What We Learned From an Unexpected Birth
The Story of Landon Shae
December 12th, 2012 — it was a Wednesday and, though my spouse and I knew something tumultuous was underway, neither of us had anticipated that our lives would never be the same.
The Sunday before, December 9th, was a perfect winter day in Southern California. Cloudy and slightly cool, nice enough to open a window or two; simply another relaxing afternoon that would end with a surprise date that Vanessa had planned to celebrate the most wonderful time of the year during our first Christmas season of living in California after moving from Ohio upon getting married and graduating college.
However, around three o’clock in the afternoon, Vanessa’s back began to hurt. The day before, we had gone on another sort-of-date to a Christmas decorated outdoor mall to relax, enjoy some lights and music, and see some fake snow. When you are used to winters in the Midwest, California warmth is of great relief, but sometimes you yearn for the nostalgic. Fake snow would have to do.
Slight problem, with no vehicle but a bike, this meant a twenty-mile ride on our non-motorized two wheels. Come Sunday, we assumed the increasingly unbearable back pain must have been catalyzed by our ride. And this meant going out for dinner wasn’t going to be an option. So I pedaled out and brought some Chipotle to our small, one bedroom apartment in an attempt to fulfill the previously envisioned date as best as possible under the circumstances. We ate, talked, and danced in our apartment’s small living room with the caveat that I did not dip her because her back pain was getting worse.
So we danced and played board games, we sat by some candles, we watched a movie and even made homemade caramels in a house decorated to feel like a snowed in cabin. We simply enjoyed the winter season. But as the night continued, so did the pain in Vanessa’s back.
What is Happening?
I remember waking up in the middle of the night to quiet sniffles from just a few inches away. Obviously, not the state you want to see your spouse in. This pain had been seizing Vanessa’s back through the entire night and had now turned into continuous spasms. Every few minutes she would enter into an approximate thirty-second tightening of her lower back muscles; she would clench her teeth and hold her breath in an attempt to overcome the pain until finally, her muscles would again relax.
She didn’t get even an hour of rest that night. Every time she would begin to get comfortable again, another spasm would initiate in an endless loop that I imagine resembled the story of Sisyphus. She had hoped these were minor back spasms that would retreat, but even into the next day, the systematic back pain continued.
Reprieve seemed to ride to the rescue that Monday afternoon. I had come home for lunch from work, worried about the state I would find Vanessa in and, to my surprise, she was on the couch looking relatively comfortable. Her sense of relief became my relief as I was met with a smile and the reassuring words that she was feeling better. Vanessa had gone to some rather extreme measures of using heat and stretching and an onslaught of hot showers to remedy a sense of homeostasis. I can’t imagine the worry, the lack of control that a woman in her situation had felt — but she had done everything in her power to bring consolation and it seemed to bring consolation.
This unexpected uncertainty was finished, so I returned to work under the assumption that normalcy had returned.
When I came home from my day at work, however, this was not the case.
After the slight reprieve with Vanessa smiling on the couch, her pain had gotten worse. Not only was she back to her looping spasms, the force had returned with reinforcements and her misery was getting more unbearable than she thought possible.
At first, the spasms appeared shorter and, as she had apparently convinced herself, more tolerable, so she thought that whatever was wrong was digressing and would slowly end, but by now as Monday’s sun was setting, whenever there were no spasms, there was a constant soreness that had made its way up to her shoulders.
By the Tuesday night of December 11th, the pain had done the opposite of softening. The light at the end of the tunnel that these back spasms were digressing had gone and Vanessa seemed to accept that there was nothing normal about what was happening. I could only gaze into the eyes of a woman who was scared, exhausted, and in so much pain that she made the remark, “If childbirth is anything like this, we will be adopting.”
Not that we had really considered children at this point in our short year and a half marriage — that was something we assumed would happen several years further into our future. And, anyway, the thought of having a discussion on child-rearing was the last thing on our minds.
We had seemingly bigger issues to handle.
That night we had a quick dinner and she decided we should try to pass the time away by playing some games to keep her mind active. But like everything else we tried, nothing worked, leaving Vanessa to finally make the statement, “If this isn’t better in the morning, we are going to go to the hospital.”
Because back spasms aren’t supposed to be this bad.
So she sat through the night with a rhythm of tensing up, crying, walking out the pain, maybe looking for comfort in a hot shower, and returning to bed only to have it happen all over again.
By seven thirty Wednesday morning, Vanessa couldn’t bear it anymore. During the night before, our friend Bryce was with us and, in the midst of the hospital talk, he reassured us that, any time of night or day, we had a ride. Us not having a car, Bryce’s words were the lone reassuring certainty that we could grasp out of everything that had unfolded the past couple of days.
