Fenn Gilbert Whitworth came into the world on August 25th, 2017. He weighed 6 lb 14 oz and was 20 in long. It was a Friday morning and the weather was mildly pleasant, but his arrival into our world was fierce.
At about 7:15 in the morning on that Friday, I heard a peculiar pop that woke me up out of my sleep. Drowsily, I crawled on to all fours in an attempt to get my basketball-shaped belly moved from the bed to the bathroom, and instantly felt a forceful flood of liquid hit the white sheets. Whoops….
“My water just broke,” I said out loud dumbfounded to only the cat since Peter had left early to practice a work presentation.
“That was my water. Ok, whoa…I better clean that up. Wow, that’s a lot of liquid,” I thought.
I stripped the bed and hurried myself to the bathroom. I felt calm upon realizing this was about to be a very big day. I think just maybe…. possibly…there was a chance I was too calm? You let me know what you think after reading this tale in its entirety.
Next, I called Peter (who was a couple towns away at a Starbucks practicing his presentation) and my mom (who was at home asleep) to let them know I ruined the bed. Both parties answered their phones, and I warned them not to rush. I was going to pack up, feed the cat, attempt to clean up the bedroom mess, get myself ready, do some other unnecessary things while in labor, and then finally, we would make our way to the hospital and mom would meet us there. The plan was to be induced on the following Monday, August 28th at 38 weeks 2 days, so I wouldn’t say we were entirely prepared for this to be our son’s birthday. We had some bags packed, but I don’t travel lightly, so I had quite a bit to gather up before I felt ready to leave.
Soon after, Peter arrived and we carried all our belongings to the car, double-checking we had the car seat, my Vest, my bag, the baby’s bag, etc. I started having mild cramping like contractions at this point that were about 3-4 minutes apart but still felt calm and comfortable.
Now a day, thanks to smartphones there are great apps to time your contractions. The app even warns you when it would be an appropriate time to head to the hospital. I received the “hospital warning” about four separate times before we even got on the highway. I was mildly annoyed this app was being so uptight and pushy.
Our drive to the hospital was uneventful and my contractions continued to increase in strength while I put on my make-up and made sure I had eyebrows for the big day. Once we were about 10 minutes out from the hospital, I started experiencing contractions that I couldn’t talk through. I knew this meant something about the progress of labor, but I honestly thought I was just being a big baby and labor was about to suck hardcore, so I gave it very little thought.
We arrived at University Hospitals and pulled into the Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital driveway, a roundabout I have driven through many times before but for a very different reason than the present. In the past, here is where I would surrender myself for weeks upon weeks of IVs antibiotics in the interest of health. But today, I was admitting myself in the pursuit of my hope to become a mom. Life felt incredibly full circle in that moment. Usually when an expectant mother arrives, they bring a wheelchair to help the mama get across the hospital. Passing by my favorite bagel cart, I didn’t have time for those considerations and walked myself to Labor and Delivery foregoing the complementary wheelchair ride.
There, we were checked-in, I peed in cup number 200 of this pregnancy, had the monitored strapped to my giant belly, and did all the other necessary admission tasks. While in triage, the doctor swung by to double check my water had broke, and that I indeed didn’t just pee myself and mistake it for labor. That actually happens, people. Ding, ding, ding! I was in labor! The doctor confirmed my waters did break and that she could see the baby’s hair.
In response to the exam, I thought, “Cool. I must be a couple centimeters dilated and in the beginning stages of labor. This is really happening.”
Oh my gosh, I was so clueless.
This is when things really picked up. My contractions felt very close together and were increasing in strength. They would build to the point that I couldn’t concentrate on anything but getting over the hump of the pain and coming back down to the point of relief.
I looked at Peter and quietly said, “If this is the beginning of labor, I can’t do this. I think I need the epidural.”
