Friday, February 28, 2014

Happy Homecoming for the Fearless Ones

Tomorrow is a big day. I am so grateful tonight to say that I am moving into a home, that I own, and I get to share it with my husband and my son.




When I moved back East in 2011, I didn't ever believe that 3 years would bring these 3 enormous gifts into my life. I was spinning wheels and thought of that as my permanent identity. Shows how much I know!

I am so thrilled! I have a place, and in my place are my people. More importantly, I have my people.

Lastnight we walked through the house which was still a work in progress -- and will be, even after we move in. But that's exciting, and it's a beautiful and challenging thing.

My baby is a week away from 2 months old. His blue eyes are just riveting. He's starting to coo and smiles quite often. He's working on a giggle! I can't ever stop saying thank you for every feeding, all the rolls, the cheeks and rosebud lips. I love his snoring and happy piglet grunting when he eats. I love the way he laughs and stares at his daddy so intently every night when he comes home from work.

These days, Caleb hates being set down, but he is learning to cope. He does love to sit in the Mei Tai sash carrier while I cook, clean, and pack the apartment for moving day. He cooperates well with being babysat by aunts, uncles, and grandparents (or so they say...). He is growing SO fast, and already wears 3-6 month outfits! I hear often that our baby is "actually cute." I know, it's hard to believe! Wink.

I call myself McFearless for the sake of this blog, but it's really supposed to be ironic, because the fact is that the more my goals are achieved, the more life experiences I am given, the more I grow old -- the more opportunities I have to turn onto fear. It's a feeling I battle daily, and I realize that the more I love something or someone on this earth, the more the flip side of that is losing them somehow or other.

Fear pushes me continually to let go of the dust of this earth -- beautiful though the dust may be, and IS, in my life. It pushes me toward God, toward the Maker of my Identity and the purpose of my existence (whether I like it, or some days not). It reminds me that I am built to love what lasts -- He lasts. There is no fear in losing that love. And in loving him, I am able to form healthy attachments to others walking this world with me.

Today is a beautiful day. It's not exempt from fear for the future -- or else, how would I ever learn to be brave? Son of the Fearless one -- that's me. I hope I'm becoming more like him, the more fears I can realize and relinquish.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Caleb William, A Birth Story | Part 3

(here's Part 1)
(here's Part 2)

After they took the baby off my chest, I realized we should share his name with my family who was there. We had chosen his first name already, and selected a few possibilities for a middle name, but several days before I'd told my husband that he got to make the final call on the middle name, so I really still didn't know which one he'd chosen. 

"Caleb William" was the final call.

We chose the name Caleb because of the story of Caleb in the Bible. Caleb exemplifies brazen, fearless faithfulness to the call of God, even in the face of mightier opposition and the fear and unwillingness of his comrades to do battle with him. He never succumbed to peer pressure or to fear. He knew what he was about, believed that having God on his side really meant something, and because of his fearless stand, he not only changed his personal destiny, but the direction of an entire nation. 

Considering our personal recent history, facing death and disease and one stressful roadblock after another as newlyweds, this story means a lot to us. We believe that God has promised us ultimate rest in His presence, and that we'll experience complete healing and complete peace on that day. Life will be rich, beyond our imagination, but before we experience that, we must first do battle. We have many enemies to battle, and it would be easy to lay down and say "no more!" It would be easy to succumb to weakness or fear, or to say our obstacles or our enemies are stronger than we are and will surely defeat us. 

Caleb inspires us because he knew up-close how strong the enemy was, and even his friends encouraged a defensive posture, and admission of weakness and acknowledgement of defeat. Caleb said no. He took a stand for receiving the promise that was rightfully his not because he trusted in his own strength but because he believed that God was greater and stronger than the obstacles, and he believed that God's presence and favor carried more meaning than human power and might. It takes a lot to believe that, even and especially when it means disagreeing openly with people who are suppose to be your allies. 

Our little baby took a stand against cancer and went with me in-utero under anesthesia to have my thyroid removed. Days later he accompanied us to the funeral of one of our dearest friends on this earth -- new life honoring the old and defying death.