As I walked out to our living room with the early morning light peering in through the windows, I saw Vanessa crying and knew that her demand the night before had come to fruition. Our friend was going to be taken up on his offer. I sent a simple text message that read, “Hospital?” Thankfully, he knew exactly what this meant and was on his way for us to meet him at his car.
I will never forget Vanessa getting into the car, weeping in pain, with that helpless feeling that there was nothing I could do to make this better. Bryce directed us through Los Angeles early morning traffic while the mood in the car was at a most intense level. There was no small talk, no quaint conversations, and the 1.5 mile trip felt eerily more like 12.
When we arrived at the hospital the first obstacle we faced was construction. The ER was hidden to us behind cranes and fences so I climbed out of the car and began searching, eventually seeing a tucked away sign giving us our destination. Vanessa crawled out of the car while her spasms continued to seize up her body and we slowly made our way into the sliding doors of the place no one ever wants to find themselves.
Immediately, the front desk knew this was serious. Vanessa’s body would seize up unexpectedly like it had been doing for the past two days and it was clear that they knew this wasn’t just another overreacting family going to the Emergency Room. Vanessa couldn’t talk or sit to take tests or answer questions so we were given the sped up version of getting her a doctor. I rushed through the paperwork, she got her vitals taken, and we were off to a room in the back of that Emergency Room that seemed like the predestined culmination that Vanessa had tried so hard to avoid.
We should have known that this chaos would bring us here.
And in the bright lights and soft beeps, we hoped that this unavoidable place would finally help us figure out what this was all about.
How About Some Life Changing News?
When the doctor finally showed up, it was almost as if Vanessa wasn’t even there. The doctor began an array of questions in a genuine attempt to properly diagnose the situation. But Vanessa was only able to give head shakes and sometimes not even that, as dealing with the pain meant ignoring the doctor. Frustrated, the doctor order blood and urine tests and left, hoping that would give him more answers than his patient was able to.
While the doctor was gone, Vanessa’s back was still seizing up about every five or ten minutes, but we finally had some time to just sit and try to calm down from the chaos that hadn’t seemed to cease since Sunday. Though for her, the tumult she was enduring still inched its way forward in fear. No one in our vicinity, including me, could empathize with such a life-threatening circumstance. She was taking on an unknown force that brought her up against the world in a way that was defining her existence in her mind, in her body, and in the depths of her soul.
All of us were onlookers to a battle that she was carrying and that none of us could either enter or understand.
She found herself in the heroine journey of taking on an uncertainty in a place that we could not imagine or go to. All of us around her could only watch and hope.
Immediately in this brief repose, we started trying to figure out what in the world was going on because, whatever this was, it had to be serious. We thought maybe it had something to do with cramps, but those should have gone away by now. Or maybe it was possibly something from the bike ride like a pulled muscle, but that seemed irreverant to the intensity of her pain. Blindly, we continued the discussion if for no other reason but to hold out hope.
And then the nurse came in and informed us that Vanessa may need to get an x-ray.
Vanessa, in her typical health and medical awareness responded, “But we need to wait for my blood work to come back because I can’t have an x-ray in case I might be pregnant.”
It was the first time I had heard those words.
Then, as soon as the nurse left, Vanessa turned to me with a look of certainty and said, “I think I’m pregnant.”
Incredible words to hear.
Because they are life-changing.
So we sat and pondered what we were going to do. I continued to reassure her that it was a big ‘might’ and that we shouldn’t worry about that until we knew for sure. Because we honestly had no clue how we would handle that. It definitely was not what we envisioned for our time here in California. We moved here to learn, go to school, experience more of the world and begin life after college (commonly referred to as the ‘real world’). We were looking to establish our family as the two of us, beginning this adventure before we moved onto whatever might be next.
I mean, we had talked about children, but that was it.
Over the past six months, we did have some very serious conversations about what we believe parenting is and the kind of parents we wanted to be and all of the ways we believe it should look different from what we so often see. We would constantly quiz ourselves when we saw something happen with the neighbor children or when we imagined a situation in our heads asking, “What would we do about that?”
But those conversations always ended with, “Maybe infive years, we will be ready for it.” We had five years or so to prepare and imagine and work through scenarios so that we would be completely ready. But for now, it wasn’t part of the picture because that was supposed to happen during our next adventure.
And then the doctor walked in and before he could even say anything Vanessa looked up and exclaimed, “I’m pregnant aren’t I?”
And she was.
Have You Ever Experienced the Shortening of Time?
What seemed like an outlandish possibility, something that your wife brought up just to try and make sense of the situation, like a distant fallback diagnosis because nothing else seemed to make sense, somehow had become reality.
You grow up your whole life imagining this day. The day when two people create another. Where their love is physically manifested in the form of a being. Where this person you have given yourself to and who has also given herself to you, find the ultimate expression of that relationship by bringing a human being into the world.
