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Archive for the ‘Journey to Parenthood’ Category

It’s gone right here:

JonathanIt’s gone to caring for, admiring, and worrying over Jonathan Reece, who came into the world on January 20. He was small–only 6 lbs 12 oz and 20 inches long–but as you can see, he was perfect. No smashed face, no cone head, no black eye–he was perfect. He is perfect.

He announced his arrival by sending contractions only to my back, and by my back I mean my tailbone. Two labor and delivery nurses told us over the phone that I likely wasn’t in labor before the pain was too much to manage and we went to the hospital anyway. I got a cervical catheter to induce dilation and went from one centimeter to six in twenty minutes (while I may or may not have been screaming hysterically, unable to answer the doctor’s questions). Thank You, Father God, for our labor nurse, Nancy, who sings in our church choir with Mike, and for Danna, who held whichever hand Mike wasn’t holding and didn’t let us give up. A few hours to finish up with the epidural, two hours of pushing, and we had our little one. We could hold him. He was ours.

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The month went to a weeklong visit from Grandma and Papa, who took care of all of us. I could finally call my mom “Grandma,” the title she’s been dreaming of since my wedding day. I could watch her dote on my son and realize that even with two decades worth of childcare experience, I needed her to be there. I needed advice. I needed someone to make me a sandwich each day around lunch time and tell me to take a nap. I needed someone to keep on top of our laundry and dishes so I could take care of something infinitely more important.

Grandma

It’s gone to medical procedures–the routine ones like check-ups and circumcision, and the scary, unexpected ones like the one where we learned our sweet boy was quietly starving and we were readmitted to the hospital two days after we left. It went to many tearful, painful nursing sessions where I felt like a mothering failure for needing to give my baby a bottle of formula to make up for all the weight he’d lost. It has gone to accepting that having Grandma and then Daddy helping me feed him was not the plan but can be a blessing–and really, it’s not like anything else in this journey has gone according to plan.

It’s gone to sweet moments of snuggling him as he sleeps, singing to him and reading him books, gazing at his perfect face and wondering how we got so lucky. It’s gone to moments of panic where I nudge his foot or hand just to make sure he’s breathing, my overactive imagination unwilling to contemplate what would happen if he wasn’t. It’s gone to days and nights of sheer exhaustion, and appreciation of dear local friends who have brought us dinner or otherwise loved on us and gotten us through another day.

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GrannaAnd, somehow, we’ve arrived at this:

one month

It has come too fast after too many long nights and short days. It hasn’t been the way I expected any more than I expected to feel contractions only in my tailbone or have a low milk supply, but it is orders of magnitude better than the grief and frustration that preceded it.

Jonathan Reece, our miracle baby, we love you. Even in our disbelief that you have been in our lives so long, we know you have been in our hearts much longer.

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You’d think by now I’d be the world’s leading expert on waiting for my child to arrive. But being 39w3d pregnant is a lot different than I thought it would be when we were waiting to get pregnant, or waiting to be chosen by a birth family.

I’m not just waiting to welcome my child into the great big world. I’m waiting to go into labor. After all the painful endometriosis episodes of watching and waiting to see if a new symptom was worthy of action or just ibuprofen, now I know a painful hospital visit is looming and I’m waiting for it to begin.

We have our bags packed, minus the toiletries and phone chargers we use daily. They sit, along with Jonathan’s diaper bag and car seat and Mike’s sleeping bag and pillow, in a pile near the front door, ready to be loaded into the car while gently mocking my nesting impulses for perfect order and cleanliness. We have a stack of addressed Christmas cards waiting to be stuffed with birth announcements and sent to relatives and friends near and far.

Every trip to the grocery store, every dinner out, every round of laundry or bathroom scrubbing has me wondering if it will be “the last time before…” Before Jonathan, before parenthood, before life as I know it is permanently altered.

Mike and I don’t do well with huge, permanent change, even of the best kind. We were not blissful newlyweds because we were too overwhelmed with trying to organize our new, mutual space and make it our own. (Also, there was some sleep deprivation involved as we learned to share blankets and bed space. Looking back, that probably made mountains out of what should have been molehills more than anything else.) We fell in love pretty quickly and wanted to be married, both in the abstract and to each other, from very early on in our relationship, but that didn’t mean it was an easy transition. Especially for people who aren’t always the most graceful transitioners.

So even though we’ve waited an eternity and waded through a quagmire of grief and frustration, there are still moments where we both get nervous, or terrified, or just a little dazed at the unknown possibilities of being parents. And knowing it could start any time, or be started for us when we’re at our wits’ end, leaves the waiting that much more intense.

