Sunday, April 23, 2017

That First Day, For Better or Worse

Day one with Eliza was both beautiful and disastrous. 

Beautiful because, new baby.  Disastrous because... well, we'll get to that. 

There's a lot to do when you have a brand new baby, you know.  There's the nursing and the loving and the holding and the staring, of course, but there are also stacks of forms to fill out and packets of papers to read and, apparently, videos to watch nowadays that teach you the proper way to put your baby to sleep. There are siblings to meet and pictures to take and texts to send to all the far reaching friends and family. And all of it is fun and exciting.  All of it, that is, except for one form this time: the birth certificate. It was easy to fill out the date and the time of birth and the parents information, of course, but then there was that one blank line that I could not, for the life of me, decide what to fill it with. 

Baby's Name: _________________


For hours it sat on the rolling table at the side of my bed calling for attention, calling for decision. The name we had been so mostly sure of, Matilda (Tillie) Jean, just wasn't working for some reason when I looked at this brand new baby. I love that name because it was my great-grandmother's name, but every single time I tried to use Matilda or Tillie my tongue seemed to get stuck and I couldn't even say it. I'd try to use it to say hello to this precious new face, but all that would come out as I stared into her eyes was, "Helloooooo... ... ... ... baaaaby,"

The nurses would ask what our name candidates were and, again, I couldn't even bring myself to mention the name Matilda in the list of possibilities. "Isabelle," I'd say to them without hesitation. "Addison," would roll off my tongue even though it wasn't my favorite. "Abigail," no problem. And when Brian was there to offer Matilda I would almost cringe at the sound of it.

Something's weird, I felt. I've always felt that no matter what name you choose, the child will grow into it and become that name without too much trouble.  I've never really feel like there is a right name that goes along with a baby (my babies anyway), but in this case there certainly seemed to be a wrong one. 

Alone in my hospital bed I watched her sleeping face through the clear plastic siding of her bassinet and thought through all of the names on our list of finalists.  None of them seemed to work either.

Who are you? I asked quietly.  But she didn't answer. And so I kept staring and thinking and tumbling names over and over each other in my mind, pulling them out at random and trying them out.  Amelia?
Somehow, names that we hadn't even considered before tumbled right alongside the ones that had been on our lists for months. Actually, let's be truthful here... that didn't really happen somehow, I know how. It was because I had pulled out my phone earlier and in desperate attempt landed all the way back at square one as I typed 'Baby Girl Names' into the Google search bar.

She squirmed and scrunched her face ever so slightly and at that moment a new name came floating past my consciousness. Eliza. 
"Eliza?" I said out loud. "Are you Eliza?" The name had been on one of our lists in the past and I had loved it, but somewhere along the line it had dropped from the finalists. Now, though, I loved the way it seemed to have fallen from my tongue as I watched her tiny face. Warmth filled my body and a small smile spread at the corners of my mouth.

Hm... Maybe Eliza then.

But there was a problem. Brian and the kids had been happily calling her Tillie for a while now, sporadically for over a month, and frequently since her birth, and that made me a little anxious to bring up my discontent.

Meanwhile back at home church had ended and the children had already dressed down into their regular clothes. Brian had fed them lunch and they were getting all ready for the exciting trip out to the hospital to meet their new baby sister.  They sent me a video that I watched from my hospital bed just before a nurse came in to check my vitals, and they were all so excited and so beautiful that it was all I could do to restrain myself from holding the nurse captive to watch it along with me again.  I let her be, but just look at this snapshot of the video... isn't it precious?!

You know from my previous post about how amazing the next couple of hours were.  We all oohed and ahhhed over her cuteness and her awesome (for my babies) head of hair,
and after the children had had their fill Brian took them back home to stay at the Calverts.  After dropping them off he turned right around to make his way back to the hospital. He called on his way and somewhere near the end of the conversation I mustered up some courage to say, "Hey, um... so... I don't think this is Matilda."  There was a slight pause as he absorbed the comment.
"No. It just feels weird. I can't even say it to her... I keep calling her 'baby' whenever I try. I don't know... we can talk about it later, but I'm really starting to think about 'Eliza' again... Just think about it."

It was around this point, 5pm, that things started taking a bit of a nosedive.  Hospitals are not my favorite place mostly because it's just so hard to get some decent sleep with all the interruptions going on all day and all night (and isn't it interesting that a place that's whole purpose is to help people heal doesn't do a better job at utilizing the body's greatest healing tool?). I had not slept a minute the entire night before because, labor, and then after a two hour nap on Sunday morning the rest of the day was spent getting up and down and in and out of bed caring for a brand new baby. Every time I would just get her to sleep, a nurse would come to check her vitals, bringing all the noise of a hospital with her, unwrapping the baby so completely and moving her around so quickly that the baby didn't stand a chance against it and would wake back up and feel hungry all over again. By 5pm my eyes were heavy from the want of sleep and my body felt weak and sore and grumpy. Yet the baby did not sleep.  And she was getting louder. I walked with her around the hospital room and bounced her gently till the point where I felt physically sick enough that I feared I would actually pass out there on the floor, holding the baby in my arms.  Thankfully Brian was close to making it back and when he arrived he took over. I stayed in bed after that point, but sleep was still far away.  Between what felt like constant nursing of a fussy baby and poorly timed nurse interruptions and the baby getting fussier and fussier as the hours went on, there was no room for sleep.  Eventually, Eliza became inconsolable and no amount of nursing or walking or bouncing could stop the screaming.  For hours. And hours. And hours. Minute by minute... second by second... through the latest hours of the night and the earliest hours of the morning... stuck in that tiny room with nowhere to go.

