I did this c-section without my Mom and without my sister (who is working in Africa). My fellow Sisters in the Faith sent their love, emotional support, and sacramental scarfs. Yet somehow this child birth was all about me feeling beloved through the unexpected support of men.
Since I was all alone, St Joseph tied a strong net of men together to carry me over this fifth c-section.
My Father in Heaven
Prayer to our Father in Heaven works! I was my usual, frazzled self at 4 AM on Wednesday morning. Tons of worried, nervous thoughts clouded my head. I made myself sit still with the Bible for fifteen minutes in a hotel chair. It was a total act of obedience--and a short one at that. (My daily Carmel prayer time is supposed to last at least 30 mins.) I didn't feel better. In fact, I felt worse!
Three hours later, I'm in pre-op happily chatting with all of our nurses and doctors. My husband is stunned. He's sat through four previous c-sections with me. He says "usually your eyes are these constricted dots and you have zero color in your cheeks. What is up?" I say "Um, I actually did my prayer time this morning--very imperfectly of course. Did I actually get more grace?"
My father showed up for Abigail's birth! He cancelled a weeks worth of classes he was supposed to teach. He reserved two hotel rooms by my out-of-state hospital. He drove for 5 hours on a Tuesday night. He came to my baby's birth without his wife (my Mom). At 6:35, I had the shortest commute to pick up my children's babysitter. Grandpa came two hotel doors over to watch all four of my sleeping angels in a comfortable space, minutes from my hospital room. My father gave me the gift of my husband's presence during the birth.
How can I even start to explain what my spouse means to me, especially before the birth of our child? From the Song of Songs "I am my beloved, and my beloved is mine." This time Jon's presence was extra special. I didn't act like it was my right to have him there. I didn't think he "owed" me because he got me pregnant in the first place. I simply felt so grateful to have my beloved next to me. I made a special sacrifice for all the military wives who have to give birth alone. God bless their sacrifice!
The night before my c-section, Jon took our four kids swimming in the hotel pool. He came back to the room with this wild tale. My seven year old son, Alex, suddenly stepped up to the plate and became a great babysitter to our eighteen month old. He was so gentle and kind to her, that he actually took over as her swimming instructor in the extreme shallow end of the pool. Jon said it was amazing. All week I've noticed this special relationship growing between the two of them. Its so beautiful that when Tessy's Mama is absent for the first time in her little wife, big brother has stepped up to give her special love and affection. Right now this usually wiggly seven year old happily sits for long periods of time on our living room couch holding his precious newborn sister Abigail.
At 6:30 AM, I walked out of a impersonal city hotel. We were required to have valet parking, which is so ridiculous to use with our a dusty, silver mini-van. As we walked out I said happily "We're going to the hospital right now to have a baby." This Middle Eastern Man in a formal valet uniform gave me a huge smile and tossed opened his arms. I ran and hugged him. I got hugged by our valet! Suddenly, all these men where talking around me excitedly in Arabic. Jon got treated like a visiting Prince. There was such an unexpected outpouring of love and support on a lonely, foggy city street. Once I got inside the mini-van, I turned to Jon and said "Can you believe that? Those were our shepherds!"
Jesus, my brother
Once I got to the Catholic hospital, Jon and I went to the chapel. There was a 24 hour Adoration--a window to a brass cup holding His sacred presence. I said a special prayer in my heart. He heard me and gave me an affectionate "pat on the head." How I love my big brother in heaven!
I had special grace from doing a c-section during Lent. I was talking to another blogger recently that its almost scary how specifically a c-section lines up to the Way of the Cross. Even the surgery table looks like a crucifix on its side. (They pull open the table arms and sometimes strap you down on them). It really helped me get over my anxiety by tying the different types of pain to a specific scene in the Way of the Cross. The embarrassment of changing into an open backed hospital gown to Jesus being Stripped for example. When I had to lie still for the epi in my back, I mentally pictured getting nails in the hand. I'm no expert in mental prayer, but somehow picturing my Big Brother doing this first--made me feel calm. I felt like I was "consenting" to the c-section process rather than getting dragged along in an uncontrolled current of fearful events.
Directly inspired by my brother Jesus' example, I was determined "to give" during this whole c-section. (I mean, what foolish, fearful girl thinks about being less selfish during her surgery without a strong nudge from the Holy Spirit?) I didn't know what this would look like in practice. So I just tried some things out. Since I'm a social girl, I made myself chat with the doctors even when I didn't want to.
I usually hate anesthesia the most during surgery, so I made myself give the anesthesiologist an extra huge Southern welcome. I made jokes. I smiled big smiles. What do you know, the guy responded. He took such great care of me all during the surgery and we ended up having this deep moment at the end. Incredible that you can start something so deep for God just by smiling at someone who is about to stick a needle in your back!
