to get the job done no matter the circumstances.

I called her often to get the latest report on grandma’s condition. She was deteriorating rapidly but the doctors had finally found a pain medication that grandma could handle that relieved her suffering. I got to see her during one particularly good evening, over skype on the internet. She was very thin and frail but she still had her beautiful smile and sense of humor. She was in awe at my swollen belly.

The very last time I talked to her was October 26th. She called me and sang happy birthday to me. It was actually my sister’s birthday. Her mind was obviously very muddled now and her speech slow and slurred. I cried. I had cried many times over those last few months when thinking of her.

She had always been the rock of our family. Patient, loving, a spiritual giant and a great example of a good human being. How could she go? What would we do without her? I hoped that I might have the baby early enough before she died that I could attend her funeral at least.

In the dark morning hours of November 2 I awoke inexplicably at 1:10am. Normally I woke at night because the baby pushing on my bladder caused me to, but this was not the case. I closed my eyes intending to go back to sleep when a few minutes later, at 1:16am my cell phone rang. It was my mother. Grandma had passed away about 5 minutes ago she told me. I was due to have my baby in 5 days. I would not be able to attend the funeral even to say good-bye. I couldn’t understand why everything had worked out in such a way.

The funeral was planned for November 8th and I was also due for an induction that morning. But at around 2:30am the morning of the 8th I knew no induction would be needed. The baby was coming on his own. My contractions seemed very strong to me. I had never felt them so strong and urgent before as I had always had an epidural in place before I dialated very far. Surely I must be at 8 centimeters I thought. But when the nurse checked me I was only a 6. When asked if I wanted an epidural I said no.

You see, I think I felt the need to connect to my grandma in some way since I had not seen her before she died and would not be seeing her before she was buried. I knew that if she could get through the agony of cancer gnawing at her liver, I could bear the pain of childbirth. I wanted to do it in her memory. Of course I wasn’t entirely sure I could trust myself to go through with it, especially if it were a long and difficult labor, so I had been hoping that it might be fast. My hopes were answered.

Fifteen minutes after the nurse first checked my progress, the babies heart rate dropped during a particularly painful contraction. She decided to check me again and found I was at an 8. I remember panicking at that moment thinking, the baby really is coming, now, without any pain meds. From that point on things were a blur. The nurse was calling the doctor telling him he needed to rush to the hospital. I asked to be checked again and I was at a 9. I was very proud of my composure at this point. The contractions were incredibly intense. I had never felt anything like it but I was able to silently bear and breathe through each one as they caused my entire body to tremble. Before the doctor had arrived I knew I was fully dialated. My entire frame was urging me - push! To fight it was torturous but the nurses asked me to try. Just then the doctor walked in, his hair a mess, his eyes still puffy from being awoken out of a dead sleep but in a moment his gloves, mask and covering were on and he was ready.

I pushed as hard as a I could and broke my silence. Oh such pain, such bearing down by the contractions on my body. And then during one contraction the doctor broke my water. I had not known that the pain could be any more intense but as I felt the water gush out of me, the need to get the tiny body out of mine doubled in intensity. I remember as I was pushing thinking, what unearthly shrieking is that? Oh my gosh, that’s coming from me? But I needed the power of my lungs to help me get the baby out. It wasn’t even a conscious choice. Finally my efforts paid off.

The day my grandmother’s body was to be laid in the earth, my tiny sons body emerged. The symbolism of that hit me with poignancy and power. Perhaps the timing of it was her way of saying good-bye to me personally. Perhaps she had been getting to know my little one in Heaven before he came down. But as I looked at my baby and thought of my grandma I realized while these mortal bodies come and go, our spirits are forever. I can’t wait to see her again.

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Comments (6)

BessieFebruary 15th, 2011 at 6:09 pm

So sweet. I am glad you are able to to put all this into words and keep it for yourself, family and friends to read!

JenniFebruary 15th, 2011 at 6:32 pm

That is a beautiful post, and I think the timing of it now is wonderful I love you, hopefully I’ll be seeing you real soon.

Jenny BallifFebruary 15th, 2011 at 9:49 pm

Beautiful and touching. Thanks for sharing.

momFebruary 16th, 2011 at 3:18 am

so very beautiful summer. thank you.

Aunt DarleneFebruary 17th, 2011 at 8:31 pm

Thank you so much Summer, for sharing this story of the birth of your new little son. I truly believe in my heart that it was your grandma Dian’s wish to have those few prescious moments with her new great-grandson, before his birth into the world. I am also sure that he too felt her love and experienced the comfort and peace that she brought to all in our family.

AnnetteFebruary 20th, 2011 at 8:21 pm

I’m continually amazed at how often families experience both a death and a birth close to one another–someone exiting their mortal existence and then ushering a new loved one into it.

Powerful post.

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