Stitched and Mended: The birth stories of Charis and Chessa Mailliard

Thirty two years ago in the stillness of my mother’s womb, God formed a secret in me that wouldn’t be revealed until the birth of my first daughter. This is a story about God’s sovereignty, about how His plans are not our plans- no, they are infinitely better. This is a story about the miracle of birth: the birth of my two daughters, each born so differently, but each equally precious and prized. The final weeks of my pregnancy with my first daughter, Charis, were a battle. I struggled with my body, with God, with myself. I so desperately wanted her to be head down because I longed for the natural birth I had been praying and preparing for during those nine months. A breech birth had not even been on my radar. I was more frightened by the thought of major surgery (a c-section) than the pain of childbirth. In fact, just before I got pregnant with Charis, God released me from a lifetime of fear and dread of childbirth. I remember telling my husband, Chris, early in our marriage that I didn’t think I could handle childbirth. The fear stemmed from many horror stories and media images that had embedded themselves deep into my mind. Now, after much reading, research, and praying, I found myself on the opposite side of the spectrum, pining for birth, as God had created it to be, only to have it allude me. However, despite my begging and pleading with God and my own efforts to turn Charis, which included an external version, moxibustion, webster technique, acupuncture, and all the gymnastics posted on spinningbabies.com, Charis stayed breech. Still believing she would turn and wanting to experience natural labor, I declined my OB’s offer of a scheduled c-section at 39 weeks. Then at 39 weeks and 4 days I went into labor at home. As I stood up I felt Charis kick low and my water broke. My heart sank. On the way to the hospital I kept praying God would turn her. An ultrasound at the hospital confirmed my fears: still breech. So, with Charis’ foot already in my birth canal and at four centimeters dilated, they prepped me for a c-section. “Lord, I surrender.” I whispered in my heart. Then peace washed over me. I knew it was His will, for whatever reason. A supernatural emotional strength took hold of me as simultaneously the anesthesiologist gave me the spinal and I experienced a contraction. Holding the nurse’s hand I repeated, “Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus.” As my body went numb, and Chris entered the room, I fixed my eyes on Him. I turned to Chris, who was astonished at how calm and collected I was, and said “We’re going to see our little girl soon.”
And there she was. Relief swept over me as tears cascaded down my cheeks. And in the fog and shock of it all, I vaguely remember kissing her as she was whisked away to the nursery with near-perfect apgar scores. Overwhelmed and medicated, I didn’t think to ask for anything in my birth plan- skin to skin time with baby, delayed bathing, nursing in recovery. It was hours before I saw her again. Thankfully the hospital took my feedback seriously and because of my and other moms’ voices, hospital practices are
changing to a family and natural- centered approach, incorporating the very things I had asked for in my birth plan.
During a follow-up visit with my midwife at the hospital she presented a picture and some medical babble: “unicornate uterus with rudimentary horn.” My head started to spin. But she assured me I could still have a trial of labor for a VBAC (vaginal birth after ceserean) with my next child. My heart rejoiced a little while in my mind I resolved to learn as much as I could about this condition. Eighteen months later Chris and I were overjoyed when we found out our family was expanding. Still, a part of me held onto the fear of a repeat c-section. We prayed fervently that God would allow our child to be head down. I sought experienced chiropractic care early in my pregnancy. And we waited, asking God for specific signs. My prayer was that she would be head down by thirty two weeks. I knew God’s hand had to be present in our lives for this to happen because of the way my uterus is shaped. A unicornate uterus (UU) is a birth defect that occurs in early utero as the reproductive organs are forming. Only one side of the uterus fully develops, leaving the other side with an underdeveloped “horn” or cavity. In some cases, no horn is present. In my case, my right side developed and my left did not, resulting in the “rudimentary horn.” Curiously, many women who have this defect also only have one kidney because the two organs are formed at the same time in the womb. Until further testing I won’t know for sure if I have one or two.
The more I researched UU, the more I came to realize what a miracle both of my girls were. In fact, a majority of women with UU have severe fertility issues, miscarriages, and pre-term labor, none of which I struggled with. Another big hurdle for UU women is breech position because of the shape and size of the uterus. As I asked God to move that mountain, my heart overflowed with thanksgiving for the amazing gift of my two healthy pregnancies. I stood on God’s word and his promises, realizing that I wasn’t asking too much because He says He is a Father who gives good gifts, He does more than we can ask for, think, or imagine, and He gives us the desires of our hearts if we seek after Him.