Her screams were confusing us - we'd never had a baby cry so hard for so long and we could not figure out what they meant or how to stop them.  It felt like we'd forgotten everything we ever knew about how to care for a newborn and at 5:00 in the morning, just as the sky was beginning to lighten after my second night of no sleep, my emotions broke and the flood of tears that coursed down my cheeks was quiet, but unstoppable. A cardiac nurse came in to check the baby's heart and I sat there listening to the cries of my fifth child and had no choice but to continue crying right along with her. I was able to answer all the questions the nurse had for me with a surprisingly calm voice but the tears were coming fast and hard and after the nurse had finished her assessment of the baby she gently asked, "Would you like for me to get your nurse?"

"Um...," I shrugged my shoulders and shook my head helplessly. Really, I knew I just needed a little sleep, and evidently a refresher course on parenting 101, but there was no nursery or parenting course, so it didn't seem like there was much of anything to be done.
"Well..." Brian said with the same helpless tone I felt in my own heart, "Probably not... I don't think there's anything she can do for us. We just need to get home so we can sleep."

Minutes later, however, my nurse came in and asked through the baby's screams if she could take her to the nurses station and give her a little bit of formula. I had been trying to nurse her almost non-stop but, of course, my milk had not come in yet and the little bit that she was getting didn't seem to be cutting it.
"Do you think she's just hungry?" I asked the nurse.
"I think she's just hungry," she confirmed.  "I can give you a couple of hours of rest."
Yes! I wanted to shout. Please! I wanted to scream. Take her and feed her and love her while I sleep! But instead I looked at her and calmly said, "Yes, that would be wonderful... thank you."

She was only able to take Eliza for one hour, but in that hour she fed her and Eliza fell sound asleep.  Brian and I did too and the three of us slept hard in that little room, undisturbed (thanks to the nurse who passed along the message to the rest of the staff that we needed to be left alone) until 10am.  I felt like a new person after those 5 beautiful hours of sleep!

Eliza was even more beautiful when she woke - happy and pleasant and absolutely perfect.  We started packing everything up to go home and when we came to the pile of papers with the birth certificate information on top Brian pulled out his pen.  We'd had a lot of time to talk and ponder through the sleepless night and we were both falling more and more in love with this new name. So when Brian picked up the pen to complete the form, it didn't seem as difficult at all.

Name: Eliza Lindsay Alder  he scrawled in his almost illegible handwriting.  "Okay," he said, "it's done."

And so it was. That day, after we named her, we learned that Brian has two grandmothers both several generations back named Eliza. Incredible women, one of whom who took her young family across the plains in the Willie Martin Handcart company. We have since read their stories and felt their voices and they are absolutely remarkable examples of courage, strength, and deep faith which leaves me to wonder: was this meant to be?  Maybe this little Eliza will need to feel a deep connection with those particular stories somewhere down the line... Could those women have been sitting in that hospital room somehow influencing my decision? I can't deny that the thought has crossed my mind.

Eventually the wristbands were cut and the dispatch papers were signed and it was time to pack everything, and everyone, into the van.  I love the feeling of driving away from the hospital with a brand new baby strapped snugly in the backseat. In a beautiful way it always feels like I'm leaving an old self behind, and this time was no different... driving away from our old life and into our new life as a family of seven.

And the kids only called her Tillie for about another week...

...and then 'Eliza' was here to stay.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Meet Eliza

I feel like I could stare at this picture for hours...

Experience has shown me that someday soon I'll come back across this picture and hardly believe how small the children are. But today, in this moment, those faces are so real and so current and this picture is so beautifully representative of my every single day.  I know these kids.  I know the details in their faces, the tones of their voices, the ways in which they phrase their words and sentences... I know the ways they think, the strengths that make them proud, the weaknesses on which they're currently working...

It kills me that many of the memories covering the details behind this photo are too elusive to be captured through photo or word and will therefore remain subject to the fading of time. But even so, the promise of that future fading cannot take away the vibrancy that is here in my today.

And I drank deeply from that vibrancy on the day I watched my older kids meet and hold their newest little sister.

McKenzie was just as tender as I expected her to be.  She wrapped that baby up in her arms and held her with a gentle confidence that brought tears to my eyes.

