Life is a Gift: Reflections on My Son's Difficult Birth

Today is Ben’s birthday. This time last year we were anticipating his arrival. Today we are enjoying his happy presence. What a gift! Birthdays are such interesting days for moms (at least me). It’s the day of his birth, but so much of that day had to do with me and the effort it took to bring him into the world. While a birthday is the celebration of the person born, it also is intimately connected to the woman who bore the child.

The night before Ben’s birth, contractions had started up again. We were accustomed to the roller coaster ride that comes with being a high-risk patient. Every few days, Ben’s heart rate would do something (or my body would do something) that put everyone on high alert. I was used to contractions. I was 35 weeks and 6 days pregnant, so Braxton Hicks contractions are pretty standard at that gestation (especially with a fourth child). And in my mind, even painful Braxton Hicks felt like a slight pinch compared to the abruption pain from three weeks prior. So I didn’t think anything of them. My friends came to visit. They stayed through my routine evening monitoring, until my nurse came in and asked me if I was feeling the contractions.

“I guess,” I said. They felt a little stronger than normal, but I was so enjoying the company of my friends that I just moved positions a few times, thinking they would stop.

My nurse wasn’t as calm about them as me.

They were consistently every five minutes again. The last time they were that consistent was when my placenta was abrupting.

So for the umpteenth time, I was back on NPO (no food by mouth) and we waited it out. At this point, we were fairly accustomed to it, so we honestly didn’t think anything would happen. I went to bed (back on the monitor all night) and by morning they had stopped.

False alarm.

That morning the doctor came in talked to me about what had happened the night before and gave me a stern warning:

“Behave today.”

You have to joke about these things because everyone knows that in antepartum no one has any control over anything.

The day progressed like an average Sunday we had come to expect in antepartum. We ate breakfast together. We watched some HGTV and Daniel made plans to go home and continue some projects at the house (since things had calmed down for the most part).

A few days prior, my parents had taken our older boys to Florida, so the house was empty. Which meant Daniel was able to do some of the baby prep stuff we hadn’t gotten around to because I came to the hospital so early. We even had scheduled Ben’s birth for a week later—37 weeks. Things were calmer, more normal, and even with the contractions the night before, we really thought we would make it to term. We were starting to see the light at the end of the dark tunnel, and it was hopeful.


I had to be monitored three times a day. The purpose of these times was to check Ben’s baseline heart rate and to determine if the placenta was still holding up. His heart rate would tell us all those things. Three times a day was a big improvement from the continuous monitoring I had been on when I first arrived at the hospital. All of this meant that things were doing better, not worse. I was in no way in the clear, but we could at least exhale a little bit.

During my second monitoring of the day, Daniel decided to run home to get my hospital bag. Since we knew we were going to have Ben that week, we wanted to be ready with baby stuff. After the standard one-hour monitoring, my nurse came in to tell me it was time to come off and Ben monitored well. As we both looked at the monitor for him to take me off of it, Ben’s heart rate dropped right as I was having a contraction.

And it didn’t come up quickly.

“Was that a drop?” I asked. (I had learned what to look for by now.)

“Yes it was,” he said. “Let’s keep you on for a little bit while I go tell the doctor,” he said.

The day I arrived at the hospital with the abruption, Ben’s heart rate did this with nearly every contraction. Which we now know is terrifying. But when my nurse told me he was going to tell the doctor, I honestly didn’t think anything of it. This happened fairly regularly for me, so I thought I would be back to normal by dinnertime. I called Daniel, told him what was happening, and we kept talking about the hospital bag he was packing for me.

Then my doctor walked in and sat down.

(It’s never good when they sit down.)

Apparently Ben’s heart rate had done it again, and stayed down too long.

“It’s time to deliver this baby,” he said.

“How long?” I asked.

“We are going to prep the OR right now. I am going to scrub in. You are having him within the hour.”

Daniel wasn’t even there. It was the thing he most feared—being gone when they told me it was time. He was rarely gone, but we had grown comfortable. Things had calmed down. Thankfully he made it back quickly, just when our pastor was arriving to sit with Daniel while they prepped me for surgery.

For weeks we had anticipated this day. We had been on the edge of this moment for most hours of most days that we spent in antepartum. We had been told how quickly it could happen (they can get you to the OR and baby out in less than ten minutes if necessary). That’s why I had a mid-line IV. I was always ready for delivery. We had been told about what would lead to this happening quickly. We had been prepped over and over again. We had even done this before (when the twins were born 8 weeks early). But then, in that moment, when we were about to deliver a premature baby who didn’t have a complete placenta, I was utterly terrified.

Our room became command central for getting me ready for delivery. I talked to the anesthesia team. I talked to the NICU. I talked to my nurses. I talked to doctors. I don’t remember any of it. I just remembering being scared—begging God for him to be breathing when he was born. Within minutes, I was prepped and ready for the OR. And as they wheeled me to the OR it hit me that my time in antepartum was also coming to a close. These people had become my family, and as they wheeled me down the hall, all I could say—through tears—was “thank you.”

