Friday, April 14, 2017

The one with all the details

The hospital is quiet in the dark of the morning.  When you're coming in for a scheduled c-section you wake up early.  There is an incredible sense of anticipation and excitement, so you smile a lot, and enjoy.

You know... while you still can.  Because, let's face it --'re tired.  It's early.  There's no such thing as a flattering photo, because you're super pregnant and hospital lighting isn't helpful. And, oh yeah...'re about to be cut open while still awake. So there's that.

I felt pretty calm all morning.  My sense of confidence that I was making the right decision outweighed the nerves over having the actual surgery.  The hard part was that this time, I knew exactly what I was walking into.  I remembered how I felt the day Leah was delivered, and how long recovery really does take.  So there was definitely a little more of an underlying edge, but also greater steel in my resolve.  I felt the anxiety, but I also had to let it go.  This is how we meet our baby, and whatever happens to me, he'll be safe.

Although, just to put my resolve to the test, right as I got up to walk into surgery, my water broke.

Ha!  Because, of course it did!

And in a really, comically big way.  Exactly like in the movies.  You could almost hear a pop! and there it was, all over the floor.  Go figure, right?

But I wasn't in any kind of serious labor, although I had a few contractions here and there, and the fact that my water had broken changed nothing in the way of how high up and how big a baby we were expecting.

Casey didn't get to go in while they were putting in the spinal block, which was news we hadn't expected.  Seven years ago in Boulder, he was able to be with me during that part, which is scary and sterile, particularly when you're alone.

They got me situated on the table, brought Casey in, and it was off to the races.

I am absolutely amazed at how quickly they can get those babies out.

His little cry undid me.  I couldn't see him, but I could hear that beautiful sound.  It is the very best sound in the whole world.  It seemed to take forever while they checked him out and cleaned him off, but I'm sure it was really just moments.  He pinked up so quickly, a nurse made a comment that it was concerning.  I'm not sure whether she was serious.

Then, they did something which they didn't do seven years ago - they brought him to me.  8 pounds 10 oz of naked baby boy, and let me have skin to skin time while I was open on the other side of the curtain.

It was heaven.  I remember thinking with Leah, this is heaven, right here in the middle of hell.  I so feared that surgery all those years ago - it was absolutely my worst case scenario short of endangering Leah's life.  As they laid him on my chest, that same thought came back to me.

The love of a mother is so powerful.  So, so very fierce and strong.  I am always overwhelmed.  When you hear the cry, when you look into their eyes and feel the beautiful weight of their little bodies on the outside for the first time, even the fact that your own body is literally open - things that should be on the inside aren't - cannot hold a candle to the overpowering joy they bring with them.

As they finished stitching me back together, they bundled up my special little bundle, and Casey got a chance to hold him.

And then it was over.  They wheeled us back to recovery, and that was that.

The surgery went well.  The only hiccup was that I had a really good spinal block.  Which, on the surface, doesn't sound like a problem, but I was numb all the way through my chest and arms.  That made it difficult to hold and touch my little guy, and it also created a lot of pressure on my lungs.

I brought this up to the doctors, only because, well, it seemed like it might be important.  Pressure on my chest while still open on the table?  I just wanted to check and make sure everything was okay.  I was reassured that it was normal.  But it didn't resolve itself, and so I told them again that I still had pressure.  I'm not sure exactly how or why, but they ended up giving me a good dose of morphine, interpreting my concern as pain.

Whew.  Morphine.

I would make a lousy drug addict, because the morphine was really a shot to the gut.  I was nauseous, out of sorts, and the rest of the day looked a lot like this:

I was pretty foggy until sometime after midnight.  I was even worried about having the kids visit, because I didn't want to scare them.  My speech wasn't particularly clear, and the morphine made me sooooo groggy.  It was bad.

But even so...

he is worth every second. 

Friday, April 7, 2017

He's Here!

Our precious Luke Eli arrived at 8:39 am.  
8 pounds, 10 oz.  20 inches long
15 inch head

He is so, so loved.  You can't see all the tears I've just finished shedding having heard that precious, strong cry for the first time. 

Look at that tiny bundle of wonderful!

And how does the crew feel about him? 

We think they're pretty smitten.  

The best days are always when babies arrive.  This has been perhaps the best day of all.  All my sweethearts, together in one place.  

We are so, so blessed. <3 p="">

Thursday, April 6, 2017

On the last day I'll ever be pregnant

There is something kind of special about knowing that this is the last day I will ever spend housing another human inside my body.

March 10, 2010

I've often wondered, through the years, how I would feel on reaching this milestone.

Because, though intellectually I've always known this day was coming - let's face it, I'm not a Duggar, and 6 or 10 or 19 children are definitely not in our future - I've had a hard time imagining that a day would come when I would ever truly feel that sense of closure over growing our family.  Babies are a blessing, and I was pretty confident that a I would ever feel done.

Well, that was before adopting.  Before regularly single parenting four children for large stretches of the year.  Before having a pregnancy that has taken me off my feet for literally months.  Before having two with special needs at completely different ends of the spectrum.  One with trauma, one who is incredibly gifted.  Plus, you know: soon-to-be three more.

This morning?  I awoke with only a sense of joy and finality.  I'm so ready to meet this boy.  So ready to let him complete our family.  I know that it is time to focus on the big job of turning really fantastic little people into kind, compassionate, awesome adults.  I also recognize that this is no small task.

Eaaaarly, early morning, August 28, 2012

We had rather a lot to do before this baby arrives, and because of all our hospital fun, there is only one week between bringing Livvy home and embarking on our own hospital adventure.  So we had to prioritize.

I took Leah on a date to see Beauty and the Beast yesterday, something I've been wanting to do since before the hospital.

We also needed to to stock the freezer, knowing that I'll have to be off my feet after surgery.  Casey and I spent about three hours yesterday stockpiling food.  We made 9 big meals - hopefully enough to feed even our big crew and still have left overs.

