Friday, October 7, 2016

Thirty Years

Last month, I turned 30. T turned 30 near midsummer. It's a big year; a big season for our family. First year as a family of 4, first year into our most grown-up years yet.

My birthday is pretty close to E's, and frankly birthdays just lose their special-ness as we age into adulthood. They tend to fade even more when your vibrant young daughter celebrates hers a week previously. Our parents usually do a sweet, loving dinner and give gifts or money to celebrate our adult birthdays, and I always really appreciate it. I guess I was spoiled by my mom, who made my birthday into this incredibly magical day - even the year I turned eighteen on a weekday and lived 100 miles from home, in a dorm room, she still showed me how much she thought about me. It makes becoming used to these adult birthdays more difficult. I also find that I'm now old enough for people to start asking if I'm "ready" to become my next age, or if I'm dreading my birthday.

Maybe someday I'll grow to dread that date rolling around, but... I hope not. I guess thirty didn't feel like a big deal to me. I have everything I could want. I'm married to the love of my life and we own this home together, have two phenomenal kids, an adorable and sweet puppy, a good and steady job, a retirement fund, a savings account, insurance. I no longer know quite what to say when asked what I want for my birthday. Apparently asking for clothes for your kids, or necessary household goods is insufficient. My coworkers asked, and I replied that I wanted brownies. Hahahaha. (They outdid themselves with a lavish brownie sundae potluck, by the way. Because they're fantastic.)

When my wife asked this year what I wanted for my thirtieth... I knew I wanted something more. More than I've ever asked for my birthday. I wanted to book a photographer whose work we admire very much to take our family photos. This is a big gift because it's a fairly sizable investment, but I figured, we only turn 30 once, and C will only be a baby for a short span of time. I wanted photos. One of the plagues of both being photographers is that, while there are many photos of one parent or the other with the children, there are very few photos of everyone together. So we did it! I'm in love with them, and I'm so grateful that we were able to do it.

Sometimes, in the brief moments of silence, I think about my life. As the saying goes, the days are long but the years are short. Especially this first year of infancy for C. He's changing every day and I feel like it's going impossibly fast, and yet I still yearn almost daily for him to be older and develop more independence. Then I take that back, and wish for time to stand still. And then it's 7:30 pm, he's a crying mess, rubbing sweet potato into his hair in his high chair and E is arguing with us about not wanting to put on pajamas and the sink is full of dishes and there's a pile of bottles that need to be washed for tomorrow and I remember that I still haven't made E's lunch yet or packed my own lunch or stuffed the pup's Kong with kibble and peanut butter and the living room was hit by a 4 year old tornado in a Rapunzel dress and I think to myself, "I may never get to pee again."

In these moments, I will admit to sometimes missing my old life. The one where we could spend the whole day in bed watching favorite television shows on DVD. The one that I could sit at the table and literally paint for eight hours straight, stopping only to go to the bathroom. The one in which I could listen to whatever music I wanted, or stay up late to read, or eat a pint of Ben & Jerry's Phish Food ice cream without being accosted or made to share. And yes, I even miss being able to clean my house on my own time frame and without having to consider whether someone would eat my toilet brush if I left it unattended.

I tell myself, "I'm only human. It's normal to miss these things." I know that one day, these things will come back to me one by one as my children grow and need me less. And I know on those days, when I realize what the return of my own independence means, I will cry and wish for these infinitesimal, endlessly fast days back.

And so I take a deep breath and close my eyes and breathe in the scent of dirt and fresh cut grass from my daughter's hair. I smell the sweet milky scent of my son's breath as he giggles and coos and chews on my chin. I will wait for the laughter to bubble out of my daughter's belly like lava from an erupting volcano, and I will open my lids again to catch my son's brown eyes sparkling with joy as he gets to experience his first Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas this fall and winter.

I think about all those days and weeks and months and years in my early twenties that I spent wishing and waiting and yearning for children. I chuckle to myself before admitting that yes, there is room for all these swirling emotions and desires. I am so grateful; so fulfilled by these tiny dictators who have so thoroughly won over my heart. Easy days, hard days, in-between days... I don't have any regrets about my choices.

