At 7 PM on October 17th, the hubby and I were headed to the grocery store to pick up a six pound standing rib roast. The special ordered roast was destined for a photo shoot the following day, which I had already determined would be my last working day before settling into nesting, Netflix, and baby watch mode.
It was a full ten days before my due date, so when I started feeling vaguely crampy on the way to the grocery store, I shrugged it off and figured I just needed to drink some water and lay down for a few minutes. We grabbed the roast, took a quick trip down the specialty snacks aisle, and left with a wedge of balsamic cheese and crackers.
I casually mentioned to Will I was feeling some lower back cramping, but assured him it was so sporadic it couldn’t possibly be labor. My parents, who were watching Patrick that day, showed up at our house around 8:30 PM. In typical 3 year old fashion, Patrick came in like a tornado, and spent the next 30 minutes terrorizing the dog by chasing him around the house with his dump truck.
In the midst of the noise, I registered a few more cramps and told my parents they might want to keep their phones handy this evening, just in case.
My parents left around 9, and despite the fact I was certain this was not labor, I suddenly found myself feeling sentimental and weepy. I decided to postpone bedtime and turned on the big brother episode of Daniel Tiger with the hopes of scoring some sleepy snuggles with my sweet P. While we were snuggling, the hubs suggested we start timing my cramps, and I reluctantly agreed.
Soon after, we headed upstairs for our usual bedtime routine of stories, prayers, and snuggles. Usually only one of us stays in bed to snuggle, but that night all three of us crammed into P’s twin size bed for a family cuddle. While laying there I realized I was having to concentrate and breathe through the cramps, and Will could tell by the change in my breathing that these vague “cramps” were picking up in both intensity and frequency.
I lingered as long as possible in bed, feeling emotional about leaving my firstborn, while also still being unconvinced this was labor. When I finally left, Will showed me his phone, where he’d been timing my cramps. In the last hour, they’d gone from 20 to 11 minutes apart . The hubby insisted we call my parents back to the house immediately. I thought we still had plenty of time, but Will, likely remembering the speed and panic of Patrick’s delivery, made the call anyway.
For many reasons, including the fact that I tested positive for Group B Strep, we were determined to arrive at the hospital before I was 10 cm this time around. While Patrick’s birth was beautiful and awesome in many ways, we weren’t keen on repeating the chaos that comes from arriving at the hospital too late.
Having this in mind, I begrudgingly admitted these pesky little cramps were, in fact, contractions and decided we better finish packing our hospital bags.
And that’s when things got crazy.
Within the next hour, my contractions escalated to 8, then 6, then 5 minutes apart. At the same time, I started experiencing some, ahem, intestinal distress, which kept me running to the bathroom every few minutes. When I did catch a break between contractions and bathroom runs, I was frantically digging through the dryer to find my just-washed clothes for the hospital and searching for the folder which contained my birth plan and the phone number for my midwives.
My parents were back by 11 PM, and our haphazardly packed bags were ready to go. We called the midwife, who told us we might want to consider staying home a little longer. Having made that mistake with Patrick, we calmly but firmly told her no, and that we’d be at the hospital in 15 minutes.
Despite all signs pointing otherwise, I was still in a state of denial at this point. The rushing, the hectic packing, the last minute everything–none of that was part of my plan. I was supposed to have at least another week to get a massage and finish up the nursery and practice my Hypnobabies techniques. Besides, I still had a prime rib roast to make!
Alas, it seems babies don’t come on our predetermined timelines. Nor do they care whether you wanted to use the birthing tub at the hospital or if the lamp you just purchased for their nursery was assembled yet.
During the car ride to the hospital, I clung to one of the verses I had repeated as part of my hypnosis. “You saw my baby before he was born. Every day of his life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.” For the first time in the evening, I felt strangely peaceful. I may not have felt ready to have a baby that day, but God knew our son’s birthday long ago. It was finally sinking in that we were having a baby, not just sometime soon, but TONIGHT.
At the hospital, Will gave my hand a squeeze, and we said a quick prayer before heading inside. I was able to walk to labor and delivery, though I did stop for a few contractions along the way. I had to be wheeled into the hospital with Patrick because we waited so long, so at this point I felt like we were arriving with plenty of time to spare.
