The first contraction that seemed to signal true labor was around 4:22 in the morning Jan. 29th, one day past my due date. For about the last eight weeks or so I had been struggling terribly with stomach flu, indigestion and constant contractions so I wasn’t too sure, but got up to shower and see where things went. A funny thing I remember is having expressed concerns to my midwife that due to the flu, and constant (painful!) contractions over the weeks, I was worried about my ability to recognize true labor in time. She had just laughed and said “Oh, but we always make it, don’t we?”
I told Brian I thought I was in labor and while I showered, he notified Grandma and called Miss April over to watch the kids. I remember being so sick and exhausted throughout that night and thinking I just couldn’t handle labor if it happened soon, but once I knew it was the real thing, I switched fully over into prayer mode and began gaining some strength.
I had strongly desired a natural birth this time, but my high hopes were still mixed with a lot of fear. My first two labors were un-medicated, yet not what I would call natural births, and were really, really tough. My last four were great epidurals, and the temptation was very strong to think I needed that epidural this time, for one reason or another.
As I got ready to leave for the hospital, I continued to use a lot of my newly learned relaxation techniques from recent reading, and really mentally “went with” the contractions thinking to help labor along. As labor quickly intensified, my only true comfort was prayer and the confidence in who I prayed to. The main goal in childbirth obviously is health and safety for the baby and me, but I always have a very strong personal desire to glorify God in dignity and kindness to others. This time I also really wanted to set a strong positive example to my daughters that this is God’s created process that we can have confidence in, but was realizing I still needed to regain my own confidence.
You never want to get to the hospital too soon, because the longer you’re on their clock, the more danger you’re in of the invasive things they think they need to do to you. However, when I couldn’t read the clock, couldn’t get my shoes on and make-up became totally out of the question, I realized we had no time to lose. I had asked Brian if he could “please stop asking me questions during contractions” and while I struggled to get ready, I noticed him sort of “hovering” around a lot, not seeing any break in the contractions! He had to help me with my shoes and I prayed then “Lord, You’ve given me so much mercy in this life…please…just a little more?!?!” I vividly remember being so humbled in my dependence, yet encouraged as the truth of God’s Word filled my mind—that His mercies are unceasing, unfailing, and they don’t get used up! Thank goodness!
Before I left the house, I decided to check my cervix to get an idea of where I was at. I was totally and completely confused at what felt like mostly to full dilation and an apparently bulging bag of waters with no head in sight?! This was a total shock from the 1-2 cm just an hour before! Being untrained and unsure about what I was feeling, I got my butt into the van! Contrary to the news reports, I was not in the back, but actually in the front passenger seat throughout the entire experience. (I guess people have a hard time imagining that part) J It was around 5:30 a.m. when we left, and at that point my prayers were condensed to the one word—“Mercy?!?!” Pulling out of the driveway I asked Brian to “please, drive very carefully” and that was the last I remember speaking until I actually delivered. It was early and still dark, he was sipping his coffee, and although it smelled awful to me, I figured he would need it for the road ahead.
I have always labored very quietly and do the best untouched and undisturbed with quiet time to think, and pray on my own. (Ironic, since I’m normally a talker! J) Brian knows me well, so he just focused on quietly and smoothly getting us there. My worry increased while holding my phone in my hand unable to dial the doctor or speak from the intensity. I finally reached my doctors answering service right about the time we reached I-5 and… hit the brunt of the Monday morning rush hour traffic. This was the point when I started doing the math, and in my mind became overwhelmed with the pain and fear of what I thought I couldn’t handle. I began having visions of hospital parking lot deliveries! Still saying nothing to Brian, I simply needed every ounce of my being to pray, keep calm and think what to do. I began getting the urge to push, and was holding myself up on the armrests because the pressure was so unbearable. I tried to breathe through it for several contractions when Brian noticed and asked if I had the urge to push? I grunted some sort of a “yes.” In all my seven labors, this was the first I had ever had an actual urge to push so I realized it was probably upon me.
Having had three babies with severe respiratory distress, there had been a lot of concern for the safety of the baby in my mind up to this point, and a lot of dependence on man made machines. But God impressed very strongly and clearly then in my thoughts that if He was going to allow the baby to be born in the van, He was going to enable it to breathe in the van.
I could no longer fight it and felt the head begin to descend very quickly on its own. I immediately and instinctively unbuckled, lowered my pants down just enough to reach and feel the head actually emerging. I think I remember having one foot on the seat or dashboard but am not totally sure how I negotiated that position!
Using pain as a guide, I gently and slowly eased the head out with my hands attempting to prevent injury for the baby and I. Once the head crowned with the worst of the pain past, my own head cleared and my fear was gone!!! With a surge of adrenaline I suddenly thought “I’m having the baby myself and I know what to do now!”
