Friday, October 20, 2017

To the NICU nurse who washed my pump parts

To the NICU nurse who washed my pump parts- thank you.

It was the middle of the night, and I had pushed the wheelchair over to Sammy’s NICU room with my bin of pump parts on the seat. I still hadn't held him yet, but I wanted to be near him. Caleb was sleeping in my hospital room and I wanted him to be able to sleep. He had been my hero and my champion the past few days, and though I couldn't do much, I could pump elsewhere so he could rest.

I don’t know if you had other babies that night because you made me feel like mine was the only one. You told me about pumping for your own babies, and how you made just enough milk. You taught me that milk could be trapped behind the white silicone piece on the pump. I think of you every time I pump, when I gently peel that part back to save those valuable drops.

You gave me company and made me feel like a normal human, not like a patient. When I finished pumping, I stood for a minute, watching my sleeping baby.

“Can I wash your pump parts for you?” you asked. 

A simple request, but so meaningful. Even though I was only a day or two into pumping, Caleb or I had been washing the parts every two hours around the clock. I don’t remember what day this was - two or three - so we’d washed them somewhere between 24-36 times. What a luxury it was to have someone else do it. You’d probably washed pump parts way more times than that for patients and certainly for yourself, but you still offered.

And it was a grace I will never forget. 

Monday, October 16, 2017

To the new owners of 622


You don't know me, but I lived in the house you own now from approximately 1988-1993. It was the first address I memorized and is the place of my earliest memories.

I actually have no idea how many children before or after me came into conscious memory in the same house. Probably a lot, since the house was built in the 1950s. I have thought about this a lot, now that I have my own house and my own baby whose first memories will be in this physical place.

I remember being three there. When I say three, I mean three years old, but I also remember being just the three of us, Mommy, Daddy, Ellen. I remember running to the top of the stairs when I was learning to get dressed and hollering down for my mom to tell me if the item of clothing was forward or backward. I would hold it up and she would either say "Yes!" or "Other way.". I remember my mom telling me to put her hand on her belly to feel the baby kicking, and I never could.

I remember building a garden out of cinderblocks in the backyard, planting the seeds, and I remember harvesting carrots. The garden was in the northwest corner of the backyard, near the fence that we shared with our neighbor Charlie. I didn't know cardinal directions then, but I know them now. I wonder what's in the northwest corner of your yard now.

Charlie was the neighbor to the west. He was kind and elderly and had no children of his own. My parents often went over to his house to chat. Sometimes I would go too, my parents begging me to sit still, but it was so hard for a four year old. Instead I would trace the intricate carvings on the wooden frames of his furniture. Or I would lay on the floor and play with the fake fruit that sat in a bowl under an end-table.

Years later, when Charlie passed away, my parents would become the executors of his estate, a true testament to the power of being neighbors. It was from Charlie's house that we acquired the bed that I slept on from when I was seven or eight until I moved out of their house. The end-table with the fake fruit went to my grandparents, and when they passed away, I knew I wanted it. It became more rickety over the years, and we recently parted with it, but the memories remain.

I had my fourth and fifth birthdays in that house, and maybe my sixth, but I don't remember very well. At one of my birthdays, an older neighbor girl that I was dear friends with brought a Skip It. Do you remember these? It was a plastic ring that went around your ankle with a ball on the other end with a counter. You would try to hop over the ball as you swung it around. When they were popular, I did not have the motor skills to be good at it, so I mostly remember them as a very frustrating experience.

That same neighbor girl used to come over and play paper dolls with me in the little room or office in the back corner of the first floor.

It was from the window of this house at 622 that my parents pointed to the hospital where my baby brother would be born. He came home to this house. So many memories with him here. Running around the basement, falling down the basement stairs, swinging in the back yard.

It was in the room to the left of the stairs where I put lotion on my stuffed lion one night and ruined it.  Does that room still have a clothes chute in the floor? While my family lived there, a man stopped by who had also come into conscious memory in the house. He asked about the clothes chute and my mom shared that she was afraid of us falling down it, so kept a dresser on top of it. The man fondly remembered that when he was a child, he and his siblings would slide down the clothes chute. He was very tall and sturdy, so it was hard to imagine, but of course he would have been much smaller then.

Here's something you may not want to know about the bathroom upstairs. I remember one of my friends (a boy) from preschool or maybe church coming over and peeing in the shower. I was both horrified and filled with amazement.

When we moved out of 622, just up the street, one of the things we had to fix was the bathtub. We had always used it with a rubber disc that sealed off the drain. I remember asking my parents about it during one of my last baths there. They explained that the purchaser of the house wanted a working bathtub drain. We currently have the plastic disc that we use to stop up the bathtub in my house. Maybe someday Sammy and I will have a similar conversation about it.

I have so many more memories in the house - birthdays with grandparents in the dining room, making cookies with my mom, eating Nilla wafers with my dad while watching airplane trails. Know that your house holds all of these memories.

And yet, it also doesn't. The memories are stored in my heart and mind. It's like Charlie's table - I was able to get rid of it because I knew that getting rid of it would not erase the stories.

I hope you enjoy the time you live in that house. It will always be special to me. May it also be special to you. 

Thursday, October 12, 2017


Some nights after work, I have been known to cook 3 meals, do a load of laundry, and have a phone chat with a friend. This is not one of those nights.

Real life #amirite

The baby is asleep already. I sit at the table, holding my bowl of lentils and rice in one hand, and a spoon in another. As I stare blankly out the window, my whole being feels hollow. My eyes feel hollow, my torso feels hollow. It's been like this all day, the weight of everything pressing down. 

I realize that the bowl and spoon are too heavy, and I put them down. Next I realize that even though I am hollow, I am too heavy, so I schlump forward on the table. Still too heavy. I want to be in darkness and I want to be on the floor. I lay down flat on my face on the carpet. I wonder how to proceed, but I am too hollow and too heavy and too damn exhausted to wonder very hard. 

I don't know how long I lay there, hollow and heavy, but eventually I feel my heartbeat against the floor. I remember, not with my mind, but literally re-member, finding my body again, feeling it fill up. I am still heavy but it is transforming into groundedness. My breath finds me and I turn my head to the side. "That's why I wanted to lay on the ground." I realize, my instincts affirmed again. 

This is what post-partum depression feels like. Sometimes. If you've been with me for long, you know that I am not afraid to tackle sensitive personal subjects on the blog. It actually feels better to share than not share. The American Psychological Association says that 1 out of 7 women will experience postpartum depression. While we were in the NICU, we learned that number is probably too low on average, because those are just the ones who seek help. And if you spend any time in the NICU or have a traumatic birth, the odds only increase. 

Several months ago, Samuel started to cry. Almost always when he cries, I rush to him, full of love and compassion. But that particular time, I reached for compassion and came up empty. Instead, my body reacted, "Meh. Oh well." Because I was prepared, first by my midwife, then by the NICU staff, and finally by the pediatrician at the first few visits, I knew what the disconnect meant. I saw my counselor from years ago, but could tell that this was not her specialty. I saw my doctor. I talked to my post-partum physical therapist (every woman needs one of these). I emailed my pastor and she called me while I was pumping one day to talk to me. I reached out to friends. I told my parents. I started seeing a new counselor. And things started to get better, lighter, little by little. 

I still have moments like the one described above. But they are more familiar now, and they end more frequently like I describe above. It wasn't always like that. And if I get stuck, I know where to turn, mostly. 

If you are struggling with this, search for "postpartum resource center" in your area. And tell people. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

on privilege and parenting

Dear Samuel,

I am often struck by your demographic information: "white, male". It is uncomfortable to recognize that those two characteristics, things completely out of my control or your control thrust you into the most privileged category of human on the planet.

