My Story, My faith: How Enduring Pain Expands Our Knowledge of God
It was such a hot afternoon as we were walking just a few blocks to the park. I was pulling the wagon loaded with a four and a one year-old and some sand toys. I was working as a nanny for a family in the neighborhood, just a ten minute walk from my home. It might have been that I was feeling the heat a little more because I was six months pregnant. It was my first child, and we had found out five weeks earlier that we would be having a boy. My husband was so excited that he actually bit my hand when the tech told us the news.
As I was walking, I felt a flutter of kicks so uncomfortably low that they stopped me in my tracks. I wasn’t in any pain. It just felt weird. I decided to turn around and take the kids back home. “Sorry, guys, no park today.” I brought them back home and let them play in the backyard. They didn’t seem to mind. Then, I called my doctor’s office to speak to the nurse. I let her know what I was feeling. She asked me a series of questions. “No, I’m not in any pain.” “No, I’m not having contractions.” “Yes, this is my first pregnancy.” After asking a few more questions she replied, “Well dear, this is your first pregnancy and what you are experiencing is normal. But if you experience bleeding or pain, go to the hospital.”
My husband had flown to Los Angeles for a wedding and was heading back that night. When he came home, I let him know what was happening and what the nurse told me. Neither of us thought that there was anything to worry about.
The next day, I went to work, came home and started to prepare dinner. I was carrying a laundry basket to the basement, and I began to feel those low kicks again. Stronger this time. I went to the bathroom, and I noticed the tiniest bit of bleeding. I immediately phoned my husband who had gone to his Bible study group. “I think I need to go to the hospital.” I told him.
I shut off the oven and laid on the couch, waiting for him to arrive. I wasn’t in any pain, so I still wasn’t worried that there was anything wrong, but we had to be sure. The hospital ride was about a twenty-five minute drive from our home, and the main road was full of potholes. We joked as we bumped along. “Imagine when I am in labour with contractions, driving down this road!”
We arrived at the hospital, the maternity ward was on the eighth floor. We walked down the hallway to triage, explained the issue and checked in. We were brought to a room, where I undressed and put on a hospital gown. They hooked me up to monitor to measure contractions and the heartbeats of my baby and me. We waited for the on-call doctor to arrive. The whole time my husband was making me laugh with his jokes and playing with various instruments that he should not be touching.
The doctors finally came and began asking me a series of questions regarding my health and any drug use. We were all laughing and joking. They checked the monitor and everything seemed normal. No contractions. Heartbeats look good. “Now we are just going to do a quick internal exam.” Yay. I put my legs up. I noticed that their faces changed from smiling to very serious. “Okay, Sharla. We are going to need you to lay all the way back. You are four centimeters dilated, and your baby’s foot is in your cervix. It is likely you will have him today.”
Wait. This can’t be happening. It’s too soon! I began to cry, and the only words I could get out were, “I need my mom.” It doesn’t matter how old we get, we will always believe that our moms have superpowers to make any situation better. My husband dialed her number, quickly let her know what was happening and then passed me the phone. “Sharla, there isn’t anything you can do. You need to be calm. Give it to God. Pray.” “Okay.” I managed to whimper. It was all I needed to hear.
The next few hours were a bit of a blur. Specialist after specialist entered my room and gave me a report of what to expect should my baby be born that night. At twenty-three weeks and five days, they would not perform any extraordinary measures. Oh, God! Please let my baby stay put! I was given steroid shots in my thighs to help strengthen his lungs, so that maybe he would have a chance. Andrew was given a cot next to my bed. I didn’t get much sleep as the nurse needed to check my vitals every few hours. Also, my bed angled in a way so that my legs were above my head. It was supposed to help keep the baby in, but it also gave me headaches and heartburn.
Earthquakes and Fireworks
The next morning, we were greeted with the same flood of specialists as they did their rounds. They repeated what we should expect should I deliver that day. Shortly after the doctors left, Andrew and I were just sitting, exhausted from the events of the last fifteen or so hours. “Do you feel that?” I asked him. The vibrations grew stronger. This cannot be happening! “Should I be rolling her into a doorway or something?” I could hear Andrew asking the nurse. After what seemed like forever had passed, the shaking finally stopped. I looked up and whispered, “So not cool.” Then Andrew made a joke, “That was just God shaking the baby back in.”
I believe it was the next day that they decided to move me from labour and delivery to the maternity ward. The baby and I seemed to be holding steady, and they needed to make the room available for any other emergency delivery situations. Each day the doctors came in and gave us the same report. When I reached twenty-four weeks, it was a little different. The neonatologist would also join the rounds and each day give us the statistics of what a child born at this time would have for chances of survival and long-term disabilities. At twenty-four weeks it became our decision if we wanted extraordinary measures taken.