I've done quite a bit of research on the name itself, and one of my favorite explanations comes from the website "Behind the Name":

Many name books / websites list the meaning of CALEB as "Dog". However, a simple look in a Hebrew / English dctionary one will see that "dog" in Hebrew is CELEB, not CALEB. **Note** the first vowel is different. CALEB is actually a compound word in Hebrew - something that is quite common in ancient Hebrew. Col (Cuf + Lamed) = all or whole. Lev (Lamed + Vet) = heart. Therefore, CALEB (or COLEV as pronounced in Hebrew) actually means "whole hearted". (source)

As for William, it happens to be a family name on both sides of our family, and it also honors our dear family friend, Liam (William Hennessy), who passed away in July 2013, quite unexpectedly. His funeral was the one that our baby attended in-utero. I can only be grateful that we decided to announce our pregnancy shortly before Liam passed, so he knew that the baby was expected and got to smile over that.

The meaning of the name William is just as inspirational as the personal heritage. Again from "Behind the Name":

From the Germanic name Willahelm, which was composed of the elements wil "will, desire" and helm "helmet, protection". (source) 

Life can be a real big jerk sometimes. With that realization, and understanding the gravity of bringing another human into the world to experience life, we wanted to give our son a legacy: a legacy of fearless faithfulness, and the strong will of a warrior. The undercurrent is the belief that the battle pays off in the end.

*        *        *

So that's it! Our man-child was born big and strong and healthy: 8 pounds, 13 ounces, and 20.5 inches long. I got to try breast-feeding in the first hour, and he took to it well right away, improving his skills day by day in the first week.

He was immediately cute, if you ask his mama!

We are so thankful he's here in our family, and so full of happiness and fear and insecurity and joy at the opportunity to raise him. 

He is totally awesome, and we can't wait to watch him grow up ... but not too quickly, please!

Caleb William, A Birth Story | Part 2

(here's Part 1)

Now that I have more experience with hospitalization, pain, and hospital intake procedures, it never ceases to baffle me the way that they pepper you with idiotic questions while your suffering increases. The worst part is usually 2 or 3 people ask you the same questions in succession. I mean -- we have computers and smart phones. Can't they get on the same page without forcing me to repeat myself between mind-numbing contractions? Else I'll just tattoo this to my forehead: "No, I don't smoke. No, I haven't been drinking. My husband and I have just looked through all three of our bags and our phones and everything else and it looks like we forgot the pediatrician's information so NO I don't have that for you and I know you're making a big deal about it but guess what? I know there is a pediatrician who works in this department in case I don't already have one so you can leave me alone now. Thanks!" And yes, I know these dear ones are just doing their job, so I don't really blame them, but really someone should change the procedure. In the meantime, I hope they enjoy my response: "I'm sorry but I can't answer that question right now."

Anyhoo, they took me into a triage room and put me in a gown and contraction monitor and gave me a million pieces of paper to fill out and sent my husband to properly park the car. They did ask me a million questions and then made me lay back (which I found to be excruciatingly painful pretty much the entire time I was in labor) so they could check me and found that I was 6-7 cm dilated, so I would be staying and not getting sent home. Everyone seemed surprised that as I first-time mom, I was actually dilated and they were admitting me. I think secretly they were blowing me off in their heads, which is always a good feeling. My cervix showed them what's up! Ha.

So, I think it was between 3 and 4 am (?) when we found ourselves in a nice big room with some nice nurses and got me all hooked up to contraction and baby monitors, and all I really wanted to do was get back in the shower (I'd tried the shower a little bit at home), so they worked out a system for that and I got in there and spent as much time in the shower as I could. Because the hot water was pretty much the only thing that gave me relief at that point in my labor, I have in mind that I'd like to find a place with a birthing tub that I'll be able to try next time. The shower was good, but I got tired of just standing there as it was small and cramped and I couldn't really get into a comfortable position. My husband was a huge help with taking advantage of this option, so I definitely appreciated him.

One thing I really wish now is that I had continued to try walking around once I'd been admitted. There isn't much opportunity for this because they hook you up to so many darn monitors once you're there (which we were prepared for and this is why we waited until contractions were 3 minutes apart to even leave for the hospital). But even if I had paced the room, or opted to try the birth ball, I think it would've been better because I would've had gravity on my side, and probably would've found a more relaxing position. As it was, when I took a break from the shower I was pretty much sitting in the hospital bed and screaming whenever someone tried to make me lay down (cause OW!). I wasn't really able to relax.

The end result of this was that after 6 more hours of laboring, I was growing delirious. I had found an ability for a few hours to breathe through my contractions, and I wasn't consciously choosing it but I have a vague memory of a humming pattern that I used to focus myself. I remember everyone telling me I was doing a great job and all the nurses asking what classes I had taken to learn the techniques I was using, and I was like, "Uhh, regular hospital brand?" But maybe this is the party line they give all the ladies to boost their self-confidence.