While still traveling about 60 mph, I very gently put downward pressure on the head and the top shoulder slipped easily out (just like the books said!) I reached down to slip my finger under her bottom shoulder to deliver both shoulders and lift her up and onto my chest!!! I was holding my BABY!!!
This was when Daddy looked over for the shocker of his life, saw his baby’s silhouette on my chest and realized just what had happened! He said “Oh my gosh, LIZ!!!” and started exiting the freeway! Later, he said although he heard nothing from me, he looked over when he actually heard the “pop” of the water breaking and heard the sounds of the actual birth! (whatever that means?) J So also contrary to the news reports, Brian was neither “frantic” nor “hurtling down the freeway to the hospital”. Brian Kirkman was sipping his coffee and TOTALLY surprised when he saw his baby! J The atmosphere in the van was quiet, calm and dark, with the heater blowing nice and warm all ready for a naked newborn to hit the scene! People often ask how I had the space to maneuver things. I’ve realized that big hospital rooms, bright lights and stirrups are for doctors, not Mommas. J
Another area where God had been abundantly gracious to me is how He had so mercifully used my many doubts and worries to cause me to research emergency births and things like cord clamping over the recent weeks. He had sovereignly used my doubts to prepare me! I had my heart set on a natural late cord clamp so baby could receive all its own oxygen rich blood, having learned that it is a natural safeguard to wait, while baby still gets oxygen from the mother for several minutes after birth or as long as the cord pulses. So instead of fear and uncertainty at that critical moment in the van with my little baby, I just kept an eye on the cord and had confidence and peace in the knowledge that although she wasn’t crying vigorously yet, I knew she had oxygen through that pulsing cord, had great color, was calmly looking at me, and just wasn’t scared or uncomfortable enough to cry! I guess her experience was quiet, dark and warm with the only sounds being the hum of the engine and her Momma saying “Hey little baby…time to breathe.” My own seasoned Mom had suggested Brian grab a towel before we left the house, in case my water broke, and I used it to quickly wrap her up and to clean her mouth and nose. Daddy detoured for Northwest Hospital, and was on the phone with the 911 dispatcher telling them to be ready for us at the ER.
It was about 6:30 when it had finally occurred to me since the baby was clearly stable that I might check if “the baby” was a boy or a girl! I unwrapped the towel, took a peek and it was my GIRL!!! Yey! Everyone had been SO hoping for and craving a little baby girl! I just couldn’t believe this was all true!!!
Everyone seems curious about the transitional process and amused to find out that the baby and I were still “attached” when we arrived. Once at the Emergency room, several startled nurses gathered round to help me onto a stretcher and into the hospital. When a somewhat flustered nurse held out her arms and said “Okay…let’s see…how about you hand the baby to me….” I had to reply “Um…no, we’re still hooked up.” She went to Plan “B” (which meant I didn’t have to hand my baby over to anyone yet! )
Thanks to a long black maternity pea coat I was still wearing, I was able to move from the van to the stretcher very modestly despite holding my still attached baby! This was a rather important detail to me and I thank God for even that amazing protection and “covering”. (We later discovered my coat buttons littered about the van and realized I must’ve pulled an “incredible hulk” while delivering.)
We named our little bundle Juliet, and later, after Grandma arrived and described Papa Tim’s reaction to the van birth story—(he said “MERCY!”)--I remembered all my pleas for mercy, and her middle name was decided! Once it all sunk in, I realized what a gift the whole experience had been and I wouldn’t change a single thing! The rest is…well it really is history! KING 5 News covered our story and did a beautiful God-glorifying job of it. We were front page on both the Seattle Times and the Everett Herald, with articles in the P.I. and newspapers as far away as Israel!!!
It amazes and humbles me to serve a God who answers prayers before He even puts them in my heart. His loving kindness and mercy brings me to my knees. I look back and believe He must have been chuckling to Himself as I prayed, worried and fretted about that epidural decision! HA! To hold another brand new life in my arms…a precious little daughter so protected and healthy, and so undeserved on my part, I thank God once again for who HE is, and all He’s given us. Juliet’s little life has already been a display of His goodness and my greatest prayer is that the lives of all my children, however many God plans to bless us with, will ALL always reflect the greatness and unfailing tender mercies of our Creator, and our Deliverer.
I waited patiently for the LORD; and He inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. He hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the LORD. Blessed is the man that maketh the LORD his trust, and respecteth not the proud, nor such as turn aside to lies. Many, O LORD my God, are thy wonderful works which thou has done, and thy thoughts which are to us-ward: they cannot be reckoned up in order unto Thee: if I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered. ~Psalm 40:1-6