True Stories: Elena’s birth story

So I left lots of you in suspense when I told you I was going to attempt a natural, non-medicated birth…  apparently. Because I’ve gotten several requests for the birth story. When I look back at that day, I just want to hug it, because despite all the pain and surprises, I got my little Elena Jean out of the deal. What a precious reward!

I studied a lot for the birth, and had a plan to go as med-free as possible. But to tell you the truth, my huge “birth plan” consisted of one thing–Isaiah 43:

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;

Labor sort of started on Sunday night. Lots of pain and contractions. Monday morning they slowed and then stopped by around noon. Started up again in the afternoon and then died off. This continued through Tuesday, and all I remember thinking is, wow! If these are the fake contractions, I’m not gonna make it through the real thing without meds!

I laid on the couch and walked around, repeating Isaiah 43, focusing on the part about the waves not overwhelming me. That’s how I’d been taught to think about the contractions–waves washing over me. And according to the verse, they wouldn’t overwhelm me.

Tuesday night hubby and I decided (with the help of our doula) that it might be time to go to the hospital. I was pretty sure the contractions would die off again, as they had every day so far, but I was tired of the pain and wanted to see what was going on. Plus, the hospital was a good 1.5 hours away (since we had to drop the dog off at the sitter’s). I laid in the back seat and Vince drove, slowing to a crawl for every bump and railroad crossing (what a sweetie) 🙂 We arrived around 10pm, I think.

At the hospital, I got right into labor and delivery and found I was already 4 out of 10 cm dilated. Yessss!! I could stay! The doula showed up very shortly after we did and jumped right in. She was absolutely amazing. Somehow she knew exactly how to calm me, direct me, coach me. I never would have gotten as far as I did without her. She had great ideas for helping with the pain, and she kept telling me things were going well. That was a remarkably huge motivator–I just had to keep doing what I was doing, and bearing the pain.

Vince was also right there giving me water, rubbing my back, and looking good and nervous. I repeated the verse in Isaiah over and over, ending with the very wonderful, I AM THE LORD. With each contraction, I told myself the wave wouldn’t overwhelm me.

Sometime in the middle of the night, they decided to do a progress check and I had made it to 9.5! Everyone seemed really shocked I’d reached nearly the end without begging for an epidural, crying, or otherwise having a meltdown. Apparently 7 cm is the breaking point in most labors, and I’d fully expected to cave at that point, if not before. (I’m a wimp.) But I’d gone into serious mode and simply labored. I remember my doula even calling me a “warrior” and it shocked me. Little 5-foot me had NEVER been called a warrior. Ever!

Very soon after, they told me I could start pushing. The end was in sight! I’d passed the hard part.

Not.

Everyone says the laboring is hardest, but for me, the hard part was yet to come. I pushed for a good 1.5 hours and the on-call doctor said the dreaded “c” word– C-section. He’d give me another half hour, then we had to move forward another way, either pitocin or c-section. Nooo!! I’d come so far, labored to 10 cm without pain meds, and darn it, I was going to finish this thing!

We tried every method available, and my doula was phenomenal. When you’re in this much pain, and someone’s telling you you’re doing great and to keep going, it somehow reminds you that this pain is not actually BAD, if that makes sense. It was progress pain, and nothing was actually wrong. That was enough to give me what I needed to keep going. It was like someone keeping the train on the tracks–every time you veer into doubt or worry, she’s there saying, you’re doing great…  keep going, that’s really good.

After hours of being in the pushing phase, in which I did a combination of pushing and resting, I was completely exhausted. A wet washcloth had more spine than me at that point. I felt ready to pass out. I remember them giving me oxygen at one point, but that’s about it. I can’t remember if it was for the baby, or to get me back to where I should be, since I was so worn out. I just remember being exhausted.

And then… I caved. I said ok, give me the epidural. My body is fighting the contractions, and this baby isn’t going anywhere. I need my muscles to relax.

So they call in the epidural and I curl into a little ball of pain and failure on the bed, just waiting out each contraction.

I don’t remember the exact timeline of everything else, but I know my regular OB came in, on his off-hours I believe, and checked everything. “You don’t want an epidural,” he said. (Oh please! You have NO idea, mister!!) “This baby is so close,” he said. “Let’s just see what you can do on your own.”

And see, this is where it comes in really handy to have this habit of not being able to say no. Even in the worst pain of my life, I said, “ok, fine.”

Then I became vaguely aware that everyone was watching the heart rate monitor at every contraction. I knew what was going on, but I didn’t want the details–my baby’s heart rate was dropping, going lower and lower with each contraction. The intensive care unit (I think that’s who it was) came in and my own heart  fluttered. What was happening? What was wrong with my baby?

Nothing like a herd of people rushing into the delivery room to freak out a laboring new mother. I have no idea how many were there, but it did feel like a herd. I knew she’d been in there too long and her heart couldn’t take it forever. Time to get her out, one way or another.

