When I was 25 years old, I became pregnant with my second child. Except for some mild morning sickness in the first trimester, it was pretty smooth sailing. After we checked into the hospital, it wasn’t long before my husband was kicking back in the birthing chair, watching the footy and sharing the pizza he’d ordered with the midwife. Things were going well.
Then, when my water broke the fluid was filled with meconium, a sign the baby was in distress. The pain of the labor increased dramatically. Our previously laid-back midwife became rigid with attention. The footy and pizza were quickly forgotten.
When it came time to push, every effort was like slamming against a brick wall. The baby’s heartrate dropped dangerously low at each attempt. Suddenly, I was flat on my back with my legs in stirrups and a doctor that I did not know telling me he was going to use a vacuum to extract my baby.
“It’s OK,” I pleaded. I’ll push the baby out this time! Give me one more shot at this!”
As the next contraction seized me, I pushed with all my might. When I again felt a wall, I used everything in me to push harder, determined to break through. With the help of the doctor’s swift cut, my daughter was born. The reason for my struggle was immediately apparent to everyone in the room. She had been in an occiput posterior position and weighed in at a healthy 9lbs 7oz. The doctor was impressed that I got her out without the aid of suction.
Due to the late hour, the hospital staff decided to leave me to rest in the delivery room and delayed taking me up to the maternity ward until morning. My husband kissed me good-bye and headed back home to get some rest.
I tried to sleep, but couldn’t relax. Niggling after-contractions prevented me from getting comfortable. After about an hour, the contractions were increasing in severity. The more I tried to ignore the pain, the worse it got. Finally, I hit the call button to request pain relief.
A short time later, I buzzed again. The pain relief hadn’t help. My discomfort was now so bad, I could not keep still. A sharp stabbing pain extended from my abdomen, to my tailbone, and up my spine. The only way I could describe the pain was that it felt like I was in labor again. “You don’t think there’s a twin in there?” I joked wearily.
The nurse left and returned a few minutes later with morphine, stressing that this would be all she could give me until morning. The morphine only made me light headed without dulling the pain. I writhed in agony. By reflex, I started to recite the Our Father, and then Hail Marys over and over again. In desperation, I called out to God and Mary to save me from the pain. It was like nothing I had ever experienced in my life. I began to sob loudly in despair.
An annoyed nurse popped her head in the doorway and berated me for scaring the mothers in the adjoining rooms with all the “carrying on” I was doing. Eventually, the nurses stopped responding to the call button. I was trapped in a nightmare where no one believed my pain. At some point, I passed out.
When I woke up, I realized that I hadn’t seen my baby in hours. I pressed the call button and a young nurse appeared. “Please, I want to see my baby,” I whispered hoarsely. She smiled and brought her to me. I could only gaze at my sleeping daughter. I had no strength to hold or reach out to her.
Concerned, the young nurse asked if I would like her to call my husband. “Yes, please….” I said, before drifting off again. She must have taken the baby with her, as my daughter wasn’t in the room when I woke up sometime later.
Unexpectedly, the door opened and two women walked in. They had on white coats, and surprisingly, both had identical long, dark brown hair that went past their shoulders and down their backs. I was immediately struck by their beauty and the kindness in their eyes. Their soft, soothing voices instantly put me at ease.
The shorter of the two seemed to be the doctor and the taller her assistant. The doctor acknowledged my great discomfort and asked me about my pain. I described the contraction-like waves that still wracked my body, though now far worse than that of my earlier traumatic labor. They listened intently with deep concern in their eyes.
After a gentle and thorough examination, the caring doctor gave me a warm smile, placed her hand upon my arm and said, “Everything is going to be alright.” A deep sense of peace flowed over me. I had hope that my ordeal would end soon.
Not long after they left, the door opened again. In stark contrast to the kind doctor and her quiet assistant, two extremely determined midwives came in on a mission. “Right,” said the one in charge. “They have been waiting for you up in the ward all morning. You can’t stay here any longer. We need the bed.”
I began to protest in panic, fearful of my fragile back and aggravating the pain if moved.
“It’s alright,” she replied in a patronizing tone without sympathy. Abruptly, the midwives swung my legs over the side of the bed and moved me into a sitting position. A searing hot fireball shot through my lower back. I screamed. Ignoring me, they pulled me to my feet.
At that precise moment, my husband walked through the door. Later, he would describe the scene like walking onto the set of a horror movie. As he stepped into the room, a clot the size of an orange along with a copious amount of blood escaped me to the floor. I looked down at my bloodied feet, then up to my husband’s stricken face, before collapsing into unconsciousness.
As I fainted, I fell backwards onto the bed, pinning the arm of the bossy midwife beneath me. Immediately, she began calling my name, rubbing my chest to revive me. When I didn't respond, she began pounding my abdomen in an attempt to release any further clots.
I don’t remember any of that. What I do remember is everything going white. I felt incredibly at peace. There was no more pain, only an enormous sense of relief.
I thought, “Ahhhh, it’s over. Thank you.”
Then faintly, from far away, I heard my husband repeatedly calling my name. His voice sounded afraid. Desperate.
Something like mild dismay crept into my being, as if my entire soul was reluctant to acknowledge his pleas, yet knew that I should. Although I loved him, I did not want to let go of that feeling of peace.
I sighed wearily and acknowledged, “He needs me.”
As soon as I completed this thought, my eyes opened. The midwife was pounding on my stomach with such force that I convulsed forward in the bed. Everyone froze. The only sound being the exhausted breathing of the midwife next to me. Her face was so close to mine that I could feel the warmth of her breath against my cold cheek. Slowly, I turned to her and whispered quietly and without gall, “Now do you believe me?" Her eyes lowered. She said nothing, only nodded.
When I was recovered enough to finally be wheeled up to the ward, I asked to stop by the nurses’ station. I wanted to inquire of the names of the long-haired doctor and physician’s assistant whom had come into my room. I needed to thank them for the kindness they had shown to me.
Everyone looked confused. No one at the hospital fit their description. More specifically, no female doctors were currently on staff. I was troubled by this, but didn’t think much of it now that the pain was gone and my baby girl was in my arms. I also held no ill will towards the staff. I was simply grateful to be alive.
I often think about these mysterious women and the feeling of hope and peace that their presence gave to me. Their lovely faces and soothing voices are as clear to me today as they were all those years ago. I do not know if they were real, or if they only existed in my mind, a product of pain, despair and waning morphine.
All I know is that for the few moments they were with me in that hospital room, I felt loved, cared for and believed. The assurance they gave that everything would be alright helped me to endure what came next, including the many challenging months of recovery and complications that followed.
The Old and New Testaments are filled with stories of angels. Perhaps they do still dwell among us, bringing hope and giving us peace in our hour of need.
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