By Jesse Jost
On Nov. 1 at 5:02 PM our little Thomas drew his first breath of air, weighing in at 7lb 2 oz. His cry was brought a rush of relief and gratitude. His first 9 months inside the womb had been quite an adventure for all of us.
I have a tradition of writing up a detailed birth story for each of our kids, including details of what the emotional journey was like for Heidi and I. These are usually very detailed, over-emotional, and drawn-out so read at your own peril.
I first learned of Thomas’s existence one frigid (-20 C) March morning as I pulled down our driveway for my school bus run. I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw Heidi in her house coat and night gown running towards me. My heart stopped. Who died? I carefully backed the bus up to her, and she breathlessly told me I was a daddy again. Wow. I could barely stop smiling for the rest of my bus run. February had been exceptionally cold with constant snow, and we spent a lot of time snowed in, but it had paid off wonderfully….
Heidi had miscarried twice before and in each case the morning sickness was not as bad as it was with the healthy pregnancies, so nausea is one of the first things we look for. This time the nausea hit hard. Poor Heidi, grateful for the indicator of baby’s health, still had to stoically face the reality of months of feeling trapped in a nauseated body.
At Easter we had big family gatherings planned with both sides of the family, when a nasty stomach bug descended on our home. We have a child, Elijah, with T1D, which makes stomach bugs especially challenging and frightening.
When Elijah got sick, it meant staying up most of the night trying to force juice, gummies, popsicles, and skittles down in between vomits, desperately trying to keep his blood sugar up while his insulin drove it down. We made it through the night without a trip to the ER, but it left us exhausted.
One by one each member of the family caught it, including Heidi, which resulted in some especially violent vomiting. We made it to the end of the weekend, so physically and mentally drained, but grateful that Heidi had made it to the milestone of 12 weeks. (Both miscarriages happened at 11 weeks.)
We packed our van and headed to Whitefish for a much needed time of rest and recuperation. We had to miss our dinner with Heidi’s side of the family, but they sent us some leftovers of their traditional Mennonite feast of sausage and verenika.
Heidi really wanted to make this meal special as our first in Whitefish, and had decorated the table and laid out the food. As we started eating, Heidi disappeared into the bathroom. When she came back, I sensed something was wrong. I asked if she was okay. She nodded.
“Did you start spotting?” Her eyes watered and she nodded again. “I wanted to wait till after the meal to tell you.” I couldn’t take another bite.
We had discussed before we left that if Heidi started spotting, we would need to come back home as soon as possible. Heidi’s last miscarriage had led to some haemorrhaging, and I wasn’t sure what costs our travel insurance would cover.
Still so tired, we discussed packing back up and heading home. Our kids would be so devastated by this dual blow. Heidi said we had to stay. Contractions had started and were too uncomfortable for her to travel. She had a bath instead while I tried to contact friends who could watch our kids in case we had to leave for ER.
Heidi told me that the one mercy in this was it was clear this was a miscarriage, and she wouldn’t have to be tormented by a couple days of false hope like with two other miscarriages. She silently prayed to have the body expelled safely so she could start to heal.
Two dear friends dropped everything and came and watched our kids. Heidi didn’t pass the baby, and the bleeding and contractions dwindled. We felt so devastated and confused. We send out a request for prayer on Facebook and to our church family but felt so tormented.
That night we lay trembling in the dark, fighting for peace. I tried to quote Scripture but felt such opposition I could barely find the words. Finally I was able to start quoting Philippians 1 and for the first time we started to feel some hope. (More on this later.)
The next day the bleeding was minimal. We tried to find a place that would provide us with a reasonably priced ultrasound but no one would take us. We did find a midwife who would check Heidi’s progesterone levels.
The same friend who sat with our kids the night before came and took Heidi to the midwife. When Heidi came back around noon, her tummy felt extra distended, and she felt weak, dizzy, and light headed. Concerned about internal bleeding we rushed to the ER. The Whitefish ER was busy but we were moved to a room for an ultrasound.
We had lost all hope of a healthy baby at this point and waited while the tech took a look. His first words shocked us.
“Well, we still have a live baby!” He showed us the screen. We were dumbfounded with relief and joy. It was quickly tempered as the tech said, “Wait, we aren’t out of the woods yet. We have a large hematoma.” He showed us a big black ominous patch just outside the placenta.
The on-call doctor came by later and gave us his assessment: This was now a high risk pregnancy with only a 50% chance of viability. Heidi was to be on strict rest with no lifting or exertion.
We came back in a daze. Thrilled by the fact that our baby was still alive, but sobered by the fact that this new life hung in the balance.
