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.

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.

Reminding Each Other to Breathe

I’ve picked up coloring again. Soon I may be able to color as an activity with my daughter, but for now, she wants to scribble using the exact writing instrument that I am using, regardless of how many she has at her disposal, and so I wait until she is down for her nap before I pull out my colors. Coloring as a meditative practice has become common for folks in my social circle. I find coloring helpful for stilling my mind as I focus intently on one small section of the page I am on.

I get still even when the house isn’t. My mind doesn’t fiddle with each individual thought that would usually distract me. I focus on the color and the shading and the way that the green blends into the blue. I breathe.

I’m not always as present as I would like to be. I get distracted during the day after the seventh time that I have to remind my daughter that people are not for hitting. I focus more on the bright red bite mark I earned from a tantrum than the joy I saw as she walked out the door to go to the library with her daddy.

I need to breathe but it can be hard to focus on breathing when I am tending to the care of a little one. My circle of influence has shrunk considerably since staying home, but now the stakes are much higher. I’m caring for a person who depends on me while still constantly declaring her own agency.

Sometimes we need to remind each other to breathe.

Philosophical Hugs

I think my daughter hugged me for the first time today. Waking up, she makes noises to let us know that she is ready to be not in bed any more so I went in to go get her before we left for the morning. I unzipped her blanket and drew her into my arms up out of the crib. And she held on to me.

She’s kind of done this before, but this time was different. It felt more intentional. She held on, reaching around me, and it wasn’t grasping or a desperate holding on when she pinches the skin of my neck and clutches to me.

She embraced me.

My husband and I are her mainstays. We care for her, talk to her, change her, feed her, provide her with everything she needs as soon as we can figure out what she needs. We are the strong center that she calls for when she gets cold or wet or hungry or lonely. We protect her from falling when she rolls, we hold her safe, and we carry her through the day. She trusts us.

I’ve never been trusted like this.

Granted, I’ve never been able to provide so much for a single person. My daughter depends on me. It’s been a wonderful journey watching her develop her agency. She’s developed control over her hands and her feet and her mouth and her voice and her body. Soon she will be able to do more than roll to where she wants to go as she learns to crawl and to walk. I knew being a parent was cool, I didn’t realize that it would be this full of so many new things. I didn’t imagine that I would get philosophical about a hug from this morning. But here I am, in awe of this human being who is learning who she is just as much as we are learning who our daughter is.

We named her, but she is becoming her own person.

Now, I know that all of you who have raised children of your own have had your own experiences that either relate or sound utterly dissonant. And I know that I sound a bit dewey-eyed about this little human being that has entered my world. I’m sure part of this is due to sleep deprivation. However, this little rebel continues to draw me out of myself, teaching me how to love someone unconditionally. I’m learning how to be a better wife and a better pastor in the mix. I’m learning a little something about God’s love as well. God, who loves us, watches us develop our agency and how we learn to get up and walk, either away or towards a deeper relationship with God. I look forward to the time when I can embrace God and trust God like a child trusts her mother.

In the meantime, I cherish the tiny moments when I get the slobbery half kisses. And that is good.

Prayer to Thrive

God we draw near to you today in faith and trust. Make your presence known to us as we receive your word through all our worship. As we gather, we pray for the people of this church, that as we learn to thrive emotionally, we will be open to granting and receiving the support we need to live wholly in you.

We give thanks for the ways that God blesses others through us as we are faithful givers to the mission that we support as a church. We pray for the people of the Charlotte area as we join together to collect food to fight hunger.  We pray for the people of this nation, especially the community of Flint, Michigan as they grapple with the injustice surrounding their water crisis.

We pray for the children of the world, for their safety and health in all circumstances, especially as their families leave homes torn by war.

As we draw close to you, heal us in body, mind, spirit, and relationship. Lead us to act as your people in all places and at all times.  Amen.