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.

Laughter and Boundaries

I’m having a hard time finding joy, recently. I read a reflection today by my friend Sarah who had encountered wisdom saying that joy flows from compassion. I wonder if I am not finding enough compassion, either for myself or for others, right now. Or maybe I just see the great need for compassion and feel that the task is far too large to take on myself.

Joy is a big deal and I want to do it right.

My daughter has started a new game where she laughs and then does something that she shouldn’t do, such as hitting me in the face. I tell her no, and she does it again. Laughing again.

I love my daughter’s laugh.

I do not love being hit.

I do not want her to hit me, or learn that hitting is how we do things.

She laughs again.

I tell her not to hit. I take hold of her hand. I tell her not to hit.

I let go. She hits me again.

Still laughing.

And so I put her down out of my lap. I put space between her and me, so that she cannot reach me to hit me. She doesn’t like the space.

Nothing stops her until I do it. Saying no has not really become effective, even though she loves repeating the word.

The hitting stops.

So does the laughter.

But then she hugs me. And we are better together until she decides to try a new boundary again.

I’m wondering how she interprets the joy I share with her. Does she remember me laughing more than she remembers me teaching her a new limit?

And then, does God rejoice when I find a new game to play but is let down when I turn the game to my own destruction?

I believe God wants what is good for me, and that God wants to celebrate joy with me. I don’t believe that God is watching me to seek out an opportunity to punish me.

I am not a perfect parent. I lose my temper and get frustrated when my daughter keeps on doing what I have already asked her not to do. I have the feeling this tendency is far from over. Yay exercise of free will!

However, God is a perfect parent (among other things) and though God can and does get frustrated, God is more saddened by how I turn away from what God wants because it hurts me more than because it hurts God.

God wants what is best for me (and you) and goes out of the way to show love in whatever way possible. This is the compassion I long for in each of my relationships no matter if they are fleeting or forever.

First Tantrum

My daughter threw her first tantrum yesterday. She’s one year and five days old. It was a very simple tantrum: I was cutting her nails, and she didn’t like it. She wanted her hand back, she wanted the nail clippers, she wanted to be free. She also very much needed a nap. And so, she cried. This is the first time that I can think of that she has cried for a reason that didn’t have to do with comfort, fear, or hunger.

She was crying because she couldn’t have what she wanted and she would not be consoled. That’s a tantrum. I’m sure she will learn to step up her game in the future, with leg kicking and fist pounding and so forth. This was simply crying to the point of needing to catch her breath. Which, I have to say, it has been a while since she has cried like this. Before, this kind of cry was just in the carseat, because at the beginning, she hated her carseat.

It would have been very easy to give her what she wanted. I could have given her the nail clippers, let her go off with them, and let her play on her own. But, they are nail clippers. They are sharp. They are dangerous. They are not a toy.

They are what she wanted.

I did not give in to her want.

It was not a good thing. To her at least.

I know better than she does. I know where the dangers are.

I could have been soft in setting those boundaries, just this one time, and let her have what she wanted. But what about the next time?

I had to hold this boundary firm, so that I can be soft in other ways.

Because as she cried, I held her. Even as she twisted out of my grip, I let her stand on her own, and held myself open for her. I never let her have the dangerous thing, I didn’t give into her want, but I did offer something better.

This was our first tantrum. It will not be the last.

Because it was the first, I can say that I have done exactly what I wanted every time my daughter has had a tantrum. You can say those kind of things when you’ve only done them once.

There will be tantrums that I give in to. There will be tantrums that I lose my patience. There will be tantrums that I will do the opposite of what I want to do.

I hope to be soft on myself as I learn this parenting gig alongside my daughter. I hope I can show grace to others who are learning as well. I hope that as we learn, we may continue to live into boundaries that allow us to keep our hearts soft towards our children, and those around us.

Mending

I’ve been missing for a while… I moved and had a baby since my last post. I’ve begun writing again. You can see what I wrote for my UM conference here, and what follows is what I am writing as I begin the practice again on a regular basis. 

It’s taken me a while to mend. It has been thirteen weeks since I packed up my house and took a final walk down to the creek and back. I received a gift that day. The Great Blue Heron that frequents that little stretch of water waited until we were down at the base of the hill to take off. It was a bit late for her to be there, the day was growing warm, but still she was there, lifting off into the sky, giving us one final goodbye before we locked the house and got into our cars for the last time.

Twelve weeks ago I was holding my daughter, hours old, wondering at her long fingers and toes, her utter reliance on me for everything, her way of transforming my life completely. I was utterly spent, exhausted from bearing her through her entry into the world.

Eight weeks ago I took another walk, this time from our new home, down to another creek where another heron was taking off and showing me that this, too, is home.

Four weeks ago I began working at my new church, learning people and an entirely new culture. Grace has been extended to me and my family as I have entered this new many-faceted transition. I feel the love that those around me have for my daughter in the way that they have cared for her while I make the transition to working motherhood.

And today I have begun working full time, exploring what it means to be away from my daughter for hours on end. This is not a new thing, but it is new to me. I am learning, still, how I will fit into this new place, how I will live into this new calling.

I had the exquisite opportunity to bless elements today that will be going out into the world, so I had a little Eucharist in my office with a couple of the staff.