Two Years Ago Today

This story begins on the fifth and continues into the morning of the sixth when we met our daughter for the first time. I’m so grateful that I had the option to deliver my daughter at Natural Beginnings Birth Center in Statesville, North Carolina. They were profoundly supportive in helping me have a natural, intervention free birth. I look forward to working with them through my current pregnancy and delivering with them in January. 

Warning: medically accurate descriptions. 

I woke up at six am on Sunday morning, July 5, to contractions that were strong enough to make me notice them but not strong enough for me to think they were anything other than the practice contractions that had been occurring over the past month. I went to center and then got a shower and decided that I wanted to go to church. A friend of ours lives down the road and pastors a church in the area, so John, Beth, and I went to worship with his community.

In the midst of worship the contractions continued.

At home for lunch, we ate and decided to head out for the afternoon to do some more shopping. I called Margo, my doula, to let her know that I was having regular contractions, but that they didn’t hurt. She encouraged me to ignore them, and to rest, if I could. If I wanted I could keep track of how many I was having per hour and then just calculate back how often I was having them.

After lunch, I went down for a nap, which was the last true rest I got that day.

We went out and went shopping for furniture to finish out our house. After shopping at GoodWill and BigLots, including going from Mooresville to Statesville to be able to have the furniture delivered, we headed home with a new set up for our living space. Nesting indeed.

My contractions continued to grow stronger, and more frequent, but I was still unsure if I was in labor, or just having another practice day. But I wanted to call our parents, just in case labor had begun…

Beth fixed us fajitas for dinner, which were delicious. A few times during dinner, I had to stop eating so that I could breathe through a contraction. At least once I got out of my chair to kneel on the floor. We determined that we needed to call the midwife on call, Margo, and our family. Mom and Dad headed our way and Margo came to help me cope with the strengthening contractions. Nicole, the midwife on call, encouraged me to get in the bath to see if the contractions would space out any when I got in the water. We left the Womens world cup playing.

They slowed, a little, but not much. Margo came and encouraged me to go rest and while I did lay down, I didn’t sleep any, since the contractions continued to get stronger.

I threw up at some point around here, I am not sure exactly when.

I came back into the living room, and we started watching Twister. I figured that a movie would keep me distracted while I coped with more and more pain. Every seven minutes or so I would move from my position on the futon to my yoga mat on the floor, resting my head on my exercise ball, while Margo applied counter pressure to my back in the midst of the pain. I started feeling nauseated at each contraction, and thought I might throw up, Beth went to go get a big pot to sit by me on the floor, just in case. Margo massaged my feet while I rested and watched the movie.

While we watched the movie, Beth and John (mostly Beth) constructed the bench we had just purchased from GoodWill for the end of our bed. It was good to have folks distracted around me, so that I could also be distracted from a lengthly process that had only just begun.

Mom and Dad arrived shortly after the movie ended, and I called Nicole again, letting her know that my contractions continued to get stronger. By this point, the only thing that helped me cope with them was not only pressure at my lower back, but also counter pressure on my hips. This meant that two people were responding to me each time I said: help.

(Mom made cookies as she arrived, and they got ready to come to the birth center with us.)

We called the midwife and she said to try the tub again. I got back in the tub to see if the pain would lessen or slow down, but even in the tub I needed the pressure on my lower back to cope. I threw up again, and Margo encouraged me to call the midwife to let her know that things were progressing.

By two in the morning, I was ready to go to the Birth Center. We knew that I needed to be dilated at least 5 or 6 to be admitted, but I really didn’t want to get much worse before making that car ride. Beth rode in the back of the Prius with me, applying pressure to my back while I attempted counter pressure to my hips with a kikoi, while John took the curves of the road as quickly and as smoothly as he could. Margo and Mom and Dad followed in separate cars.

When we arrived at the Birth Center shortly before 3 in the morning, Nicole checked me, and let me know I was at 5 centimeters. She admitted me, though they would have preferred to wait until 6. John, Beth, Margo, and I took a walk around the parking lot, stopping every five minutes or so for me to rest into John, while Margo and Beth applied pressure at each contraction. This was pain that I was standing on my tip-toes trying to avoid. I was nauseated again at each pressure rush.

We went back to the labor room, and Margo suggested that I lay down, trying to relive some pain and get some final moment of rest. This position, however, made the pain so bad that I threw up for the third time.

The Baby’s heart rate was checked and she was doing well, so I got in the shower to try to get some heat and water on me before I got in the tub. The shower worked a little, John got in his suit and helped apply pressure when I contracted, but I asked them to go ahead and fill the birth tub so that I could get in.