As my pregnancy with my second daughter, Chessa (pronounced Kess-ah), progressed I witnessed the Lord answer our prayers. I felt good and continued to stay active through my pregnancy. Just as I had prayed,
Chessa was head down by thirty two weeks, confirmed first by my midwife then an ultrasound. My group b strep test came back negative, another praise. As 39 weeks approached I became more and more confident
that God was going to allow me to have the natural birth I so desired.
My preparation for a VBAC was intense. I knew going into the hospital with a previous C-section already put me at a disadvantage. I was relieved that a wireless monitor would allow me to labor and give birth in a birth tub while still keeping an eye on baby’s vital signs. I was counting on water (the “aqua-dural”) as a tool to help ease the pain of labor, particularly the transition and pushing phases. I read numerous books about natural childbirth, including Birth Without Fear, Supernatural Childbirth, and the Birth Partner. I watched documentaries like “The Business of Being Born (vbac edition).” I hired a doula (birth coach) and met with her regularly to discuss our goals and preparation and to pray together. I wrote out scriptures on cards and organized them according to how they would help me deal with pain, fear, weakness, and lack of faith. I studied every part of the labor process, confident that such knowledge would help to dispel fear of the unknown. As 39 weeks approached I felt strong and capable. God gave me a stillness and peace that was truly remarkable. I was excited to face the challenge of childbirth and meet Chessa. Because I had Charis a few days before my “guess date” I assumed Chessa would follow suit. But when 40 weeks came and went, I had to fight feelings of impatience and anxiety, and not only my own- Chris was uneasy, adding to the battle.
And then the dreaded “i” word- induction. I read my scripture cards, meditated on God’s word and His promises, and prayed that I would go into labor before my scheduled non-stress test at 40 weeks 6days. My midwife and OB assured me that as long as baby was doing well there was no need to induce before 42 weeks. Induction meant everything I didn’t want- a slippery slope of interventions including pitocin, drugs, and an epidural- that might ultimately lead to a repeat C-section. With induction staring me in the face I opted for some natural labor-inducing methods. At exactly 40 weeks I lost my plug and started leaking small amounts of amniotic fluid, so I knew my body was already gearing up. At 40 weeks 2 days I had an acupuncture session- a method that has a great track record for aiding the labor process. Later that same day Chris and I sent my mom and Charis to the park so we could have some “quiet time.” Just hours later I started to feel some light cramping. I knew it was the beginning, but I kept it under wraps, not wanting to get anyone excited. From my research I knew labor, especially early labor, could be a long, drawn out, patience-testing process.
That night I couldn’t contain the news any longer. Chris’ face brightened as I described what I was feeling. That night I tossed and turned, worrying my water would break in the night. I spent most of my time in the bathroom emptying my bladder. The next morning I felt the contractions becoming stronger, but still very bearable, and still erratic. As the day progressed the birth waves continued at a steady pace but didn’t seem to follow a consistent pattern. By late afternoon Chris was using his handy contraction timer app on his phone to track the surges. By 8 pm we were starting to see some patterns and consistency, and then something quite strange: when I
was active the contractions were shorter, painless, and closer together, but when I laid down to relax I experienced the opposite. I called my midwife who advised me to do what felt best and to stay home since I was talking through the contractions and didn’t seem agitated. She assured me we would know when to come to the hospital: “You won’t be able to walk or talk through the pain,” she assured us. About 9:00 mom, Chris and I sat down to watch a movie. I was so distracted and restless I couldn’t focus on anything. Realizing I could be in for a long night and day ahead and already in the red for sleep because of the night before, Chris and I headed to bed. We practiced our relaxation scripts and he read me scripture, hoping to bring on sleep. But my body and my baby wouldn’t have it. Discomfort and pain started to creep in and my preparation and training kicked into full gear. I moved, swayed, rocked, and fidgeted in between each surge and then faced each one head on with scripture and relaxation. After each one I told myself it was only going to get more intense, therefore allowing my pain threshold to expand. I yielded to the pain instead of fighting it. While restless and uncomfortable, I settled in to the reality that each wave was
bringing me closer to seeing Chessa. I knew my mind was either going to be my greatest asset or my worst enemy.