What do I mean by privilege?

I do not have to worry about police stopping your car (or worse) because you look like you don't belong.
You will always be given the benefit of the doubt.
In every career field, you will be able to find a role model who looks like you.
I will not need to actively strive to keep you out of the school to prison pipeline.
You are likely to earn higher wages than your white female counterparts or your male or female counterparts of other races.

Now, don't get me wrong, your dad and I plan to do everything we can to raise you to be a kind, generous, confident, hard-working individual. But, the fact that data can tell us all the above points about you and your life while you are still an infant means that there are some inequalities in our system.

I am trying to prepare for these conversations (and other hard ones) now. I know that I am going to have them imperfectly, but I think it's better to try and be imperfect than not talk about it at all. To close, here is a quote from a podcast I listened to about this very subject recently.

"If we're silent about it, it tends to trivialize the voices of these marginalized groups of people, that can contribute to minority children feeling devalued. And as a white person in America, you have the privilege of not having to think about your race. You're not constantly reminded of the fact that you're white. And so, it's a lot easier to take a colorblind approach when you are white. Where if you're a black person in America, you are constantly thinking about your race. And so I think it's important that as white people, we also recognize that not everybody has this priviledge of not having to think about our race all the time. And if we want to move toward true equality, it has to be an effort on everybody's part." - Dr. Brigitte Vittrup

Sunday, October 8, 2017

I love weddings

My pastor sometimes talks about the Celtic idea of thin places. These are places or times in life when the veil between the human and the divine becomes very thin. The saying is that heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in thin places, that distance is even shorter. (Source)

I went to a wedding a while ago. I find weddings, on the whole, to be thin places. There is something exceedingly special about being in a crowd of people that know the couple from all times and stages of their life. This crowd converges from far and near to celebrate in a way that is unmatched at any other time in someone's life. The energy is palpable. We are all breathless as the groom* and bridal party trickles in. Finally, the bride makes her entrance. The joyful significance of her procession down the aisle to her love brings a tear to many an eye, particularly for those who have watched them chase after love for many years before witnessing them finding it in each other.

There are things about weddings that make me feel uncomfortable. Sometimes I feel nervous about seeing people I haven't seen or talked to in many years. (#IntrovertProblems) This usually passes after I push through the first burst of it.. sort of like diving into a cold pool. The worst thing about weddings is when the officiant (or anyone else, but especially the officiant) makes stereotypical marriage jokes or offers marriage advice during the ceremony. The jokes kill the sacred mood that was just created during the processional. And let's be honest - the couple isn't going to remember the advice - you should have given them that before the wedding day.

But even amidst the small talk with strangers or the awkward jokes and advice, I still love weddings. To me, this is a sign that they are truly a thin place. In the midst of our too-long, rambling toasts and wondering if we are dressed up too much/ not enough, something special happens. It's un-ruinable. And that is why I love weddings.

*I have never been to a wedding with two grooms or two brides (though I hope to someday!), so I can't speak to that experience, but I imagine the weight and beauty of the ceremony would be similar. 

Friday, October 6, 2017

Kenosis hymn

I wrote this last year while I was pregnant, but for a number of reasons, decided not to share my pregnancy online. 

August 21, 2016

Who, being in the form of God
did not count what he had
as something to be grasped...
but he emptied himself
he took the form of slave
becoming as we are
becoming as we are
And being in every way like a human being
in every way like you and me -
he was humbler yet.

These are words based on Philippians 2:7 from a song we sing at church called "Kenosis hymn." I hear in them an invitation to release my own agenda and priorities, to open up and let God's energy flow through me rather than balling up my fists and trying to control it.

It struck me a lot today that this release is something I've been... what is the word?... wrestling with this whole pregnancy.

Pregnancy is opening up your body in a very physical, emotional, and spiritual way to the real needs of another person living inside you. No longer is your body just available to serve you. Hunger changes. Cravings happen. Sleep needs change. Emotions are all over the place. Things that were familiar before become unfamiliar. I used to know how much to eat every day, how much I could eat if there was a lot of delicious food available, and then how long it would take me after that to go back to my normal hunger levels.

This is the most real way I have ever been asked to empty myself and my own desires to serve someone else. I desire wine? Too bad. I want to stay up and get that project done? Not going to happen. My cravings are bizarre, my clothes don't fit. And the only way forward is to embrace it, to release into it. To acknowledge the privilege I have in hosting this small person that I do not yet know inside me. It is a radical hospitality that demands much... it will demand almost everything. And in its own small way, I hope and know that it is serving God somehow. Because when we open up ourselves to the stranger, we open ourselves up to Jesus. 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

We are three!

Author's note: Apparently this got lost in my blog files. But even more than one year later, it is still accurate. 

August 11, 2016
Dear Caleb,

Last night, I dreamed that my mom was becoming a police officer and that you and I were taking a second honeymoon. But I already told you that.

What I didn't tell you, but you probably felt the ramifications of since I hugged you like eighty bajillion times this morning, is that I stayed awake for a long while thinking about you and about love and marriage. 

I thought about how we have lived in a new place every year since getting married - three in total - and about how this year we aren't planning to move anywhere. I say "aren't planning" because we weren't planning to move anywhere last year either, but you just never know. 

I think it's pretty special, because looking back on it now, I remember our first place on Jackson and how new marriage was to us and how new life together was. How I didn't really want to see very many people that year except for you. How we both changed jobs, me twice. It was a special time. Remember when we used to sit around and listen to the Hobbit on tape, because we didn't have internet or TV or smartphones? I remember at the end of that time, I really wanted a room with a door besides the bathroom. It was hard in some ways, but I remember feeling so in love with you, and so thankful for you when you comforted me about the mice. So. many. mice.

And our second place, in Rosedale. It seemed like the cleanest and most beautiful home in the whole world. Everything was finished, and there was carpet and the washer was in the kitchen, and you had a garage to tinker in!  It was the perfect size for us, with two rooms with doors besides the bathroom. It was close to everything and so cozy. 

Then last year we bought the house where we live now. Our neighborhood is a blend of re-done and run-down, but still very live-able, houses. Nobody cares if you don't mow your lawn, or if you have a rooster, or get your mail in your underwear. I like it. We have lots of ideas for improving our house, but time is tight, and money is tight because of our plan to get out of debt. One thing that has defined this year is that Ralph lived with us for most of it. And we got our lil chickens, who have been a source of great delight. 

And as I laid in bed and thought about these things, I thought about how people say that you think you couldn't possibly love each other more than you do on the day when you get married. But somehow over the years, through the daily routines and waking each other up, and reminding the other person that you are out of milk or peanut butter, your heart grows and grows. And even though there are tense times or times when one or both of us is stressed, I love you so much more than I ever have before.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Words and not rushing it

Sometimes my baby just wants to be held.

At times, this is difficult for me because my baby is HEAVY. He was 15 lbs by six weeks. But he has all the same needs for closeness and cuddles and comfort as a teeny little baby.

A fierceness I didn't know I had sprang up inside me sometime during pregnancy. One of the places I was surprised to find myself directing this fierceness was at protecting his littleness.

"What a man child!" an acquaintance exclaimed upon seeing him when he was just a few weeks old. "No." I heard myself say. "He is a baby, a newborn baby. Please do not call him a man child." A larger than average baby, yes, but still, relatively speaking, a very tiny human being.

