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Piper’s Birth Story

April 3, 2016

Piper’s birth story is unlike my other three, for a multitude of reasons.  Obviously, the location is probably the biggest difference – being in an African jungle village at a rural hospital, even though it is one of the best hospitals in the country, is a huge contrast.  But there was also the necessity of timing, the type of care, etc.  So Piper’s story is unique.  And I want to share it with you, because it is a GREAT story with the best of endings.  However, I want you to read it with the understanding that it is our story and while it is easy for us to think there might have been a “better” outcome or “easier” method, as we reflected on this birth, Matthew, Shannon (my OB), and I all agree that we would have done nothing differently.  Not one thing.  So, we can rest in the confidence that this story is what it was meant to be in the context we had.  We are very content in seeing God’s provision throughout the day of Piper’s birth and the days following, even if it meant some of the greatest challenges the three of us (Matthew, me, and Shannon) have ever faced.

Easter Sunday was here and baby was not.  The plane coming to get us would be here Saturday.  The option was there to change Shannon’s plane ticket leaving the country (she will be attending a CMDA – Christian Medical and Dental Association – conference beginning Monday in Greece, something all missionary medical professionals are encouraged to attend as a family), but it seemed to be far less logical than simply inducing labor.  Yes, inducing labor is a major decision.  But the fact was, I had been having some contractions, but nothing significant.  Dilation had been progressing when we first arrived but had stopped, so we weren’t sure when baby was coming.  And I was getting increasingly uncomfortable – the heat and humidity, combined with carrying totally out front was getting old.  I was done.  So, we made the decision to induce Tuesday morning, hoping that natural labor would come sooner.

Clearly, it didn’t.  Tuesday morning at 5:30 we walked over to the hospital.  We wanted to start the induction early hoping birth would be before the hottest time of day.  It was feasible to then get back to the house within a few hours, much like I did with Amelia’s birth – I was home two hours after the birth center.  The nurses had set up the IV and Shannon had readied a bed in a private space that is going to be the maternity operating room, but for now was just a private space behind the delivery room.  It would also help prevent some curious onlookers wanting to see how the white lady was doing.

The nurses were all very sweet, especially nurse Jacqueline, who Shannon calls “Madame Blueberry” because she is short and wide and very jolly.  She got my IV started and the pitocin began dripping.  I had a few light contractions over the next two hours, but nothing to write home about.  We hung out in the room, talked, stared at our phones…the usual (thanks to MAF for having wifi).  Around 8:30 the contractions became more intense and regular, about three minutes apart.  We were so excited for progress.  I had dilated just a bit and was excited that things were going right on course.

Around ten the pitocin bag had run out, so we checked dilation again and saw progress!  6cm!  The head had descended a little and contractions were still strong, so we decided to brake my water and hope that this would simulate the rest of labor to happen naturally, without a new bag of pitocin.  Baby’s heartbeat was doing well, so we were still confident things were going smoothly.

I took a nap for about 40 minutes while Shannon went home to feed her baby.  Sadly, I didn’t have a single contraction, but just some minor abdominal pain.  So, we got pitocin started again and the contractions started right up and were even more intense.  But then things began to feel off.  The contractions felt strong, painful – all normal.  But between them I began to experience abdominal pain, which was emphasized every time my belly was touched, like when trying to hear baby’s heartbeat.  As the contractions got stronger and longer, the pain in between them increased as well.  After about two hours, I realized that this was no longer a normally progressing labor.  I was loosing steam and no longer able to cope with the pain.  I also couldn’t stand the pain from the touch of the heartbeat monitor.  I was in more pain between the contractions, than during them.

We checked dilation again, because usually when a laboring mom says she can’t handle the pain any longer, it is transition and labor is almost done.  However, I was still just 8cm and baby’s head was still too high to began pushing.  At this point, Shannon grabbed the portable ultrasound machine and began to set it up.  During the set up process I went downhill – I have unfocused memories of unbearable pain, broken up by painful contractions (the pitocin had been stopped at this point).  In other words, I needed to get on the examining table so Shannon could check on the baby, which was almost more than I could bear.  The pain from the ultrasound touching my abdomen caused me to begin to go into shock.  I asked (via yelling and crying) to be done.  Was it time to call for a C-section?