The water felt really good. Being supported by the weight of the water helped. The pain was still there, but I could cope. I had to be reminded constantly to keep my face loose and the tones of my voice low at each contraction.

At some point after getting into the pool my water broke all in a rush, and I pushed for the first time. I did it instinctually, I didn’t even really register that I had done it until Margo asked me: Kathy, are you pushing? Yes. I guess I am.

They got me out of the pool so they could check me; I was at 9 centimeters. I was allowed to start pushing, following my body’s natural urges. I think this was around 5 in the morning. I asked how much more they were going to hurt, and whether I had gone through transition yet. I knew I could take more, but not much more at all, and I wanted to know what my limit would be.

I kept changing positions in the pool, and finally came to a squat, where I was bent over the edge of the pool, gripping Beth and Margo’s hands, getting a drink of water between each contraction. I pushed.

Around 6 or so, I was told I could reach down and feel the baby’s head. Indeed, just inside was the dear crown of my child. I pushed.

At some point Tracie, the midwife who was working with me, said that I had only two or three more to go. This did prove to be the case, unfortunately, she meant pushes and it turned out to be hours.

At around 6:30 Tracie said that if I wasn’t going to give birth in the next few minutes, that we would need to get out of the pool so she could help me. I asked what help entailed, and she said, she would be able to coach me better if we were on the bed.

At 6:45 or so I got out, already shaky, and we moved to the bed. And that’s when the pain changed.

I didn’t feel it in my back any more. I didn’t feel nauseated any more. I could feel Rebekah pressing at me, trying to do more than crown. She would crown for the next three hours.

I got on the bed and we began to push. I held my legs, and pushed. I held on to John and Beth, and pushed. I felt my mother and the nurse, Jennifer, hold my feet, and pushed.

Tracie began to run her fingers along my perineum at the break of each contraction, and it hurt deeply, I wanted to leave the pain. She was massaging me, applying a quart of olive oil over the next three hours, trying to help Rebekah slip out.

I pushed. I asked if I could get on my hands and knees, and we tried that, and I pushed. I couldn’t do it as strongly, so we pushed again from my back. I laid on my side, with my legs in full squat, and I pushed.

I could only get three real pushes in with each contraction. At each contraction, Rebekah moved the tiniest amount. But it was not enough.

I had a hard time catching my breath. I was so very hot. (I learned later that everyone else was very cold, the room was cold, I was just doing so much work.) I got a drink of water after each contraction. I realized, at some point, that no one had said for a very long time that I needed to loosen my face or speak in low tones. Beth actually told me: say it, just say it. I couldn’t even get in a curse word in the midst of the pain.

I kept myself from biting John but I realized the next day that I had bitten my lips to smithereens.

Mom prayed that I would use my strength to complete this task that I had begun.

I was tired. I was in pain. I was working. I was still working so hard and I knew that she was so very close.

They kept monitoring Rebekah’s heart rate and she continued to be good, even though she had been in the crowning position for such a long time.

Tracie said that if I didn’t push her out on my own in the next two to three contractions, she would have to preform an episiotomy. She said that she hadn’t done one before.

I went through one contraction. So close. So very close. Not there yet.

I breathed deep. I waited. I felt the contraction come on, and took a deep breath and pushed. I breathed and pushed again.

They said I was almost there. I took one more breath before the contraction ended, and pushed for all I had for the final time.

Rebekah came. Oh, praise the Lord, once she came, she came all at once. They rubbed her body and placed her on me. She was perfect. It was 9:43 in the morning on Monday, July 6, her due date.

Mom cut the cord after it stopped beating and I don’t even really remember the placenta coming out.

I could barely move. They pulled the sheets under me to the head of the bed so that I could sit up. I was so very tired.

I held our new daughter. She is so very strong.

I was in pain the next day over my entire body. My throat felt like it had been strangled. I was sore from my shoulders, head, hips, thighs, and down to the arches of my feet.

It was all worth it. It was worth it to labor while fully present, even with all of the pain. It was worth it to have to go through three hours of her crowning to be able to not be cut. It was wonderful that I was in a place where I felt supported, surrounded by folks that were focused on me and my ability to be able to do this work, this labor, on my own, following my natural instincts.

Four days later I’m still sore. I’m still tired. But I have the most amazing gift in my daughter, resting in my arms. I am sure that we will have many more adventures together.

Hearts Formed and Unformed

Trigger warning: Pregnancy loss

Three years ago, today, John and I lost our first child to miscarriage.

Nothing prepares you for this kind of loss. It unravels you. After the fact, we learned that at least a quarter of pregnancies end in miscarriage, but no one talks about it, so no one knows. I didn’t tell more people outside of immediate family than I could count on one hand for over a year.

