It was a story I had heard dozens of times. My mom told me what she knew about my birth. The timeline of facts are easy for me to re-tell to just about anyone. But that day, as I sat at the kitchen counter, my mind was taken back to the hospital room where I was born.
For the first time, I realized that no one could tell me about the moment that I had entered this world. There are no thoughts or feelings about me being born. Not even the moments leading up to my birth. Or the hours. In fact, my mom has no memory of her labor and delivery. She doesn’t remember from about 3:30am until 7:30pm that night when she was awake enough to hold me.
It was the spring of 1976, in a suburb of Miami, Florida. My mom was in labor. She was 20 and my dad was 21. They had been married almost a year and were about to have their first baby….me. There were no ultrasounds back then, so my parents didn’t know if I was going to be a boy or a girl. Her water broke and they rushed to Hialeah hospital.
(Me standing in front of Hialeah Hospital. We visited my birth place during a Florida vacation when I was 17.)
My dad’s job transfer several months before, resulted in them relocating to Hialeah, Florida, just outside of Miami. Newly married, separated from her parents, and far away from St. Louis where she had grown up. I can’t imagine what that experience was for my mom. A lonely place to be. My dad worked during the day, and they only had one car. They lived in the tiny apartment at 460 Royal Poinciana, Miami Springs, Florida, 33166. She spent those days in that small space with her cat, Pete, and well…me in her tummy.
They arrived at the hospital a little after 3am. She was taken up to a room, leaving my dad alone in the waiting room. At that hospital, they didn’t allow the father to be in the delivery room. I’ve seen this in old movies where the dad is pacing and waiting. Then a nurse excitedly rushes to the waiting room and to announce, “It’s a girl!” It could have been a scene right out of an old movie. What a sobering thought, that something from my life could fit within the context of black and white film.
It was 3:30am, and while my dad was in the waiting room, Dr. Andrews told her he was going to give her a little something to help with the pain. She didn’t know this at the time, but that drug would cause something they called “twilight sleep.” She fell asleep and didn’t wake up until that evening around 7:30pm in the recovery room.
I had been born a few hours before at 4:44pm. She had no memory of her labor or my birth. The only way that she knew she had given birth was there was no longer a baby moving in her belly. The doctor told her that I had the longest umbilical cord he had ever seen.
Picture: Jennifer Nicole Bundy, 6lbs 9oz, born at 4:44pm
She had given birth for the first time and although her body experienced the excruciating pain of delivery, she couldn’t recall what her body had gone through.
Since we don’t have her medical records, we don’t know for sure that she was given the combination of morphine and scopolamine. But after some research, I found that much of what my mom does know about her experience, matches the experiences of other women who were given this drug. Doctors stopped using the drug in the mid 1970’s. I was born in 1976.
“Two drugs were combined to produce Twilight Sleep: morphine and scopolamine. Morphine is derived from opium. It was developed and first tested early in the 19th century, by a German pharmacist’s assistant. It acts on the central nervous system, causing pain relief. Scopolamine is a compound derived from nightshade plants. It causes patients to fall into a semi-conscious state and experience amnesia (inability to recall recent events). By using the right combination of these two drugs, women would fall asleep, and wake up unable to remember anything about the birth. For them it had been ‘pain free’ because they had no memory of the birth.”
Twilight Sleep – The Brutal Way Some Women Gave Birth In The 1900s
By Sam McCulloch Last updated on September 3, 2016
My mom didn’t know anything about the drug that they were about to give her. She was young. She was an only child. Her parents, for whatever reason, couldn’t be there. No one was there to be her support. Since my dad wasn’t allowed in the room, there was no one to advocate for her or me. She was at the mercy of what the doctor thought was best. In separate rooms, my mom and dad experienced the roller coaster of worry, anticipation, fear, anxiety and hope for the birth of their first child all alone.
I remember anticipating the birth of my twin boys. I had been induced several hours before with my husband Jason by my side. We had taken the classes about delivering twins and realized there could be complications. We were nervous. So we hired a doula to be with us. I wasn’t doing an all-natural birth due to having twins but I wanted all the support I could get. She was a God-send. Her calming nature and presence helped us as we went through the long hours of labor and delivery. She also held the video camera for Jason so that he could hold my hand. She was our doula and our videographer!