Because of the way our house is situated, the baby will have to share our room for the foreseeable future.  Eventually, we'll have to finish the basement so Jake can move down there.  Livvy will move out of the nursery and into Jake's room, and then the baby can move to the nursery.  Hopefully (ideally... maybe) sometime this summer (HA!  We'll see!).  For now, though, there was significant cleaning and organizing that had to happen in the Master bedroom.  Baby items that needed to come up from the basement, take a spin in the wash and get set up and ready to use.  Just general readiness, particularly since I'll be spending more time in that room with the baby after tomorrow.

I'd also been wanting to get a pedicure since.... I don't know.  Last year?  I was going to do it when Casey initially got home, but then the world got crazy.

Luckily, Jess offered to have one last best friend outing before this baby is born, so we took this afternoon to do that.

August 4, 2014

Which is when all the BIG fun really began.  Because, at about 2:30 this afternoon, I had a HUGE contraction.  Or, you know, a contraction that felt huge to me, because I've only just come to grips with the idea of NOT having any.  I was SO not in a space to have to have contractions!

I got through it.  One contraction... no big deal.

And then, before too long, another big contraction.

And before I knew it, we were tracking them.  10 minutes apart, solid and decently heavy labor contractions.  OY.

There was nothing left to do.  They were either going to go ahead, or stop (remember days and weeks of prodromal labor with Olivia?  Because... I DO!), so we went and did our toes.  And I am pretty sure my best friend was on the edge of a heart attack the entire time as the contractions went from 10 minutes, to 9, 8, 6, and 5 minutes apart.

She is so much smarter than I am, because I would have been yelling, "YOU'RE IN LABOR, YOU CRAZY FOOL!!!"  She kept her mouth shut until I actually asked for her opinion.  It was both scary and reassuring to watch her eyes well up with tears when she told me how much she didn't want me to repeat Logan's delivery.  She's been to all of mine.  She knows what I've been through.  I scared her four years ago when I couldn't get him out.  I scared her even more in the aftermath, when I was hemorrhaging and they were talking about doing a blood transfusion or taking me to surgery.  Luckily, neither of those came to pass, but she clearly remembers.

Yeah.  If I had any doubts about taking him C-section, there was no greater confirmation than in my best friend's face.

I came home and Casey convinced me to get in the bath.  I didn't know what to do.  Call the hospital and tell them I needed to do a c-section tonight?  Let it progress, wait and see?  

My water hadn't broken, and I hadn't yet crossed the great divide into what I would consider to be true labor, so I decided to lay down and take a nap.  I was still having some light contractions when I woke up, but they were noticeably less intense, although still coming about 6 minutes apart.  By 8:00, they had disappeared altogether.

Crisis averted.

So we went back to it: packing hospital bags, finalizing schedules, writing notes to the kids and organizing the few little gifts we'd bought for them to wake up to in the morning when Mommy and Daddy are gone.  

We're leaving for the hospital at 5:45... and there will be a baby very soon thereafter.  And I am so, so exited I can hardly stand it!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Decision Tuesday

Oh, my sweet little son.

I am so happy you are in there.  So, so happy that you are safe, healthy and strong.

And... big.

I had another doctor appointment today.  Last week, during all the craziness and worries of hospitals and sick everybody, we had a glimmer of hope and good news: I was measuring - for the very first time pretty much this entire pregnancy - on schedule!  37 weeks exactly.  Waaahoo!!!

And, for the first time since week 33, I hadn't had any pre-labor scariness.  Very few contractions.  Less pressure on my downstairs.  No more weird discharge or losing of my mucus plug.  Despite the stress that was happening all around me, pregnancy-wise?  I felt better than I have in months.

But this week, well... I measured 41 weeks even though I'm 38.  This week, we did a size ultrasound that estimates he is 8lbs 13 oz.  His head was over the 100th percentile, estimated at 15 inches.  The ultrasound tech said that sometimes the estimates are wrong, but even allowing for that, she's confident he wouldn't be less than 8 and a half pounds if he were born today.

His ultrasound photo - which looked pretty good at 35 and a half weeks when it was clear and precise - looked unrecognizable today at 38 weeks.  She couldn't get a shot because he's so smashed in there.  He literally looks like he doesn't have a nose, it's that flat against his face, and his hand is inseparable from his head.  His ear is sticking out of his shoulder.  It was comical to watch her try to get any good photos.

Obviously there are women out there who can carry 9 or 10 pound babies; I am not those women!

After this news, the doctor asked me about  my preferences moving forward.  I answered immediately that we'd like to proceed as planned, and give natural a shot.  I wanted to do a membrane sweep to see if we could help give him a jump start so that he doesn't get too big, and she was willing to honor all of those requests.

However, now that we're definitely in the category of "big" baby, there were a few things she had to warn me about: 1) I would have to go into labor spontaneously prior to 41 weeks, and women with big babies can struggle to do that because the babies are so big, they don't engage in the pelvis. 2) The number one risk associated with birthing a big baby is shoulder dysplasia, which is one of the more dangerous complications on the delivery table.  Shoulder dysplasia is when the head has been born, but the shoulders are too large or get stuck behind the pelvis and significant intervention is called for to dislodge them.  There are a number of things they can try, but she had to warn me that if nothing works, they will break baby's arm and collar bone in order to get him out in those critical moments.

I talked to my husband.  I called my mom.  Both of them were pretty clear that I am crazy.  Why? they asked after I'd laid out the pro's and con's, Why are we even having this conversation?

And the more I thought rationally about it, the more it became obvious to me.  I've written here that I know my body, my pregnancies and my labors better than ever before.  Wanting with all my heart to change the rules of the game doesn't mean that suddenly my body will respond differently.

1) I already struggle - can't, in fact, to date do it on my own - to get baby's head to engage in the pelvis.  Now I have a baby whose physiology makes it extra difficult.

