Tuesday, May 17, 2016

One Birth, Four Stories

As with E's birth, we're writing C's birth story in several perspectives, each without having read the others. The red text is mine (A), the purple text is T's, the photos illustrate T's mom's perspective and at the end, the green text is my mom's.

A Whirl of a Wednesday - A's perspective

Before I can tell you the story of C's birth, I have to tell you about our lives at this point. His due date fell right between the end of a year-long online certification program that I had to complete and the closings of our houses - one sold, one purchased - and the busiest time of year at T's job. The last month of my pregnancy with him is a blur of sitting at the computer into the night, playing with E, and watching T feverishly work long nights and pack up our house in preparation for the move. He was due six days prior to our move across town.

Sunday, we went for a short family hike and took some sunset photos. Little did we know that these would be the last photos taken before I went into labor.

Photo by T

It's All About Timing - T's Perspective

It's been said that I'm a little bit of a control freak. It's even been said by me. So being the non-gestational parent has been an exercise in patience for me. Throw in our move, and my sanity has been borderline for a while. Even so, one of the biggest differences for me was work- with E, we were at a slow point at work, and it wouldn't be a big deal when I needed to drop everything and leave. This time, that was not true.

February is traditionally the busiest month of the year, and although this year, March held that honor, it was not slow by any means. The week of A's due date was one of the biggest shows of the year for our theater, and there wasn't enough time to set it up, so they were going to have to work through the night.  Lucky for us, there are 4 supervisors to split the shifts between, so we didn't have to work 36 hours straight.  My schedule ended up being 3pm on Monday through 5am on Tuesday. and then back from 5pm to 11pm. E stayed the night at my parents house so I would be able to sleep and not worry about getting her to preschool. Unfortunately Murphy's law had other ideas and a construction crew started working behind our house at 8am.  By 10 am I gave up, and rolled out of bed. I got some lunch with my mom, picked E up from school, picked A up from work, and spent some packing before heading back to work. 

Monday and Tuesday I went to work as usual, nothing exciting to report. Tuesday night Teri was scheduled to work late, so E and I had some naps and a late dinner and as I was getting her ready for bed, I had to use the bathroom. I had some blood and fluid in my underwear. I texted Teri to let her know that things may be ramping up, but I wasn't experiencing any contractions yet.

E lay in her bed and we read stories, but I found I couldn't lie next to her for cuddles like usual because I'd begun having some rhythmic cramping through my pelvis. I explained that my body was getting ready to push the baby out. E seemed less than pleased about not having her cuddle, but excited about the baby coming soon. I kissed her goodnight, told her how much I loved her, and pulled the door closed to her room, guessing that the next time I saw her, our lives would be very different.

The evening went much smoother than the the overnight had (go figure), so when the other supervisor asked if he could head out after the second half of the show started, I didn't give it another thought since this is how we did it every time. Of course, about 10 minutes later I got a text from A-

A- No contractions or anything, but I've got blood coming out of me
A- Well, not JUST blood. I'm not hemorrhaging.
T- Like "bloody show"?
A- Yes.
T- Well that's exciting...
A- I'm having a hard time getting there at the moment... our daughter is wide awake and crying because I don't want to peel the bandaid off her arm and put on a new one
A- It's hard to tell, but I'm pretty sure I've got some contractions happening
T- I'm sorry E is having a rough night.
T- Let me know if I need to skip out early... I should be done in about 90 minutes
A- She and I both got naps, I'm more concerned about you
T- If things start to slow and you make it to midnight tomorrow, he will be born on his due date, too!
A- What a lovely thing to wish upon me, lol.
T- That's why I didn't say "if your labor is really long," Only the very early part.;)
A- Haha, well worded. These are closer together than I expected, but they're mild. Is that weird? I can't tell what the heck is happening.

The whole conversation was over about an hour (starting at 9:22pm), but I didn't see her last message until I was leaving. We had discussed the fact that she needed to be very upfront about her telling me if she needed me to come home immediately or not, so I didn't feel like a terrible wife for finishing out my call. 

I crawled into bed to try and rest and wait for T to come home. I heard the car beep as she locked it and came into the house around 11:30 pm. She slid into bed and wrapped her arms around me. We slept for a short time, but around 1:00 am I found being in bed unbearable. I took a long shower - I didn't get out until the water grew chilly. I toweled my hair and put on comfortable clothes and went in search of comfort elsewhere in the house. I stood, I sat, I lounged, I walked. I tried to watch TV. T came out after a bit, unable to sleep. She offered to french braid my hair and I gladly took her up on it, since I can't french braid my own hair. Sitting cross-legged on the floor through several contractions wasn't my idea of a good time, so I ruled out that as a comfortable laboring position. I leaned backwards on a chair, I layed on my side on the couch. For awhile, T and I lay together on the couch, bodies nestled together, and she held me as I breathed and hummed and contracted. She whispered loving, supportive breaths into my ear and rubbed my back. She made me eat food and drink water and continually offered new and different ideas for ways to labor. Finally just before 5:00 am, she called my parents (who have a two hour drive ahead of them) to let them know that the baby was on his way. After that, she called the birth center to alert the midwife on call that I was in labor. T spoke to her and told her how I was doing, then I spoke to her briefly so she could assess how I was handling labor. She gave the same advice we'd been offered before: "Come in when you need more support, feel like pushing, or your water breaks" with a new caveat - call us first, as there were several moms laboring at that time. Both at the center and at the hospital. It was a busy morning.

Photo by T

Photo by T

I sped home and found her in bed, trying to get some rest. I was torn between excitement, wanting to stay calm and help her through contractions, and really, really wanting to sleep since I was guessing there wouldn't be much more opportunity. I laid down with her and she filled me in on how everything was feeling and encouraged me to sleep. We both tried for a while, drifted in and out of sleep, but the contractions were already strong enough that she couldn't sleep through them, so she got up and took a shower. When she was done she went to the living room hoping that I would sleep more, but I just couldn't, so I went out to see how she was doing.  She was only a little annoyed that I wasn't sleeping.  I suggested we watch a movie and I braid her hair. We put on The Hunger Games - maybe not the best choice, but we didn't really watch much anyways.