People often call their baby boys "little man". This phrase has always bugged me. Babies are not little men. They are little boys or little girls. No need to make them adults before their time. I think this is especially true for babies who are on the larger end of the growth charts. A friend who has a 3 year old who is big for his age shared with me a particular challenge - he looks older, so people expect him to behave like an older child. But he is still very young. It is important to me that he gets to be young, gets to be a baby. He is little! He is growing and looking bigger every day, but when I step back, I see that he is still very small. (Though I am sure there will be a time when he lets me know that he is no longer a little baby, but a BIG boy. And that will be lovely too!)

In general, I tend to place a lot of importance on word choice. Words have power. I am careful to not refer to my baby as "naughty" or "bad". Partly this is because an infant can't really be naughty or bad. (Though of course they can be fussy, wake often, and be very needy!)

I am careful about what words I use when I soothe him. I try not to say, "Don't cry." It's important to me that as he comes into consciousness memory as a child, that he knows that we value his emotions and he knows that crying is a healthy emotional expression. I try to say instead, "I am so sorry you are upset, but I am glad you are letting me know how you feel. I am going to keep trying to help you work through this and together we will figure out what you need." (Yes, it did feel a little funny to say that initially to a newborn.)

More than anything, I want to hold space for my child to be himself at each stage, and language is a part of that. I want to stretch out space for my child in the midst of rushing and hurrying. I want to be mindful of his pace.

I imagine my day as a series of scatter points across a graph. I am a line going from A to B to C to D, etc. What I want to do is take a metaphorical tent post and stretch the line from the ground up, creating a little more room. I try to do this by slowing down, with my actions and my words, and hoping we'll both linger here a little longer. 

Friday, September 29, 2017

We are four

From August 31

This morning, our anniversary looked a little different than ever before. When the happy cooing sounded over the baby monitor that the littlest member of our house was up, I went and got him, and we all laid in bed- Caleb who could not quite open his eyes yet, Samuel who looked around eagerly as he lay between us, and me who alternated between looking around eagerly and not being able to keep my eyes open. 

This year has brought new ways of living out the promises we made each other. And so I have written a few new vows to articulate these new ways. 

I promise to always come check on you when you are trimming trees or working on the roof and there is a thud.
I promise to sit by your side when you are nursing a newborn, even if I am so tired I fall asleep.
I promise to always take over on baby duty when you are so tired you are about to lose your mind.
I promise to keep our cars running and the walls of our house from falling down.
I promise to tell you how much I love you 87 times per week, minimum.
I promise to be the keeper of the memories of Samuel's birth.
I promise to handle the baby poop and kill the cockroaches.
I promise to deal with the mice.
I promise to put away your socks and fold your t-shirts.
I promise to remember where you put your things (phone, keys, water bottle).
I promise to always fawn over how you look in flannel.
I promise to always tell you how good you look in pajamas.
I promise to always tell YOU how good you look in pajamas.
I promise to tell you how good you look period.

As I was working on this, I rediscovered this post. Our first year of marriage was so, so sweet. We cut back on a lot of commitments and activities to just focus on each other. This year, we are cutting back  on commitments and activities again, but for a different reason - it is less of an intentional decision and more of a sort of need to survive. And it is hard, but also it is also sweet. And there is no one I'd rather be sharing it with. 

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

On keeping vigil, part II

Three a.m. finds me sitting in the rocking chair, holding my infant who is curled around my torso. His little body is relaxed, his breaths soft and quick. I could put him down and go back to bed - I need to put him down and go back to bed - but I linger, willing myself to stay awake for one more minute. I feel his warmth against my heart. The energetic pull is strong.

In these moments, at three a.m., I know that the Bible was written by men. (Men who were probably not very involved in child-rearing.) There are a few metaphors of God as a mother in the Bible, but only a very few. 

The fierceness with which I love my child, with which I love (as much as one can love) the three a.m. wake-up calls, the desperate cravings I experience to be in his presence, to see his face as he discovers the world, the energetic pull that causes me to draw him to my heart over and over again - nothing could have prepared me for it. 

I can only imagine that God's love for us is just as fierce, just as strong. Okay, probably stronger and fiercer. And for all the metaphors for God, I think they miss this. Or maybe it's just something we have to experience. 

Saturday, September 23, 2017

The ocean of birth

I grew up in a place where the nearest ocean was about 13 hours by car. I saw the ocean a handful of times in my life, but didn't really get a chance to experience it until I was 20. Then I became obsessed.

I loved the sheer laziness of spending a whole day outside laying around, reading books, napping, talking, snacking, swimming when it got hot. I loved jumping over or diving under the waves as they crashed in, or floating on top, their saltiness on my tongue. The ocean felt like my ultimate pampering, luxurious experience.

A few years later, I was living in Spain. I took advantage of a long weekend in late February to attend a three-day surfing camp. Even though southern Spain is extremely temperate (is that an oxymoron?),  it was still winter, and therefore still windy and a bit chilly. One day, it was too windy and stormy to surf. Our instructor drove us to a point where we could look out over the beach where we had been surfing. Tall, angry waves crashed in furiously. The wind from the sea blew my hair straight up in the air.

As I stood there, I realized I had been thinking about the ocean all wrong. I suddenly remembered that in centuries past, and even today, people fear the ocean. The ocean takes lives. I realized that the ocean I loved to play in is easily converted by a few shifts in pressure to the ocean that takes lives with tsunamis, hurricanes, shipwrecks.

I had not given the ocean the respect it deserved.

I still love to play in the ocean, but now I am not so naive. I'm a strong swimmer, but I don't assume all would be well if I ended up swimming past the boundaries, or swimming on a beach with strong tides.

My experience with birth is like that windy day on the ocean. I remember reading several birth stories in which the women described labor as a feeling of sheer power moving through them like a freight train. At the time, I wondered what that would feel like, but I neglected to think to remember that freight trains can be dangerous. Power is to be respected. The power of birth is beautiful, like the power of the ocean, but I will never underestimate it again. 

Friday, September 22, 2017

On keeping vigil

From August 14, 2017:

Sometimes, I wake up in the middle of the night and wonder what time it is. "I can't believe he hasn't woken up yet," I think to myself. As if he just heard my thought, the baby monitor begins to chirp with his noises. If it is Caleb's turn, I will nudge him awake, but I often only wake up for my turns.

I can tell right away how long I will be up. If I wake up to sad cries, I know he will fall back asleep as soon as his tummy is full and his diaper is dry. But when I hear happy cooing, I know we are in for a a while. He is fully awake, feels rested, and is ready to play.

A while back, the weekend was a doozy. And so, when I woke up to giggles Saturday night and Sunday night, I made my way to his room with some resignation. But both nights, we kept vigil together. We prayed for peace, mercy, judgment, and repentance. We prayed with unspoken words (both of us) and deep exhaustion (me). I prayed for guidance on how to parent in times of such extreme polarization.

Some people believe that you have to teach children who God is. I believe that children already know, and that their knowledge is so pure. I wonder if God keeps vigil in the world through her tiniest assistants.

I will try to keep my eyes open to see it.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A letter to my pregnant self

Here's a fun story. Once upon a time after the baby was born, I poured myself a glass of grape juice. Then I was doing stuff around the house and when I finished I couldn't find it. I looked for it later with no success. I gave up and got a new juice. Hours later, I found the glass in this clothes basket. The End.

Hi love,

I have good news - being on this side is way better. And not just because of the freaking amazing baby that is available for external snuggles. Sleep - though frequently interrupted - is so much more comfortable. (I don't know why people tell pregnant women to sleep. Ridiculous advice. Sleep is better afterwards, in my opinion.) Also, good news, you can pick stuff up again when it rolls all the way under your desk.