That afternoon Heidi started bleeding a little again. My frazzled nerves groaned. I went to our bedroom got on my knees and pled with God in prayer, “I can’t live in uncertainty like this. I can’t handle 6 more months of this.”
I begged God for a sense of his presence. Verse after verse about God’s love and purposes flooded my mind and I was filled with supernatural peace and calm. I simply can’t describe how wonderful this taste of God’s presence was to my soul. God’s glory is so satisfying that you are left with an awareness that even if God is all you have, all will be well. I had no assurance that this baby would make it, but I had a taste of God and that was more than enough.
The night Heidi started spotting, I had weakly started quoting Philippians 1. I am cautious about “Rhemas” and taking Scripture out of context, but I started to cry when I got to this verse, “Being confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.”
I wanted to believe God was speaking about our baby. I continued quoting till the verse: “But I want you to know that the things that have happened to me have turned out for the furtherance of the Gospel.” Again hope.
I got to the verse: “I know this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the supply of the Spirit of Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope, that in nothing I should be ashamed, but as always so now, that Christ will be magnified in body whether in life or death. For to me live is Christ and to die is gain.”
We stopped and prayed these verses specifically for this situation.
Paul goes on to say that he’s hard pressed about what he will choose: life or death.
But he says (and I wanted so much to believe that God was speaking about our baby):
“Nevertheless it is more needful for you that I remain. Being confident of this, I know that I will remain for your progress and joy of faith.”
I don’t think it was an accident that I chose Philippians 1 to recite. God’s presence was so strong. Of course it continued to be a relentless struggle to focus on truth, but especially after seeing our live baby, what we experienced that night became a source of hope.
The next six months went by without any more bleeding. We had several ultrasounds that showed us that the hematoma had shrunk some, and that a baby boy was developing normally.
Heidi gradually ignored more restrictions as we got closer to her due date. For the most part the prayers of our army of prayer warriors were answered and we were at peace. We were so grateful for every kick and flutter from Heidi’s tummy that assured us that, for this moment at least, everything was okay.
At 36 weeks we met with a OB/GYN to discuss her assessment of the ultrasound results. She went over the possible risks. The baby was measuring smaller, likely due to the fact that the hematoma was blocking nutrients from passing through the placenta. There was also a risk of placental abruption from the hematoma which would be fatal to the baby and put Heidi’s life at risk. She encouraged us to have regular non-stress tests at the hospital to make sure baby was thriving, and to have an induction after 39 weeks. She also let us know that any more bleeding from the hematoma could cause labor to kick into high gear, and there might not be enough time for us to make it to the hospital.
The OB was kind and gentle, but her words created a storm of anxiety for both of us, as the reality of situation kicked in again.
For the next three weeks, peace was such a struggle for both of us. The early days of our trauma with Type 1 diabetes have created unhealthy stress responses from our bodies and brain pathways that make peace so difficult to find.
Heidi carefully listened to her body, feeling the weight of decision-making for when we needed to call for help or rush to the ER. Each new weird pain, or sudden stopping of all baby movement after a violent hiccup episode were causes of panic.
This past year, we both have made more of an effort to memorize God’s Word. Now those implanted passages were a source of peace and encouragement, an anchor to our bobbing souls.
As much as I hate the physical symptoms of stress, I love the revelations of God that come when my weary soul desperately seeks its Creator. In between the physical shaking and trembling, God gave us overwhelming moments of joy and peace. Tears filling our eyes as we marvelled afresh at His faithful goodness. I wished that my wondering soul could pursue God with this intensity when times were good, and not only when life felt fragile.
I also realized that life is always this fragile, and the sense of immortality we feel is the deluded state. We are all one heart-stopping moment from leaving this earth. This realization actually brought peace and intense wonder at the gift of the present moment.
Scripture often calls us to ponder how fragile and fleeting life is. A sense of immortality often creates apathy and plays into Satan’s game plan. When we recognize our mortality, it awakens us to our need for God, and shatters the delusion of our sovereignty.
Some fall blizzards coupled with extra strong Braxton-Hicks made for several nervous evenings. I had my brother Josh on standby for back-up bus driving, and even warmed up the van a couple times. But the contractions would slow down each time we were ready to leave.
The night before Nov. 1 we both got a reasonable amount of sleep and we left early for Lethbridge for the scheduled induction. On the way we were comforted by the worship music of Shane and Shane.
The Lethbridge hospital has an amazing new labor and delivery wing, with spacious well-equipped rooms. We met with our doctor and a new young female doctor in training. She checked Heidi (3-4 cms dilated, and 50% effaced, she said) She gave Heidi a tablet of Cytotec around 8:45AM.
