Monday, May 1, 2017

Birth

Today is my daughter's one week birthday.

Daughter. I can't get over the pleasure of saying that word, even though, after 6 months of contemplating it, it doesn't feel quite so novel and foreign anymore.

Today is JT's first day back at work, my first slight return to "normalcy", while at the same time adjusting to the new normal of being the mother of 4 children.

The house is a total wreck, and we didn't exactly accomplish anything, but I would say it has gone well. I was able to sneak upstairs for a few minutes of just-baby quiet and read my Bible and ask God to help me remember only the important things today. I was able to remind myself that Jesus did not rush, he was not frantic, he was confident and deliberate, and that, just as sin abounds in too many words, it is more plentiful in the sense of urgency and action as well. One benefit of having a newborn, and the sleep deprivation, the act of falling sweetly in love, the recovery from childbirth, and the break from work is that moving too quickly isn't as appealing as usual anyway.

I don't feel like writing right now, as has been the usual lately. There is a lot of work to do: not just the usual endless housework and giving attention to all of my children, but also two school projects due for Aquaman. And what I really want to do is lay in a dark quiet room for a few moments with my baby girl on my chest and feel her gentle breathing and movements that are so familiar from when she was inside of me, but now there is a new warmth and comfort to them instead of sharp pokes and a feeling of claustrophobia. We are still transitioning from feeling like one person to two, and I love this time.

This was my first night baby. My others were born during the day and we had all day to snuggle before I even wanted to think about sleeping. The nurse came in at about 3 am after her birth and said "you are still up?" And I told her: "we haven't gotten used to being apart yet." It is strange to go from carrying someone always with you to looking over at them in a clear cold basinette. It didn't feel right somehow. So even though I hadn't slept in more than 24 hours, even though I had just expended the last of my energy pushing out a 8 pound 10 ounce baby....I sat up all night and held her. I couldn't imagine doing anything else.

But even though I want to be sitting in the dark just breathing her in....I am writing her birth story, because it was incredible. Because she is my daughter, and maybe someday she will actually want read it. Because she is without a doubt, my last baby, my last birth story. And because even though I didn't need the perfect birth, didn't need it to go any certain way....God gave me the exact birth experience that I wanted, because He cares about little things like that. Because He loves to give us beautiful things. And I am so thankful for it.

"You will arise and have compassion on Zion, because it is time to show favor to her. The appointed time has come."
Psalm 102:13

The appointed time came the Saturday before the Monday I was scheduled to be induced....again. I was exhausted and my back hurt and determined to enjoy this last weekend pre-baby with my boys, but struggling to think of anything I actually felt up to doing. This was a hard pregnancy for me. The sickness and the discomfort were, for some reason, so much more magnified. God's silence during this time felt profound, and I floundered through it. I knew when it ended it would all be worth it. And as in all life experiences so far I have found that the most difficult hills to climb lead to the most spectacular views.

One week ago today I was watching Dr. Strange with JT, sitting in our red armchair, eating strawberries and popcorn, and practicing total relaxation through contractions coming 5-7 minutes apart. I had been in early labor for 13.5 hours, but we had just passed the boys off to the grandparents an hour before because things were finally starting to happen.

Rewind to 13.5 hours before. A contraction woke me up out of sleep at 2 am. I didn't take it too seriously because the same thing had happened the night before. But after trying for about 30 minutes, I couldn't fall back asleep. And they kept coming every 10 minutes. So I got up. I sat in a chair in the boys room and timed them with my phone app. They came regularly for an hour, every 8-10 minutes, getting ever so slightly stronger. So I got up. I went downstairs and paced because I had had one night of false labor like this and pacing had caused it to taper off. It didn't work this time, and when I went to the bathroom at 3:30 I had some solid evidence that things were happening. I was in labor.

The midwives had been warning me for weeks that with my ripe cervix, active lifestyle, and her being the 4th child that things would probably go fast once the contractions started. I also didn't have any point of reference with this one because with Aquaman my water broke and then nothing really happened so I ended up on pitocin. The Dude and Greystoke were induced with Cervadil and amniotomy. This was my first "go into labor" moment, and I was kind of envisioning a mid morning birth. So I finished packing my bags and loaded up the car. I took a shower. I washed all the dishes and moved some laundry around. I went into the boys' room and held each one of them, praying for them, loving them, and hoping I could wait until at least 6 am before I had to go to the hospital so everyone else could get a little sleep, and so I could see their eyes one more time before I left for the hospital, and kiss them and tell them that I loved them.

At 5 am I lay down and watched the news on the couch. The contractions had been coming closer and closer together, though still not very long or strong. But when I lay down and started to doze they began to spread out, which was a little confusing and disheartening. But they did feel stronger and I still had no doubt that I was in labor. I decided it was God's gift to me to spend one last Saturday morning with my boys before our family changed. When JT woke up to head to swim practice I told him I was in labor but he could go as long as he checked his phone regularly. The kids got up and we ate breakfast together. I bounced on the exercise ball and ran up and down the stairs trying to get things moving, but things just went steadily along. She would come when she was ready.

