Saturday, November 30, 2013

christmas tree hunt

It's too big. It's always too big. Although this year we have a width problem instead of a height issue. I'm not very good at decorating so I buy a statement tree, but this year half the living room is tree. At least it was only $10. It was $20, but we had a coupon. Yay Oregon

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

give thanks

We spent our day with my side of the family. At the end of the Thanksgiving meal we shared what we're thankful for. I cried, and I'm not sure I made much sense, but I talked about how thankful I am for my children. Four years ago as we slogged through our first Thanksgiving without Charlotte I was broken and sad. I couldn't fathom being happy again.

I try to be honest and authentic when I write. I do my best to be true to my sorrow and joy, but enough time has passed that I'm afraid the grief is somewhat overshadowed. Just the other day I realized that some of you have been following our story for four years. While this is a really good place to be in I want those of you who are struggling to be thankful to remember that I have struggled too. I know pain, grief, and how it feels to wish you could set one more place at the holiday table. We are in a joyful season, but if you are not do not feel guilty. Have hope. My dream of having living children - and especially a girl to raise - sustained me through some very dark, lonely times.

This evening we arrived home to a package containing Ainsleigh's newborn photos. As we looked through them I thought, this is what I am thankful for. This warm house, these sweet (sometimes crazy) children who fill it with joy and laughter, my J, my family, my friends. This blessed, beautiful life and all the joy and sorrow it brings.

Photos by Aleina Roberson. I did my best to only pick a few. There are SO many I want to share!

Friday, November 22, 2013

I see you in my dreams

There is something about my living babies newborn heads that takes me back to my first born. In the middle of the night I cradle Ainsleigh's head - after nursing, when I wake up scared (it still happens all these years later), when the fear of losing these precious people makes sleep impossible, when baby girl is a little fussy and won't settle - and I think of Charlotte. I remember her head because it is the part of her I touched the longest when she still had breath in her lungs and a beating heart. I held it as I pushed at the end of my labor, and when she was handed to me the feeling of her head cradled in my hand was branded on my heart. It is the easiest memory of her to recall. So much has faded, but I can still vividly remember her tiny head pressed against my chest with my left hand.

Baby sleep brings triggers. There are pictures of Ainsleigh I take then hastily delete because she looks dead. In these pictures Ainsleigh's mouth hangs open and I remember how after Charlotte died someone told me that the mouths of the dead do this. One can't close them no matter how much effort is put forth. And so when I see a picture of Ainsleigh with her mouth hanging open I am reminded of Charlotte's pictures, her mouth perpetually open, announcing her as dead.

Most of the time I am fine. But in the middle of the night when all I have lost and all I have gained and the enormous responsibility of feeling grateful for what has been and what came after and what is to come overwhelms I pull Ainsleigh close to me and wrap my hand around her head. And as the warmth of her soft skull seeps into my fingers I find a thread that I can follow to her brother and her sister; a silken connection between siblings who will never be as connected as siblings should be.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

christmas list: help me choose

Which one?



Also: J's work party is coming up, which usually equals frantic shopping and outfit choosing (a tradition we all cherish and look forward to, yes?) but it's on the 6th of December this year and I am not in the mood for shopping. I thought about wearing my maternity skinny jeans (this is Oregon, you can absolutely get away with jeans at any function) but they are ripping in more than one place and the potential threat of showing my undergarments to J's co-workers is far too great. I'm probably going to end up frantically throwing something together the day of. Normally this would make me feel intense anxiety, but the brilliant thing about being less than a month postpartum is that I don't care. My only goal is to be sour milk  smell and spit-up on the shoulder free (this may be a tall order).

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


I have a lot more confidence this time around, but I still have moments of panic where I wonder what I'm doing and if everything I am doing is wrong. 

Sometimes when I see pictures of kids in other time zones napping/sleeping I get jealous. I think, Hey that's not fair, we're on the West Coast, we have two more hours until bedtime!