Now to back up to 12 days prior, the day after we arrived in Vanga.  Shannon was helping a laboring woman.  This was her fourth baby and she had needed to be induced.  Things were going well, when suddenly she had severe abdominal pain.  As she labored, her uterus burst and the baby was lost.  Here, uterine rupture is often caused by a long time of malnutrition.  But, her symptoms were mirrored in what Shannon was seeing with me.  I wasn’t, and had never been, malnourished, but the pain I was experiencing was not within the normal limits of labor.  This is difficult to explain and to process, and Shannon, because I am her friend, did want to make a medical decision based on her fears and emotions, but she also wanted to recognize some red flags based on a recent, extremely unfortunate case.  So she called in a good friend and trusted doctor to help make the call.  He agreed, a C-section was the best course of option, because the risk wasn’t worth it.

At this point, things kicked into high gear and the operating room was called.  The lab was contacted.  A stretcher was demanded.  And I was only slightly aware of anything besides the pain and the promise that I would soon be out of pain and baby would be safe.

I was given a shot to stop contractions.  The lab showed up, but the poor nervous phlebotomist struggled to take my blood to check my hemoglobin (for anemia).  There is a lot of pressure, since white patients are seen as high ranking, even though I do not consider myself special, culturally that is not the case.  He stuck me twice and eventually had to just poke my finger.  This is a rural village hospital – everything is done with a straight needle and syringe, including the finger poke.  I was catheterized in preparation for surgery.  This may have caused some swearing.  That hurts.  On top of everything else, especially.  But we were still waiting for the stretcher.  I remember hearing Matthew and Shannon yelling (and yelling in French is somehow more demanding).  I remember a strong sense of urgency.  And I remember sometimes just wanting to drift asleep.

The decision was made to use the rudimentary wheel chair to get me to the OR, since the stretcher still hadn’t appeared.  Again, a village hospital is a series of cinderblock buildings, connected by an open sidewalk.  So, I was wheeled outside and down a bumpy sidewalk to the OR (salle d’op, in French, which I think is rather catchy).  The wheels got stuck on a lot of holes.  The drape got caught more than once.  I remember Matthew trying to get me to talk…but I couldn’t.

I was wheeled into the OR and lifted onto the table as all my clothing was taken off.  They got my IV hooked into ketamine.  The initial plan was a spinal (not an epidural, they do not have those here) but things were too urgent to wait.  The anesthesiologist got me started on a drip, but Shannon wanted more, faster, to get me under so she could get started.  I remember knowing that things were rushed, and the anesthesiologist saying I was almost out and to get started, it was okay, I was ready.  However, I was still yelling and moaning from the pain.  Obviously, Shannon was not convinced I was ready, but was more concerned with the baby (who was fine, but we wanted her to stay that way, of course).

This part of the story may be disturbing, but personally, honestly, I think it’s actually awesome.  Not many people can say they’ve felt the start of surgery – the first cut of the scalpel – and think that it is a neat thing to experience.  But, that is how I feel.  I felt that first cut, I really did.  And, under the last conscious influence of the ketamine, I made sure to shout that between yelling that I was in pain.  However, yelling that I felt the slice of the knife was very unnerving for Shannon, as she was helping, but in a sense, hurting her friend.  She said it was the most difficult things she has ever done, to make that second slice, knowing that I had felt the first.  You guys, Shannon is literally my hero.  She did what few of us could, and professionally made decisions even when emotionally they felt impossible to follow through on.

After that I remember whiteness, then something between Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and The Matrix.  That’s really the only way I can describe anything that happened.  It also felt like hours.  I was awake again about 40 minutes later, though the fog took a few hours to clear.

Matthew sat in the operating room and watched.  Shannon said Piper began to cry before she was even out.  She lifted her out and handed her straight to Matthew to begin skin-to-skin.  I guess there’s one advantage to a non-sterile operating room (the operation itself was performed under sterile conditions, don’t worry).  She checked for signs of imminent uterine damage, but there weren’t any.  Then she gave Matthew a tour of my insides, which I’m a bit jealous of, actually, before closing me up.  Nerds.

I began to awake to the sounds of Piper crying and asked, apparently, 20 times if it was a girl.  Actually, I gave Shannon and Matthew a good laugh as to all the things I said and how I said them.  I’m glad they were both too busy to record any of it.  Ha ha.  We have had several laughs about my wake up process.

I was wheeled back to the room, and remember seeing the blue sky and sun on the way, where a new bed was waiting for me (this was thanks to Shannon’s doctor friend who made sure an actual bed was brought in – I had been on a stack of comfy mattresses, but the bed was higher and better for me to get in and out of).  The pain was done (well, that much and that type of pain, anyway…I had major surgery, of course).  The baby was here and we were both well.

At some point, Levi, Amelia, and Axel were brought over to meet their new sibling.  I was still pretty out of it and they were pretty scared of how out of it I was, but I’m glad they got to see her so fresh.