When the movie was over, around 3, I started the labor and delivery music mix we had made while A tried to find a comfortable position. We tried different combinations of chairs and pillows to no avail. Eventually we decided to go back to bed. We agreed we would call our parents at 5am, so her parents could miss the morning rush hour for their 2 hour drive down. We tried to time her contractions, but they were really inconsistent. She would have 2 or 3 really close together and then have a longer break, usually about 7-10 minutes. During the longer breaks she would fall asleep and be startled awake by the next contraction. I remember this from my labor and it was pretty awful, so I did my best to help her wake up a little earlier in the contraction so she could relax instead of fighting it by reflex. 

5am came and I called her mom to tell her that she had been laboring through the night and they should come now. I texted my mom and told her the baby was on his way and I would let them know when we were heading to the Birth Center. I called the Birth Center and left a message with the answering service. A few minutes later, a midwife, Jamie, called back, asked for all of the details and talked to A for a little while. She asked how far away we lived and since it was less than a mile, she wanted us to wait as long as we could since it was a busy morning. Since I know they change shifts at 7am, I asked who was replacing her and it was Cece, who we really don't know well. 

After that, things happened really fast for me. My contractions grew more intense, closer together, and then began double and then triple peaking. I probably asked T forty times if my parents were getting close yet. I began worrying that they weren't going to make it; I could tell my labor was hastening towards the finish line and I knew that the baby wasn't going to wait. Turns out my parents had needed some time to get things together and get ready before leaving the house, so they were slightly delayed. T also called her parents to give them a heads up, although they only lived two miles away so there was no need for them to rush over.

Unfortunately, our timing was a bit off, because that's when things started getting intense. Contractions were really ramping up, but were still coming in 2s and 3s. A had to get out of bed to throw up and that raised my anxiety a lot.  Was this Transition? A asked how far away her parents were, so I texted. The response made my stomach drop... they had JUST left. I realized I hadn't packed the car yet, and went into a panic. I should have done that when she could handle contractions alone, but now I was going to have to leave her by herself, because there was no way I was waiting for her parents. I frantically ran around the house gathering all the things that needed to come-- our birth bag, camera bag, diaper bag, car seat, chargers, snacks, etc. Every few minutes I would check on her, and reassure her that her dad drives fast and they would definitely make it (I didn't even believe myself). After a while, her mom checked in to see if it was okay if A's brother drove down, too (which it was).

Between my panic, and trying to be there for the worst of the contractions, this took quite a while.  After about an hour, I had everything packed in the car and ready to go. By this point, A was having a really hard time and I told her we needed to go to the Birth Center NOW. It took 2 sets of contractions before she was willing to get out of bed and try to make it down the hall. While I waited, I texted my parents and told them they needed to come, my dad needed to stay with E who was still sleeping, and my mom was going to photograph the birth (which meant I got to help photograph when there was opportunity!). A stopped in the kitchen and leaned on the counter while I called the Birth Center answering service and told them we were on our way.

At about 8:15 am, both sets of parents arrived simultaneously. E was still asleep, and I'd been laboring in our bed for the last several hours. Our house still held within it the quiet, golden peace of early morning as I walked and contracted down the hallway and into the kitchen that Wednesday morning. The sunlight filtered through the blinds above the kitchen sink and I watched the dust motes swirl through the air as I heard cars pulling into our driveway. Another contraction broke the surface and I clutched the kitchen counter for support as I heard our parents greeting one another on their way in.

It was a strange and disjointed mixture of purposes. The parents likely felt energized and excited about the day to come - they were all getting a new grandchild! They probably also felt like I must have a ways left to go. I was no longer in a place in my labor where I could socialize and experience their joy, though I hope they all can understand that their happiness seeped in around the edges and has stayed with me ever since. There's nothing like knowing the baby about to join the world is being welcomed with anticipation and excitement and the love of two families. However, I think T and I knew that this baby was a lot closer to coming than anyone else realized. T began to splinter just a tiny bit, between trying to corral me into the car and greet our parents. My mom came into the kitchen and gave me a big hug between contractions. She stayed with me and rubbed my back while I had more contractions and T readied the car.

Naturally, ALL THE GRANDPARENTS showed up at exactly the same time. Our home filled with love and excitement, but this just made my panic worse.  Didn't they know if we didn't leave now he would be born in the car?!?

My mom wanted to take some pictures, everyone wanted an update, and I was, by default, in charge of coming up with a plan. I tried to figure out who would go in each car, trying to leave one with a car seat for our dads so they could bring E when she woke up.  I didn't realize my dad drove separately than my mom and had theirs, and eventually yelled, "We are going in the Ford, both mom's need to come NOW, I don't care how you get there. Someone has to stay with E, here's a key to the house" I took a deep breath and calmly (I think), ushered A into the car. 

We tried to time the drive between sets of contractions, but didn't luck out in that regard.  A found it really uncomfortable to sit, so she kneeled, facing the back of the car, hugging the head rest.  This is how we drove the 3/4 of a mile to the Birth Center at the tail end of rush hour.  It was about 9am when we arrived. 

Our dads stayed behind to be in charge of E, once she woke up. The moms came with us to the birth center. We arrived into the pleasant routine bustle of the clinic on a sunny weekday morning around 9:00 am. I was both elated and relieved that the first face I saw inside the door was that of Judy, the nurse we had for most of T's labor and our lactation consultant. I like all the staff at the birth center, but we've grown to trust and love Judy and I couldn't believe we were so lucky as to get her twice. Our midwife was Cece, someone who we'd met but hadn't had opportunity to develop a relationship with, so at that point she was an unknown quantity. Judy asked what room I'd like to deliver in, and I questioningly looked into her sparkling eyes and asked if it was possible to have the Green Room that I'd so thoroughly fallen in love with during a breastfeeding consultation. She replied that I could have it, I just had to wait for a patient completing a Non-Stress Test to finish up. I happily complied, which meant all of us stood around in the tiny kitchenette for twenty minutes while I leaned over chairs and breathed out my contractions.

We were so excited to see that our nurse was going to be Judy, who was the same nurse from E's birth and A had seen her for a breastfeeding consultation. My stress level immediately dropped. One of the hard things with the Birth Center is that you get whichever midwife is on call.  Throughout your pregnancy, you try to meet all of them, but we definitely knew some better than others.  Since the midwife we got wasn't one we had a relationship with, it was great that the nurse was.