Yet this wasn’t the picture we imagined. Which meant that immediately in the beauty of this moment there was a lingering worry. It wasn’t the moment of excitement where the test comes up positive after you had been trying for months and you finally conceive. There was no planned culmination. There was no unfolding series of events that led to a prepared, sterile environment.
There was only a complex tension that we were going to have to navigate.
In the midst of school, work, our lives and our small apartment we had a ton to figure out.
And we only had nine months to do it.
Our lives were going to change forever and they weren’t exactly working by the timetable we were hoping for so, for us, nine months didn’t seem like very much time to make this large of an adjustment.
We made our way over to the ultrasound unit to see what exactly we were dealing with here…typically something that you set up as an appointment with a doctor. But our version seemed to be a little more chaotic, filled with these racing thoughts about how we were going to pull this off while we were physically racing through hallways and elevators in a maze of emotional uncertainty.
A flurry of nurses and transport people made their way around us doing more tests and procedures, but eventually, they all cleared out of the room and the scanning of Vanessa’s tiny belly began. There was a sign on the wall describing how the technician couldn’t discuss any of the findings with us so we sat in silence confused by the array of images coming up on the screen — none of which looked like anything we could, or wanted to, recognize.
At one point, the young technician blurted out, “You really didn’t know you were pregnant?”
I immediately got defensive and shouted back, “What is that supposed to mean?” only to watch the technician point to the sign on the wall noting that he couldn’t say any more. We had though our confusion and our worry could not increase any further than it had.
We were wrong.
Finally, once the silent technician was done, we made our way back to our room. We sat in our growing nervousness and worry trying to wrap our minds around how the emergency room visit to fix back pain turned into the reality of eventually being parents as we waited for the doctor to come and explain our results. This was a strange and overwhelming world we were beginning to find ourselves in. We had gone from back spasms and children as a distant thought five years down the road to an ultrasound all in one day. Vanessa was now dealing with not only inexorable pain but also a sense of loss. Lost opportunity to navigate the celebratory news of bearing a child. Lost opportunity to set up a moment of finding out a positive result. Lost opportunity of having that first ultrasound moment where you get the picture and put it on your fridge.
No, the morning had gone more unexpected and more interesting than that.
But it wasn’t done.
Finally, the doctor returned.
He walked in and shut the door and without hesitation, he completely flipped our lives inside out. Looking straight at Vanessa he said:
“Ma’am, not only are you pregnant. You are nine months pregnant.”
Nine months pregnant?
At this moment there is no explanation for the emotional experience that took place inside of us. Nine months? This would date back to March. And yet, Vanessa hadn’t changed her lifestyle one bit. No new diet, no change in activity, no prenatal care. Was the baby healthy? There could be a million different things wrong, even as serious as a still birth, which wasn’t out of the realm of possibility as Vanessa hadn’t once felt movement from this child that was apparently in her stomach.
And how in the world was she pregnant? She hadn’t gained weight. She wasn’t showing a bit. She was still on birth control and having what she thought was her monthly cycle at the same exact time.
It didn’t make any sense.
Yet, there we sat staring at the enormous realization of what this meant. In two hours we went from a child existing in the next stage of our journey to having nine months to get things figured out to it being right here in front of us.
So we fired back to the doctor all of these questions trying to get answers for anything that could help us comprehend the news we just received.
Just like us, he didn’t know much.
So we asked the even more pressing questions hoping he would at least have an answer.
How long did we have? Days? Weeks? What were we looking at here?
Our world was changing tremendously and we wanted to know what time frame we had to pull this off. Most people get nine months and most people were even planning for this moment even before they conceived, but at this point, nine months would have been a luxury.
So we asked: “How long do we have?”
We were hoping to hear, “A few weeks,” at best, but the doctor didn’t say that. Instead, we got something else.
“Actually, your water has broke and there isn’t much time. We are going to have to deliver now.”
And as soon as the doctor finished his words, the only thing we could do was cry. We looked at the various nurses and doctors standing in the room with us and asked them to leave, we closed the door, and we cried.
Our entire world had changed in two hours and not only that, but the entire change was going to take place in one day.
We were going to end this day with a child.
Scared and nervous and overwhelmed don’t begin to describe what was happening inside of us. And the range of emotions felt by an unexpected mother doesn’t begin to describe what was happening inside of her — physically and otherwise.
And there was still a ton of questions about the child. Was it going to be okay? How far along was it? Has the pregnancy been healthy or has something gone terribly wrong? We didn’t even know what or who it was. So much for a gender reveal party. All of these uncertainties just elevated the fear that had been taking over our lives since we first heard the news and since Vanessa had first felt that pain on our canceled December 9th winter date. The strangeness of a California winter to two youngin’s from Ohio was pale in comparison to the strangeness of what had unfolded in this tucked away Emergency Room. The difficulty of getting to the hospital and locating an entrance didn’t seem so difficult now.