Thirty years seems like a long time... but I'm happy to have so much life left to live in front of me. I'm so happy to get to parent these little people and watch them navigate the world around them.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Six Months

And in a puff of smoke, suddenly six months have passed since C was born. He'll actually be seven months old in about ten days... yeesh.

These last six months have been challenging, for sure, but C is such an amazing little boy and the way I love him sometimes takes my breath away.

We've had a lot of challenges in our breastfeeding relationship, but it's become more important to me to preserve that than I had anticipated it would be. You see, in 2009 I had a breast reduction surgery, knowing full well that it may affect my ability to breastfeed any babies I have. I prepared for his birth, knowing that my body would likely not be able to make a full milk supply for him. I also suspected that I would have problems with him nursing because my nipples are flat - I worried there wouldn't be enough for him to latch onto. When he was born, sure enough, he couldn't latch properly. Our lovely nurse and IBCLC Judy, whose praises I cannot sing enough, helped us to use a nipple shield. The shield is a piece of thin, formed silicone that goes over the flat nipple in order to give the baby something to latch onto. There are holes in the tip of the silicone nipple, so milk can get into the baby. We got pretty good at using the shield, and I was satisfied.

But then we were hospitalized two times, and the second time C began refusing to nurse. He would get so worked up that he couldn't calm down enough to try to latch. Fortunately, we got one night nurse who saved our sanity and was able to help C get settled and latch. But after that, he had increasing problems with latching and nursing successfully. He'd lost weight while hospitalized, so we were under close scrutiny by our pediatrician, just as nursing became increasingly painful for me. I offered to let him nurse nearly constantly. We heard time after time, from family members and well-meaning strangers (and certain nurses who were jerks in the hospital), "My, he sure seems to nurse quite a bit! Does he ever do anything else?!" I never had the energy to explain why it took him longer, even once I did know why. I cringed and had to practice deep, concentrated breathing techniques to handle the pain stabbing through my nipples as C suckled.

We began offering him supplemental milk that I had pumped and kept frozen. T would give it to him, at first, through the Supplemental Nursing System via her own breasts. She was the first one to tell me that something was wrong with his latch. She suffered through his feedings just as I did, but with thin tubes taped to her breasts that he continually ripped off with flailing, frustrated arms. T pressed me about seeing Judy the IBCLC, she wouldn't stop telling me things I didn't want to hear. No no no no... our baby is perfect and if I just keep going, soldier through, it'll all be okay...

One day, T sat down and looked me in the eye. "You are not just going to power through this. This is not going to get better. We have to get help." My cracked and bleeding nipples that stuck to all my breast pads and bras agreed.

It struck me then that I really had believed I could power through it. I knew she was right. We made an appointment with Judy right away. I cried, trying to explain to Judy what had been going on and acknowledging that he wasn't getting enough milk; that I wasn't good enough. She gave me the space to compose myself and dry my tears before telling me that he was eating and gaining weight, just slowly, and that we were going to do everything we could to make the hard parts easier. Then she cradled C in her lap and gently began to evaluate his mouth. She believed he had a tongue tie and perhaps a lip tie. She noted that he struggled to latch, that he had difficulties getting all the working parts to coordinate in order to have an effective suckle. She suggested seeing a pediatric ENT and a chiropractor specializing in infants.

The pediatric ENT worked us in within a few days, and agreed with Judy about the tongue tie. He performed a frenotomy that day in the office - he clipped the flap of skin that was holding C's tongue too tightly to the bottom of his mouth.

Naturally, nothing's ever easy, and nursing didn't improve right away. We had to stretch open the cut in C's mouth with every feeding to prevent the flap from reattaching. We had to do tongue and mouth exercises with him so he could relearn how to latch properly.

Finally, after a couple weeks and several visits to the chiropractor, who told us he was all out of alignment, things began to settle into a more comfortable rhythm. He was gaining more weight; the pediatrician was satisfied.

Our final hurdle: the damned nipple shield. We used that for five months before we could kick it. It took some effort to get him off it, but once he realized that he got even MORE milk without it, he was ready to transition. I could have benefited from a slower transition time, because nursing for the first time without the shield HURT! My nipples had just barely healed from the improper nursing when I subjected them to nursing without the shield. Fortunately, we didn't end up with any more cracks. Since then, his weight gain has been very good and nursing has been relatively smooth sailing. I'm intensely grateful to be past those first five months of struggling to breastfeed.