She was quiet and calm and amazed by all of the baby's tiniest features.

One of my greatest hopes is to see the beautiful bond of sisterhood between these two. I already know that McKenzie will be a fierce protector, a confident leader, and an incredible example for Eliza. McKenzie is a strong and loving friend to have in your corner.

And Carson...

Carson by nature is gentle and kind. He quietly absorbed the warmth and peace and joy that came from Eliza and his face was full of tenderness during the entire visit.

I absolutely love the way Eliza is looking up at him in this next photo.

He will be a great strength to her as she grows.  I just know he will keep her laughing with his witty sense of humor and keep her filled with love from his kindness.

While everyone else was happy exploring the hospital room, playing with latex gloves, and listening to Daddy tell the story of Eliza's birth, it was Carson that felt pulled to stay with and hold and rock Eliza. He is so strong in his goodness, and there are so many amazing personality traits that stem from that and make him an incredible example for Eliza to look up to.

Now Miles, I wasn't sure how he would react... my unsure feelings probably stemmed from the shockingly negative reaction he had had four years earlier with the arrival of Timothy. I was pretty sure that he'd be excited and happy this time around, but I was unprepared for just how excited and happy he actually was.

He was absolutely delighted! He came skipping into the hospital room and spent the entire visit with that giant, infectious smile of his glowing on his face. He bounced all of his steps and responded gleefully to every little squeak and grunt and squirm that came from Eliza's little body.

He didn't mind when Eliza started to fuss and found even her cry to be adorable and joyful. Miles brightened the entire hospital room with his happiness. And how lucky for Eliza to have that in her life! When Miles is happy he has a way of spreading that happiness all around him like confetti.

And I love that he is able to find great joy in simple things. These purple latex gloves took the excitement and happiness to a whole new level.  Miles adds so much to our family! and I'm so excited that Eliza has his example to teach her.

Timothy was absolutely precious to watch. I love the anticipation in his face above as Daddy started bringing Eliza close to him for the first time.

My favorite thing about Timothy was watching his hands.  He kept all four of his fingers on each hand stuck together in a single unit, as if he couldn't trust himself to pay them enough attention individually for fear he might poke or scratch or otherwise harm the baby if one of them went rogue.

It's not every day we get to see such a calm side of Timothy.  He has been full of life lately - opinionated and strong - but he tucked all of that away for the hours he sat with Eliza.  He felt charged with his new responsibility of Big Brother, and he did not take the title lightly.

He sat quiet and still and humbly listened to every small instruction Daddy was giving him on How to Hold a Baby.

I love it when his Sweet Eyes come out.

After his turn was over, he still hovered around and hugged anyone else who happened to be holding Eliza.

And shushed her sweetly any time she started to fuss. Timothy has an umbrella of love over his head and if you're lucky enough to stand under it with him you will feel the magic of his little spirit. Lucky Eliza to live in the same house as Timothy.

As the oldest of four kids, I have often wondered what it would be like to have older siblings to look up to.  A sister or a brother who was always one step ahead of me who I could turn to for advice and guidance... it sounds dreamy.  Thankfully I've had friends put in my path who fill that role for me, but I'm so happy for Eliza to have that built in to her life from her very first day of life.  Her siblings are such wonderful people and I have no doubt they will be there, watching her back and loving her, every step of the way.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017


We were ready this time.  The crib was set up with fresh, clean sheets. The tiniest clothes had tumbled through the laundry machines and lay folded in pretty white baskets that lined the closet shelves. New blankets of the softest material and in every shade of pink smelled sweetly of laundry detergent and lay on the shelf closest to the crib. The carseat and stroller shined after their good scrub down. A brand new baby swing waited in the corner of the living room. My hospital bag sat packed and ready.

And we waited.

Any day now, I told the children when they asked.  Any day now, the children repeated to their teachers and friends.

I had reason to believe she would come early.  All the other babies had.  Some by one week, another by two, and little Timothy had arrived four and a half weeks before his expected time. However, the days on my calendar kept flipping by and we found ourselves coming closer and closer to that little square with the 11 in the corner and the little red box inside of it that read Baby Due!!!

Any contractions? Brian would ask each time he called from work. Any contractions? Brian would ask each time he saw me pause. Any contractions? Brian would ask any time he saw my face. Any contractions? Brian would ask every time he took a breath. And each time, for days that turned into weeks, I would either shake my head or tell him, again, that he really needed to stop asking that question.  She'll come when she comes, I thought, though it was rather disheartening to be reminded over and over that absolutely nothing seemed to be happening.  Most days and in the good moments I was able to find his question rather endearing because it gave beautiful illustration to the fact that he was just. so. excited.

Really, it could change in a moment, Brian said one day as we were driving along the road in our minivan, right?

Yep, I said.  Any moment. He knew that answer of course, but somehow saying it out loud made us both feel better. Just because I'm not having many contractions doesn't mean all that much. My water could still break any second... progressive contractions could start any time... maybe we'll find ourselves driving to the hospital in an hour...?