2) I vividly remember that desperate, hopeless feeling of having Logan stuck, and knowing with everything in me that I would not be able to get him out on my own.  It was one of the most awful feelings I have ever experienced in my entire life.  It was downright dangerous, and I swore I would never again put another child of mine in that position.

3) Shoulder dysplasia.  I mean, really?  I would never - could never - knowingly take a risk like that.  Not ever.  I understand that so much of hospital speak is CYA, that they have to inform me of this even if the risk is minuscule.  But, really?  It was over from those words.  I'd never knowingly put my baby in harm's way if I had it in me to control the outcome.

4) The very last straw was my own, dysfunctional body.  When the doctor attempted to sweep my membranes, my cervix was sitting so high that she couldn't reach it.  A combination of very uncomfortable shoving and  actually pushing down on the top of my uterus to bring it into range was the only way we finally accomplished it.  The lesson?  When I say "high up," I really, really mean it.  In fact, things were lower at 33 and 35 weeks and have progressed up rather than down.  Cool.

So, you've probably gotten there by now too...

We're going back for one more!  Which also means that we are having a baby on Friday!  Quite the nice way to bookend all these pregnancies, really.

It would be easy to feel a little sad that I am never going to have that natural labor I've sought for more than 7 years.  Instead, I'm feeling really happy.  He's going to come out.  He's going to be safe.  I have four beautiful, healthy children when 100 years ago - or perhaps even as little as 50 or 60 - I would almost certainly have lost them or died myself.  I'd never have gotten Leah out safely.  Game over right there.

We are so blessed - so very, very blessed - to welcome our beautiful man into the world.  I can't wait to see you on Friday, Baby Boy!

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Mr. Toad's Wild Ride

Some trials in life leave you beaten.  Broken.  Unable to endure the heavy weight of what you've had to carry, usually after a day or a moment so defining, the world simply looks different on the other side.

Other trials are softer.  Not so traumatic on the surface, yet the daily grind of walking through them  day by day, sometimes minute by minute, steals the joy and energy out of life and makes it feel... wearying.

Our family has been walking through the second kind.

It seems, in some ways, like we are continually waiting to get our feet back underneath us.  It is a slow process, like facing a never-ending hike through the desert.  We keep pushing, putting one foot in front of the other, but it is a slow trudge through unfriendly territory and we're all pretty desperate to soothe our blisters, find respite from the hot sun and have a drink of cool water.

These last few months have been a lot like that, as I've slowly watched my body become more and more overwhelmed and it became clear that I could do less and less.  With my mom here in these last few weeks, we were kind of in survival mode until Casey could come home and help relieve us.

He got home on Monday night (3/13) , and we all breathed a sigh of relief.  We had one great day on Tuesday, getting doctors appointments and long-standing baby errands out of the way.  We started the process of getting our feet underneath us.  We had a little girl's seventh birthday coming up over the weekend, and 9 months of baby stuff that all needed tending to over the next four or five weeks.  But it was do-able with two of us there to tackle it.

And then the coughing started.

By Wednesday night (3/15), it was clear that we were in for something else.  Casey and I took turns pulling nursing duty.  Leah skipped school on Friday, and we made the tough decision to cancel her birthday party as she was looking pretty bad.  By Saturday, both Leah and Logan had it, and I spent most of Saturday and Sunday night nursing two kids whose hacking coughs had them up literally all night long.

Monday morning (3/20), we took our little sickies to the pediatrician, where it was quickly determined that there was a bigger problem: Leah's oxygen was only at 86.  In other words, dangerously low.  The pediatrician finally convinced me how low when she told me that if it was her child, she wouldn't let her be in the car without oxygen even for the length of time it takes to get to the hospital.

So, an ambulance was called.  My baby was loaded into it. Off we went to Children's Hospital.

I am so lucky that we have worked hard to normalize doctors, police officers, firemen and ambulances.  We take them cookies several times a year, yell "THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE!" as they go by with their sirens blaring and regularly stop them at the grocery store to thank them as well.  It pays off, people, because Leah was not remotely scared of being in the ambulance.  Sick as she was, she lay there quietly and calmly and had sweet discussions with the firemen.  Mom, you see, was not allowed to sit in the back with her.

I didn't take any pictures of all the scary stuff - I didn't get my wits about me enough to take pictures until the third morning, by which she was mercifully looking much better.  Her O2 was low for the first 36 hours or so, and she required about 3 liters to keep her numbers north of 90.

It became clear very quickly that she was turning a corner.  She was still sick - viral pneumonia was the final diagnosis - but her numbers rebounded after 2 nights on oxygen and we were discharged on Wednesday afternoon (3/22).

We went home, exhausted (the hospital is not a place for anybody in their 36th week of pregnancy.  You can't sit.  You definitely can't lay.  You can't sleep.  Everything in me was sore and full of worry until she turned that corner) but so thankful that what she had was so easily treatable.  One of the respiratory therapists had passed on a list of classes and resources which also included "End of Life Transition" and "Sibling Therapy for End of Life"... it was humbling reminder of how easily we were taking our baby home.

Leah, Logan, and by this time, Casey and Olivia too were all in bad shape.  I spent Wednesday night going back and forth between the bedrooms, nursing children, giving breathing treatments, changing cold rags and trying to give Casey a chance to sleep and recoup.  I know that night, I didn't sleep at all until sometime after six a.m.

They all had a follow up appointment at the pediatrician the next morning, which Casey took them to so that I could sleep.

But it wasn't long before my phone was buzzing.  Livvy's O2 levels were at 83, and they needed me to pack a bag and come to the office.  We were about to repeat what we had just been through with Leah.

So off I went, watched her be taken out by stretcher and loaded onto an ambulance and we went to Children's North, supposedly for the same process big sister had just undergone.

It quickly became obvious that things were not going to be quite so neat and tidy.  She stayed Thursday night at Children's North, on three liters of oxygen as sister had been, and she was getting worse, not better.  The decision was made to transport her to the main campus, and off we went in an ambulance again.