We spent the morning resting and trying to sleep. Heidi had a few stronger contractions but that was it.
At 12:30 our doctors checked us again and administered an oral dose of Cytotec. This time Heidi started having stronger but still manageable contractions every 2-3 minutes.
She wandered around the room pulling her IV, and using a birthing ball for new positions, all the while reading a book on the Halifax explosion to calm her mind.
At around 4:15PM Heidi was sitting on the ball when she felt and heard a snap across her lower belly. She was frightened as she had never felt anything like this before. She called the nurses who were concerned until Heidi started leaking amniotic fluid. The sensation was just her water breaking. The nurse checked Heidi and she was still only 4 cm dilated.
Now the contractions picked up in earnest. Heidi requested I apply counter pressure on her hips during each one. The nurses now kept Heidi on the baby monitor so we could keep track of baby’s heartbeat.
At around 4:45 the nurse checked Heidi and said she was still only 6CM. She called our doctor who said he would try to be there in about an hour.
Thomas’s heart rate started to drop with each contraction, but would return to 130 bpm in between. We wondered if it was just the monitor losing contact. Another nurse began holding the monitor lower during the contracting and it revealed the same thing. Thomas’s heart rate was dropping into the 70s during the contractions and becoming more sluggish. The nurses began whispering to each other while I tried not to panic. They wondered if the contractions were compressing the cord.
Suddenly around 5 Heidi felt the need to push. The nurse checked Heidi and saw the head crowning. “We’re having a baby,” she said.
She discovered that the cord was around Thomas’s neck, and tried unsuccessfully to pull it over his head. She pulled enough cord out to clamp it and cut it, while Thomas’s head was only partly visible.
Then Thomas got stuck. The nurses urged Heidi to push as hard as she could.
I was freaking out, having no clue how long Thomas would live with a cut cord. I watched his grey and purple temple throb as I ached for him to make it safely.
Another gowned nurse pushed me out of the way, and the on-call OB who had just entered the room grabbed Thomas’s head. They repositioned Heidi and pulled Thomas from the womb.
The seconds felt like an eternity as the little grey body writhed and started to sputter phlegm before finally choking out a whimper, then a full-bodied cry.
Oh, the flood of relief that cry brought! Tears of joy and gratitude as I now nervously waited for the placenta and to see how much Heidi would bleed.
The placenta came out intact, and would later reveal the largest hematoma our doctor had seen. Heidi haemorrhaged a little but they gave her a needle and an IV drip of oxytocin that increased her body’s ability to clot the newly severed arteries.
As it became clear that our miracle baby was safely here and was checking out fine in all departments, joy gradually filled our hearts till they overflowed with gratitude.
I floated as I walked down to the cafeteria to get the last of the chicken and mashed potato meal that was being served.
After Heidi showered we were moved to the old maternity ward where we were put in a joint room. Thankfully it was a slow night and we had it to ourselves the whole time.
We had several hours of sleep and woke up delirious with joy and wonder. Marvelling at how perfect our little Thomas was, we could hardly believe the dreaded ordeal was over.
At 5PM Thomas had passed all his tests and was buckled in his car seat, dwarfed by its enormity. We brought him home to five older siblings who could hardly contain their joy at meeting this much prayed for little man.
John-Michael and Sophia have grown so much this past year. Sophia is an emotional rock who lets Eric sleep in her room and comforts him in the night. JM has willingly learned a lot about diabetes management so he could take care of Elijah in our absence. He gave almost all the shots needed while we were gone, and set his alarm for 4 different times the night we were in the hospital just to make sure Elijah made it through the night!
This past week we have felt so much joy and gratitude for this new life. We have been surrounded by friends and family who have lavished us with gifts and meals.
I was able to take the week off from driving bus so I could savour more of these new born snuggles…When I get the chance of course. This baby is in high demand, necessitating timers be set as each older sibling eagerly awaits their turn to hold him.
God doesn’t waste any of the events of our life. The hematoma was not just a life-threatening fluke. I firmly believe it was part of God’s plan to personally communicate his love and purposes and specific call to Thomas.
His two middle names are Paul and Whitefield. Paul because Philippians 1 meant so much to us during this pregnancy, especially the message that “I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith, that your rejoicing for me may be more abundant in Jesus Christ by my coming to you.”
And Whitefield after George Whitefield, the famous 18th century preacher who faithfully and passionately preached Christ until the day he died.
It is our prayer that by God’s sovereign grace, Thomas will adopt the attitude of Paul, and have the same “earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.”