You might be thinking to yourself that I'm a bit crazy to be "oversharing" all these intimate details about milk and breasts and nipples and my challenges. But I'm writing about this because as a society, we've lost the normalization of breastfeeding. As my wife so frequently bemoans, our culture has lost its generational knowledge of breastfeeding our babies. Many of us have mothers who didn't breastfeed us and are learning alongside us as we go. Issues that could be fixed with old traditional remedies or techniques now leave us stymied, in need of professional intervention.

Since C was born, two close friends of mine have experienced similar breastfeeding struggles. Both their babies had tongue ties, and one also had a lip tie. Both babies had weight gain issues. Both my friends worried and grieved and wondered what they were doing wrong.

The truth is that sometimes we just need some help. That breastfeeding, while very natural, doesn't always COME naturally. Sometimes it takes hard freaking work. That all babies don't breastfeed the same way, that some come with innate challenges.

We need to relearn breastfeeding culture, so we can all support one another. So we can offer sound advice to our daughters and our granddaughters when one day, they become mothers.

Now, I don't want anyone thinking that my life has been a shambles for the last six months. Far, far from it.

All I have to do is gaze into this baby's big sparkling brown eyes and everything else melts away. He's been a part of me, of us, forever. We didn't know he was missing because he somehow was with us all along. He is a perfect fit, this charming and bold boy. With his thatch of brown hair and a mischievous grin, he's marked his place in our family. He is just as much wonderful trouble as we anticipated he would be - unafraid when his sister was cautious, strong and forthright when his sister was gentle, more level when his sister was a baby of extremes. Both babies have been witty and clever from the start, though we had hoped C might be a better sleeper than he is. Oh well; you can't win them all.

Before he even turned six months, he was finding ways to get where he wanted to go. Scooting, army crawling, rolling, pulling himself along, wriggling. From the get-go, this boy has been so strong. Now he's full-on speed crawling and working on pulling himself up onto things. He is intensely curious and wants to be a part of everything. He is so into food! He loves mealtimes and experiencing any food he can shove into his mouth - even the chunk of bleu cheese he swiped off his grandfather's salad plate like a tiny ninja.

I am trying so hard to hold onto these precious, short, long, wonderful. frustrating, sleep-deprived days with my children but especially with C. He's growing so fast, and the days just slip through my fingers like sand in an hourglass. I know how fleeting this time will end up being, and I'm determined to just be with him in these moments when he reaches for me, and when he sings his milky song, and when he falls asleep in my arms, holding my fingers. Sometimes I feel as if I'm barely scraping by, and yet sometimes I wish desperately that he would stay small just a little while longer.

It's the best part of my life - watching my children grow and change and learning who they are. I am in disbelief that my baby is already halfway to turning a whole year old.

Happy half-Birthday, you sweet and wonderful child.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Dear Ev Jane,

You're about to turn 4 years old, my darling daughter. Four of the longest, shortest years of my life.

I dreamed about you for years, sweet one. Wondered what you'd look like, what things would interest you, who you would be and how you'd change me. I waited (not so) patiently for you while Mom grew you within her. I couldn't wait to touch her blooming belly every night and sing to you. As the end of her pregnancy grew near, Mom and I could barely contain our anticipation for your debut.

She came home from work four years ago today, around 5:00 pm, in tears that she was going to be huge and pregnant forever. I hugged her tight and didn't say anything, because there wasn't anything I could do to hasten your arrival. Sometimes I think it would be fun to be able to go back in time and tap myself on the shoulder with a knowing smile, and say, "Everything is going to change after tonight. Just you see. She's on her way." Four years ago, Mom's body was slowly going into labor.

EJM, you are a fixed star in my universe. You're exactly who I expected, when I dreamed of you all those years ago. You're sweet and kind, clever and funny, stubborn and good at looking for loopholes. Your laughter is contagious; your smile lights up the room. You are genuinely GOOD, down to the core. You've made me more patient; more understanding, and better balanced. I'm a better mama because of you.

I knew you loved us, but I couldn't foresee how deeply you would love your brother. Your love for him brings me to my knees with its power. You are the most natural-born mother I've ever come across and I am awaiting the magical day on which you become a mother, to see you with your own child for the first time.

