At 3:19 in the morning on February 24th, Pearl Isobel joined us in the world.
At the end of January, following a routine ultrasound in week 34 of my pregnancy, I received a phone call from my doctor. The ultrasound results were slightly abnormal – there was fluid gathered around one of the baby’s kidneys. He had recommended me for a visit to the Fetal Diagnostic division at BC Women’s Hospital. There I could have a more thorough ultrasound and it would be determined whether or not it was safe for me and baby to have our delivery on the Coast.
Early February, we headed into the city and spent a day at the hospital. We met with about ten different doctors that day, including a genetic counsellor who took the most detailed family history I’ve ever had. Each doctor was gentle and compassionate and took their time to explain as much as they could. Over the course of my pregnancy, I had nine different ultrasounds (including one on my leg to rule out blood clots) but that day was the longest. For two and a half hours, I lay on a table, first in one room, then another as they used different machines. At one point, I actually fell asleep. At least six different doctors came in and out and carefully checked different parts of our baby’s body.
We got to see her squished little face, jammed down low in my pelvis by this time. And when the doctors tried to determine gender (which we had decided to wait to find out) they found that she was too tucked up to say for sure.
At some point, it became clear that they’d brought in another doctor to look specifically at our baby’s heart. One side was noticeably larger than the other, they told us. While some difference in size is normal for unborn babies, the difference in ours was greater than they liked to see.
When we’d heard there might be something wrong with her kidneys, it was scary but I thought, “At least there are two. At least it’s not her heart.” But here we were and they were telling us something else was wrong. Something more serious.
We met with two more doctors who carefully went over the ultrasound results with us. Baby’s kidneys were enlarged but this was a common enough problem in infants and children that they didn’t seem to be overly concerned. Now, we were all focused on our little one’s heart. It was possible her aorta was not functioning the way it should be. This would mean heart surgery after she was born. At my late stage of pregnancy, it was impossible to say for sure how serious it was. They recommended that from 38 weeks on, I live in Vancouver so that I could deliver at the hospital there and they could be prepared to give her whatever medical treatment she needed.
This gave me just over a week and a half to get our house ready for our baby and to finish my last days at work. It was a hard, sad week. The more I learned about our baby’s abnormality, the more fear I felt. Even if she had the surgery and it went well, would she ever be able to run and play like other kids? Would it be something that plagued her for the rest of her life? Would it shorten her lifespan?
It’s hard to understand God in times like this. I tried to remind myself that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle but I also knew that, honestly, I couldn’t handle this. I didn’t have it in me to watch my child suffer. I wasn’t sure I had it in me to parent a child with severe needs. But God also reminded me in that week that it isn’t about finding strength within myself but instead learning to lean on His strength. I think God does give us more than we can handle. But He never leaves us alone to handle it and that’s how we get through.
On the Sunday that I left Sechelt, Peter and I asked the elders of our church to pray for us. Along with other members of our church community, they gathered around Peter and I after the service and they prayed. Hard. If this was a cheesy movie, I would have felt some dramatic leap in my belly or someone would have had a vision or heard voices. Instead, there were a lot of tears and then Peter and I went to the ferry. But our church was in action and the prayers were spreading.
Since I was still two weeks from my due date with no signs of labour, Peter and I decided that he would stay home for an extra week to work while I went ahead to Vancouver. He carried the number of a water taxi around in case I went into labour over night while the ferries weren’t running and I prayed that the baby would wait at least one more week.
What amazed both of us though was how much peace we felt in that time. We were nervous and scared but we also felt profoundly that God had us in His hand and that He was in control of the outcome. Whatever that may be. Nothing had changed but I believe that God simply calmed our hearts and we felt extraordinarily comforted by knowing how many people were praying for us and our baby. It’s not a time I would want to relive but I also don’t think I’ve ever felt the body of Christ so strongly and so wonderfully as I did in those days.
Peter arrived in Vancouver early Saturday morning. It’s rare that we’re in the city without a list of things to do and so we decided to try and enjoy our time together there. My parents treated us to dim sum – Peter’s first time – and we got the added bonus of a surprise lion dance in the restaurant.
The weather was beautiful and we spent the afternoon walking the sea wall at Stanley Park and watching the Mounties on horseback bust pot smokers on the beach. (Looking at these photos, I’m amazed at how huge I was!) That night we used a cash gift from Peter’s co-workers to go out for dinner together.
Sunday morning, we went to church with our brother and sister-in-law. The sermon that morning was from Daniel 3 – the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace. As we left the service, both Peter and I commented on how timely the message felt for us. This verse in particular stood out to me:
“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and He will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if He does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
These three men had complete faith that God could rescue them. Yet, at the same time, they declared that even if God chose not to – if He chose to let them die in the furnace – they would continue to worship Him alone. This is the faith that Peter and I prayed to have. To worship God and believe in His power in the midst of our own fiery furnace, no matter the outcome.
I was hoping that Baby would arrive that weekend. While my brother and his family were out of town, we had their house to ourselves and it seemed like the perfect time for labour to begin. As well, at my last hospital visit, the doctor had told me they would likely want to induce me at 40 weeks. There was some concern that, due to our baby’s structural abnormalities, it would become more dangerous to continue the pregnancy past 40 weeks. So Sunday afternoon was filled with a visit with friends, as long a walk as I could manage, eating pineapple, and drinking raspberry tea.
At about 4 am that night, I woke up and felt like something had changed. I’d been having false labour contractions for several days but Monday morning they became stronger and more frequent. I had made plans to spend the day with a friend but decided to hang around and see if real labour would start. Not to mention that I was suddenly not that eager to be apart from Peter all day.
By mid-day, the contractions had subsided and so we went for a walk in Kerrisdale (I’d been craving a DQ blizzard for months – something you can’t get on the Sunshine Coast!) I was pretty uncomfortable but labour didn’t seem imminent so we drove out to UBC to visit our friends. All I wanted to do was sit around but I knew walking would be more likely to jump start things so we went for a walk and I even pushed her baby stroller for a while.
At about eight o’clock on Monday evening, we had just finished dinner and we went upstairs to peek at our friends’ pet ferret before we said our good-byes. As Peter held the sleepy ferret and I walked down the hall toward him, I felt a gush. I paused.
“I think I either just peed my pants or my water broke,” I said.
We said our goodbyes quickly and drove home while I called the hospital. Because I was being cared for by a team at the hospital rather than a single doctor, I had to call a paging system and then wait for a doctor to call me back. When I did get a call back, it turned out to be the wrong doctor so I had to call again and wait again and then explain, again, who I was, why I was calling and what was happening to me. Peter and I began to gather our things, getting ready to go to the hospital. When the doctor called back, she told me what I expected – go to the hospital to be assessed. They would determine that it really was my water that had broken and I would most likely be sent home again to wait for labour to start.
We threw our hospital bags in the car but expected to be back in about an hour. Instead, we didn’t leave the hospital until Friday.
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s exciting conclusion!
(Here’s a sneak peek:)