White Lightning at Christmas

Dear Celia –

“I am a wonderful mother!” you cried while you were in labour. I wondered why this thought surfaced in the middle of a contraction. I didn’t disagree with your statement, but these contractions were like white lightning, your labour’s power vast. This triumphant cry hung in the air...

Ah…it became clear once the rest of the statement was spoken. “ - or else I would have just booked the cesarean weeks ago!”

The tangle of grief, guilt, willpower and pain was almost palpable in this tiny room at the hospital. I was at your back, stroking, squeezing, pressing – trying to help your baby negotiate through your pelvis on this Christmas Eve, and willing your cervix to open this time. Seven years ago, it had been so similar, and your son Andrew had been finally lifted from your body after a long hard labour. And now here was a deja-vu moment - I was bringing all my knowledge, all the strength of my hands, to bear, without much effect. Your cervix was still closed, the contractions raging like you were about to give birth. Here we were, your witnesses, your helpers, at your second son’s birth. At your side was your baby’s godmother, able to lend support without even having seen a birth, keeping her jet-lagged body awake in solidarity. Your dear husband was sitting close by, his lips tight from his own back spasms. I could see his own pain rise off his body like a desert heat.

No room at the inn on this day before Christmas. Why does this always happen?

I’m sorry, Celia, that your own doctor wasn’t available. We didn’t have the bat-phone to contact him. I’m sorry that the head nurse, caught in the middle of it all with only 14 nurses on shift, couldn’t get you a room. I’m sorry that the OB Resident and anesthetist were held up in the OR, helping another woman. I’m sorry that I had to keep telling you to wait – to wait - for anything stronger than the nitrous oxide gas. But I’m glad I could be honest with you, and stay by your side.

You amaze me, Celia. When we talked on Christmas Day, one day after giving birth, you said you were thankful that you hadn’t been given the cesarean any earlier. You were thankful that you finally had an epidural, which gave you time to think clearly, to sift through your baby’s internal messages, your body’s strong messages, before finally having an emergency cesarean in the afternoon. You said you were thankful that you had those seven years between your children…thankful that you now finally know how hard your body was trying to tell you that something was wrong in the past few weeks. You said you were glad to be able to understand that things really do happen for a reason, and that your questions of the past years have finally been answered. You have regained your faith in your body.

I have faith in women’s bodies. But, you have strengthened that faith.

I am so glad that I was there for you, to witness your children’s births. Because I was at Andrew’s birth, I knew how strong you were. Despite what you might jokingly say, I knew that you wouldn’t call for pain medications unless your body was telling you to “take action!” I was so glad that I had seen the precursor signs to uterine rupture before. 

So, when your body found a miraculous way to make the pain break through the strong epidural, I knew that we all had to “take action” and move swiftly. Thank-you, Celia, for breathing slowly and deeply for your baby through it all, for letting go of expectations, for telling everyone exactly what you needed at each minute, for trusting that everything has a purpose, for being, as you called out, "a wonderful mother".

Thank you to all the staff for listening. Thank you to the Obstetrician for being gentle and respectful. Thank you to the OB Resident for her elegance under pressure. Thank you to our nurse for her calmness when she could have given in to fear. Thank you to the Pediatric Resident for holding baby Callum with reverence.

Celia, you have walked through the door between life and death, as all mothers must, and come out the other side. So many women these days are fearful of the feral nature of birth and mothering. You walked through to the other side with grace, in spite of the fear and pain.

At this Christmas time, I can’t think of a more fitting birth story. It wasn’t easy or smooth; it was raw, it was real. Celia, you taught us all about the infinite strength of the body, mind, and spirit. And, yes, Celia, you must be a wonderful mother!