There are 4 rooms at the Birth Center, and each has a color/theme. E was born in the Blue Room, which is lovely, but the bed has a foot board and is against a wall, both of which were inconvenient, so we didn't want to use it again. We absolutely hated the color and d├ęcor in the Pink Room. The Santa Fe (or was is Southwest?) room was okay. But our absolute favorite was the Green Room. It was big and beachy and lovely, but they used it for other things, too. So when Judy asked which room we wanted, A meekly asked if the Green Room was available.  She told us that they were doing a non-stress test in there, but if we could wait, we could use it. 

I was a little surprised that the car ride and change of scenery didn't slow my labor at all. If anything, it was continuing to grow more intense. In hindsight, this should have been an indicator. We got into the Green Room and I immediately had a triple peaking contraction. It took two or three sets of triple contractions for Cece to get mine and the baby's vitals, and then came the moment of truth: first cervical check (actually, the first pelvic exam of any kind since I'd gotten pregnant - a testament to midwifery care). As I lie back on the pillows, I was thinking only that I hoped not to get any contractions while being checked. Cece announced I was 8 centimeters dilated and completely effaced. The surprise in the room was almost palpable, but I replied "Bless you!" gratefully and got back out of bed for more contractions. Someone exclaimed, "Eight?! Did she say EIGHT?!" But it really wasn't a surprise for me.

I was nervous about waiting, but it seemed like I was the only one.  So we waited in the kitchenette with all of our bags, and A leaned over the back of a chair breathing through her contractions. About 20 minutes later, the room was ours.  Ashleigh made it to the edge of the bed before another set of contractions started.  The midwife listed to the baby with a Doppler and then waited patiently for them to fade.  She had A sit on the bed  and she took her blood pressure. Another wave of contractions started before she could check dilation. This was the moment of truth-- when we were at here during my labor, our spirits all broke a little bit when they told me I was only 1cm after 11 hours of labor, so we were anxious to know. The next time there was a break, she checked and announced A was 8cms and 100% effaced.  The tension in the room dropped; we were almost there.

Photo by Grandpa

Someone convinced me to try going into the tub for awhile, so they began filling it up. I stripped off my bottoms and clambered over the tub wall into its warm depths. It was large and luxurious and when I settled to the bottom, I was already much more comfortable. I recall being concerned that laboring in the tub would stall my labor, and I asked Judy if she thought that would happen. I believe the answer was something like, "You're progressing just fine, don't worry about it." I found a way to wedge my elbows and arms so that I could brace during contractions, and I labored for about an hour this way. My comfort dissipated slowly as the contractions built upon one another, bringing our son closer and closer to his debut. I moved onto my hands and knees and found myself pushing and growling involuntarily during certain contractions. I registered the entrance of Judy and Cece at the sound of my growls. Looking through photos, I see that someone also brought in the big towel and sheet warming bag and that Cece had her sterile packages all ready, waiting to see where I'd want to deliver. I didn't notice these things in the moment, or I would have realized that C was much closer than he seemed.

They asked if A wanted to use the tub and she was really uncertain.  We decided to get it ready so she could use it if she wanted to.  After a few extra tough contractions, she was ready to try.  It wasn't long before she started having some pushy contractions and her water broke. She kept laboring in the tub and would fight a pushing contraction every once an a while. I thought she was handling everything really well, but at one point she looked up and announced that she needed a pep talk.  Everyone burst into their own variation of  "You can do this!" Knowing that generic cheerleading wasn't her favorite type of encouragement, I leaned my head on her shoulder and quietly told her how amazing she had been doing and that she needed to trust herself and her body. We were going to do this, and she was amazing.

I think Judy asked me if I was planning a water birth, to which the answer was a resounding NO. It truly sounded lovely and peaceful... until I got to thinking about climbing OUT of the tub with a wet slippery newborn and crawling into a nice clean bed while soaking wet. That wasn't appealing, so I didn't want to birth in the tub. Chuckles echoed around the tub as Judy remarked that if I didn't want a water birth, I really needed to get out of the tub. My pushing contractions grew more frequent. Carefully, I stood out of the water and held onto two people's hands - but I'm not sure whose. My mom and Judy, maybe. I shuffled into the bathroom and sat on the toilet while the birthing stool was set up for me. As long as we've talked about and dreamed of creating our family, I thought birthing while squatting would be the way to go for me. It increases the size of your pelvic inlet and gives you more strength and power to push. Then I discovered that a birthing stool exists - enabling me to birth while squatting, but without having to hold up all my own weight.

While I labored on the toilet, there may have been some back and forth arguing between me and every woman in the room about whether or not I really did have to poop. I stubbornly resisted all their kind cajoling and quiet laughter and insisted on staying on the toilet longer, despite my contractions being nearly all pushing contractions at this point. Finally, they got me off the toilet and into the room to sit on the stool. They'd set me up with a lilac molded plastic stool, surrounded by waterproof pads. Teri helped me sit down on it but I quickly sprang up, in significant pain due to some lovely hemorrhoids I'd developed during the pregnancy. In order to use that stool I was going to have to sit directly on them, and I could not do it. I got up too fast and it caused a surprise contraction to hit halfway between sitting and standing, and I think that was the worst contraction I had the whole labor. I was so grateful when it subsided and I could hobble stubbornly back to my friend, the toilet.

The nurse checked in to see if she wanted to deliver in the tub or not, and since she didn't, she probably needed to get out. A wanted to try and go to the bathroom before actual pushing started, so we got her out, wrapped her in a warm blanket, and hobbled over to the toilet. Sitting on the toilet made her urge to push more insistent, but she was still in denial that we were already to that part. She told us that she was sure he would never fit.  

A different birthing stool was set up for me and eventually I was convinced to come back out and try it. It was a horseshoe-shaped metal frame; better for hemorrhoid avoidance. I perched my behind carefully on the back of the frame and hooked my knees around the outside corners of the front. Cece advised me to lean forward and grab hold of the upright supports on the stool for extra added power during contractions. At this point, my body gave me a brief rest of about five minutes so I could get more comfortable on the stool. T got a large warm towel and draped it over my shoulders.

My contractions were all pushing contractions, but since they were all still triple-peaking, it gave me opportunity to fit in several hearty pushes each time. While I was on the stool, E came in to check on me and I instantly knew that this was not the calm, quiet Mama I wanted to present her with. I was red-faced and breathing hard, and primal guttural growls were all that would escape my mouth. I wanted badly to hug her and tell her that I was okay, but I couldn't move. My mom wrapped her arms around me and gave a huge reassuring smile to E. I don't remember what she said, but I think E was okay. She wanted to go back to her grandfathers after that.