Happy Birthday, my girl. I can't wait to celebrate with you at your Dress-Up party, with your Belle dress and cake and all our family and your friends. You are one of a kind, and I'm looking forward to this next trip around the sun with you.

Love always,

Monday, May 30, 2016

The Aftermath (long post)

The day C was born was magical; beyond compare. I was floating above the clouds; the sun pierced my every pore and I exuded joy and happiness.

We came home that same night, five hours after he arrived. Life was simple and fantastic, surrounded by family and takeout and hearts full of gratitude for this tiny new person. T and C and I slept together in our bed, curled belly to belly and heart to heart. The next morning, a nurse from the birth center came for C's checkup. His weight looked good - he had only lost a couple ounces off his birth weight and the nurse said he was doing well. 

At the birth center, blood was taken from his umbilical cord for routine testing. One test result came back very quickly, while we still were there. Our nurse came in and explained that his blood was something called "Coombs positive", and also that his blood type is A, but his Rh factor was not determined due to the Coombs. She was as puzzled about this mysterious result as the rest of us, but T and I had never heard of a Coombs test and weren't familiar with what it really meant. The nurse explained that it would put C at a higher risk of jaundice. We still didn't understand exactly what the Coombs was, but jaundice is fairly common and no big deal in newborns, right? Little did we know. 

So the nurse at his 24 hour visit drew a bilirubin test and sent it to the lab. That evening, one of the midwives called to say that his bili level was elevated, and that we needed to follow up with his pediatrician ASAP. We already had an appointment scheduled the following morning, so we figured we could get it rechecked then. 

Friday morning, my parents drove back into town and to the rescue. They stayed with E while we drove across the city to our new pediatrician's office. You see, this was our first experience with the new ped, since we were moving imminently and wanted the new doctor's office close to our new house. We just hadn't actually moved yet. 

The ped's waiting room was swamped. Our carefully researched and chosen doctor was on vacation, so we were scheduled to see his nurse practitioner. We waited an hour to be taken into the exam room, and another twenty before she actually came in to see us. They clearly were understaffed and had a lot of sick work-ins from over the weekend, as our state was number 1 for flu that month. Let's not beat around the bush, here: this first visit was an absolute shitshow. I was ready to find a new pediatrician's office after it.

The front office staff had none of our information on file, despite T having given it to them TWICE over the phone. The NP was extremely unprofessional and immature - unable to navigate the office's software system, and then she slid in a self-deprecating joke about having Down syndrome. They couldn't find C's bilirubin result from the day before, despite the birth center having faxed it over. They wouldn't allow us to simply leave and get another level drawn, despite the fact that the NP told us we were going to need another draw no matter what the previous bili level was. We tried calling the birth center to have them re-fax, but they were on lunch for another twenty minutes. We ended up waiting that twenty minutes for the office staff to flounder around and still not find the result, then we called the birth center again right when they reopened after lunch and they faxed it immediately. 

The NP said the level was extremely high and acted as if C was in imminent danger at that very moment. This was in direct contradiction to the "moderately elevated" result we heard from the midwife who had called the previous day. I had zero working relationship with this NP or with this office at all, so I was very suspicious. We went to the hospital for a STAT bilirubin test and the NP promised to call with results.

By this point we were very late for a final walkthrough on the house we were purchasing (Big House), and the agent and my parents had already been there for some time. I was feeling frazzled and blindsided. I hadn't realized that this bilirubin thing might actually land us in the hospital. I was so upset by the poor handling of things from the pediatrician's office that it was difficult for me to believe that there really could be a problem - I wanted only to believe that the ped's office staff were being overly alarmist. 

We finally made it back to our house. This whole week, E had a low grade fever and was complaining her ears hurt. Typically, we let ear infections run their course naturally, but she still wasn't kicking the infection, so T took the opportunity to take her to the Walgreens Minit Clinic for antibiotics. While they were at Walgreens, not only was our 3.5 year old daughter diagnosed with bilateral ear infections, but T got the call from the NP that we were being admitted to the hospital for the baby's hyperbilirubinemia, and we needed to get there immediately. She texted me the room number and instructions for being directly admitted. 