The nurse kept telling me to rest and get some sleep as I waited for my body to go into labor. But I didn’t want to miss anything. What I if fell asleep and missed something? I think that I had heard my mom tell her story so many times that subconsciously I was afraid. Afraid of forgetting. I wanted to remember every contraction. Every conversation. I did not want to miss a single detail of the birth of my sons. I wanted to be able to remember.
Our doula promised us that part of her job would be to take good notes and write down for me details about my labor and delivery. A couple of weeks after I had the twins, she arrived at my house and handed me our Birth Story. It was a beautiful piece of stationary. On it, she had typed a narrative using her detailed notes. It was the story of me and Jason and our boys. From the time that we arrived at the hospital, until after the boys were born.
All of the moments. The waiting, the pain, the exhaustion, the words, the confusion, the silence, the noise, the chaos, the pushing, the urgency, the complete joy mixed with desperate, fear. It was all there. I was there. I remember it all. A gift.
(Bottom Pic: Me holding Colin for the first time. Top Pic: Me holding Maximilian for the first time.)
Hollywood has the first moment of a baby’s birth captured in many a film. It’s that moment in the movie where the camera zooms in. There’s dramatic music in the background, and you hear the baby cry for the very first time. Next, the camera focuses on the doctor handing the baby to the mother. She reaches for her little one. Skin to skin. A deeper bond begins to form, as the mother’s eyes fill with joy and with tears. She and her baby begin life together, outside the womb.
As I try to picture the hospital room where my mother gave birth to me, I realize for the first time, that no one was there to reach for me during that dramatic moment. No one that loved me that is. Yes, the doctor’s hands were there to catch me, and the nurses… I assume tended to me. But that was their job and my birth was just another thing they did that day during their 12-hour shift. The registrar recorded me later as “live birth” #109. Birth certificate 76-025978. Signed by Everett H. Williams, Jr. I was officially on file in the Bureau of Vital Statistics of the state of Florida.
The twilight drug doesn’t completely put a patient to sleep. It is very likely that my mom was sort of awake and very aware of her pain. But unaware and unable to reach for me during those first few moments of my life. She didn’t get to hear, “Good job, Mom!” No feelings of joy, mixed with relief and accomplishment after doing something so amazing and incredibly hard. Whatever she did experience, she can’t recall.
No one was there to hold me with tears, laugh with joy, take candid photos or say soft spoken words.
Sad to know this about my story. That my parents did not share that time and space with me. There were strangers to welcome me, but they would not be the keeper of my story. For the doctors and nurse, that moment was like others they had had that week, that month, or that year even.
I was brought to tears thinking about that day, April 23, 1976. I was sad for the baby girl who was not immediately celebrated and remembered. I grieved over the pages of my story that were torn out of the book never to be read.
Ironically, my mom had decided to name me after my Aunt Jennifer Kay. After, infertility issues, my grandmother carried Jennifer full term and gave birth to her. After 1 day, Jennifer died and her story here on earth came to an end. She never had the chance to experience this life. The fun of being a sister to my mom or a daughter to my Grandmother. She was my Grandmother’s 2nd baby to die. She was buried next to her brother, Sammy Ray, in the little cemetery.
(From right to left: Grandma Helen, Grandpa Ernie, my mom standing in front of my grandpa (3 or 4 years old), my Great-Grandpa, Aunt Fern)
*The headstone on the right belongs to Jennifer Kay. The stone on the left belongs to my Grandmother’s first baby, Sammy Ray (born 1948) who had been stillborn.
( Pictured above: The grave of Jennifer Kay Chambers)
But she was remembered and her name has been passed on to me. A name I have always loved. Her absence from here, made her visible in Heaven. She was seen by God.
My “Once upon a time….” began with hours that were unseen and forgotten. That day, as I sat with this new understanding of my birth, I turned my thoughts toward God. My heart laid out, open before Him.
Really God? I have always struggled with feeling alone. I was sure that He has heard several of my prayers and pleas throughout the years. And now, more than ever, it was true. Another time where I was alone, not noticed. Invisible. Even my birth had been a lonely place!