It seemed like every contraction at this point was a pushing contraction, so I told her she HAD to get off the toilet. She wasn't going to give birth to our son on the toilet. This finally convinced her to move to the birthing stool, but that was short lived. it was so uncomfortable that she stood back up too quickly and was stuck half way up in a contraction. I tried to hold as much of her body weight as I could until it subsided and then we hobbled back to the toilet.  They got another stool that was higher and had a smaller edge. After the next round of contractions, we convinced her to try this one.

It was much better and the midwife told her she should put her legs on the outside and bend down and pull on the upright bars.  This gave her a lot of power, but she was still fighting it a bit. E wanted to come see us, so she came in for a minute.  It was very overwhelming to her, so she didn't stay long.

I'd been really focused on pushing for only a few contractions when Cece told me she was going to touch me and apply some warmed oil to help stretch my perineum. I pushed into her touch and she said his head was right there, about to crown. I felt my skin tearing apart to make room for him. Teri exclaimed that the baby had a lot of hair. I pushed again, and Cece told me to go easy.

"Just pant a little bit and his head will be born."
"No way."
"Here he is! Now, just push gently and his body will follow."
"Holy shit!"
"No, that's a baby!" (cue more laughter)

If that seems sudden, well... it was. I didn't expect him so quickly. Truth be told, I didn't expect him at all.

I obviously knew I was pregnant, but it was really difficult to come to terms with the fact that this growing belly, these kicks and flutters and hiccups were going to produce a human being. The end of my pregnancy was so busy and we spent so much time wondering about how the timing was going to work, that I had pretty much no time to daydream about this tiny person, and so he didn't seem real until he came out and Cece had to gently remind me that he was a baby, he had arrived, and I needed to pick him up.

Once she had gone, the midwife told A to listen to what her body was telling her to do and she finally was able to stop fighting the contractions and work with them instead. After about 2 rounds of contractions (which had never stopped double and triple peaking) the midwife announce that he was starting to crown.  I looked and saw a mess of dark hair. This wasn't really what we expected. We are in touch with a lot of the families that used the same donor as us and the babies were pretty split between having hair when they were born (like E) and not.  Since A and her brother were both born with very little hair, that was what we expected.  I remember vividly when I was pushing E out and the midwife announced that she saw hair.  I thought "Of course, we knew she had hair," and then realized how weird it would be if she didn't look how we expected.  With this in mind, I knew I had to give A some time to prepare, so I told her.

It was probably 2 more pushes before the midwife reached down and told A to pant through the next one and his head would be born. Then she told her to push out the shoulders.  I think she should have included the word "small" when she told her to push again, because she was not prepared for how quickly he came out the rest of the way.  She held onto his head and let his legs fall onto all of the pads below. Everyone was in shock. The she told A that she needed to pick up her baby.

The moment my fingers touched his warm, slippery body and brought him to my chest to hug and kiss for the first time, my heart broke wide open and immediately knit itself back together again, just a little bit larger than it had been. Of course there was room for this perfect creature, this amazing child with a full head of black hair and a widow's peak like mine, who fit just right into my arms. I was incredulous. I was still in disbelief that he'd come out of me, that my pregnancy was definitely over and THIS was the person coming home and joining our family.

I remember the moment of E's birth with a great sense of relief, exhaustion, and disbelief.  Watching our son being born, I think those were all still there but in very different ways (and far less exhaustion). I also felt so proud of how well A had done. The moment of his birth was so much more emotionally overwhelming to me. I was in such a daze after E's birth, so it was very different to be present.

Judy gave him a quick toweling while I hugged him, then we scooted carefully into bed and had warm sheets tucked around us. Cece asked who was to cut his umbilical cord. We had decided that my mom would get to cut it, but I guess we forgot to tell her that part because seeing her face light up with joy when the scissors were handed to her just filled my heart with love all over again. She cut the rubbery cord, separating our bodies completely for the first time. T slid in beside me and got her first glimpse of our son's face.

Judy and Cece got out the headlamp and the suture kit to do my repair, but I was floating on a cloud of bliss, drinking in all the details of my son's face. His forehead was wrinkled in a perpetual look of disapproval, complete with furrowed brow. His lips were deep red and perfectly pouty. I noticed his little shoulders had tufts of hair on them, and I stroked his soft wrinkled skin as the tears leaked gently out of the corners of my eyes.

E came in first and clambered up into T's lap to meet her new brother. Her face was awash with wonder as she saw this tiny dark-haired bundle in my arms. Her eyes lit up and her smile stretched her lips wide. Warmth spilled from my eyes as I fell in love with my daughter all over again.

We helped A over to the bed and all cuddled up inside. His quick descent left A with a significant tear that the midwife needed to repair. Someone went and got E, and she climbed up in bed with us to meet her new brother. 

We had become a family of 4.

Then it was our fathers' and my brother's turn to come in. They filed in with bright shining faces and I felt love and joy coming from each of them. Everyone took a turn holding C, and he was passed carefully from protective embrace to protective embrace. There is no better demonstration of how your family will protect your children than the way they tenderly hold them when they're very first born. There was fierce pride and blazing happiness in that room as we all met this wonderful child.

Everyone who had been waiting came in and we snapped some quick photos before getting our son back to A's arms so he could be skin-to-skin.

Surrounded by love and strong, kind women, our son entered this world and this family. I couldn't have done it without Judy and Cece's reassurances and confidence, nor without the unwavering love from our mothers. But T was my light in the darkness, leading me home. She always is that for me. I needed every single person and the unique things they each had to offer me. Thank you all for being there for me and C. We love you.

It was just the birth we had hoped for, surrounded by a group of strong women all lending their love and support.  It was surreal and wonderful and awe-inspiring. 

Sue's Perspective

While preparing to write my recollection of C's birth I realized all my thoughts really weren’t about C, they were about his mother - my daughter. I believe that God watches over us, but most especially babies, this baby. I remember feeling joy and peace about this sweet boy who was joining our family. I really wasn’t concerned about him. I wasn’t worried about him being born in a birth center instead of a hospital. After all, E’s birth was so great and the birth center experience was eye-opening.  I wasn’t worried he’d be healthy. T and E did fantastically! I had total faith that he was going to join us, perfect, healthy, and a blessed little boy. All of those things turned out true.