I’m still pretty bad at waiting, but at least this time (I hope) all will be well when it’s over.

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My heart is full of many things as I approach my last month of pregnancy. I expected, when I thought I would never be in such a position, to have a heart full of only good things–joy, gratitude, anticipation, love. All of those things are there, all of them bubble over and make the days creep by as I long to finally hold a baby who is mine.

But new-mommy anxiety fights for a place, especially when I’m not able to sleep through the night for several nights in a row. So does frustration at my aches and pains, along with lingering sadness over all the hard things of the past few years. It all lurks beneath the surface, sometimes closer to the top than others, and it’s hard to know when to acknowledge it and when to try to force it away by ignoring it.

It’s as if I don’t feel I have permission to feel anything negative. Well-meaning, otherwise-supportive folks have reminded me that backaches and labor pain are “what I prayed so hard for.” Not many, but enough to feel put in my place. Yes, for this child I prayed, harder than anyone will ever know. But funny how God answered those prayers with a little person kicking my ribs and not with a crystal ball and instruction manual. I feel no more ready to labor and deliver, let alone parent, this baby than anyone else who has never done either.

At the heart of it all is still a degree of incredulity that this is happening to us. The fear that something could still go horribly wrong is there, of course, but there is also a competing voice in my head saying, “But what if it doesn’t? What if Jonathan is a healthy, happy baby who grows into an amazing kid and then a handsome, God-loving man who outlives his parents?” And that thrills me to no end, but it can still feel like someone else’s story. Surely that can’t be meant for our family after all this time?

Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him. Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him. When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.

Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.” And she added, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.” Genesis 21:1-7

Once again, I feel the permission to be anxious or incredulous from Sarah. I imagine her shaking her head in wonder for months after Isaac is born, maybe still afraid he is a dream or a manifestation of dementia. But there is joy, thankfulness, love, and laughter in her words too. It can feel a little cramped with all those feelings floating around in there, but there is room for all of them.

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Our adoption process that we left hanging is still a sore spot for me. I still don’t understand why we felt led down such a long, complicated road that didn’t result in a child, and hearing about the serendipity of successful adoption stories has the same effect on me that miraculous pregnancy stories did when I thought we would never have one of our own. All that to say, though, all the psychological preparation we did for adoption changed our perspectives on having a biological child.

I mentioned my impatience with the perspective that a woman’s body is made to give birth in my last post, and I suppose this is a follow-up to that. I should add that I don’t doubt there are plenty of women who give birth relatively easily without major medical intervention. The world’s population would be incredibly small if that weren’t the case. I also don’t doubt that there is value and substance to the research on the benefits of immediate skin-to-skin contact between mom and baby after birth, often followed quickly by the first breastfeeding session. So many hospitals, ours included, wouldn’t promote it if there wasn’t a good reason.

But here’s where some lessons from adoption come into play. Basically, adoption taught us to say two words most new parents find very difficult to say: it’s okay.

Adoptive parents rarely get the chance to experience that skin-to-skin contact. When medical professionals and otherwise-helpful publications glorify that time and make it synonymous with the entire process of parent-child bonding, it often produces guilt and fear. But adoptive parents do bond with their babies or older children somehow, and that bond isn’t somehow secondary because it wasn’t facilitated in the seconds following birth. We had to come to a place of acceptance of this for over two years, and had to learn to be okay with it.

We had to learn to be okay with not breastfeeding an adopted baby, especially so that I would be free to pursue whatever endometriosis treatment was necessary to give me the energy to care for this new baby. Some adoptive moms do nurse, but very rarely are they able to do so without formula supplementation. So we had to smile and nod through the rhetoric about breast milk being nature’s perfect food while instead being thankful for the abundance of quality formula that would allow us to feed our baby. And if breastfeeding Jonathan doesn’t go well, guess what? I still get to be grateful, and he will be okay.

Babies are resilient. They can survive exposure to horrible substances, they can survive with a minimum of medical care, they can survive being transferred to another set of parents. It’s no one’s ideal, and in no way am I advocating for it. But we saw a lot of hair-raising scenarios among the fifty-four cases we were presented with, and to many of them we said, sometimes with fear and trembling, it’s okay. If you are meant to be ours, we will get through this together, because that’s what families do.