I was in a daze. I'd given birth two days previously. Our house was halfway in boxes, my parents were only visiting for the day, and I needed to throw things together for C, T, and I to go to the hospital. We didn't even know how long to expect we'd be there. We didn't know what to do with E while we were there. My parents graciously packed up things to take E for the weekend, then my mom got in the car with me and we drove to the hospital. T was at Walgreens still, waiting for the prescription to be filled and sobbing that our tiny new baby and I were at the hospital while she was stuck at the pharmacy. Finally they got her the meds, and she hurried home and packed E away with my parents for the weekend. Definitely not the strong, confident goodbye you want to wish your toddler while she's not feeling well and she's just become a big sister. 

I carried the baby in his car seat into the hospital by myself while my mom parked the truck. I carefully set him on the floor of the hospital room we'd been assigned as nurses bustled in and out, getting things situated. I was introduced to three or four nurses, as we were arriving close to shift change. We were in the Pediatric unit, and only one nurse there was familiar with "bili babies", so there was much confusion as to how his vitals should be taken and what things could be stuck to the baby while he was under the phototherapy lights. He was undressed and examined first by a nurse, and then by the pediatrician on call. A different phototherapy bed was wheeled in after the first was deemed non-functioning. My mom and I took turns holding him tightly to our chests - if we could just hold him close enough, we would surely awake and this all would have been a nightmare.

I looked down at his sweet sleeping face and felt his warm weight in my arms and I just cried and cried. What was wrong with my beautiful baby? The thought of having to blindfold him and place his tiny and nearly naked little body in the phototherapy bed was more than I could bear. He should be with his mothers, not cold and scared and alone in a hospital bed. Surely all this was overkill. Doesn't jaundice often resolve itself with plenty of breastfeeding and sunlight? 

My mom wrapped her arms around my body as I was racked with silent sobs and her tears and mine mixed on our cheeks. We had just managed to calm ourselves when T came in. I looked at her and lost it again. We sat together, crying and holding our newborn son as the on-call doctor came in and asked, "Is this a good time?" 

I couldn't help but give a choked laugh. "It's as good as it's likely to get." I croaked. To his credit, he must be accustomed to hormonal and emotional mothers, because he came in and was the very model of quiet confidence. He told us the plan for the next six or so hours, gave a short explanation about our blood types being incompatible, and left us with a nurse who was going to do the blood draws to get the whole thing going. 

Somewhere in there, my mother found the inner fortitude to leave us and the baby in the care of the hospital. After all, she had her granddaughter to care for and they had a 2 hour drive in front of them. I don't know how she did it, but in hindsight I admire her for being able to hug us tight and tell us she loved us and then leave. Thank you, Mom, for being what we needed, especially when I know it had to tear your heart from your chest. It's tearing mine out right now just thinking about how you must've been feeling.

After a traumatizing 30 minutes in the treatment room with 2 nurses trying to draw C's blood, we finally ended up back in his room, ready to settle in for the evening. It was already getting late; the baby needed the phototherapy.

I hated every single second that he lay in that phototherapy bed. I despised every moment he had to wear the blindfold to protect his eyes from the bili lights. My body ached for him. My heart broke open each time he cried and flailed around, looking for one of his mothers.

But somehow, we made it. In the early hours of the morning, a nurse came to do another bilirubin heel stick. Poor C had to have so many heel sticks, his little feet looked like hamburger. Around 5am, the test result came back that his bili levels had gone down enough that he could come out from under the bili lights. I cried tears of relief and happiness and wept as I watched T curl the baby up on her chest and sit, reclined, to hold him so I could catch some sleep. The hospital will not allow bedsharing, so she sat up and held him rather than lay him in his bed. Of course, this meant that T didn't get to sleep, but I think we were both so filled with gladness that in the moment, we didn't care. The next morning, she realized the price she paid for the lack of sleep-- she had caught E's cold.

We got released from the hospital in the afternoon, and went back to our little house across the street. Realization that life hadn't stopped while we were gone hit us as we walked through the door to a huge jumble of boxes and packing material, laundry and dishes and paperwork from both the birth center and hospital scattered around like leaves during the autumn. I'm not sure where T drew the inner fortitude from, but she took a deep breath and dove right back into packing. We'd lost 2 days of the time we had devoted to getting moved.

