“You are a strong woman.”
I knew it more than felt it. Was there something different in my reflection? As I washed my hands, I couldn’t help but feel there was something unrecognizable about my eyes. I wasn’t sure I was quite the same person I had been a few days before. I had been a girl then. Now, girlhood was gone -- replaced by motherhood.
It was April 1, 2012, and everything felt different. My daughter Anna Christine had been born that morning.
It was a home birth after a long labor. Contractions started late Thursday night, and it was now Sunday – Palm Sunday. I had slept very little during those few days. Excitement, adrenaline, and pain conspired to keep me awake. I tried to sleep, but I couldn’t. I took little more than a few short naps during my labor.
I knew going into it that every woman and labor was different, but I hadn’t been prepared for how different mine was. Based on what I had read and also learned at childbirth class, I expected a pattern of contractions that would start out mild, far apart, and short and gradually become stronger, closer together, and longer. My experience over Friday and Saturday did not match this pattern, however. The contraction intervals were all over the place and were anywhere from three to twenty minutes apart. The most common interval was about ten to fifteen minutes apart. Most of them lasted between 90 seconds and two minutes. The pain was intense. Physically, it was challenging, but I was also perplexed that my “labor” was not matching what I expected it to be like. I grew more and more exhausted, but sleep would still not come.
Despite the long hours laboring, by mid Saturday afternoon, I had not dilated much and was still not considered in “active labor” since a regular pattern had not been established. I was tempted to become discouraged, but I tried to keep in mind that labor can change quickly. Just because I had progressed only a little bit in a long time did not mean it would continue that way.
My husband Zachary also encouraged me. He took such good care of me over those days! He brought me water and food, encouraged me to walk and move around, read me scriptures, etc. I had two pages of Bible verses written out for him to choose from, but one in particular came to mean more to me than I could have imagined. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me [Philippians 4:13].”
One of our midwife’s assistants came back to check on me Saturday evening, and I had finally made significant progress. I was seven to eight centimeters dilated, so the midwife and the other assistant were called in. I was so thankful I was able to stay home during this process. I think it would have added an extra level of stress if we had to drive 45 minutes into Tulsa for the birth of our baby.
I remember changing the calendars over to the new month with Zachary. I was almost 42 weeks pregnant, so even though I knew it was normal for pregnancies to go that long, I had sort of expected our baby to be born already. Yet, April had come and we now knew without a doubt that it was the day our little baby would meet the world.
The wee hours of Sunday took me to my breaking point and beyond, but the Lord was with me. My midwife had me go through a series of positions to help the baby get in the right place for delivery. It was rough, very rough. In my worst moments, I felt I could not go on. I didn’t want to say it, but “I can’t do it!” came from my lips. I could never leave it like that though. In my worst pain I urged myself on. “I CAN do it!” If I could manage it, I confessed, “I can do ALL things through CHRIST who gives me strength.” Other times, I said it in my mind where God alone could hear me.
So many people had prayed for the safe delivery of our baby. Zachary and I formed new bonds that night. He was ever my pillar of calm strength. Just knowing he was nearby brought me comfort. Our marriage was less than a year old, but our closeness could not be measured by time itself. As a childhood friend turned sweetheart, he knows me like no one else.
The knowledge that my parents were awake and praying for me in a nearby hotel brought me additional strength. I know other people were praying for me too. I will never forget being told later by a dear friend and mentor that she had stayed up all night praying for me. Believe me, I needed it. I had never been so tempted to feel alone, powerless, and weak.
We made it through the night. Dawn’s light peeped through our window blinds. I remember being surprised by the light. The night was gone. Our little Palm Sunday baby had to be born soon.
My midwives were concerned about how weak I was after days of so little sleep, so they fed me bite size pieces of cheese throughout the night. I did not want that cheese, but I only refused it once. I knew I was in the best possible care, and I was not about to ignore their advice. The best interests of me and my baby motivated their torturous food choice. At the time, I wondered if I would ever be able to eat and enjoy cheese again, but thankfully, I can.
Finally, it was time to deliver the baby. I went through the pushing phase faster than I think they expected. I was so exhausted, but I was not about to dawdle if I had a choice. I told the midwives I needed to be DONE!
The moment came at 8:53 a.m. I will never forget seeing my baby girl’s face for the first time. I recognized her. She was my daughter; there was no mistaking it. A perfect blend of my husband and I, Anna Christine Pruett didn’t just look like a baby, she looked like our baby. Holding Anna in my arms felt like the most natural thing in the world. My dream of being a mother had come true. Seeing Zachary, the love of my life, hold little Anna brought a new smile to my face I have experienced every day since. Our journey of parenthood had begun.
So, looking in the mirror later that Sunday, I knew I had entered a new stage in life. My experience had forever changed me. Yes, I am still Elizabeth with the same personality, interests, and desires as before, but I am not the girl I was. My eyes tell a deeper story now. I am a mother, and, with God’s help, I commit my life to being the best mother I can be.
“You are a strong woman.”
Yes, with God’s strength, I am.