Poor little pumpkin.  When she got there, we climbed the intervention ladder quickly.  First, they upped her 02 from three to eight.  That didn't work.  They put her on the next level intervention: heated high flow at 8.  That didn't work.  Next, they went to a pressurized oxygen mask called a Bi PAP.  The next step was a breathing tube... fortunately, by the time they got the BiPAP turned all the way up, she was getting some relief.

Meanwhile, I was taking a turn for the worse.  This was Friday - 37 weeks pregnant, coming down with whatever nastiness the kids had, and having slept something like 12 hours in six days.

It was determined that Livvy would be going to the ICU, and if I thought the regular hospital was inhospitable to pregnant ladies, the ICU was even worse.  No in-room bathrooms.  Constant monitoring.  A crib instead of a bed, so I had to be on my feet even to support her.  I was done.  And terrified.  What if Baby Boy should happen to make his appearance in the middle of this mess?  What would happen to him?  I was sick.  Dad was sick.  All his siblings were sick - enough to end up in the ICU!  I couldn't even begin to think of how awful it would be.

Thankfully, my mom stepped in to give us some relief.  She bought a box of masks and came - again - to run my house and care for my kids so that Casey could go to the hospital and take ICU duty and I could come home and attempt to rest and care for myself and the baby.

God bless that husband of mine.  God bless that mother of mine.

I came home late Friday night.  In tears.  I cannot describe how deeply it hurt me to leave my precious baby behind me, inside that hospital because mommy wasn't strong enough to keep going.  I knew my body was beyond what it could handle.  I knew I was getting sick and had to stop and care for myself.  I knew I was 37 weeks pregnant.  I knew Casey would take excellent care of her.  AND... it broke my heart to be leaving my sweetheart in her time of need.

It was awful.  

She had already been given an IV.  We were already on a regular deep suctioning schedule.  They would add to that fun a feeding tube, continual EKG monitoring, blood pressure cuff, pulse-ox sensor and the full-time BiPAP mask.  Poor little sweetheart.

Meanwhile, Leah had started an antibiotic that turned things around miraculously for her.  She'd had no improvement in her symptoms for nearly 10 days; she started on an antibiotic and in 24 hours she was showing significant signs of improvement.

Logan was still coughing much of the way through the night and unable to find relief.  I was getting worse all the time.  And had given myself pinkeye in both eyes, because I am absolutely stupid.  I had been wearing masks all week at the hospital with the girls, but it never occurred to me to seal those babies up along the nose and cheek line.  So all week, as I was getting sick, I was breathing those germs directly up and into my own eyes.  Say it with me people: DUH.

Sunday morning, I went to the doctor.  And, mercifully, was given a good regimen: antibiotic for pink eye and sinus infection, steroid for bronchitis.  If this baby was coming, I HAD to get well.  I had to have some peace of mind that at least he would be safe in the arms of his own mother.  I didn't know where we would go or how we would figure out any of the next steps, but I couldn't risk giving my little guy something with his first breaths that could literally kill him.

On Sunday, my sister showed up unexpectedly as I was getting ready to go to the doctor.

My cavalry.

In the absolute kindest, most generous and wonderful act of service anyone has ever done for me... she cleaned my house. 

Cleaned it from top to bottom.  She put toys in the washing machine and in the dishwasher to sterilize them.  She sprayed and scrubbed every single hard surface: banisters, cabinet fronts, every piece of furniture, baseboards, in between banister railings, window tracks and as many of the walls as she could reach.  She wiped every fan blade and ran all the curtains on a hot cycle in the dryer. She washed all the sheets and every blanket and pillow in our entire house. That woman was determined that I have peace of mind and know that - whatever else might happen - at least my house was safe and germ free for the little guy of ours.

Holy moly.

It's hard to explain in words, but she literally brought light and life back into our home.  Walking by Livvy's empty room hurt my heart.  But after Kelsey got her hands on it?  Suddenly it felt like we were anticipating her return instead of mourning her absence.  Instead of feeling sad and overwhelmed, I felt hopeful again for the first time in days.  That clean, fresh house said: everything is going to be okay.

Livvy was still dicey, but by Monday morning she began showing signs of improvement. They disconnected a few of the bigger items (IV, feeding tube) and began weaning her down from the high level interventions to lower ones.  On Tuesday, they moved her out of ICU and into a regular hospital room.

We petitioned our pediatrician to give us the same antibiotic for Logan that had worked so well for Leah.  I was showing signs of improvement, and went to relieve Casey so that he could go to the doctor and have a full night's rest at home.  My mom continued to man the fort, and somehow, everyone was getting through.

I have to mention: I am so humbled by the responses of my children through this whole ordeal.  We've worked really hard with them to help them practice self-control from a young age; to understand that sometimes in life we have to do painful and hard things, but throwing fits, screaming and crying just doesn't help.  They are not usually squeamish about things like getting shots, they love the dentist and their doctor and they all take the attitude that there isn't anything to be afraid of.  Logan literally had his tooth extracted and shed only one single, silent tear.  They're tough.

Our kids were absolute champions in the hospital.  Both of them, but particularly Olivia.  Every single nurse we had commented, in genuine awe, about the fact that she is so obedient, strong and willing to sit still and allow them to do those awful things to her.  She would cry, and she would tell them how much she didn't want them to do it.  And as long as the doctors and nurses would go slowly, validate her protests and tell her what they were about to do, we almost never had to forcibly hold her down for any of the procedures she had to endure.  She would willingly lie down, squeeze my hand and look in my eyes, and be comforted through these awful procedures.  It was truly amazing.  And so humbling that such a tiny girl is even capable of that kind of poise and self control.

They were both amazing in the hospital, and everyone did just as well at home.  There was serious disruption to every single aspect of their lives, and they not only got through it but did so with flying colors.  I could not have been more proud of the way this family pulled together.  We needed so much support, but our village rallied around us in a really huge way: meals, house cleaning, cards and messages and prayers, my mom giving up everything - her entire week and everything she had planned - to help us when we needed it most.