It was starting to get light outside, and my sister had arrived and was there supporting and encouraging me with my husband. (They were both awesome, btw.) I didn't have any pain meds or really any meds, just an IV. My contractions were very painful and they were coming so close together at this point that I was barely getting a minute to rest. Mind you, by now I've missed two nights of sleep in a row, and I'd been laboring fast and furiously for 12 hours. The pain and exhaustion started taking over my brain and I couldn't really make small decisions anymore. All I could think was "I want to go to sleep. I need to go to sleep." I was feeling nauseated, and I remember people saying maybe I was getting to the transition phase.

I think I started to cry but I'm not sure. I was despairing that I was going to be able to make it much longer. I couldn't really connect with anyone and I felt very alone and unable to manage the pain anymore. The doctor came in and checked me at this point. It turned out that my cervix hadn't changed since we'd been admitted. The baby was even higher than before. This is why I say I wish I used some other laboring positions and opted to have gravity on my side. Being so exhausted, and for the most part just sitting legs up in the hospital bed, I don't think I was able to relax to allow my body to continue working.

This news put me in a state of extreme sadness. They asked me if I wanted to get an epidural so I could sleep. This terrified me and I got very upset and I was unable to make the decision for what felt like a long time. I was so conflicted because I felt like I should be strong enough to overcome the pain I was experiencing, and I knew that many women do it all the time. I was terrified that something would go wrong and I would experience complications that would somehow compromise my time of bonding with the baby after I gave birth. I was worried it would stop my contractions and I'd end up needing more and more medication, and possibly end up needing a c-section. I truly had so many worries, I didn't know how to make the decision. I worried about disappointing myself and my husband, because we had wanted to try for a natural birth. (My Sister could tell I was having a hard time with the decision and tried to help me process it by asking what I was afraid of. All I could say was "paralysis" -- I was very afraid of epidurals!)

To date I'm not sure how I overcame all those thoughts and emotions to make a decision. I think I just realized that I was going through a lot of pain and turmoil for the end result of no progress. My brain and body's need for rest overcame the conflict and anxiety of my emotions, and I opted for getting the epidural just so I could finally go to sleep and worry about everything else later, after I'd had a nap. The nurse tried to encourage me that if I had the ability to relax, my body would probably loosen up and my labor would probably progress, which she said is common for first-time moms. She suggested that after going through birth once, I might find it easier to try a med-free birth the second time.

The anesthesiologist came in with a huge cart and started giving me his spiel with lots of humor, although I really can't remember anything he said as I was still in excruciating discomfort with almost nonstop contractions. I think my husband was a little annoyed with his jokes and wished he would just get down to the business of putting his wife out of her misery. They made Jhonny sit on a stool so he wouldn't pass out when they stuck the needle in my spine. I remember him having me sit up and telling me to curl my spine outward like a cat. Can I tell you how difficult this is when you are having contractions?? Quite. But before long it was over, and I was sleeping.

The next few hours were sweet, glorious relief. I am so thankful, because I was able to sleep and relax and even regained my ability to think straight and make conversation with my husband, sister, and mom (who arrived after my epidural). I slept for the better part of 3-4 hours, and mercifully, my contraction monitor showed that my contractions were continuing on their own in a textbook pattern -- the nurse said that the way they looked on the monitor it didn't seem like I had an epidural at all. See how you worried for nothing, self?? Still, I'm glad I waited as long as I did, and made the decision based on the way my individual labor progressed. For me, it was just right -- not to say I won't do things differently next time, but it was a perfect first learning experience.

The several hours after the epidural were pretty uneventful. Lots of sleeping, chatting, hydrating, and changing positions. Around 3pm, my doctor came back and checked me again to find that I was ready to start pushing. This was the part of the process when I most wished I didn't have the epidural, because I couldn't feel my contractions well enough to know when I should be pushing, so I had to rely on other people to tell me. I couldn't feel "down there" very well, so I was having a hard time pinpointing exactly where to push. For that reason, I feel like my first several contractions after I started pushing were a lot clumsy and a little unproductive, but my doctor was great and she gave me lots of good guidance on how to redirect and improve my efforts. Eventually I got the hang of things and started making progress. Once I started making progress I knew more because of how exhausted I was between pushes than because I could feel the baby.

It sounds like a super long time, but about an hour and a half of pushing went by extremely quickly. My doctor knew when the baby was about to come, and got dressed in what looked like a hazmat suit (rightfully so) and visor with a shield over her face. I was busy, but I reminded myself to laugh about that later. It was pretty intense! She has a very calm demeanor and does things in a discreet, matter-of-fact, and very calming style, although she's also very authoritative, so with a few short pushes more, as the clock struck 4:46pm on January 7th -- his estimated due date!! -- the baby was born!