And so it went. For days upon days. Always ready, always attentive, always waiting for the Moment of Change.

Here and there pockets of Bad Timing lurked. Some were little things, such as the evening Brian attended the temple with the youth, or each day he had to drive out to the furthest clinic for work.  Some were bigger things, such as the few operating days on Brian's calendar where he had a schedule full of patients who had been waiting for weeks to have their eye surgeries.

Some of the Bad Timing pockets lasted an entire day, such as my birthday. You don't want to have to share a birthday with your mother your whole childhood, I whispered to her early that morning before I got out of bed, so stay comfy in there for today, sweetheart. Or April Fools Day.  It's not a big deal, but if you want your very own day then you should wait this one out, love. Or the weekend of General Conference. Your brothers and sister looked so very frightened when I mentioned that if you came this weekend we would not be watching conference as a family this time around.

Speaking of General Conference, the whole idea of the baby's birthday mixing with it was very worrisome to McKenzie. You see, our church holds a General Conference twice a year where our prophet and his apostles and other inspiring leaders give incredible, inspired talks that are delivered in a giant assembly hall and broadcast worldwide, and it always falls on the weekend that contains the first Sunday in April (and then again in October).  We make it a big deal in this house. We block off the days and cook and bake all sorts of delicious foods and have several small bowls filled with different kinds of candy that the kids eat largely unregulated. We pull out the picnic blanket and spread it in front of the TV and it is the only time during the whole year that food is allowed in the family room. The kids print out all sorts of coloring pages and pull out creative, quiet toys such as magnets or legos, and then we sit together as a family to eat and create and watch and listen for four hours on Saturday, and for another four hours on Sunday. Some of us take notes on the ideas and feelings that meant the most to us, and now that the kids are getting older we have some great conversations afterwards about the lessons we learned.  It's a special weekend and we look forward to it with great excitement. McKenzie loves it the most out of all the kids currently, and was disheartened when she learned that the baby might have to share her birthday with such an important and special weekend on any occasion her birthday happened to fall on a Saturday or a Sunday. Which in McKenzie's mind put the Very Bad Timing stamp on all of the dates from April 1st through the 7th.

Timothy's biggest timing concern came with the presence of a Ferris Wheel that had appeared overnight and stood towering above our town.  The traveling fair was almost ready to open during that first week in April, and the Ferris Wheel was almost ready to ride, almost... It was all lit up at nights and looked so incredibly fun that he wanted nothing more in his whole life than to ride it. So we promised him that we would take him as soon as possible after it opened - as long as the baby didn't come before then.

Thankfully, almost all of Bad Timing pockets had melted away into the past by the time Friday the 7th rolled around. Brian was home by 10am with an entire work-free week ahead of him and we started to get serious about doing all we could to get something, anything, moving.  We should go for a long walk, I suggested as he came through the door.  So with tennis shoes and a stroller we walked briskly down to the local airport to watch the airplanes and helicopters take off, we walked briskly through the park and stopped for a minute to push Timothy on the swings, we walked briskly around the duck ponds and pointed at the brand new baby ducklings swimming along behind their mother, we walked briskly to the local burger place to grab some burgers to fuel more walking and, eventually, out of necessity, we walked briskly back home when the schools got out and Miles came riding his bike up our road at 3pm.  Five hours after our walk had begun. And by midnight our final two Bad Timing pockets had melted away as Timothy's dream had come true on the Ferris Wheel and McKenzie's worry about her baby sister ever having to share her birthday with General Conference was laid to rest.

That night I felt really good. Comfortable. Restful. And slept peacefully right through the night.


Saturday the 8th I awoke and started in on the Saturday chores. Slowly, the dust bunnies disappeared and the house started to smell of citrus, though it wasn't long before I realized that I was not contributing much. Brian and even the children were cleaning in circles around my aimless wanderings and pitiful efforts to tidy and scrub. My spirits were down, and my logical self was making it worse by telling me that I was acting silly and reminding me that the due date wasn't even for three more days. My grumpy self knew this, of course, and tried to tell my logical self that even so, I had never been this close to my due date before and besides, feelings aren't always logical so butt out please.

What is it that makes Waiting so emotionally tiring? I knew I needed to get out of the house to take my mind off the Wait so we decided to go on a family walk, the long way, up to my favorite lunch spot 3 miles away. Of course, we knew the little legs in our family would not last for a brisk 6 mile round trip adventure, so bikes and strollers were allowed to join.

Sitting around the lunch table we all made guesses down to the minute as to when our food would come (I won), and around dessert the guesses were made down to the minute as to when the baby would come. That one I refused to play, mostly because the thought fed my grumpy self (she'll come when she comes) but everyone else joined in.