It was a really difficult experience.  Some of the most difficult, uncertain, scary and emotional weeks of my adult life.  But there were also so, so many tender mercies.  Starting with the fact that Casey was home to begin with - this was the trip he cancelled because the baby was measuring so huge.  I didn't go into labor (thank goodness), but it was worth all that uncertainty from the previous weeks to have him here with me.  We absolutely couldn't have done it without him.

And, on Friday (3/31) - 9 days after she left - we got to welcome our little Olivia home.  We were all back under the same roof for the first time, really in two weeks.

I could not have been happier, more relieved or more grateful.  I cried all day that day.  Tears of joy and gratitude.  There is such great peace in having all the little duckies back in the nest; in knowing that we were all safe, healthy (for the most part) and together.

Liv is still on oxygen through the night and at nap times, but it is only a quarter of a liter.  She has a follow up appointment on Monday, and we'll see if she gets the same antibiotic that has been so helpful for everybody else in this house.

And now... after literally months of waiting, of marking time, of overcoming obstacles... we can begin to go forward.  I am 38 weeks pregnant, so how far we'll get remains to be seen.  But I'll get to sleep in the same bed as my husband for the first time in almost three months.  We'll get to enjoy our family, together.  And, we'll get to do a few of those things that will help us choose joy and celebrate the little person who is joining our family.

It has been a wild ride.  One we're thankful to say we can put behind us.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Spring has sprung, and the package is huge.

You know those adorable quotations you find for the nursery when you're having your first child?  Things like, first we had each other.  Then we had you.  Now we have everything.

Well, when you're cooking human #4, which actually ends up #5 because of adoption, those adorable little sayings aren't quite as endearing.  Or little: 

First we had each other.  Then we had Leah.  Then we had Logan.  Then we had Livvy.  Then we had Jake.  Then we had you.  Now we have everything.  And we're really, really tired.  

Despite the fact that it is March - hardly after St. Patrick's Day, no less - the view from my window is lovely.  The grass is turning green in our yard, and delicate little blossoms are emerging on all the branches.  As I type this, it's nearly 80 degrees.  The winter world is bursting into new life. 

At 36 weeks, bursting is one of my favorite words. 

It's just so descriptive.  And appropriate!

My husband came home earlier this week.  Can I just tell you?  The level of relief was pretty incredible.  Literally palpable.  I could feel the tension drain away - whatever happens now, it's okay.

We celebrated his homecoming with a day of baby-oriented fun.  First a trip to buy a handful of pairs of new cloth diapers, then a tour of our new hospital, lunch, and last but not least, my 35 week doctors appointment.  The best part?  My mom had the kids, so we got to do all of those things just the two of us.  It was glorious.  

The purpose of the appointment was to determine if I was in better shape physically, and if I could officially resume some-what normal activities.  And, because I was measuring so far ahead at my last appointment, they also wanted to do an ultrasound to check his size. 

It was a great appointment.  I am looking much better physically, and was cleared from bed rest.  I'm dilated, which at 35.5 weeks is not as concerning as it was at 33.  And the best part? 

We got to see an amazing, clear picture of our sweet little man.  Isn't he incredible?!  Look at that precious little face!

But.  (Isn't that just the way?  Always that unfortunate but...)  

But, at 35 weeks, he is measuring big.  

His head?  It's literally off the charts, measuring larger than 99th percentile at 41 weeks instead of 35.  If that wasn't enough, they got clear measurements and estimate that he is 7.8lbs.  That's as big is a Logan on birthday!  As I'm writing this today, baby boy is probably flirting with the 8lb mark.  

And if I manage to make it to my due date, they estimate he'll be somewhere between 9 and a half and ten pounds.  

Whew.  So, that was interesting news to digest!  

Based on his gestational size (not gestational age - the doctor won't change my official due date), the sonographer estimates my due date at 3-26. 

I have to admit that, despite the potential challenges, I'm actually incredibly relieved.  I have been saying for literally months that nothing I'm feeling seems normal; I feel like I'm way ahead of where I should be.  The entire medical profession has reassured me that this is normal for a fourth pregnancy (which is just harder - they insist!).  

Casey was supposed to have a trip the last week of March, a trip I adamantly suggested he find a replacement on, because I've been convinced for several weeks that the baby is coming either the last week of March or very early April.  That lines up perfectly with where he is measuring.  Score one for mother's intuition!  

So even though we have been worried for the last three weeks that he might make an early appearance, the new concern is that he may actually be too big to make it out that way at all.  The doctor already talked to me about scheduling a c-section, something she would most likely like to do at 39 weeks.  Particularly since I'm only "battle tested" to the size he was earlier this week.

The reality is that we'll get where we get.  I have peace that I'll know the next steps when they are upon us.  I know for a fact that I can't control what comes next; I'm still doing all my daily exercises to try and give him his best shot... but I've been through this exact emotion four times now.  All I can do is trust.  One way or another, in less than a month I'll get to snuggle that potentially giant baby boy, and plant kisses on his adorable chubby cheeks.  None of this uncertainty will matter once that happens.  And I cannot wait.   

That's the blessing here.  The one I'm holding out for, in whatever form it comes. Because on that day?  We will truly have everything.  

Monday, March 13, 2017

Things I've learned about labor: fourth edition

There is an old saying that goes like this: The fourth time is the charm.

I'm pretty sure that's how it goes. It's a very ancient saying.... you've probably only heard of its more contemporary cousin.

Okay, so the fourth time may not be the charm, but sometimes in life there are mysteries that just don't come together until you have all the pieces.  And, for some of us extra-special people, all the pieces can take a lot of tries to gather.

So, as I near the finish line on this last time around, there are a few things I've learned about myself in labor that I hope may help me this time around.

