How Having My Daughter Saved My Life
Words: Barbara Verneus
A mater mea reader shares how her daughter’s arrival has changed her in ways she couldn’t have imagined before she arrived.
We had originally met in 1999 when I was 18, and I fell in love with him. Although we had known each other and dated on and off for 14 years, I still felt as though I didn’t fully know him. . He would only let me in but so much. One night we met for a walk, and it was the last time I was willing to see if we could make our relationship work, regardless of our differing faiths and his inability to commit. That night, after a long walk and talk, we decided to part ways.
I didn’t want to accept it, but I knew I was pregnant shortly after our talk. I had never had a pregnancy scare, but that internal voice got louder and louder and I couldn’t ignore it. I told a friend what I was sensing and she encouraged me to take a pregnancy test. On October 28, 2013, I took two tests and both were positive.
I was shock and in denial. I had dreamt of a beautiful wedding and a faithful husband—nothing like what I grew up with (I had witnessed my mother’s abusive relationship with her boyfriend). But here I was having to call and tell the man I didn’t want to be with that I was pregnant with his child. Instead of support, I was met with emotional abuse. . Our relationship became a series of empty promises and absences at prenatal appointments, the gender party, and baby shower.
I didn’t want to accept it, but I knew I was pregnant shortly after...
When I was six-months pregnant, I lost my job and made the difficult decision to move to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from Massachusetts to live with a family of four boys and a dog in a basement. As grateful as I was to this family for housing me, it was a rough three months. Many times I would cry myself to sleep or just lay in the dark, wishing I had considered abortion. In my darkest moments, I would beg my baby’s father to be a part of his child’s life, and darker still, I contemplated suicide.
Regardless of my pain, I had to get a job, and move into my own apartment before the arrival of my baby. Into my 6/7 month into my pregnancy I began job hunting while trying to hide my pregnancy as best as possible by the clothes I wore. I eventually landed a job. I didn’t feel prepared for her arrival, but I tried to control the things I could. I searched for a doula and also sought out a birthing center because, I wanted a natural birth—having the extra support was important to me.
That support was necessary as my pregnancy also unearthed a lot of past abuse and issues. From being molested as a child and feeling rejected and used by my father and the men I had dated to living with herpes, I feared that my past emotional trauma would affect my labor. However, I was fortunate to have an incredible Christian community who loved, prayed, and supported me. I surrounded myself with other mothers and mothers-to-be to stay positive. My faith in God kept me going, and I prayed to Him even when I felt too ashamed.
On June 16, while I was spending time with my friends, I began having contractions. They were coming every 10 minutes, but I thought they were just Braxton Hicks, so I said goodbye to my friends and went to bed. I woke up in the middle of the night with contractions; they weren’t painful, but they were different from the contractions I had earlier. I called my doula, who said she was on her way. While I waited for her, I began my birthing process by sitting on my yoga ball, listening to some house music, and imagining I was dancing through my contractions.
Eventually my doula arrived and coached me through my contractions. I called my midwife and told her the contractions were about five minutes apart. She told me to head to the birthing center. By the time I arrived, I was 5cm dilated. My labor was progressing well, my team was awesome, and my doula and the nurse were able to keep me focused through various labor techniques and words of encouragement. A close friend was also there to sing worship songs during my labor.
When my water broke, it was filled with meconium [a newborn’s first feces]. My midwife instructed me to push, but a sudden rush of fear came over me and couldn’t do it. I was afraid of bringing my baby into the world to an unprepared mother.
I tried pushing for half an hour, but my baby wasn’t coming. My team re-examined me and realized I wasn’t fully dilated and that my cervix had swollen. The midwife gave me medication to take the edge off; She was concerned about my progress, and presented me my options: I could either take more medication to cope with my contractions or be transferred to the hospital and receive Pitocin and an epidural.
I feared that my past emotional trauma would affect my labor.
I chose to take more of the medication, because I really wanted to have my baby at the birthing center. But it wasn’t meant to be: My cervix was still swollen and my doula and nurse couldn’t get me to focus again. I was eventually transferred to the hospital. I couldn’t bare the pain from my contractions and felt as though I totally lost control over my labor.
At the hospital, I got an epidural and then Pitocin. My baby didn't respond well to the Pitocin—her heartbeat began dropping. A nurse told me in the kindest way that I may be getting a C-section. It was a possibility I didn’t want to accept. I wasn’t hard on myself for getting transferred to the hospital and for receiving epidural and Pitocin, but I couldn’t accept getting a C-section. I’m a doula, and I have also worked as a midwife assistant.I have seen how doctors would resolve to a c-section without good reason and how women put their power into another’s hand, because they were not knowledgeable of their choices. I didn’t see any immediate signs or concerns for a c-section, and my spirit didn’t sense the urgency to. So I asked everyone in the room to pray.
Pitocin was eventually reintroduced at a lower dosage, and the baby responded well to it. When I couldn’t feel the contractions anymore, I took a moment to look around the room, and I saw I was surrounded by love. It was a demonstration of His grace and mercy. Everyone who I considered a friend was there, and the night was filled with smiles and laughter.
When I was fully dilated and ready to push, I requested a mirror to watch my baby enter into the world. Two of my close friends helped my legs up and I began to push. All I could do was smile as I saw her crowning. I reached out to feel her temple, and was overjoyed. At one point I noticed my baby was pushing forward; when the midwife asked me to push, I kindly said no, because I saw she was coming out on her own. When my baby’s head emerged, I began to push again to assist the rest of her body out. She was placed on my chest right after.
On June 17th my daughter was born and I named her Glorious-Zoelle Shaddai Verneus. Zoelle means “life/shining light” and Shaddai means “Almighty/The God of Heaven.” I was overjoyed to be part of a miraculous act where God used me to bring her into this world. I’m amazed by how the Lord created our bodies to do extraordinary things and the honor the Lord had granted me.
But when I arrived home with my daughter, I felt very overwhelmed and undone. I cried because I couldn’t help her latch on to my breast, making breastfeeding difficult and painful. I cried because hearing my daughter’s cry reminded me of her absentee father and that I was doing this alone. How would I care for her? I can barely take care for myself. The magnitude of my baby’s presence and power was so overwhelming that it highlighted my own shortcomings.
Then one day something clicked for me. Looking at my daughter, I realized I was witnessing God’s glory before me in such a small person. This epiphany ignited a fearless spirit in me.
My daughter is changing me in so many ways, ways I couldn’t have imagined before she arrived. One second I was begging for death to welcome me, and now I fear the very thought of ever leaving my daughter. I wouldn’t change anything I went through because it made me stronger, and gave me a calling. I’m finally able to see the grace, mercy, and glory within it all.
Barbara Verneus is a doula, family health advocate, and mother of one based in Philadelphia. She’s in the process of completing her masters in counseling with a concentration in marriage and family.