Wrong again. By the time we got into triage, I was feeling contractions intensely and begging Will to put pressure on my back. Triage took forever, and laying flat on my back to be checked was honestly the most pain I felt through my whole labor. My memory of this time feels blurry. I was in my own world, trying desperately to concentrate on staying calm through contractions. While nurses swirled around me, I thought I heard someone say I was 6 cm. I felt discouraged I wasn’t further along, but was grateful we would have time to receive antibiotics before delivery.
They wheeled me right back to delivery where Laurie, the midwife, met us. Between contractions, I mustered a hazy, “So, where are we at?,” to which she replied, “Oh, you’re at 9 1/2 cm!” The relief I felt in that moment was incredible. I’m not sure if I actually fist bumped the air, but I was at least thinking it as I cried out, “REALLY?! That’s amazing!”
It couldn’t have been more than 5 minutes later when I felt the urge to push. The midwife and Will were both the best coaches, encouraging me to relax and listen to my body and telling me I was doing a great job. I pushed 2-3 times and his head was out. I remember laughing in between contractions, because I simply couldn’t believe he was coming this fast, when only hours ago I had thought I would be making a rib roast today.
I wanted to shout out, “Babe, we’re having a baby TONIGHT!,” but no sooner had I thought the words then our sweet boy was pushed out and placed in my arms. It was 1:29 AM, October 18th. He looked exactly like his big brother. I could hardly believe it. A button nose, rosy lips with the perfect peaked pout, and a full head of dark hair. Perfect, just perfect, in every way.
Will and I had a few boy names in mind before we went to the hospital, but it wasn’t until we looked at his receding hairline, wrinkly forehead, and pouty lips that we knew–He was a Gus through and through. We had debated on longer versions of the name, but in those first moments holding him in our arms, we both agreed he was “just Gus.”
It wasn’t until after Gus was born and tucked safely on my chest that I learned the most extraordinary part of his birth story. My water never broke during labor, so Gus was born completely in his amniotic sac or “en caul,” something that happens in only 1 of every 80,000 births. Will says he was perfectly gift wrapped, just for us.
After the birth, the nurses told us we would have to stay in the hospital for 48 hours and complete blood work on Gus to make sure he showed no signs of infection since we hadn’t had time to push any antibiotics. I remember feeling my first wave of mom guilt for not making it to the hospital sooner and putting our son at risk for possible infection.
A few hours later, the doctors whisked Gus away to have his blood work done. They returned him only minutes later, informing us they didn’t have to do any testing after all. Because Gus was born in his amniotic sac, there was zero chance of infection. He was literally born with a shield of protection around him, an extravagant act of mercy I am still marveling over today.
One month later, we’re still adjusting to life with a newborn. It’s been a blur of good and hard moments, filled with sweet snuggles, frustrating and painful nursing sessions, and heart-bursting joy at the sight of my firstborn loving on his new baby brother. We’ve cried and laughed, felt calm and confident and completely overwhelmed, in turns.
But as I lay here with a sleeping baby on my chest, one feeling hovers over them all: gratefulness.
Arriving late to the hospital (again) is far from the only misstep I’ll make in this parenting journey. There will be many more times I’ll feel inadequate, guilty, and stretched beyond my abilities (or energy…or sanity). But God in his mercy will always meet me in those places of weakness. He fills in the gaps. He goes before me, making a way where I didn’t know there was one.
There are many superstitions surrounding babies born en caul. In medieval times it was seen as good luck, a sign that the child was destined for greatness. Others believed babies born en caul could never drown; others saw it as a sign of a prophet.
For me, the caul will always be a reminder that God holds my children in His hands and loves them more than I can fathom. He is their ultimate advocate, best protector, and trustworthy provider. It’s also a reminder that God’s plan is greater than mine. His timing is perfect, often unexpected, and sometimes hilarious. After all, you can be buying a rib roast at 7 PM and having a baby at 1 AM.
I will forever be thankful for the gift of Gus in our lives and, in the moments where I feel I am failing as a mom, I will call to mind his incredible birth and rest in knowing I serve a God who is greater than my fears and delights in working through my weaknesses.