1. My babies don't engage in the pelvis.  It literally took me three tries to figure this one out.  I couldn't find any information on it.  No doctor ever told me... aside from the fact that I have the hat trick on doctors and nurses who exclaimed, "WOW!! These babies are high up!!" immediately before or even after hours and hours (and hours) of labor. (Sidenote: what does that even mean?!  I'm just a mom laying here spread eagle, trying to have a baby!  HOW IS THIS HELPFUL INFORMATION?!  More importantly: what can I do about it?)

Much more helpful is the information I've stumbled across during this pregnancy (whole article here):
"Lack of engagement is a common issue for the woman who labors but the baby remains high in the pelvis. For about half the cases, the uterus gets overworked trying to get a baby into the pelvis for days of labor. Contractions may be very, very strong and very grinding on the pubic bone and dilation isn’t the predictive factor."

Ah-HA!  Now, that sounds familiar!  Even more familiar:

"Early labor can go on for a day, or two or three. Sometimes the woman thinks her starter is broken. This is because the labor can start and stop as the baby tries to get into the pelvic brim. Women may not dilate beyond 3 cm when the baby remains high. 
Labor can feel so strong as the uterus works hard to rotate baby’s head to drop into the pelvis. These strong contractions can go on for days. Once baby engages labor becomes effective and the baby is born in 8 hours or less."
This is it!  The missing piece.  The explanation I've been waiting for that finally makes my experiences make sense!
I've never been dilated past a four on my own, even after something like 35 combined hours of labor in two pregnancies. It explains why things move so quickly after the epidural: getting an epidural isn't about pain management for me, it's about bringing the head into the pelvis so labor can progress.  (PS - don't ask me why an epidural helps with that.  I simply don't know, although I suspect it has something to do with forcing the pelvic muscles to relax and spread out.)  I go from a measly 3 or 4 cm dilated after hours and hours - or even days and days - to ready to push in something like 2 hours once baby engages... but so far, I haven't been able to get there without the help of the epidural.

I have been learning so much I wish I'd known before about positioning baby for his exit.  It has given me renewed hope that I might be able to do this without an epidural.  Not to mention, a few actual, practical strategies to try if I get into labor and baby's head is still high and unengaged.

The Spinning Babies website has been so very helpful to me in identifying and educating myself about my own experiences in labor.

And luckily for me, they have a "daily three" exercises to help best position our little guy for his exit:
Step 1: Rebozo Sifting

This activity helps "jiggle" the mother, taking away the weight of the baby and relaxing her ligaments.

Step 2: Forward-Leaning Inversion

Which is pretty much exactly as much fun as it looks like for a great big pregnant lady.  The idea is to invert and take the pressure off of your lower uterus.  When you return to an upright position, baby uses that space and the pull of gravity to create more space for the head to fit in preparation for labor.

Step 3: Sidelying-Release 

Full disclosure, I'm not 100% sure I'm doing this one right, so I'm going to let you read all about it and draw your own conclusions.  But the basic idea is that, when done correctly, this movement uses a static stretch to slightly enlarge and soften the pelvis.  When done in labor, it may help encourage a stalled baby to rotate and descend.

They also have several recommendations about positions specifically for babies who do not drop once labor has begun.

2. All those contractions I had with Livvy were actually Prodromal Labor.  What is Prodromal labor, you ask?  Since I didn't know, even when I was experiencing it, let me tell you!  Prodromal labor is a type of labor that happens before the onset of active labor.  It is not Braxton-Hicks.  It is sometimes described as "false-labor," but the truth is that Prodromal labor is real labor contractions in terms of intensity and frequency, but labor that comes and goes without ultimately producing a baby.  Prodromal labor can go on for days or even weeks before active labor begins.

Two years ago, I could not figure out why I was contracting night after night without fail.  They would begin about ten minutes apart, get stronger and closer together over the course of 5-7 hours.  Just as I was convinced it would soon be time to go to the hospital, my contractions would simply... disappear.  This went on for more than two weeks, usually at night, but sometimes during the day as well.  One sleepless night I did the math and realized I would have more than 100 hours of contractions before active labor even began.

But why?  Well, that question is trickier to answer, as there does not seem to be a consensus I can find from the medical community.  One theory seems to be poor positioning of the baby, which again rings true in my case.  The uterus attempts to reposition the baby with contractions and eventually stops if it does not work.

Of course, there are no guarantees in labor, and the most important thing is to have a healthy baby and mommy at the end, however we get there.  On the plus side, we've changed hospitals so we're only a 9 minute drive.  That frees me up not to have any concerns about timing the trip; I can be ready to push and we'll still make it to the hospital in time.

I feel pretty confident though.  I think we have our best chance of having this baby truly the natural way.  Certainly, I understand my body and labor process better than I ever have before.  That is in itself a victory, however things go.

Friday, March 10, 2017

A letter to my daughter

My sweetheart,

There is love that is spoken of in books.  Love that is portrayed in movies and acted out on the stage.  Love that inspires songs and poetry.  There is a love you feel when you stand in a white dress, hand in hand with the gallant knight you've naively chosen to pledge your life and your heart to.

And then there is a love that is altogether... different.

It's not bigger, necessarily, but it defies categorization.  It leaves you without adequate words to convey its breadth and depth.  It is a love you'll never truly understand until you carry a human inside you; until you feel the warmth of tiny, new fingers wrapped around your own; experience the joy of arms flung with wild abandon around your neck and the most magic words whispered in your ear: I love you, Mommy.  

It is a love that changes the very core of who you thought you were.

Every year as we come to this milestone of your birthday, I wish I could better capture the essence of who you are.  I wish I could commit to memory every single thing about you, because I know that even as I type this, you are changing, evolving, edging ever closer to the woman God designed you to become.  I cannot stop this - I wouldn't, even if I could (though my mommy's heart would like to) - so all I can do is breathe in deeply and soak up this moment and enjoy who you are right now.

Because who you are?  It is magic.

