When John-Mark, Audrey and I arrived in Liberia, we immediately discussed the options available to give birth in Africa. We toured hospitals, talked with other missionaries who had given birth here, and discussed it with our midwife. So, we were very comfortable with our plan. We would return to Monrovia a month before my due date (June 24th), stay in a missionary’s house that is on furlough, and have a home birth with an experienced American missionary midwife that lives with her family in neighboring Ivory Coast. The midwife, Joan, would fly to Monrovia 2.5 weeks before the due date.
The last few weeks in Voinjama were extremely difficult, physically and emotionally. We were under a lot of stress, which you can read about in another post. Audrey was at a very difficult stage where she was in to everything and needed constant contact to maintain her safety. The bigger I got, the more uncomfortable it was to hold her so much, almost impossible to hold her, in fact! By evening, my feet and ankles would be swollen and I’d be completely exhausted. I’d prop my feet up in bed and literally felt like I could pop and any moment. We live about two miles from the hospital. Since our vehicle was still out of commission, if I were to go into labor, the only way to get to the hospital would be on the motorbike! Sometimes, I’d have to hold my breath and just focus on not going into labor. The next plane with available seating out of Lofa County wasn’t until June 3rd, three weeks before my due date, so focus I did!
I made it to June 3rd and we made very rough 2 hour drive to the airstrip via Samaritan’s Purse truck. Poor Angel got very carsick! We joked with the pilot about having the baby on the short one-hour flight. I assured him that even if my water broke on the plane, there would definitely be enough time to land and get help. Ha!
The next day, I woke up feeling a bit fatigued and pretty uncomfortable. As the day went on, I had an even harder time than usual keeping up with Audrey as she climbed up and down, up and down, up and down my in-law’s outdoor stairway. The day was dragging by. In the late afternoon, I strapped Audrey into her stroller and we ventured outside the gate, down the road, and around the corner to get some ice cream. We walked another half mile or to buy some bananas. By this point, the contractions were fairly painful and I remember wishing that there was a place I could just sit down to rest. But, there wasn’t so we just kept going. I chalked the discomfort up to painful Braxton Hicks since they weren’t too regular.
John-Mark got home around 6:30. I was completely exhausted so I plopped Audrey on his lap and went to bed to rest for a few minutes. I showered and got dressed up for the guests that my in-laws were having for dinner at 7:00. I felt less exhausted, but was having more and more pain. I (stupidly) ignored and down-played the pain, trying to happily converse with the guests. One American couple, by the way, worked at the US Embassy and the others were an American woman and her son who were staying downstairs in the Sheppard’s guesthouse.
Around 8:30, I excused myself to put Audrey to bed. At this point, I was terribly uncomfortable again, finding it almost impossible to stand during the contractions. I attempted to contact a couple of midwives that I knew, but no one was available. The contractions were still at least 10-15 minutes apart, so I figured that even if it was in true labor, it would be long time before the baby would come. (Duh! I don’t know why I always down-play everything. Maybe I was in denial because the midwife wasn’t in yet? Maybe I was in denial because people are always having false labor? Maybe I was trying not to get my hopes up that this really could be it?) So anyway, I returned to the dinner table and happily conversed, subtly using my relaxation techniques.
By 9:30, I felt I couldn’t take much more and went to bed to finally stay still long enough to actually time the contractions. They were a minute long, but still 10 minutes apart. John-Mark reported this to his parents and then came back to the bedroom where, by the way, Audrey was sleeping in her crib. John-Mark encouraged me to just go to sleep. Those are the magic words, I believe! After JM said those exact words when I was in labor with Audrey, I progressed almost immediately to the pushing stage! Well, this time, he said them, I visualized my way through the next contraction…up and over the ocean wave… and then it happened. I finally 'popped'. My water broke.
I felt a bit panicked, knowing the back-up mid-wife was a good 20 minutes away. I instructed JM to go tell his parents and to come back as quickly as possible because this was going to happen FAST! I instinctively went to the bathroom, not wanting to make any kind of a mess in the bedroom. John-Mark returned just a minute later, and I immediately started pushing. John-Mark looked really nervous! All I could think about was the Full House episode where they are looking for towels and hot water, thinking that Aunt Becky was about to have her baby! LOL! So, I reached up, grabbed a towel, and handed it to John-Mark. The next push, Noah’s head came.
John-Mark was clearly in over his head, not wanting to leave me to go get help, but not really wanting to do this on his own either. I knew it was going to be up to me. So, I yelled, “Help!” as loud as I could. Apparently all the guests staying in the guesthouse downstairs, including several grown men, ran outside, stood outdoors with their arms crossed, staring up towards the bathroom window wondering what on earth was going on! The security guard concluded that John-Mark must be beating me! Oh dear…
My dear mother-in-law rushed in the room, clearly stunned by what she saw, fell to her knees to help, and immediately started praying. Mark was in the adjoining bedroom, tossing in advice through the door. I immediately felt at ease. (You can read about Nancy’s perspective of the story here: one grandmas secret desire )
I could hear the midwife’s voice, the one who helped with Audrey’s birth, in my head telling me what to do. With the next push, little Noah Robert Sheppard was born! Nancy and John-Mark jointly ‘caught’ the baby. They were both so obviously touched and happy. It was absolutely the most beautiful and awesome experience I could ever imagine.
Of course, I sat there completely stunned for about an hour. I felt like I was in shock. I remember thinking, “Why is everyone so happy? Doesn’t anyone realize what just happened here!?”
Once a Liberian midwife arrived and cut the cord, I started feeling better. When I returned to the bedroom, my sweet father-in-law, with the biggest smile on his face, shook his head in wonder, and said, “You are just amazing.” I felt so touched that this had become such a very sweet family event. Obviously, it would have been foolish of us to have planned to have Noah born this way, without any trained persons on hand. But, God, in his mercy, allowed me to have a very safe and very special delivery. I couldn’t have planned a better experience myself!
Noah was 6ibs 4oz and born around 10:30pm (that is 5:30 CST), just a forty-five minutes after our guests left for the night and less than 10 minutes after my water broke!
*** Obviously we invested a lot of money to arrange to have our midwife friend come from the Ivory Coast to Liberia. Since her services were no longer needed, she stayed in Ivory Coast. Some of the money, like for her visa, we will not be able to get refunded. However, Joan's husband has been going back and forth with the airlines, trying to get the expensive plane ticket reimbursed. The airline is giving him a very hard time. Please pray with us that the airline will be willing to reimburse at least part of what we invested. ***