"We need to be clear," Brian specified, "that the time you are guessing is the day and minute mom and I decide to go to the hospital, or the day and minute her water breaks. Whichever comes first."
"Tonight at 9:00," McKenzie guessed, and I rolled my internal eyes that her guess was so soon because surely I was going to be the first woman to be pregnant forever.
"Tuesday at 1:45am," was Timothy's, and I rolled my internal eyes that his guess was so far away because surely the baby must be coming sooner than that.
And on and on it went with me feeling grumpy and frustrated and illogically responsible for the outcome.

When we returned from lunch I still felt grumpy (even grumpier?) and Brian suggested that I head out to Starbucks with my computer to write and to relax and to grab a hot chocolate. Often when I write I'm able to separate my current feelings from the feelings of the piece on which I'm working, and I had been wanting to blog about the overall sweetness and beauty of my pregnancy for a long time which, I figured, might be a good place for my brain to go. So I took him up on the offer and by 4:00 I was sitting comfortably in one of the soft leather chairs, typing away in my happy place. But by 5:30 I had had a couple of harder-than-normal contractions (though far apart and only 2) and by 6 I couldn't shake the thought of my water breaking right there in such a public space and on such a comfy chair. So the grumpiness returned and I packed everything up to come home.

When I walked in the door, Brian raised his eyebrows and drew a breath to ask any contractions?, but I put my hand up to stop him and said, "I just decided I feel more comfortable waiting here than I do waiting there."
"Still feeling down?" he observed.
"Yeah, I guess," I said, blinking back tears.  The truth was that my feelings were all twisted up. I was feeling tired of waiting to be sure, but I had noticed that I also felt a little nervous about the labor and delivery this time around. Which made little sense to me because it's not as if I hadn't done it before.  But I'd never done it here before, and I hadn't put much time and effort into researching all of the fine print regarding How They Do Things here. There were question marks... and question marks make me nervous.

Maybe a warm bath will help my mood, I thought. So after dinner I disappeared upstairs to try and soak away all the negativity. I read my book and watched a show and listened to Brian wrestle all the kids into bed (he's so amazing) before letting my wrinkly fingers convince me that it was time to get out. I felt a little better and had let my logical self gently remind me as I soaked that I really wouldn't be pregnant forever... even though it seemed that I might. I had worked to harness the faith I have that things have a way of working themselves out, and I had (for the moment) laid my nervousness aside by reminding myself that my body would do what it needed to do. I knew I'd probably have to give myself those little pep talks frequently in order for them to keep working, but for that moment, I felt better.

Which felt good. And rather ironic, because as I stood to reach for my towel the Moment of Change arrived with a gush of warm water.  I stood there for a few seconds processing the situation - after all, I'd just been sitting in a giant tub full of warm water so it was kind of hard to tell... did I really just feel extra water, or was it all just the same water.  Either way, I grabbed my phone and shot off a text to Brian.

"I'm pretty sure my water just broke," I typed. "Come."

Less than 30 seconds later, Brian came rushing into the bathroom, "Really?!"

"I think so.  What's the kid situation?"

"All the boys are asleep.  McKenzie is reading in her room and just about ready to turn out her lights."

"Okay, let's give it a little bit to make sure... maybe go tell McKenzie that she can keep reading until we make a decision?"

I got dressed quickly and, taking necessary precautions, lay on the bed for a few minutes to see if I could induce any more gushing. Sure enough, when I stood a few minutes later it was unmistakable; my membranes had ruptured and it was time to go to the hospital.

We had had several plans in place for the other children depending on what time of day this moment arrived, and the plan for the All Children in Bed and Asleep scenario was that McKenzie, bless her sweet little responsible and mature heart, would be left in charge through the night.

"I cannot believe how perfect this timing is," I said to Brian as we placed the last of the items in our hospital bag. To have hit that sweet spot between when all the boys were asleep and before McKenzie was asleep felt divinely orchestrated. It was late enough that she didn't have to worry about putting excited kids to bed, and it was early enough that we didn't have to worry about waking her up.  "Why don't you go tell her the news," I said, "and invite her to come sleep in our bed for the night just in case Teek comes in here looking for us."

Moments later she came bouncing into the room with wide open arms just for me.  "Mom!" she exclaimed with nothing else to say.
After a moment of hugging she pulled away and said, "Man, I was so close!"
"Close to what?" Brian asked.
"Guessing the right time!  I guessed it would be tonight at 9:00, remember?!  It's 9:20."
"...McKenzie, wait..." Brian said as he pulled out his phone. "You were closer than you think!" He opened his text messages. "Mom sent a message to me right after her water broke - let's see what time..."

9:01pm.  And it feasibly took me a minute to get the text off.

Coincidence? Probably. But even so, something about her perfect guess seemed so fitting to my heart and it filled me with warmth and joy. The joy was in the connection, I think, the connection I felt flowing from big sister to little sister, little sister to big sister... a connection planted in the richest soil of family, of sisterhood, that could grow and fill them both with a sense of belonging, of comfort, of love throughout their entire lives. How beautiful it is that it was this sweet moment, the moment at nine o'clock on a Saturday night, the Moment of Change, that was the very first thing they shared.

