For most families, it was a Sunday night like any other. They ate their dinners, laid out clothes for the day to come, and tucked the children into bed.
For the Engelman family, it was the night when the much-awaited fifth baby would finally come.
My mother-in-law came to stay with the kids and we said tearful goodbyes. The children aren’t used to having me gone more than a few hours, so the thought of my absence for several days was a bit daunting for them.
As for me, well, I’d had strange premonitions that something might go wrong during labor. While I managed to walk out the door all smiles and reassurance, I spent most of the ride to the hospital in tears.
Arriving at the hospital, we were quickly shown to my room. Over the course of the next twenty or so hours, they tried every means possible –other than Pitocin, which I wanted to avoid—to get that baby to come.
It’s all a bit of a blur, but at some point Monday afternoon, labor finally kicked in. I labored naturally for a long time, and, by late Monday night, was even to the point of pushing. Sometime in the wee hours of the morning, the doctor recommended an epidural, in hopes that it would help me relax and allow the baby to turn around, who seemed to be “sunny side up” and wasn’t applying enough pressure for full dilation.
I may be a natural girl, but an epidural has its time and place and, for me, that was it. Pushing when you’re not fully dilated involves unmentionable interventions that are extremely painful, to say the least.
The epidural took effect, allowing us to rest for a bit. Unfortunately, even with the Pitocin that they had also administered, I still wasn’t completely dilated. But, baby was also now twelve days overdue, and we knew him or her to be swimming in meconium (aka: poop). So, it was back to pushing, under the same circumstance as before, only this time there was no pain—thank you, God.
Everything was moving along, and seemed to be going somewhat normally, when the doctor told me to push, and I did. Suddenly, the room – and the doctor and nurse – were covered in red.
My doctor had been wearing a really beautiful cream jacket. I imagine that got thrown in the biohazard bin.
Doc and nurse stayed remarkably cool, but Ray and I were well aware that this was not normal. They left to get cleaned up, while Ray and I waited and worried, wondering what on earth was going on. After what seemed to be an eternity, they returned and the doctor explained what she believed had happened. She gave us two choices – try pushing a little bit more to see what happened, or go in for a C-section. Trouble was, there could be internal bleeding, and the pushing would exacerbate that situation.
I know the doctor wanted to be respectful of my desire for as natural a birth as possible, but when it comes down to life and death, I’ll choose life – and having my abdomen cut open – every time.
Ray and I were both scared. We’d seen the amount of blood loss, which I was told later was probably about two liters. We knew that internal bleeding to that degree could be dangerous. I gave instructions for him to text two prayerful women – my friend Karin, whom I knew would be in adoration at that time, and my sister Suzanne – and ask for their prayers.
Oddly, my sister told me later that she had been unable to sleep and woke up early that morning, deciding to spend some time in prayer. Normally, her phone would still have been turned off and she wouldn’t have seen that text until after the baby had been born.
I had spent much of the last thirty six hours in prayer myself, offering up my pains for the Holy Souls in Purgatory, purity and peace in the world, and the health of a little girl suffering from a heart defect. I had prayed the Rosary, meditating on Christ’s Passion and death, uniting my suffering with His. I had been to the sacrament of Reconciliation ten days before, and managed to keep my soul relatively clean in the interim. If I was going to go, I figured this was as good a time as any. Nonetheless, I worried for my children, who would be left motherless, and for Ray, who would be left to care for five children by himself, when, let’s face it, he had made it abundantly clear that we were done at four.
As they wheeled me into the OR, I prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet, and found immense comfort in it.
They moved me to the operating table, strapping my arms out as though they were spread on a cross. Ray sat at my head on my right, while the anesthesiologist sat at my left. Before I knew it, I felt some tugs and pulls, and then heard the staff talking amongst themselves, “Oh, he has so much hair!”
I looked at Ray, feeling more than a little disappointed that this was how we found out.
“It’s a boy?” I asked.
From my other side, the anesthesiologist said, “Oh, you didn’t know? Well, go ahead, Dad, take a look!”
Bad idea. I should have stopped him, but, well, my arms were strapped down. Ray stood up and looked over the sheet. And saw me and my internals in all their glory.
I think that might have eclipsed his first vision of his new baby boy.
At this point, I began to shiver uncontrollably. The anesthesiologist thought I was just wigging out, but I have a theory (having talked to other women who experienced the same thing) that it was the result of the Pitocin, which no longer had any uterine muscles to act upon and was therefore acting upon all of my other muscles. The anesthesiologist tried to reassure me and get me calmed down, but I could not stop the violent shaking. Unbeknownst to me, he administered a sedative. I began to feel sleepy, and, not knowing what was happening, kept thinking to myself,
Don’t go into the light. Don’t go into the light.
Fortunately, there was no need to worry.
It was a harrowing experience, so much so that my doctor asked me at my follow-up visit whether I was experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Recovery was difficult, involving two blood transfusions and way more pain and discomfort than I had planned on.
But at the end of it all, I don’t regret a single decision, or one solitary moment. Not only do I have a beautiful child of God to show for it, full of dimply-sweet-lovin’. In going through a long labor, the pain of pushing naturally, and the frightening experience of unexplained blood loss and an emergency C-section, I actually grew closer to Christ. Through God’s grace, I was able to do just what Christ tells us to do in the Gospels. Having entered into the experience prayerfully, and remaining prayerful throughout, I was able to pick up my cross, and carry it. I had moments of weakness, fear, and doubt, but ultimately, I give thanks.
What might have been a terribly “traumatic” experience was actually an opportunity to offer up my pain and fear, to unite my suffering with Christ’s, and to grow in my faith and love of the Lord.