Biological families can get through less-than-ideal beginnings too. Jonathan already has a lot of advantages over many of the babies who could have become his older sibling in that I know what he’s been exposed to and it’s all been approved by my doctor. Ultrasounds have shown a healthy boy of normal size and proportions. God willing, he’ll come into this world safely and I’ll be able to hold him to my chest and let him nurse immediately while Daddy wraps his arms around us both.

But if we can’t, we will still form an unshakable bond with the son we longed for. He will be okay, we will be okay, and we’ll get through it together, because that’s what families do.

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Jonathan Reece, our Baby Miracle, is due in a little over six weeks. For the first time since 2009, singing Christmas carols in church does not cause deep pain with every mention of mothers and babies. For the first time since 2009, I am getting the one thing I want for Christmas (though I hope he stays put until afterward). It is a season for rejoicing and anticipating and getting my rib cage kicked, and even though it wears me out, I am grateful to be on the other side of the intense longing and depression that has characterized the past four years.

We’re also wrapping up childbirth classes, which have been a mixed experience for me. Our instructors have been very informative and provide balanced information on unmedicated and medicated birth options offered by our hospital (and they back this up with personal experience, having delivered their own children there). Our workbook is a little more, um, less so. It gives detailed risks to mother and baby for any sort of medical intervention associated with labor and birth, neglecting to mention that many of these interventions have saved lives. Natural birth, according to them, has no risks. (First world perspective if I ever heard it.) They’re big on the “Your body was made to do this” idea.

I have no patience for that line of thinking. Maybe I could have bought it before we boarded the plane to Europe in 2010. But if my body was designed to incubate and birth my babies, why did my body create such an inhospitable environment for that long-ago first-conceived baby? There is a huge chance that baby couldn’t properly implant because of uterine blood clots and my body’s inability to process standard folic acid. But that was determined by blood tests. On the outside, I was the healthiest I’d ever been in my adult life. I’d recently lost about 20 pounds while Mike lost nearly 100, I was eating great and exercising regularly, I had no endo symptoms, and I was hopeful for our future family. So if my body just needed excellent care to be in top baby-making shape, I had it in spades.

In the years that followed, my body couldn’t seem to do anything right. Endo, ovarian cysts, and other reproductive system issues big and small wrecked havoc on my physical and emotional health. Medicine, dietary changes, surgery, fertility treatments all did nothing long-term. My body seemed made for nothing but malfunctioning after I’d worked so hard to get it in tip-top shape. I wasn’t noticeably better off when I discovered I was expecting Jonathan, which is why we called him Miracle from day one. We did nothing to prepare my body, other than taking the baby aspirin and folate pills along with standard prenatals “just in case.” God decided, for reasons still unknown to us, that this would be the Christmas we would sing, “For unto us a son is given” in a whole new way.

So forgive me if I don’t have much confidence in my body’s ability to finish the job. Forgive me if it has caused a little anxiety as I contemplate this monumental task ahead of me. Forgive me if I laugh or roll my eyes a bit every time I see or hear the words “birth plan.” Not one piece of this journey has gone according to plan so far–not plan A, plan B, plan C or on down. If I have to have a fully-asleep emergency C-section because my uterus ruptures during labor, I will not be surprised. I will be grateful the ability exists in my time and place to keep Jonathan and me alive in such situations, but I will not be surprised. I will not mourn the loss of my “birth plan” or how my body has failed me by not being up to the task I was told it would be.

My heart was made to grow even more than the Grinch’s when I finally get to meet my son. That is all I know and all I expect. I hope for a smooth labor and delivery (complete with epidural) and time to adequately heal and rest in the weeks that follow, but if that doesn’t happen, well, it wouldn’t be the first time something went berserk in this journey. None of it could change my love for my son, in whom I am already well pleased.

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Friends, family, my doctor, and many corners of the internet led me to believe that feeling exhausted during pregnancy happened in the first trimester (as hormones ramp up and baby changes most dramatically) and in the third trimester (as you try to accommodate significant weight gain). The second is accompanied by a burst of energy in which, supposedly, you feel much more like your pre-pregnancy self. After four months of nausea and laying on the couch out of shear exhaustion, I was really looking forward to this.

Except with my second trimester also came another round of sinus infection, two trips with long flights, and a host of fall chores that have left me nearly as tired as I was over the summer. I can do more, but I am no less tired at the end of the day.