Before we left we asked, again and again, to make sure that McKenzie felt comfortable staying the night on her own, "It would not be a big deal to pack you all up and take you to the Calverts," I offered.  But she reassured me that she wanted to stay home and that she was excited about getting the boys up and dressed for church the following morning. So we hugged her and kissed her and double-checked all the doors, and as we pulled out of the driveway I knew that the next time I pulled back in things would be so beautifully different.

I took one deep breath in the car to connect with myself and then reached for my phone to send a message to my friend, Alycia.  The Calvert family has four children who are all remarkably close to the same ages as my own kids, and Alycia was graciously excited to be on stand-by to help with any of the child needs when this moment came. She was thrilled to hear we were on our way to the hospital, and I asked if she would please sleep with her ringer turned up just in case McKenzie needed anything in the middle of the night.  I also explained that my kids would get themselves all ready for church the following morning and were planning to walk the short distance to the chapel, but asked if Alycia wouldn't mind saving a seat on their bench for my children to join them.  Alycia responded quickly with all the reassuring answers I needed and then asked if McKenzie might feel better if Emma, her own 13-year-old daughter, came to stay the night with her.  Generally we don't do sleepovers (and neither do the Calverts), but the thought of having the two of them together felt very comfortable and good to my heart (even though it seemed rather ironic that our No Sleepovers rule was about to be bent for two 13-year-old girls to stay in a big house with absolutely no parental supervision at all (which, I suppose, is a great mark of their goodness)).

Meanwhile, Brian and I were almost to the hospital. I felt all sorts of calm as we drove around in search of the front entrance.  No pain, no contractions.  This was significant because the idea of managing pain and racing against time while trying to navigate to and through a hospital we had never seen before had been one of the biggest stressors in the back of my mind for months.  A silly stressor, really, because it was one that could have easily been soothed by one car ride into the city to become familiar with the route and to locate the correct entrance. I'm not entirely sure why I never made it a priority to do that, it certainly wasn't for lack of opportunity, but I think it had something to do with the thought that maybe I wouldn't like what I saw if we drove around the hospital. Due to a mid-pregnancy insurance change (coupled with the lousy coverage of said insurance), delivering in this hospital was the only choice I had and I think there was a little fear in the back of my mind that if I didn't like what I saw I would worry about it for the rest of the pregnancy.  So I exchanged that worry for the worry that we would be rushing the clock or fighting the pains while we searched for the correct entrance. Turns out, as is usually the case, I needn't have worried about either.  The hospital was wonderful and well marked and we drove right up to the maternity center with no wrong turns, no confused searching, no hassle.  We parked close to the front doors in a big, quiet parking lot and the whole experience was pleasant and 438 times less stressful than parking at Costco.

Oh boy, I thought as we approached the big sliding glass doors.  "We're going to need to make this check-in quick or I'm going to start making a biiiiiiiiiig mess," I whispered to Brian from the corner of my mouth.  Every couple of minutes as we stood waiting for the nurse to come and take us back, more fluid would gush and it wasn't long before all the protection I'd taken had become quite insufficient. "I hope they don't make me sit in a wheelchair," I mumbled to Brian, "because I'm pretty sure sitting down at this point would be a really bad idea."  So I was relieved to see the nurse come through the doors with no wheelchair in sight; however, she was not so relieved and with a frustrated, "Oh dear, there is no wheelchair out here," turned around to go back through the doors to retrieve one.

"Actually!" I said, holding up my hand.  "I'd much rather walk if that's okay... I am leaking quite a bit and if I sat down I'm pretty sure I'd squish all over the place."

"Oh," she said, pausing to think for a minute. "Great. Okay. Follow me." As she led us through the doors she turned over her shoulder and asked, "Are you sure your membranes have ruptured?"

"I'm very sure," I responded feeling the wetness seeping down my pants.  "In a few more seconds I fear I'm going to start leaving a trail behind me."

"Alright, then we'll skip the assessment room and just take you straight back to labor and delivery."

An hour later I was propped up in bed contemplating three things: number one, how does every single hospital I've ever been to have the exact same blue print hospital gown? Don't they know there are thousands of fabrics out there? Wouldn't it be rather delightful to be surprised with the color and print of your hospital gown once in a while?  Number two, I wonder how common it is that other women leave such giant messes in the bathroom while they're changing into these (remarkably boring) hospital gowns. Because dang, I left a big mess in there. Also, turns out meconium in the fluid makes the mess way grosser. Number three: I do believe that this is the most uncomfortable bed I have ever had the misfortune to meet. My feet are actually dangling uselessly several inches off the edge, which is terribly unfortunate because the tilt of the bed seems to have me sliding, ever so slowly, right off the end of it. And it sure would be nice to use those feet to slide me back up... was this built for a toddler?