It was the continual questions of, “Is this your first?” when I was pregnant with R that hurt the most. How are you supposed to respond? Do you throw metaphorical cold water over the conversation by saying, no, but there’s not a living kid? Do you grin and grind your teeth?

I was pregnant two Mothers Days in a row but only had one kid on the way.

I had a meeting to go to that night, and I was not sure what was going on, and so I went to the meeting and the only thing I could think about the whole time is, “I think I’m losing my baby.”

The next day, I had a transvaginal ultrasound while the technician spent the entire time speechless. And then I went into the exam room to wait for the doctor and she came in and said, “so you know what’s going on,” and no one had told me, and she went into an explanation of what Down’s Syndrome is… No. I needed someone to tell me I had miscarried, to just tell me and let me sit with it for a little while.

I don’t think it was Down’s. Something just didn’t stitch right. Her heart could not beat. And we lost our child.

I named her Sarah Grace. I’m still learning grace through this experience.

Don’t tell me it was God’s plan. Don’t tell me I should just be grateful for my Rainbow baby. I know this can be uncomfortable, but sometimes you simply need to sit with someone in their grief whether you have experienced the same thing or not, and hold the space of their grief.

The first trimester of my second pregnancy I don’t think I really ever relaxed. I couldn’t write the cheery letter to my firstborn like the one I wrote in the week I knew I was pregnant with Sarah Grace. I didn’t dare to dream until I heard her heartbeat the first time.

My parents, my husband, and I stood around a stand of daffodils in our yard on the first anniversary of losing her and prayed a liturgy for pregnancy loss together. Sometimes other’s words help.

I’m healing, still. I encounter the grief when I think of her, when I remember the experience, when I hear of other women who have experienced the same kind of loss. It’s easier to deal with, to examine, to turn over in my head and consider how I’ve changed because of losing her.

Gradually, my heart mends. Eery so often I’ll find a stitch that slipped and needs to be worked back into the fabric of my heart. The patch remains, but I become more whole.

Life is a very strange thing. It’s tenuous. So many things have to come together in the right way to create a life. But those around us can seem so strong sometimes that we forget the frailty under the surface. We forget the careful knitting that was necessary to form our inward parts and bring us into being.

I pray for hearts formed and unformed.

I pray for hearts broken and healing

I pray for hearts joyful and grieving.

I pray for hearts questioning and certain.

I pray for your heart and for mine.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

This prayer by Rev. Karen Westerfield Tucker from “A Service of Hope After Loss of Pregnancy” found in The United Methodist Book of Worship (p624) helped me heal. I offer it to you if your heart needs healing.

Lord, we do not understand why this life, which we had hoped to bring into this world, is now gone from us. We know only that where there was sweet expectation, now there is bitter disappointment; where there were hope and excitement, there is a sense of failure and loss. We have seen how fragile life is, and nothing can replace this life, this child, whom we have loved before seeing, before feeling it stirring in the womb, even before it was conceived. In our pain and confusion we look to you, Lord, in whom no life is without meaning, however small or brief. Let not our limited understanding confine our faith. Draw us closer to you and closer to one another. Lay our broken hearts open in faith to you and in ever greater compassion to one another. So raise us from death to life; we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.

Nauticus

The Nauticus.

It doesn’t exist anymore. You can still go to that stretch of beach in Sunnyside just down the road from Panama City, Florida, but it was sold and razed for a couple of condos when I was in college.

It really does make it a place where only memories exist, then. And I don’t know how many memories there are. My parents began going to that stretch of beach when they were on their honeymoon, and then we began going to the Nauticus, and we just kept returning to this small little space of 14 different 1-2 bedroom units on two levels surrounding a pool and on the shoreline.

It was the perfect place to bring children. I don’t think I will be able to find a spot like this as I raise my children to love the beach. I have vague memories of the early nineties version, but then a hurricane hit and they remodeled to the beach style tile and sturdy furniture and vibrant colors that makes you think of the beach. The units all faced the pool, but you could still lay in your bed and listen to the waves at night.

Once I got old enough to always bring a book with me on vacation, I remember joining my mother in the Adirondack chairs underneath the covered deck at the seawall, feet perched on the railing, enjoying the sea breeze and a new story.

We’d always have New Orleans chicken and cantaloupe. And Cheesy fries. Every trip included going to the place that sold shrimp fresh off the boat by the pound, where they would steam it for you while you waited. The smell of Old Bay permeated the entire car on the way back to our temporary home.

We’d always make a pilgrimage to Alvin’s Island, where they sold cheap tourist trinkets and swimsuits and flotsam and jetsam, the one with the alligators you could pet and the volcano you could walk through.