When T called to tell us that A had been in labor all night and that we should start our 2 hour drive south, I could not have been more excited. Very quickly, bat out of hell turned to a headless chicken.  Putting the dogs out and then letting them in. Putting the keys in the fridge and then looking for them. Getting dressed as if I was going to work, then undressing - bra underwear and all, while Mike watched strangely, why are you naked, I thought we were leaving? Huh, well I have no idea.

Deep down in my soul, I knew this was a spectacular day. Yes, C was coming, but A was having a baby. My daughter who was destined to be a mom and have a family was giving birth. Would she be calm and focused or would the pain be more than she could take? Could I watch my daughter be in pain? Would she compare her experience to T’s? All those things created this magical nerve wracking whirlwind. Halfway there, I remembered her as a baby, our incredible miracle. So much excitement to have a baby. And now, her baby is coming into this world and I know she’ll be having her own hopes and wishes for him. I am positive that she will also be met with the most incredible love ever experienced. How amazing and brief the time between the two happenings.

Mike and I arrive at A and T’s home to find them calm, A leaning on a chair, then moving to the sink, breathing deeply through the pain. I thought she was calm but clearly having contractions. T was getting some things together, and then we learned her folks were due to arrive soon and the details of what was to happen with E, who was still asleep. A looked so great, with her hair in a French braid, she was ready for work but so peaceful. I wanted to touch her, hug her, hold her but she was so calm and in a Zen place, I gently put my arm around her, asked how she was doing. She was good. She was ready to go to the birth center. T’s folks arrived and plans of who was staying, what cars would be driven and the timing got worked out.  Of course, I assumed it was still very early on in her labor, but once we arrived at the birth center and she was checked by the midwife we were all amazed to learn she was indeed 8 cm dilated. I was stunned. Shocked. Transition had happened, it would not be long. A and T would be parents again, my three girls would soon be a family of four.

The time went by quickly as A breathed heavy, moved around, groaned, moved some more, and then the guttural impending baby-sounds started. While I’m sure it wasn’t going by fast enough for her, it flew by for me. I can only remember one time where A struggled and worry was creeping in that he couldn’t fit, questioning would he be born vaginally? She was reminded by Nurse Judy (OMG, where was she when I had kids!?) to stay present, feel what was happening in that very moment and not to worry about later. Know that he will fit, but stay present in this contraction, this breath. Which was beautiful advice. While T’s mom snapped photos and T supported A at every step of the way, I tried to help and do whatever else was needed. Sometimes it was to hand something, sometimes it was only words. All the while I could only think about the fact that at any moment A was going to have this precious child in her arms.

While A was laboring and moving into a new position, E came in the room. I think it was a big surprise to us all. For A, the contraction and the sight of E was a lot. (It felt that way to me.) I instantly smiled at E and greeted her while sharing that the baby was going to come soon, but that her mama was okay. Keeping her calm was important but it was all completely true, and not long after E was back in the waiting room with her poppa, grandpa, and uncle. She seemed very satisfied. Along with T, A loves her more than anything in this world and that was one area of concern; if E would be scared to see her mama in pain; mama is the best calmer so, how would that go?? But, crisis averted, E just wanted to say Hi and then retreat back to being the center of attention to three men who adore her.

A tried the next position and another. In hindsight, I think it was getting to be push time, but, well, who knew? A special chair or birthing stool was offered and A sat right down in agreement. The midwife could feel the baby’s head and in what seemed like 3 seconds, he was born. I was shocked, there he was being caught and then his mama holding him. It was wonderful, he made it into this world, now at last on the outside of A. It was glorious, magnificent, and life-altering. A, my precious sweet girl, gave birth to her precious sweet boy.

This kind of laboring and birth was so new to me that at times I felt like I was literally hanging on, trying not to have worrisome thoughts, trying to be present, appreciate every moment. Like right after he was born, I felt this panic, how do we get her and him to the bed. There was blood everywhere in this small space, she’ll slide and fall. Heck, we’ll all slide and fall. We worked like busy bees around her and then she stood, took some guided steps backward and was sitting and then lying in bed with her boy. Just like every other concern, it disappeared into thin air and what was to be, was.

The midwife asked who was going to cut the cord, and I don’t think this had been decided. But as soon as I heard the words I wanted the honor. When I was asked, I happily agreed and it was C’s gran who cut his cord. Woohoo! I felt so proud, thrilled and loved to be able to help in this way. His long beautiful little body rested on A while they were both cleaned up. I leaned over and looked at his little face thinking, I love you, my sweetheart, I’m so thankful you are here. This is going to be some spectacular life. I could have just stared at him for hours. A even had to remind me that T hadn’t seen his face yet. We all balanced moments between marvel and helping clean/wipe/warm A and our new boy. The amount of blood was getting to me and the worry creeping in, but after a bit of air and talking to Judy (the most awesome nurse) I was back to my faith place; it would all be okay, A was fine.

When E came in the room, I watched this beautiful little girl take it all in; her brother, her mama, her mom, her grandma, me and the nurses/midwife. She was quiet but eager to see her new brother. Watching that moment was incredible; two miracles in this world meeting for the first time. I remembered A meeting her brother, Hayden; it was the same. That’s when my thoughts shifted from A to C and witnessing the beginning of these two siblings life together. It is one of the great blessings of my life. Tears welled out of pure joy. My daughter had a baby and now E has a baby brother. What started out as the day A gave birth grew into watching my grandchildren bonding. Maybe he didn’t have his name, C A M D E N, by that point, but his presence, his life was felt by his mothers, grandparents, uncle, and most especially his sister. 

Friday, February 19, 2016

Welcome Home Little Brother

It's been a whirlwind of a few days.

On Wednesday we became a family of 4. A did AMAZING. We will both write birth stories in the next few days.

Yesterday was a wonderful blur of baby cuddles and sleep deprivation. The Birth Center only keeps you for 4-12 hours after birth, so they send a nurse to you home for a 24 check up. They do the heel stick for genetic testing, the hearing test, check blood flow, and since he was coombs positive they got blood to check bilirubin levels to keep an eye on jaundice. Eventually they called to let us know the levels were slightly elevated and he would need to be checked the next day. We already had a pediatrician appointment, so we just planned on having them do it. Other than that (and some toddle meltdowns) it was a lovely, lazy day.