When I entered the OR, my fears only increased.

I didn’t know anyone in that room. Of course, the room was familiar. I had delivered the twins and Seth in that room. But the people were strangers.

For three weeks I knew everyone. They knew my story, my fears, my baby. Suddenly I felt utterly alone in a cold operating room surrounded by people who were too busy trying to deliver and save my baby to talk to me about all my fears. It’s their job to work fast, not necessarily comfort right then. I knew that, but in that moment I felt so alone and unknown. As I’ve said before, my mind blanked and I remembered nothing of value except Psalm 23.

“He’s almost died a lot,” I said to my nurse who was holding me up while they positioned the spinal block. I just wanted her to know how serious this all was to me. Ben’s entire pregnancy had been one of great agony, wondering if I would ever hold him with blood pumping through his veins. And there I was, moments away from that moment, but still doubting that my deepest desire would be realized.

“He must be a special baby then,” she said. It was supposed to be comforting. But I knew that even the most special babies don’t make it out of that room alive.

As they flipped me back on the operating room table, I began to panic. Part of it was the spinal block numbing my diaphragm, making it harder to breathe. But the other part was the terror was taking over.

“I can’t breathe,” I said, panic rising in my voice.

“Yes, you can, honey. Just take deep breathes.” They continued working feverishly to get me ready for delivery. They gave me oxygen.

I still couldn’t breathe.

Then I turned and saw her. Janelle. The nurse who had spent countless days with me in antepartum. The nurse who had explained every heart rate strip to me so I wouldn’t live in fear over what his drops meant. The nurse who made me drinks every afternoon (“afternoon cocktails” she called them). The nurse who had become my friend, was there to hold my hand. She didn’t have to be there, but she came as my friend. Her only job in that room was to comfort me, to let me know everything was going to be okay. My other nurse selflessly covered her patients for her so she could be with me in my moment of greatest fear. What a gift.

All of this was happening before Daniel was able to come in to the room. They get you prepped for surgery before they let the spouse or family come in. But if you are a nurse, they let you in whenever you want. She sang to me. She stroked my hair. She told me everything was going to be okay. She took pictures of everything. She talked to us about what was happening during delivery (it was more complicated than anticipated). She followed Ben to the NICU and came to give us an update well before parents normally get one.

She was God’s answer to my fears. God was near to me, for sure, and he showed me his nearness by the tender care of a nurse who had been with me every step of the way.

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you know how this story ends. At 6:25 Benjamin John Reissig came out screaming and healthy. I’ve never cried during a delivery before, but I wept when I heard his cries. It was like I had held my breath for three weeks, forcing myself to not get too emotionally attached just in case something terrible happened, and when I heard him it all rushed out of me. There is no detaching from a baby that is knit to your body and your heart. I knew that, but I tried to fight it. And when he was born I sobbed great tears of relief, joy, and pain all mixed together. We had finished that fight.

Within minutes the nurses knew he wouldn’t be able to stay with us. His lungs simply weren’t ready, so they let me kiss him and then took him off to the NICU.

He was there for six days, getting stronger, but healthy. He was alive. He was a miracle.

I would be lying if I said that when we walked out of that hospital life was normal. It wasn’t. We had a lot of rebuilding to do. We had a lot of healing to do. But as I reflect on that day, the day of his birth, I am filled mostly with thankfulness. Yes, we both could have died. But we didn’t. Praise God for that. June 11 is the day of his birth, but it’s also the day that he lived. It’s the day I lived. It’s a day our family will never forget.

One of the things I did every day I was in the hospital was write down new mercies for the day. It was my way of remembering God’s faithfulness, even when my circumstances seemed to be showing only darkness and abandonment. This discipline kept my gaze on God and his ways and it helped me. There are many things to be thankful for about Ben’s birth, even though it was more complicated and unexpected than we had hoped. Here are just a few:

  1. It wasn’t a life or death emergency (meaning he didn’t need to be delivered in less than 10 minutes). This would have been a much more difficult recovery for me, we now know.
  2. We knew the doctor on call that day (he also delivered Seth). He has been such a blessing to our family.
  3. The same NICU doctors the twins had, Ben had. It was another comfort to us.
  4. He was delivered during the day. No one really likes delivery a risky baby at night.
  5. We lived. If there is nothing else to be thankful for we can surely be thankful for this.

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t stare at my precious son and marvel at all that God did to get him here. We are so thankful and so sobered by the fragility of life and the great blessing it is to live. If your heart is beating today, friend, praise God. You are alive. Life is a gift.

Happy birthday, Ben. May you come to trust the God who delivered you once before—and may he deliver your soul again through faith.