Everything became a crazy blur after that. They put the baby on my chest right away so I could hold him while they began cleaning him off and suctioning his breathing passages. He was a good screamer and seemed immediately adorable to me, and I was kissing him all over his slippery head. I don't remember my husband cutting his cord, but apparently he did. I just wanted to hold and cuddle and kiss my baby. Eventually, after what seemed like seconds but I know now was actually several minutes, they took him to the far corner of the room to weigh him and check his blood sugar (he was shaking a bit and he was big, so apparently that leads to indications of blood sugar issues -- but he didn't have any and was probably just cold and objecting to his abrupt change of scenery).

I remember at this point asking my husband to announce his name. We had chosen his first name already, and selected a few possibilities for a middle name, but several days before I'd told my husband that he got to make the final call on the middle name, so I really still didn't know which one he'd chosen. "Caleb William" was the final call (the middle name I'd most wanted!), so Jhonny shared and my mom began to spread the word to family.

*        *        *

So, what's in a name?

to be continued....

(Part 3)
(Part 1)

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Caleb William, A Birth Story | Part 1

I had a lot of anxiety surrounding the date of Caleb's birth. To be honest, I didn't worry much about the catastrophic push-baby-out-of-tiny-hole-in-body issue, but I really did worry (a lot) about the date of said pushing.

Baby's due date was January 7, 2014. The date was determined by ultrasounds at 5 and 9 weeks. My super smart OB picked the 7th after seeing both ultrasounds. My high-risk maternal fetal medicine doctor accidentally recorded January 4th as my due date, and at some point during the pregnancy, told me that the baby was measuring two weeks ahead of their recorded due date -- or 2.5 weeks ahead of my actual due date. To me, this meant the baby could easily arrive before Christmas!

As I often do, I assumed I had some control over the date of his arrival, and I determined for a number of reasons that somewhere between Dec 27-29, 2013 would be the perfect timeframe for Mr. Baby to make his grand entrance. I hoped, I prayed, I researched, I texted my sister, and I channeled every respectable Old Wife I could find and applied her natural labor induction method tales to my personal life. Boy did I!

With a lot less histrionics than I felt at the time, I can tell you now that my efforts failed and we entered the New Year 2014 with no baby. And in my family, entering the new year also meant running the Family Birthday Gauntlet. My nephew's birthday is January 3rd, mine is January 4th, and my father- AND sister-in-law share a birthday of January 5th. For some reason that can only be explained by true Mama-to-Be hormones, it was of D-I-R-E importance to me that my baby be born on his "own" birthday (nevermind the billions of other people we have yet to meet that are born on the same day...). I wanted him to have his own special day and not to have to share with anyone. My husband assured me that it would not be totally lame for the rest of his life if our son had to share his birthday with *gasp* his MOM, but I could not be convinced not to worry about this at the back of my mind, minimum. And of course text my sister about it hourly.

Miraculously, we made it to January 6th with no labor. So of course, I immediately transitioned from nail-biting anxiety that he might have share his birthday to nail-biting anxiety that he would never come naturally and I would to be induced by the wicked witch, Pitocin.

In the background you must understand that I have watched some, ahem, documentaries, and seen some real-life situations that have not necessarily painted pitocin in the most favorable of lights. I wanted to try for a med-free delivery, and I knew that pitocin causes more painful contractions, increasing the likelihood of needing pain meds. I knew that pain meds can slow down contractions, requiring the use of more pitocin. And I have all kinds of latent fears that pitocin will make bonding with my baby less organic. I had hopes of trying to let my body just do its thing and naturally bring the baby into this world without interventions. Once we passed the birthday gauntlet, I began to despair completely and think that, though it be January 6th with no baby in sight, soon it would be January 13th with no baby in sight and I'd be checking in at the hospital the night before my induction date.

Backing up to January 6th again....

In the middle of the night my phone started ringing. My already-lacking sleep was disturbed in the wee hours to respond to an emergency at work, and I was never able to get back to sleep afterward. I headed into the office well before 8am, feeling terrible and worrying about the fallout ahead of me from the midnight emergency, as well as the violent stomach plague that was spreading around my office. I did some early-morning damage control and bought some bleach to start scouring the office bathroom and kitchen to protect my 9-month pregnant self (and the others, yeah, I really care about them).