I already felt tired and it had only been about 2 hours since I was sleeping cozily in my bed. My high-risk doctor popped her head around the curtain and said a quick hello while asking how I was doing. I told her how my water broke in my bed and I couldn’t believe I went into labor naturally. I had been hoping to avoid my scheduled induction and that my body would know when I was ready. She reminded me it might take awhile since I was a first time mom and that she would be on service tomorrow. My heart absolutely sank in response.
“TOMMORROW!?! I don’t want to do this for another 24 hours. Are they nuts?” I thought as I inwardly panicked.
We made our way to another room so that I could get my IV placed before going to the final delivery room. When the doors opened to Multipurpose Room A, it was as if a glowing angel was sitting in the chair waiting to offer guidance in the midst of pain– except it was my mom. I felt another contraction coming and waddled my way to the end of the bed so I could lean over and brace myself while doing some weird head roll to offer some relief. You seriously do some weird things with your body while in labor. So. Very. Weird.
“How are you doing, Janeil?” she asked with a hug.
“Mom, this is the worst,” I said swaying back and forth, white knuckling the bed rail.
“How far are you?” she asked holding me at a distance. “Did they check you? I think you are further than you think.”
Honestly, moms do know best. My mom has seen me in pain many, many times before. She knows that I deal with pain mostly inwardly by becoming very quiet and stoic. She also knows that I have quite a high pain tolerance and my pain scale doesn’t directly correlate with the general public’s. It was must be a CF thing. I hopped into the bed and we started chatting once the contraction was over and the nurse started inserting my IV. A few seconds later, I told her I felt another contraction coming and the nurse asked that I stay with her until she tapped down my IV.
My mom replied, “Already? Your contractions are 45 seconds apart and lasting one and a half minutes.”
I looked at her and said nothing.
A few more contractions went by while I squeezed Peter’s hand and in between the rest period, I laid my head back and pretended I was sleeping. I didn’t want anyone to talk to me, ever, ever again (dramatic). Another contraction would build in intensity and the cycle would start again. Suddenly and surprisingly, I felt the overwhelming need to push as if it was beyond my control. My body was in command in that moment. The baby was ready, even if I believed I wasn’t.
Through labored breath I turned to my mom and said, “I need to push.”
“I need to push. Can I push??”
“No!” everyone said in unison. “NOT YET! Blow them away.”
Hurriedly, my mom requested the doctor come check me since she believed I was further along in the process than we all thought. I continued panting and blowing the urge away while we waited. The doctor answered her page to my room, did her business, and her jaw dropped while she examined me.
“What time did you come in?” she asked.
“Around 9:00am,” I moaned slightly.
“You’re all the way…,” she said as she slowly reached over and pushed the call button asking for a delivery team over the loud speaker.
“We need a delivery team in Room A,” she announced.
Before I realized what was happening, my legs were being thrown up in the stir ups, eight more people rushed into the room while snapping on gloves and gowns, metal tools where clanking together, and I was being instructed on exactly how I would bring this baby into the world.
“This is happening, now??” I asked.
“Can you even deliver in here?’ my mom added.
(The answer was yes; you can deliver in Multipurpose Room A as we would soon find out.)
The pushing began.
Suddenly, I realized with every contraction that pushing is exhausting work when you’re a tiny woman, only two thirds of your lungs function, and you’re moving a basketball through your body.
Personally, just breathing in between the set of big pushes was the most difficult part of the entire labor process. I could handle the pain, but with each big breath in I could feel myself dwindling of energy as if I wasn’t getting enough air to power my body. There was so much force and pressure from every direction, I doubt my lungs had the space to open and inhale properly.
“Can you throw some oxygen on her?” my mom suggested to the medical team.
Good call, mom! Best decision all day. I am super glad you are a respiratory therapist! Once the nasal cannula was on and the oxygen saturated my tired lungs, I felt my head clear and my energy increase.
“You’re not afraid, you’re not afraid,” I repeated to myself.