But no matter. It's amazing how something as abstract as your mood can change the whole way you perceive things.  If I had met any of those three things in my morning grumpy mood, they would be frustrating, but now that I was in a good mood, the whole situation was rather funny. As was the situation with my nurse.

"What do you think of your nurse?" Brian asked when we finally had a minute to ourselves, and I confessed my true feelings, "Sheeeeee's kind of nuts!"

"I'm glad your vein didn't burst!" he laughed.  "Were you worried about it?"

"Um, YES!" I said, and we both laughed thinking back to the moments before the needle pierced my skin.

"Okay," the nurse had said as she positioned the needle over my vein, "Oh wow, that's a giant vein. Good! I like giant veins! Usually... though... sometimes those are easier to burst. Okay, whew, I've gotta calm my muscles down a bit." At this, she shook her hands by her side for a second. "My husband and I always watch UFC fights on TV, we just love it and we've always done it, and tonight there was a big match - that's why I was late and the other nurse checked you in - so because I was coming in to work afterwards I didn't have any beer, but I had, like, four Red Bulls so my muscles are so jumpy!  Okay, let's hope I don't burst this vein..."

And with that measure of confidence she had lowered her head to start the IV.

Thankfully my vein had cooperated, so it was easy for Brian and I to laugh about it after she was gone.

The doctor wanted to start pitocin since I wasn't having regular contractions, but I asked to wait for a while to see if things started on their own.  "I'm not in any hurry," he said, "so if you're not either I say that's just fine." I wasn't either.

My body knew exactly what to do, and by 1:30 in the morning the contractions were hard enough that I had to remind myself to breathe and frequent enough that I was ready for the epidural.  Which was a giant relief and took the edge off of the pain. I rested for a little while after that (as much as I could in that ridiculous toddler-sized bed), and Brian fell fast asleep until about 3:05 am when things changed instantly. The extreme pressure paralyzed me and I knew it was time.  I was on my left side and the nurses call button seemed miles away behind my shoulder.

"Bri?" I whispered to wake him gently.  Nothing.  "Brian?" I whispered a little louder. Still nothing.  The pressure was so intense that it seemed that the baby was pushing and shoving and elbowing her way out right that very moment.  "Hey! BRIAN!" He jolted awake and looked over in my direction.  "It's time... I need you to come push the call button."  He blinked a few times and rubbed his eyes slowly and blinked again trying to clear away the daze. "Bri! I need you NOW!"

"Right!" he jumped up from the couch and started stumbling around in unproductive circles, still half awake, knowing he was looking for something but not sure what it was. "The CALL button!" I reminded him. "It's on the bed right next to my shoulder... I can't move, and I can't reach it... I need you to push it!" By the time he got to the button, he had regained his full consciousness and soon the whole room was buzzing with activity and life.

"Here comes another one..." I said as the pressure started to mount.  I wasn't sure if the doctor was ready, but I was, and felt to inform him of that fact.
"Yes, would you like to push?" the doctor asked, finishing up his preparations.

I didn't answer verbally, but the green light from him was enough and four pushes later, at 3:09am our little lady arrived - screaming and healthy.

I hope to never forget what it feels like to have the weight of my own baby placed on my stomach just a second after birth.  It's an incredible feeling really - for months her weight was part of my own and in that one beautiful moment it became all her own, separate from me, lying on top of me, subject to the gravity that pulled her body in softly for that first real hug.  It's so beautiful.  And the warmth of that moment... the warmth of her soft, new skin filled me almost as completely as the warmth that originated from my heart.

The cord was wrapped all around her, tangled in her limbs and grasped in her little fist. We unwove and unwound before Brian cut the cord, and just like that, she was entirely separate from me.  But even as the physical bonds became a thing of the past, the emotional bonds grabbed hold of us and soared forever into the future.

The nurses wiped her off and put a hat on her head without even taking her from me, and I stared at her little face.  "Brian!" I said, so full of emotion, "Look at her!  She is so, so beautiful."  Indeed, she was.  Her big, dark eyes were open and alert as she tried to make sense of her new surroundings, and her head was covered in beautiful, dark hair.  Her cheeks were so soft and smooth, and her nose turned slightly upwards in a dainty softness.  Her fingers were long and straight and her fingernail beds were tiny and perfect.  Her lips formed a perfect pout and her little ears lay straight back on her head.  She was beautiful.

"Oh, Linds," Brian said as he peered over the top of her head to get a better look, "she is so cute."  Cute, beautiful, perfect, we couldn't stop saying over and over just how lovely she was.  "Look how sweet she is."  "Her face is just so beautiful." "Oh, she is so cute..."  "Look how beautiful her eyes are." "She is perfect." I kept expecting the nurses to come along and take her to the nursery to bathe her and check her and do whatever else they do when they take the new babies away.  But they never did.  Eventually I asked when they were going to take her and was pleasantly surprised when the answer was, "We're not. She's all yours."