Today, however, has been more stressful. A's parents came down from Gilbert. We asked if they would hang out with E while we took C to the pediatrician. 2 of the 3 doctors at the office were out of town, so we saw the nurse practicioner. It took forever to be seen. Unfortunately they couldn't find yesterday's results. Once we finally got them sent again, they sort of freaked out about it, so we were sent to the hospital to get to get the second level because it would be faster than a regular lab. We stopped at the new house on the way and did a final walkthrough. It took about an hour to get admitted to the hospital to get the heel prick, then we headed home. About an hour after we got home they called with the results and his levels were high and they wanted him to be admitted to the hospital for phototherapy.

On top of that, E has been sick all week with a cold and fighting an ear infection, so she couldn't go to preschool.  Last night it became obvious she wasn't going to kick the infection without meds, so while we waited for the hospital to call and tell us a room was ready, I took her to the Walgreens clinic to get checked out. She does in fact have infections in both ears. Luckily A's parents could take her for the weekend.

So we're at the hospital for the next 24-72 hours. My parents are working on packing our house, A's are taking care of E. We're feeling a bit overwhelmed, but grateful for our family. I don't know what we would do without them.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

A Letter to Our Son

Dearest Son,

Well, it's ending just as it began.

We started out dreaming of you by counting the minutes, hours, days, and weeks until we knew for sure you were within me. When will I ovulate? When is the right moment to inseminate? We could barely manage allowing twelve days to pass before I could take a pregnancy test and hope to find news of your wee presence. Every day, I mentally marked one more day down until we could hear your miraculous heartbeat for the first time. I waited in fear, because I lost a baby before you and I couldn't imagine losing you, too. Every day I begged. "Please let this baby stay. Please let this baby become part of our family."

It seemed an eternity; it seemed to be the flap of the bird's wing. It soon was time to see you on ultrasound, to learn that you are a boy and that we are having a son and your sister is getting a brother. Maybe it's silly or repetitive to specify each of those things - but they were all three different realizations.

Halloween passed us by, Thanksgiving came and went, then Christmas and New Year's took their turns. Each holiday, we marveled at how fast you were growing, how quickly you'd be joining us. I wondered what your first Halloween costume would be, what you would think of your first Thanksgiving dinner, and what kind of trouble you'd get into at Christmas as a ten month old just learning the joys of pulling ornaments off our Christmas tree. Today I'm thinking about how all that's left between now and your arrival is Valentine's Day, and how I can't wait to take photos of you wearing the same cherub wings I made for your big sister when she was a baby.

We've had a lot going on these last couple weeks, so don't worry if our lives all seem extra crazy when you arrive, dear one. Our home has been sold, and we've bought a new one. We're all waiting to see if you decide to come before or after we've moved! It's up to you, of course. Mom is working hard to take care of us all, and I often feel guilty that I can't be of more help to her. In case you should ever wonder - she really is Superwoman. She's got it handled, but it's an unfair load for her to carry. Hopefully it won't last much longer.

I am 37 weeks and 3 days pregnant with you now, and that means technically you could arrive at any time and be considered "full term".

And so we're back, counting down the weeks and days and hours and minutes we have left as a family of 3, before your birth changes everything.

Dearest son, we are so excited to meet you and welcome you into this amazing, wonderful, zany family we've got. You are so loved.

<3, Mama

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Wherever is your heart, I call home

Today is a Brandi Carlile kind of day. In general, I'm pretty desensitized to famous people, it comes with my job.  I need to be professional when working with artists and I do my best to make them feel comfortable at my theater.  It's probably a good thing Brandi Carlile has never performed at my theater, because I would go total fan-girl. I don't even know what I would say, so I'm sure I would make a complete fool of myself.

I have never found an album that I connect emotionally with as much as "The Firewatcher's Daughter." (buy it here, you won't be disappointed!) So, as I sit at home feeling overwhelmed with the monumental changes the next 5 weeks hold for my family, I am listening and singing along.

We (somewhat on a whim) put our house on the market a few months earlier than we had planned.  We figured there was just enough time to sell our house and buy another before the baby is born. Well, we were almost right. It's been 2 weeks since our house went on the market and we have a contract on ours and our offer was accepted yesterday for our new house.  Unfortunately, our closing dates are the week AFTER the due date, so we will not have a house for a day or two and we will either have a newborn or A will be 41 weeks pregnant. 

I have a plan. It involves diagrams, color coding, a storage unit, stagehands, grandparents, hotel rooms, and a moving truck. I think I can pull this off. As long as A doesn't go into labor while I'm packing the truck, we'll be okay. But it still wakes me up in the middle of the night.  I still feel panic that I need to be doing something, but there's so much to do that I can't find the starting point. I revise what I said: I have a plan for the week of the move, but the next 4 include only one thing: pack. Way too vague. 

So as I try to center myself and find my way, I give myself one more minute to feel overwhelmed as I stare down the next road of our lives.  And I sing along--

"There's a road that's long and winding, it hollers home, I'm calling home"

Saturday, December 12, 2015

The second time around (long)

Far and wide, our friends all across the globe know our family is expecting a new addition. We've never been shy about our intentions to both carry at least one pregnancy - if anything, we have shouted it from the rooftops and always been open to talking with people about our family's differences.

Now that I really am pregnant with Little Brother, it's been an eye-opening experience in a myriad of ways. It's been touching for so many of our loved ones to excitedly ask me/us about how it is this time around with our role-reversal. Truly, it means a lot to have people ask and check in and I'm sure that sometimes our ability to swap pregnancies is fascinating. I'm glad people want to know how it's been different and how it's been the same, and that they're comfortable enough with me and my family to know it's okay to ask.

Before this pregnancy, I spent some time considering what those similarities and differences might be. I even started framing responses in my mind, mostly about how all pregnancies are different, even for one woman experiencing several subsequent pregnancies. In thinking about my answers and framing them before I knew what they were, I found another deep pocket of my own arrogance. Don't worry, they're plentiful, so even if I deplete this one, there are undoubtedly always more.