Andrew and I were split on this decision, though I did not give voice to my opinion. I know that he was struggling a lot with what was happening even though he appeared to be holding it together, wanting to be strong for the both of us. I wouldn’t make him feel bad for not wanting to take measures. I know he just didn’t want to cause our baby to suffer. So I just prayed to God to get us to twenty-five weeks, and let the decision be made for us.
I had a plan to celebrate reaching twenty-five weeks. We would celebrate with Chinese food, which I was desperately craving. Hospital food is just “no bueno”. Each day that passed with me lying upside-down, with no need to pull the emergency red cord, watching episode after episode of Gilmore Girls on my laptop, was a day closer to the goal.
I was twenty-four weeks and six days, and the doctors came in to see me. For the first time they were smiling, they seemed hopeful that I could make it to twenty-eight weeks, which for my situation would be ideal. That afternoon, while my husband helped me remove my bed pan(I bet he didn’t know what he was signing up for when he married me), he began yelling, “Pull the cord! Pull the cord!” I hadn’t felt anything, but I obeyed, pulling the ominous red cord from the wall. Suddenly, there was an influx of nurses in my room.
They quickly wheeled me over to Labour and Delivery. I was so close! I was hooked up to monitors, and I was, in fact, in labour and eight centimeters dilated. About an hour later, the contractions felt like little vibrations, still not painful, so I decided that I could totally forgo the epidural. Twenty minutes later, the pain was so unbearable that I was shaking, screaming for drugs. I was nine and a half centimeters when I got an epidural, with contractions less than a minute apart. Then, I was perfectly numb from the chest down.
Three and a half hours later, my son was born. I didn’t get to hold him. They handed him over to what looked like a homeless man. He had long white hair and a beard, and was wearing a Canadian hockey jersey. It was Canada Day. My husband followed the group of NICU staff, as the doctors finished up with me. I only caught a glimpse of his little head full of black hair.
I waited for what seemed like forever, and my husband finally came back with some news. “He cried!” he said. That was a good sign. He showed me pictures, telling me how when they placed him in his incubator by the window, fireworks started going off in the background. We still hadn’t settled on a name. I was really set on Isaiah, but my husband didn’t love it. The next morning when he heard me waking, he said, “What about Ziah? It means ‘the Lord is my strength.’” “Ya, I like it.” The easy part was over, the hard part was just beginning.
A Light In the Darkness
The weeks and months that followed were some of the most trying that I had ever experienced. We rode that emotional roller coaster of being parents of a micro-preemie. There were good days, followed by really bad days. Too many times doctors approached us with “There’s nothing else we can do. We just have to wait and see.” It was after one of these really bad days, that I went home and just collapsed on my bedroom floor crying out to God. I remember asking him, “Are You punishing me?” . It was in this moment that I first began to feel God’s fatherly love. I remember as I finished that thought, I heard the Spirit say “No, I’m about to show you how much I love you.” There were many occasions during this time where God comforted me, telling me, “It’s going to be okay. Trust Me. I love you. Trust Me.” I did. I allowed His peace to come in and carry me.
We were finally able to bring our son home after six and a half months and five surgeries later. Not before we experienced an outpouring of love on us from around the globe, even from people we didn’t know. From the moment we entered that hospital that day in June, God surrounded us with people who would encourage us along the journey.
No parent likes to see their child suffer. We would take on their pain if we could. Nor does God take pleasure in seeing his children suffering. Suffering is a part of living in this fallen world. We cannot escape it. But that doesn’t mean that God can’t use it, and turn our pain into something beautiful. I know that my son’s journey touched many lives, strengthening and even restoring the faith of those who watched miracle after miracle. God used this dark time to make Himself known and more real to me than ever before. Even though I had been a Christian for almost thirty years, I had not known the immeasurable and tender love of my heavenly Father until I let myself be vulnerable enough to fall into my His arms.
God used the birth of my son to break through some pretty thick walls that I had constructed over the years. For most of my life, I kept God at an arm’s length. I would not give Him an opportunity to disappoint me. I put Him in a similar place as my biological father. A sort of mythical figure that was who I deemed Him to be. The problem with this idea of God is that it didn’t allow me to experience who He is: the Great I AM, Yahweh. He is far greater than I could imagine Him up to be in my limited scope of understanding. That day, when my strength was gone, I finally let Him show me who He is. He did not disappoint. As He showed me who He is, He also showed me who I am: His beloved child. His heart broke for me, as mine did for my son. His strength carried us both.