And so we held her and snuggled her and talked to her and fed her for all the quiet, earliest hours of the morning. I didn't think much of sleep because how could I possibly sleep when I had such a beautiful, brand new face to look at? But eventually sleep did come for all three of us with the happiest of feelings in our hearts.

I even forgot how uncomfortable the bed was for a while.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Unique Love

*This post was written on April 8th at around 6pm... 
just three hours before my water broke.  
It's taken a few days to finish it and get the pictures up.

Well, we made it to spring break.  Brian is home for a whole week, and the children are underfoot asking every few hours whether or not I've had any contractions.

It seems a little surreal to me that this blog, this happy space that represents the corner of my mind where words capture memories and help me explore my innermost thoughts, doesn't even know that in just a few short days (hours?) our family will get to meet and hold and snuggle the brand new baby girl we've all be so passionately excited about.

But recorded here or not, it's happening.  And, recorded here or not, we are simply thrilled.

There has been something so beautiful about this pregnancy, something different than in the past, and I've spent a lot of time inspecting and pondering and digging to find the root of it. It's been hard to nail down and has taken me months and months to prune out all the tangential reasons and find that, I think, the difference all boils down to Love.

It's kind of tricky to explain what I mean, though... because I obviously want it to be clear that each of my children are loved with such an intensity, and that there are no favorites or differences in the levels of love they pull from my heart.  But it also is true that, aside from being loved for simply just existing, each child is loved for different reasons and that the love I feel for each one is very unique and tailored personally because of the differences in his or her own beautiful heart.  I've often wished that in our language the word Love was split into dozens of words that each capture one of the slight variations of its meaning.  Shouldn't there be different words, for example, to describe how I feel about peanut butter M&M's, and how I feel about my husband?  Yet 'love' is all we have, and if there is a better way to describe it I cannot find it.

So, working within the deficiencies of language, I will say that the love throughout the last nine months for this little girl has been preciously priceless and beautifully unique, and that that has made the difference.

One way in which this love has been unique is in the sweet Love Sparkles that come from the eyes of my kids as they talk about and ask about and dream about who their little sister will be. They are all invested so deeply in this future. I think this investment is largely fueled by McKenzie's and Carson's maturity and it has been so delightful to have older kids through this whole thing. Their minds understand well what it all means and their hearts took no time at all to grow and adapt to the new love that filled them. Their excitement is absolutely contagious both for their two younger siblings and for their parents, and I believe it's out of that excitement that those sweet Love Sparkles appear.  I see them when we study the ultrasound pictures together, and when we fold the new tiny clothes straight from the dryer, and hold the warm, soft blankets to our cheeks.  I see the Love Sparkles in their eyes when they feel the baby softly bump with her hiccups, when they feel her tiny kicks, and when they watch my belly as she rolls to a new position.  And the Love Sparkles shine bright when we talk about the future - where she will sleep, what we will call her, who will teach her all the things...

Another way the love has been unique is that so many friends and neighbors have shared in the excitement this time. Babies are in short supply around here as a large majority of the people in my daily circles finished adding to their families years ago, and because of that there has been an excitement that has followed me wherever I have gone.  I feel so grateful for all the people around me who have been so generous in sharing their love for this baby with our family.

Along the same lines as the ones above, but slightly different, is the simple idea that love added to love equals more love. I know, it sounds too simple, but for me it's not quite as intuitive as it seems.  I remember feeling concerned when I was expecting my second child that I'd have to split my love between McKenzie and the new baby once he arrived (and I've found out since it's a pretty common feeling). But I found that the magic of love is that it's not finite.  When that second baby came there was no split or divide of love like there was on time. My heart simply stretched and filled with more love than it originally had to begin with. And it happened again with the third, and the fourth, and the fifth... Now, of course, big families are not for everyone, but for me I am so grateful to have experienced so many love growth spurts in this way.  And holding six children, including Jess, in my heart feels rich and beautiful.

This idea of love growing is true in my own heart as described above, and it also can be expanded to include my whole home. It's been my experience that love feels bigger when there are more people sharing it (which may not be true universally, but for whatever reason feels true for me in this case). Having four children and two parents loving this little girl has exploded our home with love!  The love seems to snowball from one person to the next to the next and back to the first again, getting bigger and stronger with each day until it has filled us to bursting.

Maybe the biggest way this love has been unique, however, is in the ways my own perspective has changed and matured throughout the last years.  I'm not quite sure how it happened exactly, but my first baby has somehow gone and grown right up into a teenager, and my other babies are all functioning and thriving with personalities all their own. They bike through our small town taking such great care of their increasing list of responsibilities and contribute to the family dynamic in beautiful, unique, and often surprising ways... this growing up is happening so quickly, and it has given me new light to see that this little one we are expecting any minute is so much more than a baby.  She is a person, with her own individual spark who will add life and light and something special to our family. A newborn baby is something to love, yes yes yes, but the promise of a future for that baby? Of a child? Of a teen? Of an adult? How much greater is the love in that.

Come soon, little one... we simply can't wait to meet you.