I had never solved the mystery of why so many times, I found myself invisible to others. Or forgotten. For me, forgotten is 10 x’s worse than rejection. At least rejection implies that I am something that someone has thought about and evaluated. If they don’t like me and push me away, at least I was considered a person with enough value to be noticed.To be forgotten. Not even important enough to be remembered. It’s hard to let that roll off your back because it lacks substance. It cannot be grasped.
I think of being forgotten as the absence of me in another person’s thoughts.
The truth was now sitting on my heart like a heavy weight. There was an absence of me. The absence of me from my mother’s thoughts.
I yearned to know what it was like to see me born. To hear me cry for the first time. To celebrate that I had finally arrived after much waiting and worry. I just wanted someone to tell me that part. The first page of my story.
There was suddenly a small part of my heart that wanted to be cradled and pulled close. It wasn’t my mother’s fault that she couldn’t remember. It wasn’t. It was just how things happened.
As I quietly lamented to the Lord, I began to read in
9. Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
10 On you was I cast from my birth,
and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
My perspective began to shift. In my mind’s eye, I had pictured the doctor holding me up after the delivery. But now the one who had created me, held me in his arms. He held me close when my mother could not reach for me. He called me by name, when my mother could not speak. God was there.
Psalm 22:11 Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help.
God was there and in His sovereignty, He had planned my existence. I was in His thoughts as He formed me in my mother’s womb. He brought me forth and gave me to a mother, created to care for me.
But when my mother could not be there. He was there. When she couldn’t speak the words that I needed to hear. He spoke. When she could not understand what I was going through. He understood. I began to think about these glimpses of Him in my growing up years. I saw now that He had been there since my birth.
My life began as a story of baby girl who would need God to fight for her. When her mom, her dad, her sisters, her friends, her teachers, her boyfriend, her pastor, her team mates, and her own strength would not be enough.
She would need a Savior.
There have been times when my mom’s brokenness was all I could see. A mother daughter relationship can be difficult to navigate. But as time went on, the more I narrowed my focus on her mistakes, and the more Jesus bled.
He bled until her brokenness was saturated in His blood. It settled in the cracks and filled in the holes until they disappeared. Before long, all I could see was Him.
My eyes had been fixed on her mistakes, her imperfections, her broken pieces.They had held my gaze. Now, they were the placeholders of God’s grace.
He continued to bleed.
He continued to bleed because of me. It was now my brokenness that needed His blood. The same blood needed to cover my mistakes, my imperfections. All those times that I too, had made someone feel invisible or forgotten.
The responsibilities I had let go.
The anger I had towards others.
The self -righteousness that directed my thoughts.
The selfishness that directed my days.
Romans 5:8 But God proves His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
The tide of the human heart brings goodness some days and the stench of sin the next. My heart was no different from any others. It had the same cracks.
These broken parts and empty spaces were opportunities for God to fill, complete and redeem. To be present. For her and for me.
I felt overwhelmed as I thought about that moment in that hospital room. The Creator of the universe had been thinking of me. He had been knitting me together and waiting for the perfect time to bring me forth.
Psalm 139:14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
He saw me that day and He was my God. My birth began my story of God calling me to Himself. Was He relieved that He could finally begin the process of writing my story? A miniscule subplot that somehow would fit into His ancient story line. A story that brings all of us together again, with Him in glory.
When the doctor held me up, I’d like to think that God was saying all the words that my Mom and Dad would have said if they had seen my birth. Telling me that I was loved and wanted and noticed. That I indeed was seen.
Genesis 16:13 So she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing,” for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.”
When I cried for the first time, I wonder if He smiled. Because He knew someday my heart would cry out to Him to be my Savior at 9 years old. Kneeling at an altar, beside my sister and my mom.
Mom could not remember my physical birth, but she was there for my spiritual one. My re-birth.
Isaiah 49: 14
But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.”
“Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?”
Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.
16 Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.
She couldn’t remember the moment that I had become her daughter so many years ago. But she was there to see me become His daughter.
A daughter who is seen and not forgotten.