Although I had barely any time to mentally process what had just transpired over the last three hours, I knew if I was going to continue pushing and deliver without any pain medication, I had to do it without fear and with confidence. I quickly asked the Lord to deliver him safely out of my body and into my arms. Ok, I was ready!
Peter, my mom, and my nurse Eileen stood bedside and acted as my coach and cheer squad for the next 30 minutes.
“1… 2… 3… 4… 5… 6… 7… 8… 9… 10,” my mom counted slowly.
“Fill those lungs, baby. Fill those lungs!” my nurse chanted while I inhaled as big as I could.
(Honestly, I can’t remember what Peter said. I recently asked him as well, and he said he didn’t remember either. I did feel his arm behind my head holding me up though. Thanks, love!)
The pushing continues.
I pleaded to know how he was doing, what position he was in, and if the head was close to being delivered in between pushes. At one point they said I could reach down and touch his head, but I could barely open my eyes and needed to conserve my energy and focus for the next limitless set of pushes, so I politely declined and told them I was ok for the moment. Other than that, I was a silent and stoic laborer—no screaming, no crying, just desperate inhalations, followed by relieving exhalations.
Towards the end of my time pushing, they told me I needed to quickly roll over on my left side to help the baby because he was under stress. His heart rate had changed and retrospectively, my mom said she felt very worried in that moment watching the fetal monitor.
“Oh, boy. Seriously?” I thought.
Even in that very intense moment, I knew that was not a pretty scene to watch. With a huge watermelon belly pointing up and my legs perched in the air, I allowed them to flip me over in between pushes and then back again.
I send apologies to everyone who had to witness that very graceful moment.
A few more pushes eagerly elapsed, and then the world went silent for a moment, and he was here.
His cries filled the room—a cry I felt I knew almost immediately, as if I’ve heard it one thousand times before. Only, this was the first time it would meet my ears.
His little body was plopped onto my chest, and in response, I made noises I never thought possible. Unearthly wails exited my body as I laid hands on our tiny baby. Those wails were powered by an accumulation of an all consuming relief. Feelings of relief that the pain had stopped; relief that he was here safely; relief that I made it through my pregnancy healthy; relief that I finally proved everyone wrong; relief that we had made a good decision almost a year ago; and relief that I, miraculously and heavenly-decided, was finally a mom. His mom.
I touched his head, his long fingers, and his tiny nose I saw on the ultrasounds with each passing week, the nose we guessed if it was Peter’s or mine. I knew he was ours. I looked at his umbilical cord that was wrapped around his neck seconds prior reentering my body and realized that I would gladly spend the rest of my life providing for him without reprisal. That love is real. The rumored love you experience watching your child enter the world—guiding them so unsure and yet determined. That love is immediate and powerful and consuming and scary. Holding him while the many bodies around me slowed to a blur, I just got it.
I so got it.
I finally understood the true nature behind a mother’s love.
Labor was unearthly. Knowing that my broken body was still capable of undertaking something it was designed to do, I never felt mightier or freer of my disease. Simultaneously, I never felt so honored to be labeled as “sick” as I held my baby boy. He is my proof that if cystic fibrosis has imparted any clarity upon the understanding of my experiences, the very brightest is that The Lord has gently humbled me time and time again so that I could experience the true influence of that moment–the power and vulnerability of bringing forth life when your body is so very fragmented. I believe my labor has set the tone for my season of motherhood.
For nine months, I wondered whether my diseased body could handle a natural labor. I prayed for a natural labor so that I could hold onto the experiences when my disease didn’t completely define me. My mom prayed for a labor I could physically manage while preserving my stabilized health. Our prayers were both answered. That morning I chose not to do my treatments and pills unknowingly believing I would have time at the hospital while we waited for Fenn to make his arrival. I never received them. And, that’s why our birth story is so precious to me, because it was a time when I was physically at my rawest, my very truest self; but by the grace of God I was blinded by certain strength and in under four hours, I moved mountains as mothers so often do.
[Thank you to Uncle Christian for these photos of Fenn’s birthday!]