My parents arrived back with E later that afternoon, and she was out of sorts. She was nervous and unsure of things - our family was in emotional upheaval as well as preparing to leave the only home she'd ever known. I'm so impressed with that little girl, who came home without knowing what she was coming into. We had dinner together and did her normal nighttime routine and she settled right in.

The whole time feels like a jumble in my brain. Some of the timing of things is really difficult for me to remember. But I do know that we absolutely could not have pulled it off without the exceptional support network we have holding us up. T's parents spent a whole day packing up our kitchen while we were in the hospital and moving boxes into storage. My dad helped pack and move boxes as well. When it came time for the last day in our Little House, I readied an overnight bag for E - she was going to stay the night with T's parents, since our houses didn't close on the same day. Little House was set to close the 23rd of February, and the Big House was to close the 24th, so we had one night where we had to get a hotel room, and E slept at her grandparents' place. We packed a bag for ourselves to go to the hotel. I was nursing C as T's crew of coworkers arrived to help get all the furniture packed into the box truck. I finished feeding the baby, bundled us into my car and left all the work of moving in the hands of T and her crew.

I got us unloaded into the hotel room and tucked into bed, but sleep was elusive as I thought about T and how much work was left for them to do. I woke at 4:00 am, when T slipped silently into the suite and curled up behind me, one hand on our son who lay at my breast. She whispered the story of  her night quietly into my ear. My heart sank when she admitted that there still was a lot of work left to finish. The crew had gotten the box truck packed, floor to ceiling, and yet there were still more boxes to move, plus all the assorted leftover things like yard implements left at the Little House. She rested for a short time, then got up again and exchanged our SUV for her parents' pickup truck at 5:00 am to make a few more trips to the storage facility.

At 7:35 am, she came and picked me and C up from the hotel. We had to sign all the loan documents at the title company at 8:00 am. We did have one piece of luck - C slept through signing documents on both houses and the complications that came with it. That was as much luck as we would get that day.

While signing the Little House docs, our realtor got a phone call from the buyer's realtor.
"You guys are all moved out, right?" she asks us.
"Almost... there are a few things I just couldn't fit." T admits.
"Okay, but you are going back for them, right?"
"Yes, we're going back there as soon as we're done here." T affirms.

It turns out, before the loan even closed or recorded, the buyer's realtor was checking up on us.

Another complication arose when the loan officer informed us that we owed $19.00 on the house we were selling. No, they couldn't accept a credit card, only a check. Which we didn't have, since we were in the in-laws' truck instead of one of our own vehicles. T had to go to a grocery store for a freaking money order. The silver lining for her was that she could finally get cold meds since another night without sleep had left her in even worse shape.

Lastly and most horribly, while we were signing the purchase contract on Big House, I noted that ours were the first signatures. I asked the realtor how the purchase worked when the sellers didn't live in the continental U.S. She replied that they'd email the contract, the sellers would have to sign with a notary and overnight the contract back. I asked if that would delay the closing of Big House, and the title agent nonchalantly shrugged her shoulders and said, "Yes."

I think T just about lost it. "When were you going to tell us? We have a UHaul rented for only one night! We're staying in a hotel WITH A NEWBORN and we only reserved ONE NIGHT!"

We were dumbfounded that all the professionals involved in this transaction somehow missed that the sellers should be signing first, since they live in Hawaii and could sign the contract anytime.

Our closing was delayed by one day. T called and reserved a second night in the hotel room while I called UHaul and crossed my fingers that the truck that housed most of our possessions wasn't reserved for the following day. Fortunately, it wasn't and we were able to extend the rental.

We were angry and disappointed with the way this all went down, especially since we ended up having to spend quite a bit more money in the process than intended.

We told ourselves, "At least this is over with, and now we'll get a whole day to relax and do nothing until we can move in." Little did we know.

After signing the contracts, we had to go and have another bilirubin level drawn from C. Then we went back to the hotel and T slept awhile. She had gotten up and we were sitting together on the little couch, watching TV, when my phone rang. It was the pediatrician. This was actually the first time we'd spoken to our chosen pediatrician, and it was not the news we wanted. Not even a little bit.