We spent the night in the hospital, listening to a soccer match outside (yay, Congo won) and the thunder.  Piper nursed well and I watched the lightening bugs dance around the room.

The next day was the normal busy-ness of post-op.  IV drips, everybody gets checked.  Everybody wants to see the white baby.  But at the same time it was restful and peaceful after such an eventful day.  Finally, it was time to go home.  I was wheeled out of the hospital and walked the last bit to the waiting vehicle, with Ryan, Shannon’s husband, waiting to drive us home in the mission vehicle.  The crowd of curious well-wishers was so sweet.  They were very excited about Piper.

That evening at the house, Matthew and the kids ate dinner (I think I ate something, but don’t really remember).  I showered and felt awesome!  It had been very hot (though I honestly don’t remember…I was distracted by something, I guess).

As we were tucking in for bed, Piper began to get fussy and didn’t want to nurse.  We realized she felt hot and found a temporal thermometer (forehead).  It read 101F, so we called Shannon.  Piper cried unconsolably, but within half an hour, Shannon was there, along with the pediatrician, who is a German monk that has worked in Vanga a long time, and two pediatric nurses.  They assessed that Piper probably had the start of some sort of infection an the best course of action was to knock it out with a strong antibiotic, so she got her own IV that matched mine (for follow up antibiotics).  She was fine and we had another night of easy nursing and sleeping.  One of the pediatric nurses slept on the couch just in case things had not gone so smoothly.  We later learned that the thermometer we had used was not really the most reliable, but perhaps prompted an “overzealous” response that really saved a small problem from turning into a bigger one – again, we see God’s provision.

The next two days were just healing, nursing, rounds of antibiotics for Piper and me, and sleeping.  It was a lot cooler and the kids mostly behaved and played outside with the yard workers.

Saturday morning we (Matthew) packed and got ready to head home.  It was raining, so it was almost cool, which was nice, but it did delay the plane just a little.

The flight home was uneventful and smooth, with Piper sleeping and eating for most of it.  We shared a flight with the Potter family (Shannon’s family) and Friedhelm, the pediatrician, since the medical conference begins Monday and everyone had flights out of Kinshasa on Sunday.  It was a full, but happy plane ride.

So arriving home was very chaotic and busy, not having been home in two and a half weeks, plus arriving home with Shannon’s family and her parents being guests for the night – it was great to have extra hands to help with everything, but also busy.  We had disconnected our water pump and batteries to keep them safe, so those needed hooked up.  The neighborhood power, we had been told, was awful while we were gone, so we assessed our fridge and freezer, but our guards assured us that our power had been fairly regular and we found all of our food to be good – we are praising God for this blessing!  The house had been maintained in good order by our worker, Jean, Maman Cele had made dinner for us that afternoon, and Tasha, an MAF wife (and perhaps others), had arranged to have some baby supplies that had arrived with visitors while we were gone to already be in our living room.  There was also a counter-full of snacks and veggies.  What a blessing to be surrounded by this village also!

So we had 24 hours with our dear friends who are essentially family.  Last night Shannon was able to remove the bandage and we saw my incision for the first time.  Actually, that’s not true, I can’t actually see the incision at all.  She did an amazing job.  Again, she is my new hero.

Today we ventured out to the grocery store and for some Nice Cream (the best ice cream, really), but I am paying for it now in pain.  No narcotics here, so ibuprofen and tylenol and I are staying close friends for now.

Piper is doing well with nursing – my best nurser thus far – and I am praising God for this part of the process being easy, since nursing has been difficult in the past.

The last piece of the puzzle is the amazing blessing of having Shannon’s parents here during this time.  They stepped in and became honorary grandparents for the entire time we were in the hospital and the days that followed, tackling all three kids, plus their own grandkids, plus preparing for their travel home after six weeks.  Leon and Jeanne – you two are awesome and we are so grateful for everything!

So, that is our story.  We are well and praising God for weaving an adventurous story to begin Piper’s life outside the womb.

(There are a couple of pictures but not on my devices, so they will have to wait.)

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 3, 2016 0829

    WOW. WOW. WOW! Proud of you, Lisa. Way to GO, Shannon (that was some amazing doctoring, right there). Thank you, Lord, for these precious lives sustained! Rejoicing with you all!

  2. Elsie Worthen permalink
    April 4, 2016 0829

    Your story was very interesting and I am thankful it’s finally over and Piper and you are doing so well. Sounds like you really are out in the middle of nowhere (where hospitals are concerned). Matthew took very good care of you and happy you had some help at home. May God bless you all in the work you are called to do there in Kinshasa. Elsie Worthen

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