JT took several breaks during practice to text me and make sure things were still ok, and I assured him that it looked like it was going to be a while. When he came home he made us all pancakes and then, because little boys make everyone crazy when they stay inside too long, and because I was totally restless and needed some outside time myself....I decided to take the younger 2 boys on a walk to the park.

I kind of figured we would walk there and then I would sit on a bench and watch them play, but of course they were all over the place, and Greystoke wanted to climb to scary heights and have me help him with the monkey bars, so there wasn't much rest for the weary.

 My contractions changed to every 2-3 minutes but got even shorter, lasting only about 30 seconds or so, more like the "irritable uterus" contractions I had been having for months, though still different somehow. By the time we made it home, it was getting hot and I was exhausted. I lay down in bed, where the contractions again spread out and got longer and stronger, and didn't get up much after that. It was close to lunch time by then.

At about 1, JT decided to take the boys out to play and then go ahead and drop them off with Grandma so we could both rest together a little bit. While he was gone I dozed in and out between contractions. When he came home we decided to rent a movie and eat a little bit, since I was pretty hungry and knew I wouldn't be able to eat anything once I got to the hospital.

Things started picking up once I knew the boys were settled, once I had JT beside me. I felt like I could really relax, and like things were going to start happening. I had been having a lot of back labor especially between contractions, and was wondering if she was facing up and that was why everything was taking so long. But right in the middle of the movie, baby girl started moving. She hadn't been moving much all day, just enough to know she was ok, and not much different than most days. She usually had one long period of movement every evening in which she seemed to re-situate herself...I pictured her digging around in her tight little bed trying to make herself comfortable. But this time when she started moving, it felt like she suddenly clicked into place, and the next contraction felt different, more painful. We waited another hour of consistent 5 minute apart contractions, then I took a shower and called the midwife who was on call. It happened to be a midwife I had never met, but she turned out to be one of my favorites. She said she had just left the hospital, but when she heard it was my 4th baby, she said "I am turning around right now!"

The drive to the hospital wasn't bad at all...I have never been in labor without my water breaking, and it was definitely a more manageable experience. When we got there I was kind of surprised that I was only 5 cm after all that, and wondered if it was going to be a long night. But I did know the contractions were getting stronger and and more frequent, and things had really kicked into gear, so I wasn't too worried. They started the admission process, and within 2 hours, in which I remained relatively comfortable, they were putting the epidural in. It was pretty much the perfect timing....I was in just enough pain at that point that a needle in my back did not bother me, but not enough that I really ever stopped smiling.

After the epidural was placed, I told JT he could go get dinner, there was plenty of time. Baby girl was still at -5 station, super high up, and I figured this was going to take a while yet. He left, and the nurse left. And 30 seconds after they walked out of the room, I heard a pop and my water broke everywhere.

Within a few minutes, contractions were 2-3 minutes apart and strong...and I couldn't feel a thing. The midwife ran in and asked if I felt any pressure, and I said not a bit. She said things were going to happen fast now and recommended I get JT back to the hospital, so I texted him and he returned. My parents also arrived, with Greystoke, and hung out for a little while. But Greystoke was tired and it was past his bedtime, so they left, and as soon as they were gone, the midwife came to check me again. I told her I didn't think I had gotten too far because usually I start shivering in transition, so I was shocked when she pronounced me 9.5 cm. It was almost time to have a baby. A few minutes later I started shivering, and she said I was ready to push. So apparently I shiver when it is time to push.

I had told the midwife that JT was an EMT when she asked if he was going to pass out or anything when they placed the epidural. So when it was time to push, she told JT she wanted him to catch the baby. He was totally freaked out, but I told him to go for it. I got some great pictures of his face. He really enjoyed the experience I think!

The nurses cracked up when they saw the picture and said they had never had someone take a picture while they were pushing before. I love my epidurals!

She was hard to push out. I was tired, and very numb. I had been up for 19 hours at that point. And she was still relatively high up when I started. I think it took about 15 minutes, which is probably the longest I have ever pushed. When they caught sight of her head, the midwife announced "lots of dark hair!" which I couldn't believe. We have had a redhead, a blond, and a baldy at birth...never dark hair. But JT called it during this pregnancy. And come to think of it, he called Aquaman's red hair when I was pregnant with him. He's pretty good in the hair prediction department.

Finally her head was out. JT was terrified to pull on it. One of her shoulders got stuck, but they wiggled her out without much difficulty. The midwife had guessed on feeling my belly that she weighed about 7.5 pounds, though I had told her I thought she was over 8 pounds. But when she pulled her out and set her on my now empty belly, she said "oh, look at those arms...she is no 7.5!"

8-10, 21.5 inches. But I finally got one with my head...only 34 cm compared to her big brothers' 36 inch heads.