Also, when it comes to birth nothing is going to go how you think. I know you have super loose expectations - but even those are going to be blown out of the water. It's okay. In the end, the choices you are agonizing over making are good choices. You are making the right decisions. Relax as much as you can. I'm glad you aren't afraid. Fear doesn't really serve anyone in preparing for birth. In the end, all the resources and videos your midwife shared with you are going to set you up for breastfeeding success. And though you will end up in the hospital, you still got to experience a lot of advantages to midwifery care, and that served you well.

I am sorry that so many people are making rude comments to you about pregnancy. Honestly, that doesn't seem to be the norm for anyone I have talked to since, so I'm sorry that is the case for you. Keep getting fiesty. Keep telling people you don't like their comments. The thing is, people are going to keep saying stupid stuff to you even after you have the baby, so it's good practice to find your voice now.

OH MY GOSH - I have such good news about your (our?) belly button. Even though it turns black and turns completely inside out during pregnancy, it never disappears and it totally returns to normal afterwards.

Yes, what feels like ALL your hair will start to fall out around 12 weeks postpartum. And, good news, around 6 months postpartum, you will stop feeling hot all the time. You will even feel a little cold! You'll get a few stretch marks, but to be honest, your baby is going to be so big that you had to get a few just so that no one hated you. And you will fondly trace them and remember them as "the place where baby's bum was" and " the place where a tiny foot was always pressing out".

And finally, I know everyone tells pregnant women to hydrate, but maybe cool it? I promise you only need like 1/4 of the liquid you are currently consuming.


Me on the other side (it's so much better here!)

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Birth and arrival story - part IV of IV

To begin:

Why do I want to share this story? There is almost nothing about Samuel’s birth that went how I had thought it would go. Processing through this story has been challenging for me, but also surprisingly easy. There are so many narratives about birth in our culture. I recommend (and will continue to recommend) this article. I am working to claim this birth as our story and writing helps me to do that. I share it because I believe in the importance of sharing even birth stories that are labeled as negative or traumatic

A quick word about our story - like most parents, we researched every decision and made what we felt was the absolute best decision for ourselves and for our baby. For us, that means we planned to have a home birth. Home births, particularly in the United States where emergency medical care is available when needed, are incredibly low risk. We had an exceptional story. However, we still believe home births are an excellent option for some families. Negative comments about this will be deleted. Thank you for being respectful of our decisions and our story. 

Trigger warning - I actually don't think this portion of the story needs a trigger warning, as it is our happy ending. However, it does touch on a few difficult moments around our home birth, so if you think those will be hard for you, take note.

Dear Samuel,

The first time I held you, you still had a C-PAP machine on. Your cheeks were so chubby that the strap cut into them, and I wondered if it was uncomfortable. “He’s strong,” all the nurses said. You didn’t want to breathe with the machine, you wanted to set your own rhythm. You were wrapped in blankets. You exceeded my max weight-lifting limit of 10 pounds, so I got settled in the chair and you were placed into my arms in blankets. I stared lovingly at your face, more than half of it covered with machinery. I could not wait to see what you looked like without all that. I would get to know sooner than I would have thought. 

I will always remember the occupational therapist who came to assess you. (I didn’t realize that there were occupational therapists for newborns!) As she moved your body around, testing reflexes and stretching to test for muscle tone, you opened your eyes and looked at me for the first time. “Hi honey,” I said. “I’m so happy to see your eyes!!” Your little face was so chubby that you even had eye chub. You squinted out at me from deep underneath it, your eyes locking on to my face. I alternated sticking my face and hands in the hand holes in the incubator, equally desiring to see you and touch you. 

The sequence of the next events is a bit blurry in my memory. I kept holding my breath, but the good news kept on coming. You were cleared to go down to an oxygen tube instead of a C-PAP. My milk came in fast and furious during the pumping session when I heard you cry for the first time as they removed the electrodes stuck on your head that monitored your brain activity. “Ellen, you need to stop pumping,” Caleb said. “Why?” I asked. “Because the bottles are full!” 

They fed you a bottle of my milk down your feeding tube first. Next the nurse did a bottle feeding to test your suck-swallow-breathe reflex. You did well, so we were cleared to try nursing. With some help from a nipple shield and the skilled NICU nurses, you latched on and I experienced how much better that was than pumping. At one point, I lifted you up to switch sides, and your face was pure cherub. Your eyes were closed in bliss. Your cheeks were enormous and flushed pink. Your little mouth was wet and relaxed. You were the very definition of milk drunk, and it was at that moment that I fell explosively in love with you, head over heels, no turning back. I had loved you fiercely and protectively for months, but now I loved you with sheer and utter delight. I was addicted and I needed you in my arms as much as possible. I needed to fill your little tummy and for you to know that you were safe and we were done with the scary stuff. 

On Tuesday, I was discharged early in the day. The Mother-Baby unit was mostly empty, so we packed up, but kept our room as a base. I would be keeping my catheter for two weeks at home. I learned how to care for it, and was given a leg bag so I wouldn’t have to carry it around all the time. If I have another baby and don’t have to care for him or her while also hauling around a bag of my own pee, it will be amazing. The one plus is that I never had to worry about going to the bathroom… if desperate, someone else could empty the bag for me! 

Caleb and I went home Tuesday night with a hospital grade loaner pump from the NICU. We went home alone, to the house where we had thought you’d be born. Our house had been left a disaster after we went to the hospital - sopping wet towels in a hamper, dirty sheets on the bed where I had labored, an unflushed toilet. Fortunately, Caleb had been home a couple of times, family members had taken out the trash, and Caleb had done a lot of laundry. Nevertheless, walking into our house without you was an experience I would not wish on anyone. Caleb and I were uncharacteristically snippy and curt with each other, me battling ghosts of terrible labor memories, him feeling similarly. It was night, but no matter how many lights I turned on, I could not get the darkness out. 

Until... we were standing in the kitchen. Neither of us remember exactly what it was, but it was a comment or a gesture, something silly that made us both laugh. The laughter tinkled through the room and then shot across the icy darkness, cracking it open into a night that almost felt normal. Almost. 

I pumped that night in your room, and then slept in my bed, finally sleeping next to my husband, carefully hanging the catheter bag on the bed rail each time I laid down.

We spent that day with you in the NICU where you had a bath (maybe that was the day before), got your hearing checked, and graduated to a regular cradle instead of an incubator. You got to wear your first outfit, some little footed jammies with baby chicks on them that we got from a coworker. Or maybe all of that was the day before. What I do know is that you passed your hearing test and your grandmas got to hold you. Your dad read books to you. And that night, when I told the nurse I planned to go home, she gave me a frank talk that I will always appreciate. Look, she said. I am not going to tell you what to do. What I do know is that in order to go home, they want to see him eating well. He seems to be nursing well. If we switch back to bottles tonight, we are going to have to track exactly how many milliliters he is drinking. If he doesn’t drink a certain amount, they will keep him here longer. I made the decision to stay at the NICU. Caleb brought me my pajamas and toothbrush and pillows. I traipsed down the hall to the bathroom, brushed my teeth, returned, and got settled in.
Our little cherub in his chicken jammies.
A word to my readers: may you never have to spend the night in the NICU. And if you do, may you not have to do it when you are sore from giving birth, tired, catheterized, and sleeping on a chair. And if you have to do it like that, may they not come in and wake up your baby every three hours, or do the NICU test at 2am where they put him in a car seat for 90 minutes to make sure he doesn’t have a cardiac or respiratory emergency. That was the worst night. No night since has been that bad. Finally, around 5am, they brought in a swing because he wasn’t sleeping and neither was I. We both finally slept. 