"I know you don't know me, but I want to tell you that I'm typically pretty laid back about test results. Unfortunately, C's numbers came back pretty elevated, and I want him admitted back into the hospital."

I don't even have words to describe how I felt in that moment. Different levels of comprehension kept crashing over me, pulling me under the waves. He told me that not only was his bili level elevated, but it was higher than it had been before the first hospitalization. It was the highest value he'd gotten yet. Last time, I was annoyed about the pediatrician's office being overly cautious and resentful about being separated from my son.

But this time... this time I'd done some more reading and research and I knew that this time, it was serious. Terror gripped my heart as I looked down at my sweetly sleeping little baby and I allowed myself to consider for the first time what it might be like if we lost him. Due to the blood type incompatibility, he was getting worse. Bilirubin was building up to near-toxic levels in his body, and if those levels reached a certain penetration into his brain, it could cause permanent damage.

Between 2 hospital stays, 2 midwives, 3 pediatricians, and countless nurses, the exact cause and type of our blood incompatibility is still somewhat a mystery. The broadest base of understanding states this: somehow, my blood came into contact with his blood and recognized his blood as a foreign invader. My blood manufactured antibodies to kill the invader off, which meant that my antibodies were in his bloodstream, lysing his red blood cells and causing anemia and jaundice.

My blood type is O and my Rh factor is negative. His blood type is A and his Rh factor was unable to be determined. Incompatibility can be between actual types or between Rh factors. Say for instance his blood type is A positive (which is statistically most likely), my blood could have reacted to either the A or the positive Rh. Since I do have a negative Rh factor, I received 2 Rhogam injections to prevent future issues with positive Rh babies. I still don't know if there is a way to test which kind of incompatibility we ended up with, but everyone insists that it couldn't be an Rh factor incompatibility due to my Rhogam injections. No one was able to offer an explanation as to how our blood would become sensitized, either, since in order for the mother's blood to mix with the baby's blood, a traumatic event is supposed to happen during the pregnancy - which one did not. 

So, from our hotel suite, we packed yet another hospital bag. Wryly, T remarked how fantastic it was to pay for another hospital stay AND another night in our hotel room where we would not be sleeping. Feeling scared but having at least some baseline expectations about this hospitalization, we brought C back to the Pediatric unit.

We quickly learned that expecting a 7 day old baby to lie in the phototherapy bed for hours on end is much more challenging than asking a 2 day old baby to. We had to witness 3 different nurses attempt to set an IV on our tiny baby, the final success being set into his scalp after I personally had to restrain him so a NICU nurse could set the line. This time, phototherapy lights alone were not going to be sufficient. Luckily, we ended up with the same on-call pediatrician who had us before, so he knew our situation. He moved immediately to an IV antibody transfusion, which would combat the antibodies killing C's red blood cells. Because of all the procedural crap we had to get through first, the IV transfusion took place in the middle of the night. The treatment can occasionally cause a severe anaphylactic reaction, so C had to be very closely monitored during the transfusion. The liquid itself becomes cold as it passes through all the IV tubing, and when it entered his blood stream through his scalp it must have been really chilly for poor C, who was wearing only a diaper and expected to lie still in his phototherapy bed while cold fluid gets pumped into his veins. He was so upset; he screamed the whole time. T sat with him and stroked his arms and legs, she spoke softly to him and held his hand, but we both knew nothing could fix it other than the end of the treatment.

The night nurse we'd gotten this time around was terrible. She made the experience exponentially worse. She was uncertain of several protocols and procedures. She told me C was spoiled, had a temper, was such an angry baby! When I was trying to nurse him during his transfusion (amid forty thousand cords and tubes, blood pressure cuff and pulse oximeter) he was so upset he couldn't calm himself down enough to nurse. The nurse wanted to know if I wanted her to hold him so he would calm down. I was so taken aback by this woman who routinely made my newborn sound like he was throwing a tantrum. All my patience and understanding for the night was shot; gone.

Coldly, I snapped at her. "Why do you think being held by an absolute stranger would calm my traumatized newborn? Of course you aren't going to hold him."

Finally, after 2 hours, the transfusion was finished. As soon as the nurse took the IV antibody bag away, I ripped off his blood pressure cuff and pulse oximeter and all the leads adhered to his body and held him close to me. I felt his body calm down; felt the tremors and hiccups leave him as I rubbed his back and whispered my love into his ears. T and I cradled him close and bathed him in our tears and our kisses.