Feeling incredibly low, I headed to my weekly checkup at the OB around 11:30am. Remarkably, as I sat in the office for about 30 minutes waiting my turn, I witnessed a fellow patient in labor for the first time in all my millions of visits to the practice. It was intense and a little bit intimidating. The lady seemed to be in a lot of pain, followed by 5 or 6 minutes of completely normal existence. (On the way out she and I and her husband got stuck waiting for the ONE elevator that was going down -- all the others were out of order and would only go up! Torture.)

Once I finally got my turn to talk to the doctor, she asked me if I was experiencing this or that or the other from her list of signs of early labor, and I could confidently say no to every single thing. Ultimately she checked my cervix and found that it was 3 cm dilated and 90% effaced (how do I remember these numbers?? math was... impossible...), and Baby was at -2 station. She said, "Your water could break at any moment."

And with that declaration, and my already feeling awful and sleep-deprived, and my extreme panic about the violent stomach plague overtaking my office, I decided to throw in the towel and go straight home for the day, rather than saving that towel for my staff to clean up after my water hypothetically broke in the office rolly chair. I would just go home, get some rest to make up for the night before, and most likely head back to the office the next day.

*        *         *

Husband got home in the late afternoon, a couple of hours after me. He decided to help me take my mind off my anxieties, so we hung out together, got some dinner out, and did some mall-walking. The evening got extremely cold and windy, so we headed home and said hi to his sister and her husband (in whose basement we temporarily live), and wound up watching the first hour or so of a pretty weird movie wherein Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds switch bodies.

To make that film experience even more bizarre than it already was, I had started to feel contractions that were actually noticeable, painful, and seemed to be fairly frequent. After an hour or so, we headed down to our room to try and get some rest. It was between 10 and 11pm at this point. My husband was sick, so he took some nighttime cold meds and promptly dozed off. I was sure that my contractions would peter out shortly, being a first-time mom with no prior early labor signs, but I decided to start recording the contractions anyway while I got ready for bed. To my surprise, they were on average 1 minute long and 5 minutes apart.

Surprised, but playing it cool, I decided to climb into bed and try to go to sleep. A few minutes after snuggling in on my left side, a shockingly painful contraction paralyzed my body and forced me to cry out involuntarily. After a bit of trying to reposition myself, I realized that for the moment, laying down in bed was making the contractions more painful, so I got up and went to the living room and tried to relax between my exercise ball and yoga mat I'd placed on the floor with a bed pillow. Still, I was really waiting for the regular contractions to peter out and come-again-another-day.

A couple of hours passed (extremely fast!), and my contraction timer app was letting me know that my contractions weren't petering out, but were instead coming more quickly with an average of 3 minutes between contractions that were lasting at least a minute long. I tried to rouse my extremely drowsy husband and he helped me called my doctor to ask for some direction. After talking to me and the hubs for a few minutes, she told me I could go on in to the hospital to get checked. I want to say it was around 1 am this point, but I can't really remember.

We'd already packed ourselves a couple of hospital bags, but we threw in a few last-minutes items, gave the car several minutes to warm up (it was the coldest night of the year, breaking records below zero!), and got bundled up in our warmest gear. At this point the contractions were stopping me in mid-step, so I had to stop and stabilize myself against the wall, floor, or countertop just depending on where I was at the moment.

I want to be able to explain for people what the contractions felt like for inquiring minds that might want to know, but the words escape me. It didn't really feel like cramping or squeezing, and I wouldn't really describe it as pressure (this is what people used to say to describe "labor" to me). I guess the best thing I can say is that it was a tight, sharp, radiating pain through my body and my mind, starting in my abdomen and low back and expanding outward and down into my upper thighs. It was completely unlike the intriguing but non-painful Braxton Hicks I'd been experiencing for a couple of weeks. And this thing definitely had a life of its own, in that I couldn't really slow it down or speed it up -- my first glimpse of the reality that I was not at all in control of the process.

The car ride was definitely something I'd like to forget, as it seemed like the extreme temperatures rendered the shock absorbers non-existent and the pain I was in made every familiar bump and dip seem like an excruciating torment.

When we got to the hospital we pulled up right alongside another couple who were arriving with a woman in labor. She got to the nurses' station just ahead of us, and I overheard that she was a second-time mom and she declared that she wanted to start pushing while they were still checking her in -- hardcore! Once they attended to her -- with a very intentionally calm sense of urgency -- it was finally my turn to be checked and find out if we got to stay and be admitted, or if they were going to send us home.

Stay tuned for part 2! I have to go feed my crying baby now...

(here's Part 2)
(here's Part 3)