What Vanessa and, by circumstance, myself were experiencing — now this was difficult.
This was the ultimate contrast of how things were supposed to be. We were just handed this new picture of life and we were completely unprepared for where it was taking us.
So we sat in the small ER hospital room and watched life as we knew it fade away.
And anytime you have to let something like this go, every time you have to let the world you have come to know die, it is painful and we were experiencing that pain and fear in its fullness.
Eventually, the doctors came back in and continued the medical conversation even though we were still swimming in chaos. Apparently, we didn’t have time to figure stuff out. There was a short supply of fluid to maintain the baby and the delivery had to happen immediately.
Most people get nine months to process and prepare for this new world.
We had a couple of hours.
They took us almost in an instant to the labor unit and the examinations began. However, they were short. Because Vanessa was already fully dilated and they could already feel the baby’s head in the birth canal.
Which means that the back spasms weren’t actually spasms.
They were contractions.
Vanessa had been in labor for two and a half days.
So with this discovery, what was already chaotic exponentially increased because all of the sudden, Vanessa became the priority to get moved into the delivery room.
Our friend Bryce who had brought us to the hospital that morning was waiting in the lobby a little out of the loop on the massive turn of events that just took place. For all he knew, we were finished with the examination on Vanessa’s back and ready to go home. So while there was a break in the action and the nurses were prepping Vanessa for the next room, I needed to go and bring him out of the dark that we had left him sitting in a couple hours ago.
And at this point, my head was swimming.
I remember I walked out of the room Vanessa and I were in, took a few steps, and then just started running, trying to find my way through the labyrinth of hallways. The world was spinning before me and that was about all I remember from the time I left Vanessa’s side.
Evidently, though, I somehow made it to Bryce because he remembered that moment very clearly:
“At approximately 11:40 a.m., as I am deeply entrenched into the Animal Planet’s rendition of COPS, I felt a lite tap on my right shoulder. Unexpectedly, I turned around and saw Tyler motioning for me to follow him outside into the construction-laden courtyard of the ER. Immediately, I knew something wasn’t right. I mean it’s not every day that you see your friend in tears and out of breath, two precursors typically symptomatic of bad news.
It had been a couple hours since I had arrived at Huntington Hospital’s emergency room with Vanessa and Tyler. After they had been properly admitted into the hospital I spent roughly three hours unaware of Vanessa’s condition. For those lonely hours I was secluded in a room full of sick and anxiety-ridden people who were hoping and praying that their condition wouldn’t drastically alter their universe. Unknowingly and ironically, I, the only healthy, non-germ infested body inhabiting the room, would experience a paradigm shifting moment before the afternoon soap opera’s began.
To be honest, I have to commend Tyler for trying to pull himself together so that I could coherently understand what it was he had to tell me. Even still, it was evident that something was wrong, paradigm shiftingly wrong. I’m not even sure how Tyler found the strength and foresight to search me out to keep me abreast of Vanessa’s situation. Yet, after slightly catching his breath he managed, with tears streaming down his face, to finally get the words out.
‘It’s bad, dude. Well, it’s good and it’s bad… She’s pregnant, but she’s nine months pregnant, fully dilated and the doctor’s said we are having the baby today. I don’t know what we are going to do. We have $400 dollars in our bank account and we have absolutely nothing to help us raise a baby. We’re gonna need your help.’
Laws of nature defied.
How in the hell am I supposed to respond to that? Everything I thought I knew about the rhythm of life was challenged. The only comprehensible thing Tyler told me was that he needed my help. That was obvious and that was what I was going to do.
The conversation only lasted four minutes or so, but they were the slowest four minutes of my life. Here I was, twenty-five years old, single and childless being asked to participate in the birth of my friend’s first child that no one was ready for.
Tyler asked for the phone charger that I had been holding for Vanessa and told me that he would try to keep me up-to-date with any other information via text message. I agreed, gave him a huge hug and told him not to worry about me and that I was going to be with them through every part of this process, no matter the severity or consequence, which could be pretty intense based on the circumstances.
After Tyler left I attempted to pick myself up off the floor as he took off running back to his wife. I couldn’t believe it. Vanessa, one of the tiniest people I know, had just gone from nothing to nine months pregnant and was headed to deliver a baby.
I vividly remember telling myself that this moment has forever changed us. Not only those two, but all three of us would leave that hospital completely different people than the twenty-something’s that first arrived.
From there, I got my stuff together from my spot next to the television and moved to the delivery lobby to sit down and wait for an update of the story that Tyler and Vanessa were finding themselves in.”