Throughout this, Samuel, you were finally losing a little bit of birth weight. You had stayed steady at 11 lbs since you were born. Now you were losing, and though I had an abundance of milk, the doctors were worried. You lost weight all day Wednesday, all night Wednesday, and into Thursday. So you can imagine my surprise when I learned that you would be discharged Thursday afternoon! (And I was beyond grateful to not have to spend another night in the NICU.) We jumped through lots of NICU hoops that day, promised to come back for a weigh-in on Monday, and promised to follow an arduous schedule of nursing you following by offering a bottle/ me pumping until then. Anything to go home with you. Anything to hold you without the mandatory NICU oxygen and heart rate wires. 

We had a male nurse that day named Nate. Nate wore cowboy boots with his scrubs and was the one to carry you in your car seat down and out to the car where your dad was picking us up. We had so much stuff that your dad had taken it out on a cart. When he got to the parking garage, he realized he didn't know what to do with the cart, and he didn't want to spend the time walking it all the way back - so he put it on the roof rack of his car and drove it out. Nate the nurse thought that was awesome. 

We drove home (I even rode in the front seat - I knew you had passed your car seat test after all!) and took a photo by the front door. 

“Samuel, this is our home. This is where we live,” I shared with you as we walked inside. In response, you let out an enormous scream and began to cry. Maybe you felt the ghosts of labor too. But, having already battled them as your parents, we were able to dispel them quickly with some skin to skin and nursing. 

And with that, we dove headfirst into a more normal newborn experience. But I’ll save those stories for another time. 


P.S. A final note - we are perhaps some of the only parents ever who did not look up what your name meant before we named you. Once we were snuggled up in our home together, days and nights mixing into one sleepless, love-filled blur, I realized maybe I should do that. I sat in the chair in the room where I thought you were going to be born, space heater whirring in the background on a snowy March day. You were snuggled in my arms, breathing softly. When the result popped up on the Google page, I caught my breath and then tears filled my eyes.

Your name means "God has heard".

Friday, August 11, 2017

Birth and arrival story - part III of IV

A word of introduction:

Why do I want to share this story? There is almost nothing about Samuel’s birth that went how I had thought it would go. Processing through this story has been challenging for me, but also surprisingly easy. There are so many narratives about birth in our culture. I recommend (and will continue to recommend) this article. I am working to claim this birth as our story and writing helps me to do that. I share it because I believe in the importance of sharing even birth stories that are labeled as negative or traumatic

A quick word about our story - like most parents, we researched every decision and made what we felt was the absolute best decision for ourselves and for our baby. For us, that means we planned to have a home birth. Home births, particularly in the United States where emergency medical care is available when needed, are incredibly low risk. We had an exceptional story. However, we still believe home births are an excellent option for some families. Negative comments about this will be deleted. Thank you for being respectful of our decisions and our story. 

Trigger warning - this is the story of a traumatic birth experience. We are all okay now, but if birth trauma is triggering to you, you may wish to avoid. 

Our first meeting. This is you at one day old. I hear that most women are shocked upon seeing their baby - "Wait, how did he/she fit inside me?" I think I might have an extreme case of that. 
Just for fun, let's go back to this photo, taken two days before the one above!  (Insert jaw-drop here)
Dear Samuel,

We had just met at the end of the last little chapter of this tale. Here’s what happened next…

I wondered if and hoped that the sound of my voice would create some kind of reaction, so I watched your face and body closely. But morphine is a strong drug, and you did not stir at all. “Can I touch him?” “Absolutely,” said his kind nurse. I gently placed my pointer finger in your hand and with my other fingers, closed your  palm around it. I stroked your hand. It was much larger than I was expecting, and not as cold as I thought it was going to be. Then I just stood and took you in. The machines, the wires, and the glimpses of you underneath. I kissed the tiny hand. (Caleb was graciously holding my pee bag at this point, or maybe I had found a place to hang it up.)

Your head was extremely cone-shaped from the birth. You had not had a bath yet, and had bits of dried fluid around your hair, adhering it to your head and making it look both dark and curly. Your head had several electrodes in so they could watch your brain activity. There were bruises on either side of your head from the forceps, but I couldn’t really see those yet. Your head was too big for their biggest C-PAP hat, so they had cut one into a headband. You had an IV line into your umbilical cord stump and a variety of other wires to monitor your heart rate and oxygen. There was a tiny blood pressure cuff with a dinosaur around your ankle. Your whole body was extremely swollen. “He doesn’t even have rolls,” I thought. “He is just puff.”

I felt the same fierce love for you I had felt all through pregnancy, but I didn’t yet feel a strong connection. And of course, I also thought, “Wait. He was inside of me yesterday?!” I could hardly imagine how you had fit. I am told that all moms experience this phenomenon, but it seems like it might be stronger with an 11 lb baby. 

Caleb and I stood next to you and talked about the gravity of deciding on a name for someone. I still really hadn’t seen your face, which is what I had thought I needed in order to name you. But we knew we’d have to wait two or three more days before we could see your little face, and that seemed like an awfully long time to wait. Fortunately, there were only three names on our boy list. And only one of them fit you - Samuel. Your middle name, Joseph, was not even a question since there are important Josephs on both sides of the family. 

“Do you want to tell him his name?” I asked Caleb. Caleb nodded and took a few emotional seconds to collect himself. We held hands. “Welcome to the world Samuel Joseph,” he said to you with tears in his eyes. “We love you so much.” 

Shortly after that, I got tired and so we returned back upstairs to the ICU. We spent the rest of the day there, me pumping every two hours, Caleb going between my room and yours with the pumped colostrum on the flanges, which he would swab the drips inside your mouth and around your gums with a sterile Q-tip. Because we hadn’t planned on going to the hospital, we had very limited things. Relatives brought Caleb a change of clothes and he showered in the NICU. Finally, we hunkered down for the night, Caleb back on the floor, me in my bed, with an alarm set to pump every two hours. Around 3am, our nurse came in with an aide and announced that we were now going to be transferring rooms. “Now?” we asked. I had a hard time waking up, but Caleb jumped up and packed all our things. We moved downstairs and into a spacious labor and delivery suite with an in-room bathroom and shower. The nurse downstairs got me all set up with an ice pack and some other nice amenities for my sore and swollen underside and it felt so magical. ICU nurses are some of the best in the hospital, but they do not have the expertise of a L&D nurse in caring for women’s sore parts postpartum. Caleb got an upgrade from the floor to a pull-out bed and slept deeply. I tried not to wake him when I woke up to pump the next two times. The L&D floor was quiet and dark and restful. Our room was large with a wall of big windows. I took a shower here. We had some misadventures with the catheter, and wondered if my bladder nerves were permanently shot - having more than 1 liter in there can ruin the nerves’ ability to function. The best part of moving to this floor was that you were just a wheelchair ride away, rather than an elevator. We had a wonderful nurse who I’ll call Jillian, that was attentive to our needs and also quite chatty. We visited you several times throughout the day.