My Circle of Male Support on the Surgery Team
There were lots of women in my Operating Room, but somehow all the focus narrowed down to this trio of supportive men: "Nate" my anesthesiologist, "Ted" my PA, and this nameless male nurse who appeared out of thin air when they started to stitch me up.
My husband is not allowed to be with me until I'm fully draped in the blue surgical cloth. (I affectionately call this "Mary's Blue Mantle.") In that past its been super hard for me to wait this period without him. I'm all alone, shivering and vulnerable immediately before surgery. I've gotten pretty phobic about patiently waiting for them to stick the epidural in my back. It makes no logical sense, but each time in the past I've been totally convinced that I'm going to screw up, jump involuntarily and end up paralyzed for life. Disordered anxiety thoughts stink!
This time it was completely different. I made small talk with the PA Ted just when I most wanted to curl up inside myself and faint from panic. It ended up being totally hilarious. We had the home-schooling talk! Right then, when I'm literally on the operating table shivering in my thin hospital gown. He asked me if I home-schooled my kids. I said "yes" with a smile. Then he got into this in depth discussion about how they really debated if they should home school their five year old daughter next year, but then they decided against it. Ready for the reason? Because "My wife is just not the home-schooling type. She'd go crazy if she was stuck at home all the time."
Oh my goodness. I just smiled and stayed silent.
Can you image my hilarious sense of irony. I'm not the home-schooling type. I'm the one who would go crazy staying at home full time. I'm so NOT qualified to be the mother of a large family. Yet here I am, literally about to go under the knife for baby number five. I couldn't even try to explain the amount of grace I have received as a Catholic mother. I just gave a beautiful smile and prayed for him instead.
A few minutes later, I felt this powerful form of protection. Ted didn't just rub my arm and tell me to stay still. Ted held me in this protective, brotherly embrace. He physically helped my body stay in perfect place for the epidural prick. Because of the concerns that my fifth c-section would run extra long, I had to get some sort of extra pump installed in my back. However, between Ted and Nate--this was still the easiest and calmest epi I've ever received.
I realized at that moment that my husband was praying a rosary outside the OR for me. Because he was barred from being with me, St. Joseph had personally knitted together a little male support net--just like a literal fishing net- for me to feel comfortable in his absence.
When my husband came into the OR, I greeting him with a warm smile. I was having a great time chatting with my new friends. He was shocked yet again. "This is the calmest you've ever been," he said. "This is NOT me," I kept saying in reply. You've been with me for four times in the past. This is all grace."
Don't think I can finish this story right now. Getting discharged from the hospital today. Not sure when I will get the time and energy to finish part three of the story. Just know that there were a lot of sweet moments to come. My husband and I were chatting calmly as the baby came out. Nate, leaned over and said "this is what makes me want to have a third child." There was this long time on the end of the surgery, when I had to get stitched back together. My husband was with the baby. The female surgeon and all the female nurses had left. I was getting worked on by three men, three FATHERS, and they all had a lovely things to say about their children.
At one point, Nate leans over and has a deep conversation with me about why he's hesitating to have a third child. Life with a 4 and 2 year old is hard. He feels like "he's stretched so thin he couldn't give himself fairly to another child. It was wonderful readers, because I was completely silent. Somehow my silence was even more effective--or maybe it was staying quiet and letting my actions speak for themselves. I almost started laughing again as he talked so painfully about being "on the fence." I just kept thinking, you don't even know that you are confiding in a CARMELITE. I'm going to be praying to God that you have that third baby. Your rational intellect doesn't stand a chance! :-)
Another quick note, Jon and I were just chatting about a nurse at Children's Hospital. Our little male fan club jumped into the conversation and demanded all the details. They were so interested Nate said "Was that picture of Tessy's heart taken at this hospital? Do you mind if I look it up on the computer?" At the end of my c-section, he pulled up the scary pictures of the 16 inch PIC line that ended up in Tessy's heart. It was such this cool moment. It felt so joyful and so "of God." Later Jon and I were trying to figure out our feelings. I think it was so beautiful, because as we welcomed Little Abigail out into the world, there was this nod of the total miracle of her birth. It was amazing that she was here. We, her parents, had not had an easy time with her older sister's birth a mere 18 months ago. No one would have blamed us for packing it in--for saying we didn't want to risk such heart ache again. Yet, God is so good. He works wonders on the human heart. Thanks to supernatural trust, we were welcoming in a new daughter into our family in 2012!
Thanks for all of your prayers and all your support. Looks like I'll be going home today. Pray for me and baby to have a smooth transition despite the long drive home.