We went with our cousins at first, where Julie, Will, Beth, Morgan after a little while, and I would get to figure out how to be people together. Will and I always wanted the same cereal. I always thought it was unfair that Julie never had to put as much sunscreen on as I did, nor did she ever have to wear a scratchy t-shirt on the last day in the pool, something I always had to do because I was burned.

Later, we more often went with the our family friends: my best friend Amy, her brother Albert, and Ms. Barbara. I remember the last year before college we got a henna do-it-yourself kit, and I did the designs on my arms and legs and read that people in India put the henna on their nails… I had to paint my toenails for 8 months until the burnt sienna orange grew out.

I remember children plastic barrettes in my hair when they had a brief fad period.

I remember putt-putt games and riding the strip.

I remember a family of boys all in red shorts who tried their best to impress us…

I remember breaking a glass in the shower when I was trying to rinse my hair out.

I remember taking long walks all by myself in the morning, listening to the waves and the sandpipers chase the receding water.

I remember iced coffee, mike’s hard lemonade, chocolate cake with coffee ice cream coated in caramel frosting, boiled peanuts, and tuna cones.

And I remember chance glimpses of dolphins, my favorite animals in all creation, where each encounter seemed a gift that should never be squandered.

Purple Crayons

When I was a child, my favorite color was purple. I liked purple so much that one year I asked Santa for all the shades of purple for Christmas. Santa did a pretty good job; I received a dozen high quality art markers in various shades of blue and purple, even aquamarine.

I’m not sure if I liked the story of Harold and the Purple Crayon because my favorite color was purple, or if I liked purple because of Harold’s world, but I know that it continues to be one of my favorite children’s stories.

I think it is possibility that draws me to the story.

If you don’t know it, Harold has a purple crayon. He leaves home and goes to explore. He designs a whole world, simply by drawing his crayon along the page. Finally, Harold wants to go home, and so draws all the windows he can think of until he finds his own, and returns home.

He, and by extension the reader, ventures out into the wide unknown, finding friends and creating the world he wants to live in. He’s not really powerful, in a way that you might imagine someone who can create ex nihilo could be. He’s just a kid with a crayon, who is on occasion hungry, scared, brave, lonely, and homesick. He creates the world he wants to live in and sometimes it surprises him.

It’s a powerful story for those of us who have wild imaginations. What if we could use our imagination to create whatever we put our minds to? How could we make the world a better place if we could draw something into existence? What does it take to bring something into existence?

If we don’t have purple crayons to do our creating, then we have to create using the tools we have at hand. I wanted to be more like Harold because I wanted to make the world a better place for everyone in it. We do have a similar power to Harold, we form the world around us by our presence. How we move, act, live, breathe, eat, speak, and share with others shapes the world around us.

We have more power than we realize.

I can’t remember if Harold ever has an eraser, even if he gets one in the subsequent books. He can scratch things out, but he cannot erase what he has drawn into being. Once you draw an alligator, you should probably draw a boat to keep you out of the water. Or perhaps you can draw a smile and make it a friendly alligator… but still you will need to be wary.

What we say and do impacts our world. We are constantly creating our own world around us, we just have to decide whether we want to be active participants in this creation, or go along with what everyone is doing around us.

I hope that I am creating a world that is better. I want to be drawn into a better place.

Shadow

I took my daughter out for a walk at the state park a couple days ago so she could run and investigate freely. She likes to come back and touch base with me every so often; we were walking together when I noticed that our shadows were walking ahead of us. I waved my hands and she waved hers, both of us watching our shadows following our motions.

I’ve gotten better at paying attention to what I am doing and whether I am being copied because I’ve got a shadow that comes from the light above me and I’ve got a shadow that is the light beside me.

Are we both awake and in the house? If so, we are in the same room and playing the same game. She follows me everywhere, the kitchen, the bedroom, the bathroom, the den, and the laundry room.

She’s becoming a fabulous helper, in her own way. I have to watch myself to make sure that what I am doing is safe for her to copy. She even stretches with me after our walks together. (And then I become momma climbing toy as she balances on me in a final stretch.)

She’s learning new words everyday now, and I’m more aware of what I say and how I say it. I’m tending to my own grace as I share grace with her. Sometimes everything is wonderful, and sometimes nothing can go right. Sometimes the shadows seem stronger than the light. She speaks of the dark as an existential presence. When it is dark, it is Dark. She does not fear the dark, but she names its power.

She lights up my life like the moon lights the earth at night. She revolves around me and tugs me towards her like the moon pulls the tides. She shines and grows dark and always shines again.

I love my little shadow.