For Part One, go here.
Being told to push created a surreal excitement for us because there was no change in me or the room; one moment I was resting and the next I was to start pushing. Mike grabbed my left leg and my mom grabbed my right, and Stephanie stood directly in front of me. She taught me to push three times for every contraction, at ten seconds each. I thought this was a lot, but went for it. Since I couldn’t feel contractions, we watched the monitor and would get in position as we saw one coming. My legs were hoisted up, I’d take a deep breath, and Mike would count to ten. I’d take a short breath and then do it two more times. Then we’d all rest until the next contraction.
I noticed quickly that I could now feel the contraction coming on, and I told the nurse. She said I could push the epidural button for a little additional medication, and I did. It didn’t do any good. I could feel sensation in my legs, and could move them myself. I started to get nervous that it was wearing off and I’d feel the baby coming out. Like an insane person, I told them these facts over and over. They said the epidural was working and I needed to keep pushing.
I kept pushing. I also kept pushing the drug button.
After about an hour, Stephanie suggested we use a bar for leverage. I had no idea what she meant, and was surprised when she pulled an actual U-shaped plastic bar across the bed and wrapped a sheet around it. It looked like a contraption a woman in an English hamlet would have used seven hundred years ago…several women gathered around the laboring mother on a quilted bed in a thatched hut with a fire boiling the rags clean…this was my imagery.
I grabbed hold of the sheet and pulled on it through the next several contractions. It gave me good leverage. The next move we tried was on my side but I said that wasn’t working because it was so uncomfortable I just couldn’t push like that. She didn’t argue, and we moved back to the other two positions.
Dr Walker came in every hour to check on me, and she would watch as I pushed to see how it was going. She told me she wanted me to push harder, and as I pushed extra hard — in her words, “like I’m pooping” — she said that was the right way and to do it like that every time. It was much more intense than I had been pushing and I realized I needed to step it up. Mike was hollering at me to work harder and push intensely, which inspired me annnnnnd irritated me. I found pushing to be easier than I imagined it would be, mostly because it didn’t hurt. I also added another ten second push to the end of almost all of my contractions just to work harder, and really exert myself, so I was doing four countdowns instead of three.
After three hours had passed (!), Dr Walker came back and gave me a stern pep talk. She said I “had to turn a corner” and she never directly said it, but I knew the end of that sentence was “or we’d be looking at a c-section.” It kicked me into high gear. I said, “I’m NOT getting a c-section, I have been in labor for 20 hours.” She agreed and said, “Then I need you to push and get this moving,” and she coached me through a contraction in which I pushed as hard as I could, out of pure fear. She said, “Yes! Yes, that’s what you need to do,” and I asked her to stay because I did better with her there. She said, “I cannot stay. I really cannot. I have had a day. I’m not staying.” She explained she was on her twentieth hour of work too, on a twenty-four hour shift, delivering baby after baby. I was disappointed but understood. I asked her to tell me how far the baby had to go, in inches. She held her finger up a little more than an inch. I was shocked. I thought the baby was still six inches back. That rallied me.
She left and Mike became extra serious, getting in my face and telling me to work harder than I ever have. I looked back at him and realized that I had been holding something back. Deep down, I didn’t think a baby’s head could physically come out of me – it felt impossible, so I wasn’t pushing as hard as I could. After the c-section pep talk, I decided to imagine that the baby’s head was much smaller than my opening, and I pushed with abandon. It worked remarkably well. My fear dissipated and I pushed with all my strength.
An hour later Dr Walker returned and said our last option was to use a vacuum; I had pushed for four hours with virtually no progress. We discussed it and Mike and I agreed that a non-invasive assist was the next step. We decided to move to the operating room and do the vacuum there, and if it failed we’d have a c-section. There wasn’t really any other option at that point; I’d been in labor almost an entire day, I’d pushed for four hours, there was nothing more that we could do. I was so scared, realizing the method of delivery all hinged on my performance; that if I failed, it would mean surgery. An overwhelming feeling of preemptive guilt surfaced, and I tried to calm myself. I said goodbye to my mom, telling her, “The next time you see me, I’ll be a mama!”
At 4:40AM they wheeled me down the hall, which I really enjoyed because I’ve secretly always wanted to be wheeled down the hall on a bed in a hospital, as sick as that sounds. Mike walked beside me and took blurry pictures. We all kept asking him if he had the camera, even the doctor asked him, and he said “If one more person asks me if I have the camera, I’m going to scream!” Even after that, I asked if he had the real camera and not just the iPad. He did not enjoy that question.