How Are We Going to Pull This Off?
I returned back to Vanessa’s room, again out of breath, as Bryce remained back in the waiting room. By the time I arrived, all was ready to move to the next wing of the hospital where my spouse would deliver a baby; a baby that we still knew nothing about, especially if he or she was going to be ok. It was then that the doctors picked up a heartbeat of the child. The first news we were given that day that we actually hoped for.
Immediately, the specialists moved forward. Between adrenaline and fear those moments became blurred and before we were even able to decompress everything that was happening, they had Vanessa pushing in an attempt to see just how close the baby was.
We could see hair.
What needed to happen now was for Vanessa to “labor down” and let her body react to the situation. She got an epidural to numb the pain, something she always said she didn’t want to do, and allow herself to relax in the midst of all that was going on.
And it was in this seemingly rare moment of calm that we began to see this new world properly.
Because the beauty of letting the first picture die and be finished is that it allowed us to fully enter into the new one that had been placed in front of us. It took letting go and releasing the old so that our hands would be open and able to receive this new direction our world was moving in.
All of the sudden, in the sense of peace the medicine gave Vanessa for the first time since Sunday, the fear subsided and we had a sense of flourishing and excitement and coming to terms with what was happening. A sense of acceptance emerged, partly because there wasn’t really an option, but also because this is exactly what we wanted and what we talked about…it was just sooner than expected.
We began discussing the past nine months and wrapping our minds around what had happened. How we had often joked about how our apartment could never fit a child, how we wished we would have been pregnant to get in on the ‘Expecting Mothers’ parking spaces, and how that if we knew we were pregnant right away, we would have never moved to California and may have missed what had been an incredibly formative part of our story.
We discussed the shock of how Vanessa apparently cheated womanhood. How she never had any symptom or sign or marker that this was going to happen. Which immediately led to discussing the worries of health and how we didn’t know if the baby was alright or if Vanessa was even going to be ok through this whole thing.
And then there were all the other worries. How do you properly engage with something in a couple of hours that usually takes nine months? What about our jobs? What about our finances? What about the emotional experience of having a baby and raising a child?
We didn’t even have diapers.
It was in that tension that we were able to just sit for a couple of hours. The tension of beginning the next part of our beautiful family while not being sure exactly how we were going to do it.
Yet, somehow, we were embracing that tension.
So while for the first time in three days Vanessa’s pain was finally gone, we talked, imagined, laughed and cried together. We called our families and tried to convince them of the unbelievable reality that we were hardly able to believe ourselves — which were the most fun phone calls we had ever made:
“Hi brother. Are you driving? You need to pull off to the side of the road…I have something to tell you.”
Then, after even taking out a scrap piece of paper and writing down all the things we needed and even sketching out a vision for the kind of parents we wanted to be, something we still follow to this day, the time came.
And you have never seen a woman go through so much in so little time and maintain herself so well. Each contraction led to pushing but was always followed with pleasant conversation with each other and the nurses. Vanessa, in a stroke of irony based on her last hours, days, and nine months, was in complete command of her body and her mind. In the face of no preparation, you would have only been able to come to the conclusion that she was made for this. There are potentially very few people who could pull off what she did. She exemplifies the life and the presence that can endure chaos with pure fluidity and mastery that only comes with wisdom.
Slowly the baby was making its way out with push after push until the culmination of the delivery finally came.
Enter frantic chaos.
Doctors, tools, rushed commands of what to do. And as all this rushed before us, the reality was setting in that this was actually happening. Vanessa seemed more comfortable and collected than ever. I, however, was a bit in shock. There were big scissors and something that looked like tongs and blood…a lot of blood. But expertise prevailed to my dormant understanding and, a few minutes later, the baby emerged — born, though unexpectedly, in the way every human being comes into existence.
Though this human being came through us.
It was the last thing we thought we would do that day, even that year, but we held our child that Vanessa had brought forth into life.
Of What Name Shall You Call This Child?
There were a lot of things that we missed out on — certain traditions that we had always wondered about doing to celebrate the moment of a birth. In the chaos, those were out of the question, but there was one that was still accessible.
I am weird with names.
Our culture tends to name human beings based on sound and style, which is totally fine, but I love the tradition of a human’s name reflecting their life and character and story.
So one of the first questions that caused Vanessa and I to peak forward as soon as the child came out was, “Is it a boy or a girl?” We had previously discussed potential names dating back to the night we got engaged. Lots of options were thrown around, but it was in the moment with the scrap piece of paper that we had our options.
One of the nurses approached Vanessa, still her in delivery bed, and proudly announced that the child to whom she had given life was, in fact, a boy.
We then looked at each other and knew — his name will be Landon. It was the name that had embodied our coming together as a couple back when we were in college and seemed absolutely appropriate for this experience.
