I was 27 weeks pregnant when I went into labor.
My husband’s mother had come to stay with us the day the cramping began to get serious. It had been coming and going for days… finally it got so bad that I just stayed in bed.
It was the 17th at bedtime when I felt an excretion come from my body. Having had three live births and one miscarriage, I knew this was it, but was not ready to consciously accept it. It was much too soon. How could I be losing her?
One of my daughters was already asleep and the other was close to it. One down and one to go, my husband and I would say. I reached down to check. Sure enough, it was blood. “Oh God, what do I do?” was my silent prayer. “Tell your husband” was the silent reply. I calmly did, and we agreed: it was time to go to the hospital.
My husband got a neighbor of ours who has a car to come and take us. John’s mom, we call her, because she is the mother of my husband’s friend John.
In Ghana, your children are your identity.
I could not think clearly enough to pack a bag. I was lost in thought and emotion. Everything I thought I knew had just collapsed. I managed to grab a few things and we took the daughter who was still awake, leaving the other with Grandma.
Bump, bump, bump up the dirt road to a main street. “Oh thank God” I thought as we reached the paved main street. “Now I can relax a little”. I lied down in the back seat holding my two year old daughter in front of me. She was my comfort. All I could do then was to chant a sort of mantra in my head that I had read in a book, “I relinquish resistance. I am still and alert, at one with what is, within and without.” As I repeated this over and over in my head, it helped me relax into the contractions. It helped calm my mind and kept the overwhelming emotions bubbling inside me, at bay.
We must have arrived at the hospital just before midnight. It was quiet, vacant looking, cold. They asked directions and I just followed, praying to be put in the hands of angels.
Finally we found ourselves sitting outside an evaluation room. I laid on the wooden bench and chanted in my head, “I relinquish resistance. I am still and alert, at one with what is, within and without.”
The door opened. A lady was pushed out in a wheel chair and it was my turn. I found myself sitting in a chair answering medical history questions while my husband searched through our documents for the receipt that proved we had medical insurance. Next came the examination. 4cm dilated, and that’s when I heard it: an inevitable abortion. My worst fear was confirmed. My body was aborting the baby and there was nothing that could be done about it. Waves of emotion came and I cried, but tears were not going to stop the process. I was put in a wheelchair and pushed out the door.
First, I was wheeled to a large room, full of hospital beds and women who were clearly experiencing the first signs of labor. I was taken to the front, where the wall was lined with desks and chairs and medical personnel. My folder was handed over and that’s when I heard it again, inevitable abortion. My heart sank a little lower every time I heard it, and it was repeated several times before someone asked if I understood what was happening. He was a kind doctor, my first angel. He explained that inevitable abortion is just the term they use for anyone delivering before 32 weeks, “but miracles do happen”, he said, with a twinkle in his eye.
At that moment, I had to leave my husband and John’s mom. They were not allowed into the next place I was going. It was an abrupt goodbye, and then I was in a smaller room full of hospital beds and women who were clearly experiencing very advanced labor. I even saw another woman deliver before my own labor became too advanced to look around. I went back to my mantra:
“I relinquish resistance. I am still and alert, at one with what is, within and without.”
Chanting this in my head, I was able to keep my body relatively relaxed. A point came at which I felt like I had to pee. A little voice said, “its ok, go ahead and pee on yourself.” So I relaxed those final bladder muscles and instead of pee, out came the baby.
Immediately, I sat up. To my surprise, she was a strong, solid looking baby. I scooped her up in my hands. She was breathing. Her eyes were open. I thought, why, she’s a perfectly healthy baby, only half the size of a regular baby.
That’s when the nurses came. The cord was cut and it was time to surrender yet again. All I was told is that it was too cold for her to stay with me. After delivering the placenta, I was quickly escorted down to another large room full of hospital beds and even mattresses on the floor. This room was full to overflowing with women who were holding or lying next to their new born babies.
I was given a bed to share with another woman and her precious new baby. She was kind, moving her things to make room for me. I remember feeling happy for her, but sad for myself, because I did not even know where my baby was, let alone how she was doing. When I asked the nurse at the front of the room about her, I was told to go lie down and get some rest (good advice in retrospect). So I did what I was told, and heartbroken, went to sleep.
It must have been around 4am when I woke up. The longing inside me was unbearable, so I asked the nurse again about my baby. This time she directed me “Down the hall, turn right and through the doors. Tell the woman at the desk your name.”
Down the hall I went. The first lady I came to was a security woman. She told me to remove my shoes and go through another set of doors and to the end of another hallway. As I made my way past the women sleeping on the floor, I noticed several rooms with cribs and incubators. My baby was in the last room. “High Dependency” was written across the top. I told the nurse outside the door my name, and finally, she showed me to my baby.
She was lying in a sort of open incubator, basically a heat lamp with two other babies. Oh, she was so tiny, so precious, so perfect, and fast asleep. There were little oxygen tubes in her nose and an IV on her little hand, but she was OK. She was alive. Tears came to my eyes. Happy tears. “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” was my silent prayer.
It was then that I took a moment to look around. Weren’t these incubators made for one baby? There were at least two and as many as four in each one, lining the walls of the room. In the middle of the room were cribs of babies, three and four together in each crib. Along the front of the room was a long table of babies, lying next to each other under a long heat lamp tube. These were obviously the most critical cases. They all had oxygen tubes and IVs. One was lying on her side with her intestines on the outside of her body gathered in a clear plastic bag. She had such a beautiful china doll looking face. Some babies were so tiny, it was truly miraculous that they were alive, but it looked as if they struggled to breathe.
There was one doctor and several nurses who tended to the babies, but it did not seem like enough. Many of them lay crying unattended. My heart went out to them. Oh, if only I could pick each one up and sooth her to sleep. But alas, my duty was to one, who already lay fast asleep.
This is when a nurse came up to me and informed me that I was supposed to come see my baby every three hours, at 3:00, 6:00, 9:00, and so on. It was not technically time for me to be there, so I should leave and come back at the right time with diapers and wipes. A quick glance around, and I realized that the newest arrivals, my baby included, were naked, but most of the babies wore diapers. I gave my baby the softest little kiss on the forehead, thanked the nurse, and went back to my bed.
As I crawled back onto my half of a bed, the feeling of relief still slowly replacing that of uncertainty, I took another moment to really look around. We were corralled in there like cattle, two to a bed, many on the floor. All the way at the end of the room, there was a bathroom with two open showers, a few sinks, and one toilet. Seeing that, I understood why they make you buy a little plastic pee pot when you enter the delivery room. We all took care of our business in those and simply dumped them out in the toilet: truly humbling.
I still worried a little about my precious baby, all the way over there in another room. What could I do? I prayed. That’s when I remembered that I had my Urantia book in my bag. I pulled it out and began reading where I had left off. I read the life story of Jesus – the part where he rebukes his disciples for not wanting to let the children come to him. I read “he received all the children, laying hands on them, while he spoke words of courage and hope to their mothers”. Maybe it does not sound like much, but it brought tears to my eyes. He received all the children. All the children: my baby was one of them. From that moment on, I found the courage and the hope that I needed to keep going.
Stephanie is an American mother of 5 living in Ghana. Her baby girl, born at 27 weeks, is thriving.
Saralyn Ward is an award-winning writer, wellness advocate, and mountain mama. She is the founder of The Mama Sagas, writes for several publications and hosts a regular parenting TV segment on Colorado's Everyday Show. When she's not huddled over edits, you're likely to find Saralyn climbing peaks or skiing down them, and reminding herself that the two little girls that call her mom are not the boss of her.