It was a strange day, with relatives coming and going, coming and going. Fortunately we had a big room to host all these guests. Around 7pm, I was pumping with the help of the lactation consultant, when we learned we’d be moving again - this time to the Mother-Baby unit. We loaded up all our things once again and moved to a much smaller room, with a view of a wall. More relatives showed up, but graciously agreed to stay with Caleb in the waiting room while I finished pumping. As I sat there pumping, with the lactation consultant, I took in my new room. On the dry erase board was a pre-made template that was designed for someone else. Under “GOALS”, it said “Stay pregnant.” That made me smile.This ward was not as quiet as Labor and Delivery. I could hear tiny newborns crying outside my room. Suddenly I was overwhelmed. The lactation consultant was saying something else when suddenly my eyes filled up with tears. She stopped. “I just… am hearing all these babies and I wish that I was hearing my baby cry.” I blubbered. “I’ve never even heard him cry.” She swiftly got up and shut the door, muffling the cries slightly. She comforted me and then explained that this ward was even closer to you. Any time I wanted to see you, I could. Caleb or a nurse or an aide could push me right over and I could pump in your room where I could see you, even though I couldn’t hold you. “Yes, I want to do that,” I blubbered through tears. It hurt deeply. Around this time, Jillian, our nurse from Labor and Delivery, came in with our new night nurse. They finished their rounds, but having seen my tears, she stopped in the waiting room on the way out to her car. “You should go be with your wife,” she told Caleb, and he came quickly, ever supportive. 

(Eventually, they change the template of my dry erase board to something almost as painful as hearing the babies crying. It now read, "GOALS - Breastfeeding, Skin to Skin, Bond with Baby". I tried to ignore them, but they stared me in the face when I was in bed. I made sure to always pump with my back facing them.)

That night, I pumped sometimes in your room and sometimes in my room. We had some poop misadventures (mine) due to an overdose of laxatives. The next day was Sunday, and your dad and I requested a day with no visitors. We needed time to think and process everything we’d experienced so far. It turned out that was a great decision for you. You had been fighting to warm your body temperature back up, and we could no longer touch you or make any noises in your room. We had to keep all stimulation to a minimum, so it was dark and quiet. I could still pump in there, but we couldn’t talk to you anymore. I would stand at your bed and hold my hands up and try to just surround you with my love. I would picture you in a bubble of love and light and try to transmit to you that you were safe and loved. “I promise that once you are done with this treatment that there are so many hugs and cuddles and wonderful things waiting for you.” I thought at you. 

Between those hard moments, Caleb and I talked a lot and had texting breaks where we would both sit down and text various people updates for a given amount of time. Because of the complications with my bladder, I had to monitor my fluid intake and output. Every two hours, I practiced walking, pushing the wheelchair down the hall, through the doors into the NICU and to your room to pump. The first trip exhausted me and I had to be wheeled back afterwards, but I quickly gained strength. A nurse mentioned to me that I didn’t have to keep wearing the hospital gown if I wanted to put on my own clothes. I laughed. “I didn’t bring any clothes!” I told her. And I loved wearing that gown. It was so convenient for pumping and having a catheter. 

At one point a strange thing happened - your dad and I started to feel like we were on vacation. It was extremely strange, but there we were, having an intense experience outside our normal life, bonding together. We were well-supported by the hospital staff. We didn’t have to think too much about meals. We did worry about our chickens - constantly looking for a volunteer to please collect eggs, make sure they had food, water, were locked up for the night, let out in the morning. We hugged often, and sat as close to each other as we could. We even watched a little bit of The Office or maybe it was Gilmore Girls on Netflix. I kept telling him how luxuriously wonderful my back felt now that I wasn’t pregnant. I kept telling him that I was pretty sure I was the exceptional case and that I had magically gone back to my pre-pregnancy weight (I had not) because LOOK HOW SKINNY I AM NOW THAT I’M NOT PREGNANT. It’s amazing what losing 11 lbs of baby (and, you know, everything else that goes with it) does for your self-image! 

Towards the end of Sunday, a funny thing started to happen. Caleb and I had been going to your room together. To go into the NICU from Mother-Baby, there was a secret back door that was locked. There was a phone you picked up to ring security. Whenever Caleb would pick it up, he would say “I’d like to go to the NICU, please.” and they would open the door. When I started going by myself, I would pick up the phone and say the same thing. I must have looked *extra* suspicious on the security camera in my hospital gown carrying my pump parts and catheter bag, because they would never just let me in. “What’s your name?” they’d ask. “Which baby are you going to see?” 

Over the night from Sunday to Monday, they had started to warm you up. It was a delicate and carefully monitored process. At this point, we didn’t know what the status was of your brain damage, or if you would respond well to warming back up. The pace was very slow, about half a degree every few hours. As they warmed you, they also slowly decreased your morphine and hoped to also bring you off of oxygen. If you showed any little blip in your temperature, oxygen levels, or any sign of morphine withdrawal, the process would pause. It could take up to 24 hours. I chose to pump in my room instead of yours for two of my night time pumps to minimize stimulation even more. When we went in to check on you Monday morning, we weren’t sure what to expect. But the whole process had gone exceedingly smoothly. They had been able to warm you at the fastest pace. You were finally warm and in your incubator with the lid on. You were still only wearing a diaper and covered in wires, but now your arms and legs were spread out, relaxed instead of clenched. Your cheeks were rosy. And the best part? Today we would get to hold you.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Birth and arrival story - part II of IV

A word of introduction:

Why do I want to share this story? There is almost nothing about Samuel’s birth that went how I had thought it would go. Processing through this story has been challenging for me, but also surprisingly easy. There are so many narratives about birth in our culture. I recommend (and will continue to recommend) this article. I am working to claim this birth as our story and writing helps me to do that. I share it because I believe in the importance of sharing even birth stories that are labeled as negative or traumatic

A quick word about our story - like most parents, we researched every decision and made what we felt was the absolute best decision for ourselves and for our baby. For us, that means we planned to have a home birth. Home births, particularly in the United States where emergency medical care is available when needed, are incredibly low risk. We had an exceptional story. However, we still believe home births are an excellent option for some families. Negative comments about this will be deleted. Thank you for being respectful of our decisions and our story. 

Trigger warning - this is the story of a traumatic birth experience. We are all okay now, but if birth trauma is triggering to you, you may wish to avoid. 

My first glimpses of you (here I am comparing a photo of your dad's hand with yours to your dad's hand with mine)
Dear Samuel, 

We left off with a cliffhanger didn’t we? When I was a little girl, I used to read Nancy Drew books. (Let’s be honest, I still read them!) I hated cliff hangers, so I would always stop in the middle of a chapter… or read the whole book in one night. But enough introduction. Let’s continue….

The man and the woman standing above me are my nurses. They ask me if I know what day it is. “March 2”, I say. “But I’m not sure what time it is, so maybe it’s March 3 now.” I then notice a clock - the minute hand moves to midnight, March 3. “Do you know where you are?” they ask. “No,” I respond, noticing that I am on my lying on my back for the first time in six months. I move my hands over my much smaller belly. “Wasn’t I pregnant?”

Caleb asks me if I remember, but I don’t. I am at a nearby hospital, one renown for high-risk pregnancies and extreme medical emergencies. Good thing it’s the closest one to our house. 

I don’t remember the emergency transfer from our home to the hospital, riding in the back of Caleb’s car while he did 50 in a 35 during rush hour. I don’t remember that when we were getting ready to leave, my midwife held out her arms to help me out and I walked right past her, not even seeing her. I don’t remember them asking me to make decisions I was not capable of making. I don’t remember that Caleb, my partner and best friend, took over, making scary decisions for all of us. I don’t remember the episiotomy, the forceps, kicking doctors, biting my IV lines, or your shoulder getting stuck and them ripping it out. 

“Did I have the baby?” I asked Caleb, that night in the ICU, slowly starting to realize what would take me months or maybe a lifetime to process. “Is the baby okay?”

“We don’t know,” Caleb responded gently, honestly. We held hands tightly, and in the short minutes after, I learned from him that we had you! At that moment, you were an 11 lb (5 kg) baby boy in the NICU who had suffered seizures shortly after birth. I learned of the flurry of medical tests administered to both of us after you was born when I appeared to be conscious, but continued to be non-verbal and non-responsive. And Caleb texted my mom, who was still in the waiting room and came flying in to see me before driving the 50 minutes home for the night, much more relieved than she could have hoped for. 