It was all pretty surreal, being how exhausted I was. She gave one long cry, and then they set her on my chest and she didn't make another sound. The nurse kept rubbing her, saying she likes it when they cry a little more, but she didn't want to cry. She was totally relaxed and calm. And finally they listened to her lungs and declared them completely clear, and left her alone. She latched right on and nursed like a pro.

The nurses took my phone and took pictures for us, they were awesome. They let me hold her for over an hour, and left us alone. It is amazing how much better hospital policies have gotten with each birth. They did not cut the cord until it was done pumping, they did not take her from me even to weight her for over an hour, and they did not wash her vernix off for 6 hours.

I stared at her through my half asleep eyes, marveling at how different she looked from her brothers, with her dark hair and skin.

Her body is long and filled out, but her feet are small and delicate and her fingers are long and graceful. In her first 48 hours of life I think she cried a total of 60 seconds. never more than about 10 at a time. That tally has only risen slightly since she came home and had to share the attention a bit more.

My recovery has been a breeze. They warned me that the cramping would be bad since she is the 4th, but I haven't even needed ibuprofen since the 3rd day or so and even then it wasn't that bad. There hasn't been much time for napping, but I have stolen a few moments of rest here and there and relished it. I have relished almost as much the slow return to our new normal, even though the newborn lack of routine has been hard. I am grateful for late April and early May sunshine and cool breezes. that revitalize. I am also thankful for the occasional 5 hour stretch of sleep and a totally chill baby. Despite having experienced the total opposite with my firstborn, I never really entertained the thought of anything less than a happy baby this time. I think I knew that she would be like this somehow. Or maybe I just chose to deal with it as it came because I have seen how God can provide. He can turn 2 fish into 20,000 and my weakness into strength. There is something beautiful about being able to laugh at the days to come.

How does it feel to have a daughter? It is different. Even though she is still such a tiny baby and there aren't really any differences yet. I am still processing it all, really. Have been for 6 months since I got that phone call with the genetic testing results. Since I bought the pink onesie and gave it to JT, and put pink and purple nerds in a pinata for the boys.

So far, I have mostly had fun dressing her up like my own personal doll. My favorite color has been pink for a long time, and putting away the laundry feels more balanced now...since she spits up all over everything and has to be changed a million times a day. I've cried at a commercial that showed a dad giving away his daughter at her wedding.

But mostly, I have felt a subtly different connection with her. I adore my boys so much, wondered how I would connect with a baby girl. But there is a different level of understanding when I look in my little girls' eyes. They are different from mine. She has Daddy's forehead, sticking out a little over her eyes, making her look a little worried. So far they are quite light, so I am not sure if they are going to stay blue or turn green, or maybe they will eventually turn brown but probably never as dark as mine. But her eyes are shaped like mine. Not big like Daddy's, kind of almond shaped. And there is something distinctly girl that I know in them, and I long to shelter it. I can't help but call her beautiful sometimes, but I never really mean her features, though I think they are perfect. What I really mean is that feminine spirit that God put inside of her. What I mean is an inner beauty that I hope she will never lose sight of. Mostly I call her brave and strong because I know she will be. Not because she will not fear, but because she will fear, and she will fight through her fears.

Since Greystoke was born, Aquaman has deemed himself his "buddy" and I have given him a lot of responsibility for Greystoke. So when The Dude was born I told him that this baby would be his buddy. He has taken it very seriously. He follows me around asking what he can do to help. He sits beside her and makes sure her pacifier is in, and talks to her. She gets very still and listens to everything he says. I overheard him telling her yesterday that she would be a great mother some day.


I think her blog name will be Scarlett. Because we thought about naming her Scarlett, but chose a name with deeper meaning and that fit better with her brothers instead.

It's Monday now...this blog has taken me 2 days to write. All the big kids are at school now though it is almost time to pick up Greystoke. He turns 3 years old tomorrow, and has had a pretty rough adjustment. which kind of surprised me since he has been pretty independent.

But then, change is hard for everyone, even when it is an amazing change.

We all survived our first weekend with me home alone with 4 kids. At one point mid-morning yesterday I gathered the boys around and prayed and thanked God for His compassion, that He knows that we are dust, that He understands that change is hard. I thanked them for their grace and forgiveness when I fail over the next few weeks, because change isn't just hard for them, it is hard for me too, and there is so much freedom in admitting that, and in letting God's mercy cover me.

We finished one of Aquaman's school projects, he had to make something all by himself to sell and he chose brownies...this is my sensory seeker kid who can't eat a cup of yogurt without getting it everywhere. But he did it, and we all survived.

We need to work on the next one now. There are about a million school functions coming up over the next few weeks, and I am grateful that I am on maternity leave right now. I am also grateful, even though it will be total chaos, that summer is around the corner. The boys are all definitely ready for a break.

And with that, my final birth story is told. And our story as a family of 6 has begun. JT and I will celebrate our 10th anniversary on Friday, and I am totally in awe of what God has brought us through, and where He will take us next.









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