Childbirth can be one of the most stressful things that a person goes through in life. There’s so much uncertainty and anxiety over whether the baby will be healthy, whether the mother will be safe, and whether there will be any complications, there’s plenty going on, even before you consider managing the pain.
But when one woman went into labor unexpectedly, she was faced with an even more stressful situation than usual. There was something that she’d planned to do before the baby was born that, without some special help, wasn’t going to happen…
Late one spring night in New York City, Sushma was at New York Presbyterian/ Weill Cornell Medical Center with her husband Vivek for a great reason: they were going to be having a baby. This was going to be the second time the 37-year-old would have a baby and she knew that she wanted something to address the pain of childbirth.
Sushma had planned all along to get an epidural — a powerful painkiller delivered directly to the spinal canal — to deal with the pain of contractions. Getting a long needle poked right next to your spine might sound like a horrifying ordeal to some people but to a competent anesthesiologist, giving the injection is just another day at the office…
So as the anesthesiologist was seeing to Sushma, she was making small talk with her to help put the expectant mother at ease and also help pass the time. Just as she was finishing up, she mentioned something about an unusual commotion going on elsewhere in the hospital.
Looking For The Chaplain
“She happens to mention that there was a mad dash to hunt down the hospital chaplain for a wedding,” Sushma said. Apparently there was a couple down the hall that, although they’d been together for 10 years, had never gotten around to getting married. They wanted to “make it official” so to speak, before the baby came but the woman had gone into labor early, putting a rush on their plans…
Is That Weird?
“I don’t know if this will feel helpful or weird, but I was ordained on the Internet and I can perform the ceremony,” Sushma said. A few years ago she’d gotten ordained by the Universal Life Church, a non-denominational religious organization that will legally ordain anyone, though’ she’d never performed a ceremony.
Thanks But No Thanks
The doctor said it was nice of Sushma to offer but that the couple would likely prefer the hospital chaplain to perform the ceremony. Besides, she said, “you’re also in labor.” As the epidural began to kick in, Sushma’s focus shifted back onto the baby she was about to have…
On Second Thoughts…
But when the staff found the chaplain, they learned that he was not legally ordained to perform a wedding. That’s when a different doctor came to Sushma’s room for a little bit of an awkward conversation. “I understand you have the ability to officiate weddings?” he asked.
“Yeah, let’s do it.” Sushma said after a momentary pause. “It felt like the right thing to do for my husband and I in terms of like, OK, can we help another family out right before we have a kid?” she said. “It’s the right lesson to teach our kid before he makes his debut.”…
When Brianna Doyle, 28, and Casey Walko, 30, the couple who wanted the last minute wedding, were told there was a woman in labor willing to officiate, they were overjoyed. “I was absolutely terrified about giving birth to my first child and not being able to get married as planned,” Brianna said. “That’s when the stars aligned and sent me this angel named Sushma who made our dreams come true.”
But there were a couple of problems, the first of which was that Sushma was in labor. “What if you start active labor during the wedding?” her husband Vivek asked. “Well, we’ll figure it out,” Sushma replied. They also had to figure out how to get her to the couple, since her epidural had already kicked in…
“My legs were jelly by this point,” she said, meaning they would have to bring the wedding to her. “It was a little bit of a Jabba the Hut moment where they took the automatic bed and sort of propped that up so that I could sit and officiate, and they came to me in my room.”
Making It Magical
Though the setting wasn’t ideal, the hospital staff did what they could to make the wedding as beautiful as possible. One nurse made a bouquet from flowers at the nurses’ station, one braided Brianna’s hair, while another made a crown of baby’s breath flowers for her to wear. For the groom, they fashioned a makeshift bowtie out of a newborn’s cap…
It’s Gotta Be Real
The things they’d done for atmosphere were undeniably thoughtful but Brianna and Casey wanted this to be a real wedding, not just a show. Thankfully, the couple had gotten their marriage license just the day before and it was still in Brianna’s purse.
With marriage license in hand and a willing official to perform the ceremony, there was nothing standing in Brianna and Casey’s way. At about 12:15 am, a nurse started playing the wedding processional song on her phone as the bride and groom were brought into Sushma’s room. With both women in labor, the ceremony began…
Short And Sweet
“Brianna, Casey, welcome to the most unexpected wedding even,” Sushma said to start things off. She kept things as brief and ministerial as possible after that. “I wanted them to feel like they were having a nice wedding, not like they were being married by some crazy lady in the next room who was loopy from an epidural.”
On the video Vivek took of the proceedings with his cell phone, you could see several of the nurses wiping away tears. “I have never seen such incredible patient care,” Vivek said. “The room was totally abuzz with love, which is the nicest feeling to have before bringing life into the world.”…
Brianna and her now husband Casey were so grateful that Sushma and the hospital staff pulled together to make their dreams come true. “The most amazing thing to take away from this is how none of these people had to do this. They chose to do this for a complete stranger,” Brianna said. “I am forever and eternally grateful to Sushma and the amazing nurses and doctors at Cornell.”
Back To Labor
Of course, there were still a couple of major life events that needed doing after the ceremony was done. There were a pair of babies on their way to being born. About 5 hours after she’d officiated the wedding, Sushma’s son Nayan was born. About 12 hours after that, Brianna gave birth to her daughter Riley…
Brianna and Casey’s original plan was to get officially married at a courthouse, then have a large family wedding sometime after Riley was born. But after their hospital wedding, they decided to shelve the second one. “Nothing can top this,” Brianna said.
Always Choose Love
Sushma was grateful for the chance to do something so meaningful for people who were once perfect strangers. “I can’t say I’ve ever had a chance to actively choose to insert myself into someone else’s love story,” she said. “I was about to bring life into the world and I’ll be damned if this kid didn’t learn that when given the option, he should always choose love. It takes so little to do something kind for someone else.”