“I love you,” Caleb and I whispered back in forth to each other all night. They were out of cots, so he slept on the floor next to my bed.  

I’ve never been able to sleep on my back. But that night, that is exactly how I slept as I received electrolytes by IV and by stomach injection, had my catheter bag emptied frequently by one of my two nurses, and received a heavy duty course of antibiotics, just for good measure. The next morning, I realized how sore I was. My “under carriage” was very painful. It hurt my ab muscles to sneeze. (No one told me it was going to hurt to sneeze!) 

Many things happened the next morning. In no particular order, a physical therapist came and helped me get out of bed and sitting up. (Major ouch.) The lactation team came and brought me a pump, and I started the first of many pumping sessions. A nurse came up from Labor and Delivery and brought me an ice pack. Sweet relief. All morning long, nurses and doctors came in to check on me. “Do you remember me?” they asked. My answer was always no. Several of the nurses wept when they came in. “I thought about you all night,” one said. “I was so worried that you weren’t going to be okay. I am so glad you are okay.”

A fairly blunt anesthesiologist who had helped repair my tear explained to me that they had a scale from 1-4. One is alive and normal. Four is dead. “Yesterday I gave you a three,” she said. Not knowing what else to say, I said, “So what would you give me today?” She looked me up and down. “Two.”

I met with the resident and two supervising OBs who delivered “Baby Boy”, your name at that point. I met with anesthesiologists and surgeons who had provided care for me. Through it all, a narrative began to take shape. No one knew why my baby was so big. I had tested negative for gestational diabetes, a common cause of big babies. False negatives are possible on the test, but neither baby nor I had any trouble maintaining stable blood sugar after birth. Most of my numbers were normal. It finally came down to one thing: sodium. 

Everyone knows how important it is to stay hydrated. Those who have taken a birth class know that they will suggest to you that you take a sip of water between each contraction to make sure you don’t get dehydrated. This is particularly important if you are hoping to have an intervention free birth. I followed this advice and then some. I found that contractions made me thirsty, so I chugged water between each one. Because I was at home, I also drank coconut water, and an electrolyte drink at one point. 

Unknown to everyone at the time, my sweet (big) baby’s head dropped down, and when this happened, his head pinched my urethra shut. I continued to take in fluid, but was unable to eliminate any of it (hence the shadowy memories of people telling me to pee, me trying to pee, and nothing coming out.) Scans taken after he was born showed my bladder and kidneys as extremely distended. I was catheterized after he was born, and they drained 4 liters of urine in an hour. If you’re not handy with the metric system (and I recommend you get handy with it) picture two two-liter bottles of soda. In an hour. Over the next few hours, four additional liters were drained. 

A quick word about sodium levels in the blood - Normal sodium levels range between 130-145 milliequivalents per liter. When our baby had seizures after he was born, they learned that his sodium levels were 116. Mine were 114. “114 is critically low.” explained the anesthesiologist. “And we believe the levels had risen by that time.” 

She continued, “We couldn’t figure out why you were acting the way you were acting, because you hadn’t received any medication except the light anesthesia we gave you to repair your tear. But people don’t act that way from that anesthesia. None of your other numbers explained it - but a sodium level of 114 absolutely does.”

Another doctor shared, “I am so glad your midwife made the decision to bring you in when she did. I truly believe that that saved your life.”

I signed off for the doctors to publish a case study on my, no, our experience. As the dust began to settle from the day before, I began to recover from my shock and I began itching to see you. Because you were in the NICU and I was in the ICU, neither of us was cleared to change floors. I started asking every doctor and nurse who came in when I would get to see you. I had waited for so many months already!  To know that you were so nearby but that I couldn’t see you was so hard! My parents, Caleb’s parents and siblings came to visit and went down to see you, bringing me back photos which I cherished and tried to wrap my mind around. The only thing was that even in these photos, I couldn’t really see you.

Oh wait - I think I forgot to mention something. Because your seizures happened within six hours of birth, and because when they happened, no one knew the cause or the severity, the strictest protocol was followed. You were put in what is vaguely referred to as “cooling therapy” but is more accurately described as therapeutic hypothermia. You were put on high levels of morphine to keep you relaxed and to prevent you from shivering and warming yourself up. The morphine depressed your ability to breathe, so you were also put on a tiny C-PAP machine. Then your body temperature was dropped to around 92 degrees for three days. I will forever be grateful that the first thing Caleb did when I was carted off to surgery was to go in and do skin to skin with you. It brought me so much comfort to know that you knew your dad’s warm embrace before you had seizures and before you were made very cold. The photos I mentioned above were photos of a very big baby that was covered with wires, tubes, and machines. 

“He has my eyes, your toes, and my hands,” was one of the first things your dad said to me about you. (All accurate, even today.) At one point during the morning,  a nurse told me that my ICU status had been lifted. This meant that I was cleared to be transferred off the floor, but had to wait for a bed to open up on the maternity floor. Finally, around 2:45pm, I was wheeled down the hall, down the elevator, and to your NICU room. Nurses smiled at me, “Are you Mom?” they all asked eagerly. “You look great! We’re so glad you’re here!” It felt like a safe and happy place. I was so eager. “Yes!” I thought to myself. “I am Mom! I am going to see my baby!”

The tech who was wheeling me stopped at the door of the room. It was dark, to keep you from being too stimulated (and therefore warming yourself up). I had barely been able to walk or stand, but I suddenly found strength. Nothing was going to stop me now. I sanitized my hands at the door, picked up my catheter bag and slowly walked into the mostly quiet room, the only noise being the puff of the C-PAP machine. 

It was a moment that was nothing like I expected. All pregnancy long, I had yearned for the moment right after delivery when the baby is placed on Mama’s chest. I was waiting and hoping that moment was going to help my mind connect all the kicks and wiggles and hiccups I’d been feeling to the actual infant in my arms. I was waiting for the midwife, Caleb, or maybe even myself to swoop the baby up in an arc from delivery to my chest, moving the baby across a symbolic bridge spanning the foggy underwater world of “in utero” to the clear sharpness of newborn. The loss of that particular moment haunts me. 

And yet, all of that was forgotten or placed aside as I stepped up to your isolette. “Can I talk to him?” I whispered to the nurse. “Of course!” she said. 

“Hi sweetie,” I said softly. “I’m your mommy.”

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Birth and arrival story - part I of IV

To begin:

Why do I want to share this story? There is almost nothing about Samuel’s birth that went how I had thought it would go. Processing through this story has been challenging for me, but also surprisingly easy. There are so many narratives about birth in our culture. I recommend (and will continue to recommend) this article. I am working to claim this birth as our story and writing helps me to do that. I share it because I believe in the importance of sharing even birth stories that are labeled as negative or traumatic

A quick word about our story - like most parents, we researched every decision and made what we felt was the absolute best decision for ourselves and for our baby. For us, that means we planned to have a home birth. Home births, particularly in the United States where emergency medical care is available when needed, are incredibly low risk. We had an exceptional story. However, we still believe home births are an excellent option for some families. Negative comments about this will be deleted. Thank you for being respectful of our decisions and our story. 

Trigger warning - this is the story of a traumatic birth experience. We are all okay now, but if birth trauma is triggering to you, you may wish to avoid. 

The classic bathroom selfie - one day before going into labor with my 11 lb baby
Dear Samuel,

I want to tell you about how you were born. But first I need to tell you a few things about how I expected your birth to go.