We got to the room, which was much smaller than I had pictured, and very brightly lit. They introduced us to all the doctors, nurses, anesthesiologists, and pediatricians. Mike turned on music and we got back to the work of pushing. Dr Walker said we were only going to try three times because more vacuum use than that would be risky for the baby.
My heart was bursting from my chest as I felt the most intense desire of my life to push this baby out. I was desperate, pleading with myself, clinging to any strength I had to get the baby out of me. I was begging God, I was burrowing inside myself to find the strength to push her out. I kept thinking: it all comes down to this. For the rest of our lives we’re going to know how they were born based on what I do in the next minute. I pushed so hard I thought the blood vessels in my eyes would burst, while the doctor used the vacuum at the same time. Even when we got to the end of the third push, I sucked in air and insisted on one last try, and pushed with all my might while Mike yelled passionately for me to PUSH.
It didn’t work. I slumped in defeat, asking if this truly was it, and she said any more could hurt the baby, and that was the only thing that mattered.
She called for everyone to prep for surgery. As the anesthesiologist approached, I told him my epidural had all but worn off, and I didn’t trust it for surgery. He didn’t argue at all, and neither did Dr Walker, and they decided to do a new insertion for a full block. He did it remarkably quickly, and said it was working. I disagreed, saying nothing had changed, but Dr Walker started pinching my stomach and I said, “I can feel that!” in a panicked sort of way. She waited a few more seconds and did it again and I said I could feel it, but she said, “Abby, I’m poking you with a sharp object – if you really felt it, it would hurt.” I relented.
They strung a curtain in front of me and laid my arms down wide. Mike started saying “What song should I play?” and I said, “How Great is Our God” but he kept playing other songs (Stephanie later told me they were all worship songs, but Mike claims they were born to an instrumental Coldplay song. I have no memory of music being played at all. I was exhausted, emotional, drugged, and focusing on the biggest event of my life, so I think not hearing music makes sense). At one point Mike flat-out dropped the iPad on the floor which made me wince because I was sure it shattered, but I held myself back from asking if it had broken because I realized how ridiculously shallow that question was in light of meeting my children in the next five minutes. (Shallow update: the iPad was fine.)
Mike leaned in next to me as Dr Walker announced she was beginning her cut. I couldn’t feel a thing. Mike said, “Well, what are we naming her?” with a smile and I said, “Arden. I think Arden! What do you think?” and he agreed, since we had narrowed it down to two names. I was patiently waiting for the next step to be announced, since I thought they’d say “Now we’re cutting the uterus, now we’re reaching in, etc” but instead, the anesthesiologist, who was seated behind my head, abruptly pulled the fabric back revealing a window and…there she was.
My baby Arden. Her feet suspended in the air. All blue and tiny and perfect and I gasped because I had no idea she’d left my body. In a second they whisked her over to the inspection station where a team of nurses and pediatricians began examining her, and Mike’s face was lit up like Christmas at the sight of her.
The anesthesiologist closed the window, and before I could even comprehend what was happening he snapped it open again and there was Henry, perfect Henry, his little blue feet hanging in front of me. He too was whisked away and Mike ran over to their tables to snap pictures. He soon came running back yelling, “SEVEN POUNDS FOURTEEN OUNCES!” over and over again about Arden. I couldn’t believe it but wanted to know Henry’s weight. When they said five pounds thirteen ounces I was nervous that they were so far apart but thrilled that he was so close to six pounds. When Mike was with them, and no one was paying attention to me (well, they were stitching me up), I looked over at the little glowing baby stands, holding my children, and I started to cry saying “My babies, my babies” over and over, just aching for them, not believing that they were in the same room as me. One by one they brought them over and I just cried with joy. I didn’t know then that Henry’s hair would grow to be as fine and golden as corn silks; I didn’t know that Arden’s upper cheek dimple would pierce my heart with adoration; I didn’t know that the devastating blue of their eyes would literally stop passersby in their tracks; I had no idea that hearing the simple two syllables of “mama” coming from their mouths would make me rearrange everything that had mattered to me before; I couldn’t have guessed that with every passing month I would mourn at their receding babyhood and rejoice at all they gained, in equal measure; I didn’t know that days were approaching that would be so hard I’d weep with frustration; I didn’t know that Henry’s favorite comfort position would be sucking his left thumb, with his right hand cupping my chin; I didn’t know that Arden would grab me around the neck and say “love”, which grabbed my soul with equal force; I didn’t understand that my love for my husband would deepen in unimaginable ways; I didn’t know the deep, contented happiness that hearing their peals of laughter as they chase each other would bring; I couldn’t know that holding them, every single time, without exception, would become the joy of my life.