The middle name, however, was still unclear.
First, we had another big question.
Was he healthy?
A fair concern that even the doctors were worried about for they had no insight from the last several months on any of the child’s situation as a growing fetus.
But Landon was 6 pounds, 13 ounces…and he was healthy.
There are certain moments that don’t deserve words. Moments where the more you say, the more it takes away from the mysteriousness and the complexity of emotion and the inexpressible feelings that can’t be categorized.
I will never be able to explain to anyone what happened in that moment.
Even for Vanessa and I, we can only look at each other and, not saying anything, just remember the colors and sounds and feelings of the moment where our lives were flipped upside down. This was a day unlike any other and to try and analyze that picture would be to diminish the sanctity of what we had the privilege of being a part of.
They began the process of testing our son and helping Vanessa. We heard the screams for the first time and Vanessa was able to sit and hold in her arms what wasn’t even a thought in our minds that very morning. Phone calls were made to the family, pictures were taken, and we shared our first moments together as the three of us. Soon Landon was taken to the nursery for more testing, all of the testings we had missed over the past nine months, and we were taken to the maternity unit where we sat with the biggest smiles on our faces that we had ever had.
Because we were now a family of three.
The new picture of our lives had, unexpectedly, started.
How To Do Nine Months in Two Days
In the days and weeks following the birth, we found ourselves wondering how we ever lived without this family the way it is. Often we found ourselves saying, “What did we do before we had a baby? Our lives must have been so dull!” Although the event itself was unbelievably crazy, mind-blowing, and about as unexpected as anything can get, we couldn’t imagine it being any other way.
It was absolutely the craziest week of our lives.
But it was also a week where nothing could have went more perfectly. We feel like we were somehow prepared exactly for this.
That Wednesday morning when Vanessa was buckled onto her knees in pain and we were getting ready to rush to the hospital there was a moment where we stopped and she looked at me in the eyes and gave me a familiar look. Because we haven’t really had a conventional marriage. We got married “too early” according to most people, we started our family and marriage with no money or no jobs, we moved across the country with no security or savings…just a lot of stuff that doesn’t make a whole lot of rational sense. But each and every time, before we entered into whatever we were entering into, we would look at each other and, despite all the uncertainty, we would remind one another that everything was going to be alright. No matter what, we would make it through this.
As Vanessa sat there on her hands and knees, tears slowly dropping down her pain weathered face, I knew exactly what she was needing to hear in yet another moment of uncertainty and I looked at her having no clue what was about to unfold and said, “Everything is going to be ok. No matter what happens in that hospital, you will make it through this.” At most, I was thinking back surgery or a few nights of tests to make sure everything was fine, but really, I assumed she needed some heavy pain medicine and we would be back in a couple hours.
So back to the moment where we sat on the hospital bed in the ER just being told that we were going to be delivering our child into the world that day. When I told her everything was going to be ok before we left for the emergency room, there was nothing remotely close to this in my mind. So there we sat, our world being pulled right out from underneath us, the impossible becoming reality, and we honestly had no clue how we were going to pull this off.
For the first time, I felt like I had lied to Vanessa.
I felt like I had let her down because this situation had gotten to a point where it honestly didn’t feel like everything was going to be ok.
Yet, somehow, I ended up being right. Because not only did everything turn out to be ok, everything turned out to be better than we could have ever dreamt. There was a sense of astonishment that this whole process shouldn’t have been this easy. Being pregnant and having a child typically involves mass amounts of suffering and difficulty. You would think that doing the whole thing with no preparation would have just made those problems exponentially difficult.
But it wasn’t.
In fact, in those first 24 hours after our son was born, every single worry and fear and uncertainty we had was taken care of.
The baby was practically entirely healthy.
Vanessa had no post-partum issues.
And we were surrounded by such a community that nothing we needed, materially or emotionally, wasn’t taken care of.
During the delivery process, we happened to be surrounded by nurses who weren’t only exceptionally good at what they were doing, but who could sense our fear and worry and who found ways to put the ground back under our feet.
One of those nurses happened to also be part of a community of mothers at a local church. Her response to the situation was beyond simply comforting Vanessa and me. She put it on herself to eliminate the worries and the stress that we had found ourselves in and, by ten o’clock that night, she and the group of mothers had gotten us every single thing that our baby needed and that we didn’t have nine months to budget for and get.
Beyond that, we continuously received email after email and phone call after phone call of people from all over the country asking how they could help. Making food, getting diapers and the other everyday sort of things that babies need, and just, in general, seeing what they could send us. And you know you are in a good position when your biggest problem is having to turn people down on their generosity.
We also had a plethora of people realizing that a young married couple in school with no savings and no plan of having a baby that day was going to have some financial struggles. Yet not only our families but even people we had never met were going out of their way to share their resources with us.