I am 30 weeks pregnant. 75% done. A little over two months to go. In the last 26 weeks (you know, the ones where I have been actually aware that I'm pregnant), I have learned some things. And here is where I admit some painful truths to you all: This pregnancy has been both harder and easier at times than I anticipated. It's been more rewarding and less rewarding than I'd hoped for. It's strained some relationships I didn't think would even be affected. It has been a mental, emotional, and physical challenge. And last... being the currently-pregnant partner to a previously-pregnant partner isn't always what I dreamed it would be.

Some of the more negative aspects I mention are the difficult truths for me, because as some of you know, I've been the most excited person around to get to experience pregnancy for nearly as long as I've been an adult. I've waited and waited my turn, ever since T and I were married in 2008 and I was stoked about having kids since well before that. Obviously, the two things (pregnancy and having kids) are not mutually exclusive, but it was always our plan so in this circumstance, they're connected. I have felt humbled and honored and happy and heartbroken, sometimes all in the same day, during this pregnancy. When I contemplated this glorious pregnant time in my life (before I was actually doing any gestating), I thought I'd be that exhaustingly happy, glowing pregnant woman who loved every moment. Observing myself as I've progressed through each trimester has been a disappointment at times. I have been hard on myself to buck up, not complain, and be grateful, because I found that the difficult parts of pregnancy aren't always something I can power through with sheer will.

It sometimes meant days on end of vomiting and feeling generally shitty while my wonderfully creative 3 year old begged me to play with her and having to tell her no. For awhile, it meant that my wife carried a much heavier load and even while knowing she was at the end of her rope, still telling her that her thoughtful idea of home-fried chicken nuggets was making me feel incredibly sick and to please stop. It's been months of inactivity on the online certification program I'm working even harder now to complete. It's been letting go of any idyllic time or energy to direct towards art projects, holiday-themed crafting with my kid, decorating my house, or even keeping up with housework.

But it's also been unfathomably magical. There is a whole new human growing within me. His genetics are shaped by a combination of my own and the man who also shaped half of E's genetics. This new person will share features and traits with my biological family, specifically my mother, who knows so little and has so few people who share any biological ties to her. I've gotten to feel this person's very first movements, be the very first voice he ever heard, and give him the first taste of what love is. These things have no equal. There is no trade in the universe that would cause me to do things differently if I could.

Perhaps thinking that I'm also giving him a thorough insight into human nature will make me feel less guilty about the challenges. After all, I'm showing him that although my love for him is perfect, I am not and never will be.

Now, think about all the things I've just told you, and try to cram them within an "alternative" framework of a family where both parents can and have experienced a pregnancy. Often, I find the assumption (even within myself and T) is that my pregnancy can only be easier/better due to having a partner who knows what I'm going through. I understand that is only logical.

In truth, even partners with shared events still cannot know the exact minutiae of the other's experience. How silly and naive it feels in hindsight, to have anticipated that T would know exactly what I am going through. After all, shared experiences are not exact duplicates of one another, they merely have certain pieces or parts that overlap. Also, T and I have very different body chemistries, different hormone reactions, different thought processes, and very different emotional responses to stimuli.

Yet again, we have found another area where communication of expectations is key. Mostly we discovered it after weeks of little offenses, disappointments, and internalized resentment. Ahh, the triad of all good marriages, right?

When T was pregnant, I couldn't get enough of her belly. The rest of her was cute as always, but the belly was new and exciting. I studied it day after day. I likely annoyed the crap out of her by touching her all the time, asking what the Cupcake was doing, what she felt like, and touching her some more. I was fixated on the pregnancy; on our baby that I was at significant risk of feeling left out of helping grow. Of course I wanted T to feel supported, but I also selfishly needed to be intimately involved and "in the know". I see now that these are issues of my own insecurities. But when I became pregnant, I suddenly expected T to behave exactly as I had behaved during her pregnancy. When she didn't, I mistook it as lack of interest. I kept thinking, "I thought we both wanted another baby, I thought you would be into my pregnancy and being involved, but you're not. Maybe you're drawing away from us; do you not want this child? Do you care at all?" This was incredibly insensitive and self-centered of me to ever think of T. I just had no perspective, no ability to get away and see that she was behaving as she needed to behave for herself and doing the best she could to support not only me, but our daughter through a rough patch. T doesn't have the same insecurities I do. She was never the one attached to The Idea of pregnancy and birth like I was - she carried E and birthed her because that's how we decided to grow our family, and she did an amazing job. But I'd always loved and fantasized about The Idea of pregnancy and birth. It's important to me in a different way. She feels connected enough to this baby through me and through E; she isn't threatened by the fact that she isn't carrying this child within her. So although T does love on my belly and enjoys feeling our son swim around, she doesn't NEED those things deep in her soul to love Little Brother. And that's a different kind of magic.

I've yet again come to the conclusion that we're not so different from other couples, or other families. Just two different people coming together to provide complementary traits for one another. Two people combining their lives in love. Two people not above arguments and miscommunication. Two personalities, two sets of needs. Two people trying their best to support one another through this crazy, often unexpected thing we call Life.

"So A, is it easier/better going through a pregnancy with a wife who's been pregnant herself?"
I really don't know. I've never been through a pregnancy with a husband, and I've never been through a pregnancy with a wife who hasn't been through a pregnancy, so I honestly cannot say. I think the only safe thing to say is that everyone is different and there is no way for one person to experience both. And even if there was, the fact still remains that not all pregnancies are the same within the same woman.

I'm thankful for the knowledge of and experience with pregnancy that T brings to the table. Sometimes I wish she knew less or were slightly more sympathetic, but it's exactly because of those reasons paired with her innate knowledge of me that cause her to push me to be my best self. She knows when I could do better and she knows when I'm really at the end of my rope. This is her responsibility in our relationship - to know me, to love me, to ground me in truth and logic and real life. I need those things.

She still helps me daily to be my own best self, or at least the best version I can muster at that point in time. In knowing and accepting these truths, I know that this experience is meant for me. Just like she's meant for me.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Follow-up Anatomy Scan

At the initial anatomy scan for this pregnancy, the tech had some difficulties getting Baby to hold still long enough for all the measurements she needed to take. She asked us if we'd come back in 4 weeks, and we said "OF COURSE!". Last week we went, and although the tech was able to finally get all the measurements, she also couldn't avoid it when Baby wanted to give us the Full Moon view of his bottom half.