I didn’t know any of that in those first moments of meeting. All I knew was that along with two babies, an irrevocable love had been born at 5:48 and 5:49AM, altering my heart forever.
To God be the glory, great things He hath done.
I always knew it was a possibility, but when they had to take both babies to the NICU, I couldn’t believe the heartache and desperation I felt. I never even got to hold them.
After finishing the repairs, they wheeled me back to my room to recover. Dr Walker walked alongside me and listened as I expressed my feelings of failure at having to have a c-section. She stopped me and leaned down close and said “Abby, Arden was face-up. None of us could have known that. She was never going to be born any other way. It wasn’t your fault, no amount of pushing would have changed the outcome.” Her intensity and my emotion made it close to the “It’s not your fault,” Good Will Hunting scene.
A new nurse was assigned and she tried to instruct me to rest and get some sleep but all I could do was insist on seeing my babies. I kept saying “When? When can I go to them? Why can’t I go now?” She calmly explained that I wouldn’t be allowed to visit the NICU until I was able to sit without issue.
I couldn’t believe the bar was so low. “Perfect!” I exclaimed. “I can do that right now!” I launched myself into a seated position and instantly felt like I might fall over or vomit or faint. I wasn’t about to admit this, but she already knew.
“You’re completely white,” she said gently. “Abby, you’ve just had major surgery. I know you want to be with your babies, but you have to rest.”
“How long?” I asked, near tears. “How long does it take to be able to sit up?”
“Typically four or five hours,” she replied. She might as well have said a week. I was in denial that this was happening. Stephanie was still in the room and would tell me months later that she couldn’t believe how I was disregarding the pain and fighting so intensely to get to the NICU; she said that is often not the case, which is unfathomable to me.
The next few hours passed in a blur that I barely remember. I tried to sleep, and probably did, with people moving in and out of the room to check on or care for us. I was coming off of a menagerie of drugs, and had been awake for more than 24 hours, save for that little nap in the middle. Add surgery and one of life’s biggest moments to that and I was a little less than energized and alert.
Before I could recover enough to visit the NICU, they released Arden. I thought my heart would implode from happiness that she was going to join us in our room.
As soon as they wheeled her in in her little bassinet, it was as if the last several hours of longing were erased. They placed her on my chest and we stared in wonder at the most beautiful little girl we’d ever seen. This was my daughter. This was MY daughter? How could someone so beautiful come from me?
Two by two the visitors came. First my parents, as this was their first grandchild.
And then my sisters, because this was their very first niece.
And then my sisters-in-love took turns meeting this darling angel.
It was a joy we’d never known, but it was covered by the cloud of Henry’s absence. I thought of him constantly and how he should have been right there in my arms meeting each relative who loved him, and instead he was alone in a room three floors away.
We finally got to go see him late that afternoon, when they deemed me ready for the journey. They gingerly placed me in a wheelchair — catheter strapped to my leg for the ride! — and we took the little vial of breastmilk I’d pumped for him and away we went.
The only true reason he needed to be in the NICU turned out to be that he wouldn’t eat. He just wasn’t sucking from breast or bottle. It was like he couldn’t be bothered, and the nurses tried to keep it lighthearted for us telling us that he simply preferred the direct service of the umbilical cord. Of course I can write this plainly now, but at the time he might as well have been clinging to life the way I cried every day.
Seeing him in his little bed with lights and beeping buttons could have crushed me, but all I saw was my Henry Warren. He was impossibly precious and lightweight, just a nugget of baby perfection that I couldn’t believe was mine. A son. My own son who was more handsome than I could have dreamed.
We brought our parents to meet him which was really special because only one visitor was allowed at a time with us, so each parent got their sacred first meeting with Henry individually. It was important to us not to share the babies’ names until each person met them, so all day no one knew his name until they were holding him.
We were overcome with relief the next day when we could take Arden to visit Henry, bringing the babies together for the first time since the womb. Seeing them together completed the picture we’d had in our minds since we found out we were having twins.
We had no idea that Henry would stay in the NICU for seventeen interminable days, that we’d have to leave him each night because we weren’t allowed to let Arden stay, that we’d spend every minute with him from 9AM to 9PM, feeding and caring for both babies while a bevvy of visitors blessed us with their company. All of that anguish and struggle were approaching, but in those first moments together God gave us a vision of our family of four to anchor us through the coming storm.
And we made it. By God’s grace, we made it and thrived; and on August 12, we took both twins home together.
And now, twenty-one months later, this family of four is ready to begin our next chapter — as a family of five.
Great is His faithfulness.