There reached a point where money and stuff were no longer an issue and we couldn’t believe it.
But we also reached a point where the community around us took it upon themselves to enter into this experience with us so much so that all of the intangible needs were no longer an issue either. We arrived home and could feel the presence of our neighbors and co-workers and community and we knew that anything we would have asked people to do would have been done on the spot.
How could something like this go so smoothly?
We were faced with the encouraging reality that, when your world changes, when the landscape of your life drastically shifts from under your feet, people won’t let you go through it alone. And there is no way to properly thank these people only to say that they walked us through darkness and we wouldn’t be here without them. We went to midnight and the beauty of humanity made sure to join us in that dark world to make it luminous. The darkness is best navigated together.
And Landon, not to mention our whole family even as we have grown even more, would not have been able to navigate this world without those folks whom we so endearingly belong to.
None embodied this more that day than the soul who gave us his car, his energy, and his presence.
With pretty much everyone we knew, including our families, living back towards the East coast, Bryce took on the entire role of family. When I had issued my plea that we were going to need his help, he made sure to answer.
Because in those moments, he was our entire family all rolled into one person. And in the midst of such an unexpected situation, he was the only person in the world who was going to be able to pull that kind of monumental task off.
The only thing left to do was to place on him the title that he had already taken ownership of — “Uncle Bryce.” Because the spirit of ‘family’ and ‘community’ has been carried out through him.
And so it is through all of these people and groups and resources that the impossible was overcome. The dreaded suffering and anxiety, the endless worries of providing for your newborn child when you have next to nothing, the fear that you aren’t going to make it…all of that quickly disseminated into a fiction and we were shown that we actually have more than we ever imagined.
It is amazing to just look back and see that, somehow, with the partnership of hundreds of people from all sorts of different places, we did nine months of work in roughly two days.
This has all made Landon’s beautiful life and the beautiful story that has continued as our family, possible.
Frequently Asked Question:
She Really Didn’t Know She Was Pregnant?
Let us bask in the profound beauty of the person who made this real.
The woman behind it all.
Because it is simply amazing what Vanessa did that day — including the hours, days, and months leading up to it.
She carried a child inside of her body for nine months and you wouldn’t have even known it. Just ask the people who saw her.
For example, this was her at over 4 months pregnant.
This one is at 8 months pregnant.
And this is a whole 5 days after giving birth.
Not a whole lot to work with to realize there is a baby growing inside of you.
Her weight on being admitted to the hospital was two pounds heavier than what she weighed when we lived back in Ohio. The baby weighed almost seven pounds. That is easy math.
For the monthly cycle issue, we have a term called “spotting” to blame. Might we have known this if we had a vague consideration of pursuing pregnancy? Maybe. But when you are not even contemplating that fact, spotting seems an awful lot like a cycle.
But why didn’t her stomach show? It isn’t like those situations on TV where people don’t know they are pregnant. There is usually an excessive amount of weight that hides the pregnancy. Obviously, Vanessa’s situation was different. And this was because of what is called a “posterior placenta.” You might be wondering why there was all of that back pain and why the contractions were felt so vividly in her spine. Because the baby was being carried in her posterior — in her back. In conjunction, the baby doesn’t show in the stomach.
However, beyond physically not being able to tell, you wouldn’t have known any other way either. She never complained about the massive amount of change going on in her body, she never struggled, she never got the attention and catering and excuses of pregnancy nor did she get to experience the bubbly generosity that gets poured onto an expecting mother. She just lived the exact same life that she always had with the same expectations and demands and stresses culminating in the joyous physical exertion called labor.
Yet this speaks a lot about how well she takes care of herself. Because there was no vitamins or pre-natal care or special diets and exercises. She didn’t have to give up certain foods or feed specific cravings. The way she ate, the way she took care of her physicality, the emotional care and stability she had, the way she managed stress and change…none of it had to be altered for the health of the baby because it was already good enough.
Vanessa and I often think back to some of the things she did, hiking and climbing mountains, graduating and moving across the country, hundreds of miles of biking. For nine months she had some of the craziest and exciting experiences of her life and it all ended with the birth of a perfectly healthy baby.
Honestly, it is understandably hard to believe.
But on top of all that, this same woman sat in our apartment and went through labor and in the midst of that intense pain, there was never one complaint, she never once sought pity from anyone, she just tried to get herself better and continue living as normally as possible because she didn’t know it was labor. She just thought it was back spasm pain and, for her, it was just something to get through…which meant playing it off, pretending like she was fine, and making that day look like any other.
What I saw was her doing the same thing she tends to do all the time — not making anything about her and not making a big deal about whatever she might be going through.