I had super loose expectations, to be honest. Your dad and I chose to have you at home with a midwife, rather than at the hospital because we believed it to be the healthiest and best option for you. I was never scared of birth. I looked forward to it, to feeling the sensations, to feeling what people described as the power of a freight train coursing through me, bringing you to the outside.

Of course, I was also 90% sure you were a little girl.

March 1 was your due date - a date I guarded furiously from everyone. “Baby’s due late February, early March,” I would say when asked. I spent most of my pregnancy convinced you would go until around a week after that - but in January, you dropped and my Braxton-Hicks contractions, or “practice rushes” as I liked to call them, became regular after activity and were coming every night. My midwife asked us to plan for what we’d do if you came 5-6 weeks early. We panicked a bit, and got excited. We made sure to get a carseat for you. I designated a shelf of things we’d need for you if we had to go to the hospital (necessary for a delivery before 36 weeks.) I talked to you constantly, explaining the practice rushes, asking you to wait just a little bit longer, but also giving you permission to come early if you needed to. 

You waited.

February came and began to draw to a close. I nested furiously the whole month. On Sunday, February 26, it was the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. I was so, so pregnant, and so uncomfortable. I spent most of church moving constantly in the back of church - foreshadowing for what we do with you now at church. Our pastor, Tim, asked us what was getting in the way of relationship with others for us, and challenged us to give that up for Lent. “Well, that’s easy,” I thought, pacing, sitting, squatting alone away from everyone. “I would happily give up pregnancy for Lent.”

Ash Wednesday was your due date. I felt normal that day. I went to work, but skipped the Ash Wednesday service offered, deciding with your dad that we would go to the one at our church at 7 that night. I felt a freedom that no one but your dad and me knew that it was my due date, and planned to celebrate you not being born on it the next day with ice cream and perhaps announcing that we had passed it. 

After work, Caleb and I ate and snuggled up in bed. I voiced a fear I had been feeling along with something else - I told Caleb, “I haven’t felt any fear about birth, but I do have a tiny fear that something might happen to me and I might not make it.
“I want you to know,” I continued, tears streaming down my face, “that if anything were to happen to me, I know that you would be the most wonderful and perfect Dad and parent to our child. I know you could do it and that our child would grow up feeling so, so loved.”

Our conversation turned more positive and we stayed close for a while. It felt more important for us to stay together and connect rather than go to church, so we decided to skip it. Around 8:30, we started to get ready for sleep. We were sleeping in different beds at this point in pregnancy because I took up so much room and used so many pillows. I checked my email and got an email from my dear yoga teacher Jen, saying that she had made the birth blend I’d requested and left it in our mailbox that evening. She suggested using it before birth to develop some relaxation association with the smells. I had been stretching my back and doing deep breathing before bed each night, so I realized it was the perfect time to try it. 

Caleb went to bed, and I started doing my stretches. I inhaled the oil deeply and it brought back so many wonderful memories. Caleb and I going to yoga class every Monday, driving on the brick road, cooking dinner, walking to the park. I stretched out over the exercise ball and just felt good. I felt deeply relaxed and open. 

Then I felt a sensation. A really, really strong sensation. I breathed through it and was determined not to label it as painful, just as sensation. I remained calm, fairly sure I had just had a contraction, but knowing that didn’t mean labor was impending. I drank some water, and went to bed. Another one came and it was so, so intense. “Okay,” I decided. “Time to tell Caleb. I’m going to need his help.”

It’s worth noting that since we’d been sleeping in separate beds, any time I had gone into the room Caleb was sleeping in during the night, he had nearly shot straight up wondering if I was in labor. I promised that I would tell him and he didn’t need to worry about it until then. 

I opened the door and crept in his room. “Love?” I said softly. I sat down on his bed. “I think I might be in labor. It’s really intense and I need you.” He sat up and held me, immediately present. I filled him in on the situation. Another contraction, or rush as I wanted to call them, came. I wanted to call them rushes to focus on their purpose, which was to open the way for you to arrive. We call them contractions, but they actually expand us. 

I couldn’t talk during the rushes. As determined as I was to not to label them as painful, they were very painful. I tried all my techniques that I had practiced and learned, but there was nothing to do but get through them. Caleb began timing them. I had a hard time knowing when they were ending, because it felt like they lingered and then picked back up so quickly. “How long was that one? How many minutes since the last one?” I kept asking. Caleb would answer vaguely “Long enough. Don’t worry about it.”

I had anticipated early labor being slow, but after what felt like an eternity and like no time at all, Caleb said we should call our midwife, as my contractions had been 1 minute long, 4 minutes apart, or longer and closer, since I had gotten him. Our midwife suggested we have our doula come over, and we did. She was very strong and calm and great at timing the contractions, sensing when they began and ended. Shortly after arriving, she recommended we call our midwife, as the contractions were now 1 minute long and only 2 minutes apart. (12:30am)

I remember our midwife coming and asking me how I was doing. I remember saying something along the lines of, “I thought I was going to get breaks and I am not getting any breaks.” (1:15)

I didn’t have a lot of time to think, but knew without thinking how I wanted only silence and darkness and no scents. Everyone’s smell bothered me, even Caleb’s. At one point, I was laboring in your room, which Caleb had quickly transformed from his bedroom to a birthing room by carrying his mattress upstairs, inflating and filling the birthing pool. There was only a single candle lit and I held my hand up to block its light. I alternated between the bed, the shower, and the birthing pool, wishing for sleep and for a break, but with no time to think, I just pressed on. 

I have no idea when the midwife checked me the first time, but I was at a 6. The next time I was at a 7. My memories here begin to grow foggy. I remember hearing a machine noise, which bothered me, and Caleb explained that our doula was pumping, as she had a small baby of her own at home. I remember everyone dozing off throughout the night (Caleb stayed awake through it all, but was understandably very tired) and feeling frustrated that I couldn’t doze off, but they all could. I felt frustrated that I had to wake them up as contractions came and went with minimal breaks. Our midwife took a nap in another room, then our doula. Caleb stayed by my side through it all. 

At one point it was light out and morning had come. I felt awful, as one does after staying up all night, but worse because of all the hard work. The second midwife arrived and she was very fresh. I asked the first midwife if that meant I was close to transition (changing from laboring to bring the baby down to actually pushing). She said “We’ll see.” Everyone was very vague with me, not wanting to promise anything, but all the vagueness made me frustrated.  Around 11 am, I was laboring in the birthing pool with instructions to push, when there was suddenly dark fluid around me. I asked, “What happened?” “Your water broke!” a midwife told me. 

From here the memories grow even fainter - a midwife asking me to sit on the toilet and pee, no pee coming and us moving along. Me pushing in the tub, pushing in bed, pushing on all fours, bracing myself on the bed and pushing. Being instructed to hold my breath and push, the opposite of what I had been told to do during contractions. Pushing as hard as I could and them still telling me to push more. The midwife saying she could see the head and it had hair (!). Waiting to feel the baby’s body moving down, but not feeling it. More nightmare-ish memories of pushing as hard as I could while they told me to push more. Pain and exhaustion.

And then, nothing. 

In a dream, I am lying in a very ugly gray/beige room. My mom and mother-in-law are standing above me acting very excited. They are wearing yellow rectangular stickers on their shirts. They are so excited, but I am so tired. They are too animated. I close my eyes and go back to sleep. 

In the same dream, I am in the same room. Now there are two strangers above me - a man and a woman. They aren’t too excited, they are calm. They ask me my name. “Ellen” I tell them. I feel confused and a little worried. Then I turn and seem Caleb to my left. Because he is there, I know everything is okay. But it is not a dream. I am in the ICU.