Two hours later, the surges were so strong I really had to focus. Chris could see how distracted I was– rocking and squatting through each contraction, mumbling and moaning. We both knew it was time to go. We had at least a 35 minute drive to the hospital. By 10:30 we were walking to the car when a strong contraction hit me. I dropped my bag and put my arms around Chris’ neck and swayed through it. Having him close was comforting and I prayed through the pain. As soon as I sat down on the hard backseat of the car I knew I wouldn’t be able to make it to the hospital in that position. The pain seemed to shoot down into the seat and then back up through my whole body. I told Chris to pull the driver’s seat up as far as he could. I squatted on the floorboard of the backseat with my arms pressing into the seat. And I entered a different world. I had prayed for God to relieve the pain of childbirth long before my labor began, but instead He gave me this amazing ability to supersede the pain. Yes, it was like a super power. It was supernatural. I focused on each wave, not allowing any thought that tried to enter my microcosm to take over. How many centimeters dilated? Was this transition? Was I close to the end? They all bounced off the bubble I was creating around myself. I tackled each contraction with scripture and relaxation scripts that I had practiced so much they just came to me. I remember saying out loud to myself when a contraction ended “I’m one step closer to seeing Chessa.” Meanwhile, in the real world Chris was squished like a sardine in the front seat with a lead foot. Later he told me he prayed we wouldn’t get a red light- and he didn’t. At just after 11:00 pm we pulled into the hospital and I felt the urge to push. I tried to restrain the urge, thinking it was too soon and I was not fully dilated. But as I exited the car, a wave hit me and I immediately squatted on the asphalt. I couldn’t stop it. Still looking at the ground I spoke to Chris and it was as if I was talking through a tunnel. I whispered, “Chris, she’s coming.” “Yes, honey she’ll be here soon. Let’s go.” “No, I mean I’m pushing,” I told him matter-of-factly. I could hear the shock and desperation in his voice as he grabbed me by the arm and firmly said, “Oh no, we’re not having this baby in the parking lot!” “I can’t do it. I can’t move. I can’t go any farther.”
The contraction had so overtaken me I felt paralyzed. I laugh now about the thought that passed silently through my mind in that moment “I have to take off my pants so the baby can come out!” But the surge ended and I mustered all my strength as Chris supported me through the hospital doors. My heart sank when I saw there was nobody at the admissions desk. Time seemed to stand still and everything around me was cloudy while each contraction was in razor sharp focus. A woman appeared at the desk and I said, bleary-eyed “I need a room.” And I kept repeating myself, hoping someone would hear me. I could tell the lady didn’t believe me. She started into her “20 questions” admissions process: “What’s your name? Social? Address? Birth date?” Chris looked at her seriously and said, “She’s pushing. We need to speed this up.” It seemed like forever, but finally a nurse came and took me to a triage room. Her attempt to put a monitor on me was like trying to tame a wild animal. I couldn’t stay still. I needed to move, to squat, to rock. She didn’t care. Finally I climbed up onto the bed and squatted while she clumsily strapped the monitor to me, which didn’t stay in place. She checked me and I asked “How far am I?” still not believing that it could be true. “There’s the baby’s head! You’re 10 centimeters.” She exclaimed. My midwife appeared and rushed me down to a delivery room on the bed from triage. I still remember how good the passing air felt over my flushed face. When we got to the room I thought about the birth tub and the water and weightlessness sounded so good. I asked Chris if we could set it up. I remember him and/or my midwife saying incredulously, “Are you kidding? You’re 10 centimeters!” Oh well.
All I wanted to do was squat. That’s what felt right. But my midwife was concerned about baby being born quickly and not being able to catch her in time before she hit the floor. She instructed me to put one foot up on the bed and one on the floor. Then the danger was the baby hitting the side of the bed. So I wound up squatting on the bed and the nurse finally had success putting the heart rate monitor belt around me. Then I heard my midwife say “Emily, baby’s heart rate is dropping a little. I need you to turn on your side and push!” I felt like she, and everyone else in the room, were speaking to me from miles away. Every time I had a contraction and felt the urge to push I was completely disconnected. In fact, the whole thing was like an out- of-body experience- like my mind was outside of my body. Somehow I managed to follow her instructions. I tuned into the words “heart rate dropping” and I pushed with every fiber, every muscle, every ounce of oxygen for my baby girl. I knew she was crowning when I felt the textbook “ring of fire.” And then at 12:40 am she was in my arms. No waiting. No separation. Skin to skin bliss. I turned to Chris, who was shirtless and teary-eyed. I thought “Way to go, honey! Already prepared for skin to skin!” Later I found out he was so overcome by the intensity of it all, he had to strip down and cool off to prevent passing out.
Our Chessa Joy- so perfect! As I held her she seemed so small, like Charis when she was born. But she weighed in at a full pound heavier than her sister- 7 pounds 10 ounces. At 20 inches long she trumped her by a half inch.

As I reflect on the births of both of my girls, I see a bigger picture. If I had not had a C-section with Charis, I wouldn’t have understood what a miracle and gift Chessa’s birth was and both the lives of my two girls. God revealed my “defect” and then he redeemed it. He stretched my “half uterus” to allow another pound of baby. Chessa lived up to her namesake “mercy” through her birth: God was merciful to allow me to experience birth the way he created it to be. And He is teaching me through this that sometimes he withholds something from us or sends us down a path we wouldn’t choose to reveal the extent of His glory and power- to show how He was protecting us, holding us, how he was really blessing us when we thought He was being “unfair.” How glorious when that curtain is pulled back and we can see the truth of His goodness and put away our selfishness, our blindness, and open the cage of our finite minds. For some of us, the mystery is revealed here on earth. For others, we must wait until eternity. He sends the rain today so we can see the rainbow tomorrow. Fighting against His will is like trying to stop the wind with my bare hands. But if I submit I will find His joy in a beautiful storm. I will rest in His peace. And I will overcome.

Charis. Born December 30, 2011