It is practically mythical what this nine months was like for her and to just stop and ponder Vanessa’s experience is to see that she has done something phenomenal. It is almost inhuman, like something you read about in ancient myths.
She has defied everything pregnancy is supposed to be.
And beyond seemingly breaking the laws of womanhood, she has exhibited an other centered, selfless, “do what is best for the world” mentality through it all, even during the pains of childbirth. It was an experience where the rug of the world was being pulled out from under her feet and she upheld her beautiful way of life through every single part of it.
More beautiful than that, she has taken this very attitude, this posture that she has mastered in the world, and she has continued in into her motherhood.
Because Vanessa has owned this experience.
The art of being a mother and the connection with her child, she has completely owned it. She took the already daunting task of parenting that had been stacked even more against her and she mastered it. This is what I’ve been able to watch since Landon has been born and since our family has grown. When you watch her, you forget that this whole thing unfolded in only a couple of hours, you forget that she never had time to go through the emotional experience and preparing her soul for what she was about to get into. You forget that she had to cram this experience into just a few short hours.
Because she looks like she has been doing this her entire life.
But this is exactly what I have come to expect from Vanessa. The way she understands the world, the way she embraces change and boxes getting smashed all around her, the way she has learned to adapt, the way she has been able to selflessly give her life away, and the deep anticipation she has always had for being a mother…it has all culminated in this and her life now is simply her beautiful response to all that has unfolded.
It is the beautiful picture of seeing someone and knowing that there is no other place they would rather be and that this is exactly what they were created to do.
Vanessa has been a picture of human flourishing in the midst of chaos and a reminder to me and to the world that there is still beauty and goodness in the midst of so much darkness.
The Unforeseen Twelve, Twelve, Twelve Child & The Middle Name
When I woke up that Wednesday morning I knew we were going to be going to the hospital and I remember thinking, “Today is the last repeated day [12/12/12] for almost an entire century. I wonder how many babies are going to be born today.”
Little did I know that one of those babies would be ours.
The surreal nature of that moment profoundly implicated how we understood the totality of this child’s existence.
Which is why we decided to give Landon the middle name, “Shae.”
Because, for us, it isn’t just a name, it is an identity. It is a symbol for his story.
The name “Landon” had been previously ordained.
But “Shae” was a bit more spontaneous.
Because Shae is a word that means ‘gift’, both gift as in ‘present’ but also gift as in ‘offering’.
And he has been the best surprise gift that we have ever known. He is a gift to us as parents because he initiated the next adventure of our story in embarking on the amazing journey and experience of guiding a human being that we have created through this world. To look at him and see remnants of both us and to know that his existence is the formation and manifestation of our love…this is a gift.
But he is also a gift that is more like an offering. Because as we guide him through the world, we aren’t just guiding him for our sake so that we can ‘own’ this person. He isn’t an object for us to use for our happiness and our expectations. This is what we began sketching out on that scrap piece of paper — and it might be that not having the normal pregnancy where you plan out a child’s life has allowed us the privilege of not feeling entitled to his life. He kind of just showed up in the midst of our story and it has created a particular lens for how we view him and, therefore, how we view the rest of our family and children in general.
We recognized in that moment that we are tasked with the simple responsibility of guiding him to become a beautiful, flourishing human being so that he can be an offering, a gift to the world. The hope is that we will interact with his life to form him so much so that he will be a ‘Shae’ to this world.
That is why we used this name.
But since then, we have also discovered something else about his name. That not only is he a gift as a person, but the way he came into the world is also a gift in itself. Just the process of his story and the experience of what happened over those nine months into the week of his birth is a gift that has made the world a better place.
Through this experience, the story of Landon and his mother has taught the world that sometimes things don’t need to go the way they are supposed to. That sometimes you can defy the norms and standards and it can still be unbelievably beautiful. That everything you do doesn’t have to make sense or look a particular way.
Because Landon’s story certainly hasn’t.
That is what makes it so incredible to us.
And it is through sharing this story that the world can then share in its counter-intuitive beauty. Everything we have experienced and learned and felt, we want the world to be able to enter into that with us. From the range of emotions we experienced to Vanessa’s strength and courage and selflessness to the message Landon has sent to all of us through his birth:
That whatever people say it should look like or however people assume it supposed to work…it doesn’t have to be like that.
This is what both Landon and his mother put on display through this story. They were showing us the beauty of defying the standards and patterns and ‘regular-ness’ that so often controls our movement in the world.
This story reminds us that boxes and assumptions don’t work.
And that, sometimes, it is the movement through darkness and the openness to transformation that the story might be more beautiful than you previously thought possible.
To see this picture and own it and embrace it is a gift that we think our world could use a little more of.
So may you see the gift that has come to be the story of Landon Shae, and may it bring the very goodness and beauty and hope to your world that it has to ours.