This hospital stay was torture. We ended up staying two days and two nights, waiting for his body to respond to the IV treatment. I detested laying him in the phototherapy bed, hour after hour. He was infinitely harder to calm down, harder to get to sleep beneath the lights, harder to keep his blindfold on. He became harder to nurse. Our breastfeeding struggles began during this hospital stay.

On that first evening, I got a text message from my brother, Hayden. He knew our closing had gotten delayed, and he also knew that our realtor hadn't yet managed to procure early possession of Big House for us. The delay meant that the people who helped T load up Little House weren't going to be able to help move into Big House as planned, so I'd put out a call for help via Facebook. At this point, T was looking at trying to move everything herself and we were panicking on several fronts. Beyond that, we weren't even sure when we would be able to get keys, because the title company was waiting on the contract to show up and then the loan would have to record before Big House was officially ours.

Back to Hayden's text: He told me he planned to pick up our dad early the following morning and drive straight to the realtor's office to get us early possession of Big House, and then they were going to help get all our things moved in while C and I were in the hospital. I called him back to talk to him; thank him. His voice was gruff and thick with emotion. I could tell he was very upset about C's being in the hospital, and he was irate that our realtor had let us down. He couldn't make C better, but he could get our move taken care of. Hayden told me that he and Dad were going to get us possession come hell or high water, and the realtor was going to regret not doing a better job helping us.

Knowing that T would at least have help the next day made me feel some relief. Then we found out that a couple of people from T's crew at work would also be able to help, lessening the burden further.

Sure enough, the next morning my dad and Hayden drove into town. While on the road, the realtor's office opened and my dad proceeded to start calling her. He told her who he was, and that he was going to be in her office within the next hour unless she could find a way to get them keys to Big House. After all, the documents were all present, loan already complete, just waiting on the recording. There was nothing at that point that could stop the house from becoming ours officially. He hammered her about why she didn't press the seller for early possession, why they didn't insist the sellers sign the contract early and prevent the delay in closing. At the end of the call, she simply gave my father the code to the keybox still attached to the front door. Dad called T and told her to meet them at Big House with the UHaul. Dad, Hayden, T, and several of T's crew spent the day moving in.

In the meantime, I tried to keep myself distracted. T had enlisted the help of our lovely friend Katy, who showed up at the hospital with ice cream in hand. She spent the whole afternoon with me while C screamed and I cried as he tried and failed to latch and nurse. She even fed me ice cream while I held the baby. My mom left her job that afternoon and also drove the 2 hours into town to help keep me company. When she arrived, Katy left.

I'll always be so grateful to everyone who helped my family that day. I badly needed the company, as I was so disheartened with C's newfound struggles with breastfeeding and still having to be under the phototherapy lights.

T and everyone finished up getting our things into the house, and brought dinner to the hospital room. That evening, we sat together and I got to hear the stories from moving. I smiled and laughed and ate and began feeling a bit better. We had our new house. C's numbers were falling, and the doctor planned to release us the next day.

The following afternoon, T went and picked up E from preschool, then came to pick us up from the hospital. Discharge papers in hand, I loaded C into the car and we began the 30 minute drive to our new home. Both kids fell asleep. As we pulled into our new garage, I saw our things were already put away inside. This was OUR garage now. I carried C inside as T carried E  inside, still asleep, and we sat down on our sofas inside our new house together, the first time as a family of four.

It was the most surreal thing. I was sitting on my own sofa, in my new house that already had all the furniture moved in and placed per my wife's directions. It was my home... my things... but I had no idea where anything was.

Never before had I had literally zero involvement in moving. Even as a kid, I would at least help pack my own room. But when we began packing, I was feverishly finishing my online program, and when T finished packing, I was giving birth or in the hospital. I was not permitted to move boxes or furniture in my extremely pregnant or immediately postpartum condition.

Overall, the whole thing was the most strange and enlightening experience I've ever lived through. From the high of C's birth, to the low of his hospitalization and all the insanity between, it was the most emotional week of my life.

We're home. C is healthy and growing. We're happy here, together. And we're learning our new home and our new family. 

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.