I am so very, very proud of my big girl, with your strong ideas, kind heart, and joyful spirit.  Keep learning, my baby.  Keep dreaming.  Keep trusting and following where He leads.  Keep caring and hoping.  Keep growing.

Most of all, keep on being you, and know that you will always have a cheerleader.

Thank you for the gift of being your mom.

I love you always,

xoxo Mommy

(And, I stand by all that I wrote last year.  I may never say it better or more completely - it's still true!)

Friday, March 3, 2017

Warning: do not leave the pregnant lady home alone

So, here's the relevant background information:

Casey has been gone literally all of my third trimester.


In his wonderful, heroic, provider-man way, he rationalized it like this: Well, I typically work all of January and February, come home for most of March and go back to work in April.  This year, I need to be home in April, so I'll just swap months and work January through March.  No problem!

As I was putting together our calendar in the new year, I suddenly had a panic attack when I realized: he has literally three days at home in March.  I have a daughter turning 7, and I don't have a weekend when her daddy is home to have a birthday party.  I will be 34+ weeks pregnant.  My husband will be gone for 10 weeks straight with just a few days at home. I have four fricking children to tend to and I homeschool. And my husband won't make a lasting appearance until I'm 38 weeks pregnant.  

Naturally, I did what every crazy pregnant lady would do: I had a crazy pregnancy dream in which I had the baby in a chair at a restaurant while Casey was on one of his trips.  Then I woke up at five a.m. in a hot sweat and called my husband in a slightly rage-induced panic.  NO, dear, this schedule will NOT work for me.

It turns out, when you have four children and a very pregnant wife, you have to come home once in a while.

When you don't... things get bad.  Quickly.

Which is why I spent last Friday night in the hospital.  Baby boy had moved down and was creating so much pressure that I actually had pain.  Contracting every 8-12 minutes.  Something that actually felt like burning in my low abdomen.  It was nothing too concerning; these symptoms are all a normal part of my pregnancies - but I have previously only experienced them sometime after thirty seven weeks.  I was only 33, which is why I felt compelled to get checked out.

It turns out, every person has a limit to what they can do.  It's nice to have finally found out exactly where mine is.

I don't quite know how to describe the way the next few days went.  All I can tell you is that I have not felt so absolutely awful since after Logan's birth - and my body was completely, utterly wrecked after that experience. Worse by far than anything that happened during my pregnancy with Olivia; worse, even, than anything I felt during her labor.

Lots of stress, many physical demands and late pregnancy do not make good bed fellows.  It has been a very rough week.  Every part of me hurt to the point that I couldn't sleep because each movement caused me pain so acute that it actually made me cry.  I literally could hardly walk for two days.  We're talking crazy stuff.

Luckily, my mom came up to run my household for five days while I was on almost total bed rest.  Thank goodness... we'd never have made it without her.

And, although Casey still has to work until the 14th, I think we've convinced him that it's time to come home and stay home.  So that's the good news.  Ten more days (and, for the record, my mom is going to continue to stay with me until my husband gets home. Juuuuusst to be safe).  

The most amazing part, though, is how my body simply cannot keep up with the demands that are on me.  I don't know why I never truly understood we would reach this point.  I suppose because it has never legitimately happened before.  I mean, sure, it has always been the case that if it falls on the floor during the third trimester, it no longer exists.  Shoes are my nemesis.  Getting up off the floor after putting on a small child's whatever is a comical, beached-whale-esque sight.  But the end-of-pregnancy struggles have always had something of a comedic, satirical tone in my world.  It's exhausting - no doubt.  It's uncomfortable.  Maybe bordering sometimes on unpleasant.

But nothing like this.

This experience has taught me that I actually have a limit, and that limit must be respected, or my body will take revenge and force my respect.  It's not a question of trying harder or being tougher or scheduling more effectively; I just have to do less.  Waaaaaaay less.

The doctor has told me several times that fourth pregnancies are just harder.  Your body has been stretched enough times that the ligaments are struggling to hold everything together.  In fact, she mentioned that, though your risk factors are roughly the same for pregnancies 1-4, fifth pregnancies have a 15-20% higher risk of significant medical event.  She says that - though clearly there are exceptions - most women are truly not meant to have more than about 4 or 5 pregnancies; our bodies begin to actually break down.  I can totally see it... not that we were planning on any more, but I'm convinced my body is genuinely not capable of carrying another baby.  Four pregnancies and an adoption is enough!  

So, my body doesn't feel like my body.  Doesn't respond in the ways that I am accustomed to.  I was measuring two weeks ahead at my last appointment, and I feel like I could have this baby any second. We did "bed school" all week instead of homeschool. But the good news is that I only have another week and a half before serious reinforcements are in.

And then?

Well, all bets are off.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Kid Update: Jake

So, full confession time: this post is more of an amalgamation of updates.  Some belong to him, many belong to me.  I'm still adjusting to what is cool to share in teenager land.

The first has to start with me.

Because, let's face it, I never, ever, never in a million years expected to be parenting a teenager in this phase of life.  My people are little.  We're still on learning to read and watching Caillou, picky-eaters, potty training, sleeping through the night and diapers, for crying out loud.

Teenagers?  That's a bridge for another, far, far away time.

So when I say there are many ways in which I wasn't prepared, Casey wasn't prepared, and our family was so very not prepared to be doing what we're doing today, you can all hang with me on that one, right?

Understanding that this is the context in which I'm telling you this story, there are a few miraculous things we have to talk about first.

1. I was an 8th grade teacher who specialized in neurological development.  I like 8th graders {I'm weird, I know}.  So even without being in the teenager phase of life, I've spent a great deal of time learning how to best deal with all their quirks, oddities and am generally accustomed to how an 8th grader thinks, what he needs to grow and thrive, and how to fill gaps that might have been created under the influence of a stressful life circumstance.  In short, how to love these weird, odd little humans who are neither adults nor children.