Despite wanting to be surprised at the birth, we now know that the McGill family will be welcoming a son in February! 

I'll admit, I feel a little bit disappointed to have found out early. I was truly looking forward to finding out at the moment of birth, to letting T see and announce it to the room. I also loved the thought that we'd head into the birth with a short list of names for both boys and girls, and decide once we met Baby officially. Although we know we're having a boy now, we still plan to wait and name him after meeting him. I can't help but feel a little bit like something was taken from us. I'm not heartbroken by any means, but I was looking forward to the experience.

That all being said, I have very strongly suspected since I was 12 weeks along that this babe would be a boy, even sure enough to only refer to him in masculine terms. It was strange; I never expected to be THAT mother who had a strong intuition about it, I figured I'd be clueless and anything I thought would be simply a guess. But at 12 weeks, the midwife struggled to find Baby's heartbeat with the doppler, so she did a quick ultrasound to make sure everything was okay. The moment I saw that little seedling, there was a voice in my head that said, "Ah, there he is." It didn't feel as if that came from myself, so I trusted that I was being told something by someone who knew more than I.

This is the best image from my 24 week ultrasound. You can see Baby's profile, with his hand up close to his nose. 

The other thing we'd kind of hoped to avoid by waiting to find out is all the commentary about his gender. Now we get comments about how "it'll be so great to have one of each!" and "Ahh, you're done now since you have a girl AND a boy, right?". We just really dislike commentary on our family being based on gender. If I were pregnant with a girl, she would be no less perfect for our family and we would be no less happy. We may not be done, either, just because we have a girl AND a boy. No, he isn't already a troublemaker/heartbreaker/or any other label people slap onto little boys without knowing them. We may frustrate everyone with our desire to not plaster our kid in "Lil Slugger" or "A Treat for the Ladies" onesies - so be it. In fact, this baby will wear a good number of his sister's hand-me-downs. Heaven forbid!

I don't know who this little person will grow into. But it will be his choice, and I will not allow him to be labeled as anything other than himself. He is a person first, and a boy second. And we cherish all the people in our family.

Yes, we are thrilled. But we're no more or less thrilled about him because we know he's a BOY.

Although it is a bit easier now that we can tell E she definitely is getting a brother. <3

Monday, October 12, 2015

Thoughts on pregnancy loss

Mid October is already upon us. I love fall, even though we don't really get an autumnal season here, so this month is an enjoyable time for me. E and I have been spending every weekend morning out in our front yard among our harvest/fall decorations, enjoying the cool breeze and being outside without risking a sunburn. This is the first year of E's life where I feel she GETS it better, all the birthdays and holidays and celebrations, so I just know it's going to be a glorious holiday season. She's decided she wants to be a fox for Halloween and she's probably the most excited about trick-or-treating and eating the spoils of her efforts.

This year's autumn is different than any other, for a couple reasons. Obviously, I'm pregnant, which is drastically different than any other year. But on a deeper level, it's a time of grieving and reflection for me because the baby I miscarried early this year was supposed to be born mid-October. Appropriately, October is also Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance month. Since I lost that baby, my emotions have run the gamut. It's such a personal and private thing, to feel and know that my body lost a baby we'd waited and wished for so long. And yet, millions of women across the world are navigating pregnancy loss or infant loss, and the worst part is they're doing it alone. It's hard not to feel shame, to blame myself for what happened. I believe strongly that talking about it with our loved ones is important, if only so that the next woman it happens to doesn't feel shamed and lonely. 

Processing my grief has been a long road. I'm still working on it. When we learned that I was pregnant again, I had to process further. I guess I expected myself to get past the loss faster, particularly once my body was carrying another child. Why should I still long for the first baby when I now have this one who is growing so magnificently? Because they're not the same, I learned. I had dreams and hopes about the first child I was growing - that baby was already a person to me. And when I lost him, I lost all the things I'd been thinking of and wishing for that person. It's only natural that losing the first baby would affect my feelings about the next one, so when this pregnancy came along, I worried. I worried all the time, in every spare moment I had in which I wasn't sick or asleep. I tried really hard to be calm and trusting and accepting that my body could grow a healthy pregnancy, but I constantly would relive the profound sorrow of saying goodbye. In time, I passed the point I lost the first pregnancy and began to worry slightly less. Then I passed the end of the first trimester and started to really believe that a new family member would be born. Now we've passed our anatomy scan ultrasound and I've seen our little seal pup swimming inside me and it hits me like a ton of bricks that I love everything about this child. 

It bothers me that it took so long for me to see it. I feel guilt that this babe might have somehow felt that I wasn't all the way on board at the beginning. But I'm ready for you now, little selkie child. 

The time during and after the miscarriage, I thought fiercely to myself that if I ever (no, not if, WHEN, WHEN) became pregnant again, I would force myself to be grateful every day. I would cherish the time I got to carry another person within myself, to be responsible for growing another being. Funny, how when this pregnancy came along it shattered all the expectations of how I'd feel - because I felt like shit. That certainly wasn't in the plans. Some days, it was hard to remember that I felt so terrible BECAUSE I was growing another being. I didn't have any room for logic and reason. I didn't feel grateful, I felt angry because clearly, I'd paid my dues already by losing a pregnancy, shouldn't this one treat me nicely?! Turns out, it doesn't work that way. 

Now, we're already more than halfway through. Today, I'm so much closer to my own self again and I really am grateful about that. I no longer hate and resent all food - I can even cook food for myself! I can tolerate the smell of cooking food! I can boil water without it making my stomach heave! It's miraculous. The baby happily obliges me by fluttering and kicking and squirming around much of the day. My belly has begun to swell and really look like a round pregnant belly, despite how all my clothes make it look different than I perceive it. E enjoys talking about our baby and the things she will teach the baby (like how to crawl on sand into the ocean and do Crazy Eye). She's very good about being gentle with my abdomen and can hardly wait to feel the baby kicking. E also has started telling us that she's growing a baby in HER uterus, and her breasts will get milk, too. We've covered Biology 101 with her, but that hasn't deterred her enthusiasm for having a baby of her own. 

Today I feel all the things I wished I'd gotten to feel with that first child. I feel all the happy emotions I told myself I would feel when I got to carry another pregnancy. It may have taken me longer than I'd like, but I'm glad I made it. I can't promise how tomorrow will go, but for today, that's enough.