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.

I changed my font at