2. I have a background in trauma.  Because, simply put, two kids walked into my school when I was 14 years old and shot it up on a rather infamous scale.  I spent my young life as a traumatized teenager.  All my friends were traumatized teenagers.  So when this 14 year old kid needed a place to go where his mental health issues wouldn't be a surprise and someone would be reasonably well-versed in how to help him... yeah, we had the tools to tackle that big task.  {Correction: we're in the process of slowly working through those issues, though, as is true with all trauma, they will never completely go away.}

3.  I began praying for a fifth child six months before we got the call about Jacob.  This is the one that gets me every time I think about it.  The one that, if I didn't already believe in a God of miracles, would convert me.  Casey and I had already planned out our family.  We'd agreed on four. We both had incredible peace about what a family of six would look like.  How we would handle things financially, in terms of time - everything.  All of a sudden, out of nowhere in October of 2015, I had this strange, nagging feeling that we should have five.  It was a stirring I didn't understand, didn't have the slightest clue what had started it or where it had come from.  Casey was adamant: there would be no fifth child.  We'd agreed on four children, and four was enough.  And, let's be honest, he's right!  But I couldn't let go of this calling I felt.  So in a moment of rare clarity, I turned it over to God.  I prayed a prayer that went like this: I have no idea where this came from, but if it is nothing more than my own selfish desire, please take it from me.  But if it's you, Lord, and your plan, then I trust you to work it out.  I don't know how you will accomplish it, but you'll have to get Casey on board and make it happen. 

I can vividly recall standing in the shower, hot water beating down upon me as tears poured down my face, sometime after we got home from our trip to Disneyland.  Having that exact conversation out loud in an empty bathroom for reasons I couldn't even comprehend myself.

The conviction didn't go away over the next few months, and by Christmas I had come to think that I must be praying for twins.  I mean, how else could we end up with five?

When the call came in at the end of April, I got on a plane to Washington without even a moment's hesitation.  Over the course of the next week, it became apparent very quickly that there would be no one else to step in.  I didn't have to clamor or fight; Casey and I were the first and last of the line to step in and raise this boy.  And it became obvious why I had been praying for a fifth child: God had been preparing us for this all along, even though we didn't know it yet.

We had the desire.  We had the tools. Our family was equipped to take on this big task. By some miracle, even our financial circumstance was prepared ahead of time, though it would cost us thousands upon thousands of dollars we hadn't anticipated spending in order to make it happen.

The fingerprints of divinity were all over this circumstance each and every step of the way.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer tells a wonderful story {which I am about to completely mis-quote, because I can't find the exact wording.  I wish I'd written it down when I read it!} in which he envisions Jesus, sitting on the throne, inspiring David with the very words to the Psalm that He would later repeat as He hung on the cross.  The point being, Jesus knew that He himself would one day need those words, and so He gave them to David to record a thousand years before He would utter them.

It's a beautiful image.

The King of all things knows what we need, and begins equipping us to play our part in His story long before we have the picture of what that story will include.  He is here with us in the shadowy places of our lives, in the midst of our challenges and burdens; present, watchful; guiding us in ways that we neither see nor comprehend in the moment.

But His guidance is unmistakable just the same.  And we can live a life of hope in the midst of our struggle, knowing He who we follow is in the business of redemption.

Jake's story, I believe, is one of redemption.

He started 9th grade this year. 

At a brand new school, where he knew no one.  In a state far away from all his childhood friends.

He joined the orchestra and plays the viola.

He got all dressed up and went to his first homecoming dance.

Stag.  Which is okay, if I'm really being honest, because not one of us in this house knows anything yet about teenagers and dating.  One step at a time!

He has taken a number of trips with us and had tons of new experiences, from Mesa Verde to the Denver zoo, museum, race car driving, mini-golfing, Vail, Breckenridge; we even drove out to Utah for Thanksgiving.  

It has been especially fun to watch him get to do some of those fun, family and tradition-oriented activities that he didn't often get to do the first time through.

He is learning about what it means to be a big brother, and how to function in a family environment.

Which is probably the most fun part of all.  It has been amazing to watch how easily this family has come together - both on his end and on ours.  He likes being part of a family, and the kids have so readily accepted him as one of their own.  {And that is NOT to say that he isn't also heartbroken that his own family isn't still in tact.  Clearly that would be his first choice.  While we're at it, that doesn't mean it has always been an easy process on anybody's part.  We've all had our struggles, but we've also come an incredibly long way, and it's soooooo cool to see.}

He turned 15 in November.  We  had a small family celebration without Casey, who sadly had booked a show way before Jake came to us.

Then to really celebrate, we went to Casa Bonita when Case was back in town.  It was so much fun!

He has taken an interest in magic, and enjoys doing card tricks.  He has also taken a small interest (a completely spontaneous, natural and not forced interest by the way) in reading!  He likes horror stories the best, and we've found him a good series of completely terrifying books that he's enjoying.  Right now, he's reading one of my all-time favorites: The Stand by Stephen King.

We had a great time celebrating our first Christmas, and the holidays were one of those potential obstacles I had worried about which turned out to be more easily conquered than I'd anticipated.

Jake did an amazing job during his first semester, and earned a 3.5 gpa - all A's and B's - despite the many hills he had to conquer.  He is working on making friends, gets great reports from all his teachers, and is being wise about the choices he makes in both actions and people.  It's truly amazing.

He is resilient, optimistic, helpful, kind and loving beyond anything anyone has the right to expect.  He tackles new challenges without flinching and recognizes that his future isn't determined by what has happened to him in the past.  There have been plenty of struggles - because anything less would be unhealthy after what he has been through - and he has been willing to courageously confront things that are painful, emotional and just plain hard.

We are so proud - so, so proud - of who he is and how far he has come, overcoming huge obstacles, in such a short space of time.

Choosing to be an instrument of love requires us to obey His word and His will, and to continually move forward, taking the next brave step out in faith - often even before we can see where the path leads.

But in my experience, it is those journeys that are the most rewarding.

I changed my font at