I hate feeling so tired, especially when it means Mike has more to do to pick up the slack. He has lots to do around the house in the fall anyway, because my pelvis has prohibited me from mowing the yard for a few years now and fall in the Pacific Northwest is a complicated dance of waiting for the yard to dry out so it can be mowed, only to discover it’s grown exponentially since the last dry day because of all the rain, so it still looks ragged by the time the rain sets in again (it’s much the same in April, but with a little more daylight on our side). And then there is our beloved apple tree, which ripened early this year from our record-hot summer and so required our attention starting in early September. We made apple butter, applesauce, and desserts for church meetings like our lives depended on it, filling our freezer and gifting many jars to friends and co-workers.

But standing for an hour chopping a paper grocery bag full of apples after working with toddlers in the morning and trying to clean up the house in the afternoon left me hardly able to keep my eyes open. At 8:00 p.m.

Maybe I would have an easier time cutting myself some slack if pregnancy hadn’t been preceded by three years of never knowing if I would feel good or not. Endometriosis should be a predictable disease since it’s affected by the same hormones that dictate the menstrual cycle, but there were days just after my period ended when I would be in as much pain as a day or two before my next period started. I had so many days where my to-do list was such a joke that I stopped writing to-do lists just to avoid the guilt of leaving the entire thing uncompleted. Of course, infertility and adoption-related depression made it all the harder to try again the next day, to give myself grace, to ask for help even from my husband.

So in that sense, pregnancy doesn’t feel a whole lot different from the condition that prevented me from getting pregnant for so long. Except that medical literature and personal testimonies abound with how pregnancy “cures” endometriosis by allowing you to go a year or more without a cycle. Silly me, I thought that meant it might give me my energy back too. I thought it might allow me to feel like a fully-functioning member of society again.

No such luck.

But the travels are over until I have a ticket that will read “infant in arms.” The apple tree is stripped bare for another year. And I am trying to learn now, before I am falling-down tired from my newborn screaming all night, to allow myself to admit my limits. To rejoice in what I can do and not worry so much about what I can’t. It is hard, sometimes impossible, but I want to try to give myself more grace to rest when I am tired.

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Mike named our first-born daughter approximately on our three-month wedding anniversary.

We were in the car with his parents, driving from his great-aunt’s house in southern Alabama, where we’d spent Christmas 2006, to another aunt and uncle’s condo in the Florida panhandle. I was faithfully taking my birth control pills (back when I could semi-tolerate them, before endo took over my body) and working hard at my master’s program, determined to give myself time to adjust to being a wife, writer, and full-fledged adult before adding mom into the mix. In other words, we weren’t trying to name our children this early on.

But my engineer husband, with his love of puns and word play, realized that our mothers’ names, Carol and Evelyn, nicely fit together to make Carolyn. It may have been dated and a little cumbersome, but I couldn’t argue with the sentiment. It just made sense, and somewhere in the past seven-plus years, it has grown on me. Every potential daughter we have had these past four years (and there have been plenty) has made me wonder if she was to be Carolyn. Carolyn Danielle, to be precise, because we would never have survived this journey without the loving care our dear pastor Danna provided. (But Carolyn Danna, all three of us agree, sounds silly. So Danielle it is. Close enough.)

But of course, our sweet Baby Miracle is a boy. I’ll admit, I was a little disappointed when we first learned this. I may have cried big, ugly tears for a few hours the afternoon our blood test results came back. There were many reasons I wanted our first to be a girl, but one of the more superficial ones was that I was more attached to our girl’s name than our boy’s name. I wanted to honor our daughter’s grandmothers–all three of them–but now they would have to wait, and possibly never get the chance. Who but God has any idea when, or if, lightning will strike this house again, and if it will be pink?

Our son, the one whose flutter kicks I’m finally starting to feel through the anterior placenta as I approach 24 weeks, is already being introduced to the world as Jonathan Reece. That name doesn’t go back quite as far into the annals of our marriage, but it was far from a recent choice. Unlike Carolyn, we chose Jonathan because of its meaning, “God has given.” Because really, God giving us a child is a pretty monumental event. And David may be called the “man after God’s own heart” in the Bible, but his best friend, Jonathan, sets aside his title of crown prince to support David because he believes him to be the rightful king of Israel in the eyes of God. Putting the will of God ahead of your own glory–if my son can do that, I will be one proud mama.

And we still get to honor family. Reece is my father-in-law’s middle name, and his mother’s maiden name. He is a worthy man to name our Miracle after, but he also won’t have many good years with this little guy. His health is precarious and he’s turning 80 in a few weeks, so honoring him in this way feels like a now-or-never prospect.

God has given us a son who is growing with textbook precision, and we will give him a name that will always let him know what a Miracle he is.

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