The pain and work seemed overwhelming at that point until I somehow looked into Vince’s eyes, that familiar face that had always told me in the midst of my struggles, “have you even prayed about it yet?” and suddenly the rest of the verse came flooding over me. Yes, the waves would not wash over me, but also… the flames would not set me ablaze. The pain that felt like fire wouldn’t consume me. So then, with my doctor and nurses yelling at me to get that baby out, to push more, harder, longer, I pushed through the pain over and over, clinging to that verse, until I heard a whiny little squall. It had been five hours in the pushing phase. I collapsed mentally as everyone else took over. They had the baby, and could take care of her.

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Vince cut the cord and they checked her out. Vince later told me that her heart rate had gone very low and even the doctor (a very chill guy) looked nervous. The doula told me that Vince looked green. I know he looked like a flood of relief hit him when she was out and everyone was ok. And then I think his focus went from me to…

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My first thought when I heard the squall was, holy cow, I have a kid!! I really couldn’t wrap my mind around it. My second thought was that this was the completion of the labor–the beautiful ending. And then the beautiful ending of my verse came to mind–I AM THE LORD. The doula handed me my beautiful baby.

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She looked me right in the eyes like she knew me. It was unbelievable. I held out my finger and let her wrap her little hand around it. I hadn’t felt overwhelmed by the waves of contractions or the fire of labor pain, but now I was completely overwhelmed by my little daughter. By joy.

Yes, You are the Lord, to give me this.

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And little miss Elena Jean now at 3 months

 

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True Stories: The Surprising Heros of D-Day

I knew the Allies had invaded Normandy to majorly turn the war around, but I had no idea the crazy, intricate story behind HOW they were able to manage this attack.

The story goes back to the beginning of the war, when Germany sent spies into Allied territory to learn war secrets. The Allies quickly broke the German code, which utilized a popular novel of the day as a key, and were able to offer a “warm” welcome to each spy as he or she landed on Allied soil. They captured them, then offered a pretty sticky deal—secretly work for us or lose your life. Many were executed after refusing to cooperate, or being deemed too risky to use, but others became pivotal double agents in the war.

There are several featured in my World War II novel, including the womanizing “Tate” and the wealthy and spoiled socialite Elvira nicknamed “Bronx.” The most memorable, however, was a creative Spaniard named Joan Pujol Garcia, who made a fortune off his double spy activities with an ingenious yet totally dishonest plan. Known as “Garbo” (yes, after Gretta Garbo) to the Allies and as “Arabel” to the Germans, he created an unlimited source of income and enemies.

He recruited a host of men to operate under him as German spies, creating a vast web of agents, and each received pay from the German government from their efforts, as did Garcia. He also received a paycheck from the British government for his work for them. The man and his wife set themselves up in a nice home in England and spent their days keeping track of the elaborate network of spies that worked for them.

 

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The kicker—none of Garcia’s spies were real. Garcia made up their names and personal information, and then he collected their paychecks. He couldn’t be in 500 places at once, so occasionally one of his made-up spies “missed” activity that occurred right where they were supposedly located.

How did he handle this? More creativity. Each time the Germans complained that one of his agents failed to report an important incident, he claimed they were sick or traveling. His most elaborate hoax included a notice to the Germans that one of his agents had died, complete with a death notice in the newspaper for a nonexistent man.

So how did all these men contribute to D-Day? They created what Alfred Hitchcock called a “red herring.” They passed information along to the Germans to make them believe the attack would happen in France’s Pas de Calais. The Allies even set up an entire regiment of fake men (think blow-up dolls) so that when the Germans flew overhead, the area would appear to be stocked with men. Germans pulled almost all troops and sent them to this location, leaving Normandy basically unmanned and ripe for attack. The Allies swooped in and captured Normandy, in an event known as D-Day.

When I was working on my World War II novel with my Naval-officer grandfather (who was in no way connected with the spies), the spy stories blew my mind. I’d always thought of men and women involved in the war effort doing positive, physically demanding jobs—like Rosie the Riveter working on equipment, women at home growing victory gardens, or men on the front fighting for their country. This side of the war—this creative yet complex web of deceit—had a huge impact, though. D-day might have ended very differently—no, definitely would have ended differently—without these spies.

My novel deals a lot with honesty and one girl’s struggle to decide between telling the truth and the demands of her everyday life in the war. What would you do in such a case? I’m so glad I was never faced with the decision. For those of us who try to obey Scripture, how could you justify the life of a double agent? The deeper I dug into these lives, the more I wondered what God would have to say about it. Did the benefit to the greater good outweigh years of dishonesty?

All I know is this. It took a lot of guts to get involved in D-Day. Even sitting behind a desk and planning a tactical move earned a person enemies. Many of these spies were not handed a reward for their work, but they poured their lives and their family’s future into the effort. Hardly anyone knows they even existed, yet they risked their lives. I’m thankful for the men and women who bravely stepped up to do something important.

Especially the ones working behind the scenes.