I love the forty-eight hour postpartum time in the hospital. I don't sleep very much, but that birth high is so lovely, and it's very quiet. And I'm so darn glad the labor is over I feel like I'm on vacation. Food is just a phone call away, and a nurse will bring a warm blanket if you ask nicely. It's blissful.

I want more children. It's not going to happen, but if pregnancy/birth was easier for me I would have one more. And I know I said this after Bennett's birth too, but this time I am officially calling it (unless the Lord has other plans). I'm not willing to put my family through another round of the crazy nonsense that comes spilling out of me when I'm pregnant.

I think the most valuable thing I learned in my 20s was how to ask for help. And how to accept it with grace and thankfulness when it is offered. 

We have another baby who hates the Arms Reach Co-sleeper on our hands. Ainsleigh sleeps so well next to me I'm not going to try and force anything like I did with Bennett. But when the question about baby having its own sleeping surface is asked at every well check I say yes. It's not a lie. They didn't ask if she was using it, and they don't need to know it's perfect for stowing items I might need during the night.

I gained the most weight this pregnancy and I've lost the least (so far). And I don't care. I'll eventually get back to a healthy weight.

When I was pregnant I indulged a lot of my cravings. Now I'm able to control my breastfeeding cravings through sheer laziness. Put everyone in the car so I can go to the store and buy a chocolate bar? Definitely not worth it.

I can't believe this will be our fourth Thanksgiving and Christmas without Charlotte. Sometimes I wonder how we made it this far with souls and lives intact (short answer: Jesus). 

Ainsleigh's fat cheeks and belly amaze me. I can't believe how healthy she is. There's still a small part of me that believes I killed Charlotte. Watching a baby girl grow and thrive in my presence - on my milk too! - feels a little like black magic.

Being a stay at home mom is more fulfilling and fun than I thought it would be. It's also the most frustrating, repetitive work I've done.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

beneath the surface

I went to my support group Thursday night. My mom stays over once a week for now. It helps me immensely to have an extra set of hands as I try to figure out leaving the house with two little ones. Since my mom was willing to sit and hold Ainsleigh in the coffee shop where we meet I was able to attend my monthly support group.

There aren't words to explain or express how helpful those meetings are. They are tough too. I usually need a few days to recover after a meeting. It's good to spend a few hours a month in a place where the term 'dead baby' doesn't make people wince or sigh. It's a relief to know there are others who understand. I know so many online, but to look into someone's eyes and see pain reflected back is a different experience. One that requires courage and bravery, but is so worth it if one can pull it together enough to crawl through the door.

The day to day has been immensely difficult. Bennett and I are struggling to find our footing. Ainsleigh needs a lot of time and attention, but I can't give her as much as I would like to. I thought the fatigue was going to be the hardest part of having two, but Ainsleigh has been doing well enough at night that I'm actually okay sleep-wise. Figuring out how to meet Bennett and Ainsleigh's needs is frustrating and difficult, but hovering over the day to day messiness is a large cloud of happiness.

I won't share too much about the support group meeting because it is a closed, sacred space, but at the beginning we go around the circle, light a candle and say as much or as little as we like about why we are there and how we are doing. When it was my turn to speak this time a lot came pouring out and I realized the grief is closer to the surface than I thought. It's right under my skin, ready to be poured out, but the difference between this postpartum period and Bennett's is that I can choose to go there.

Most of the time that cloud of happiness is what I focus on, but on Thursday evening I stepped out from underneath for a moment and acknowledged how hard it is to look at Ainsleigh and see Charlotte. It's a rare occurrence, but when it happens it breaks me open.

I also realized how hard it is for me to watch Bennett putting the pieces together about "big sister Charlotte" and "little sister Ains." I had no idea he was building bridges of understanding about his siblings and how they fit into his world until he said those words to me. On some level he knows he has two sisters, one that came before, one that lives with us now, but how do we cross over to the next bridge, the one where we have to explain Charlotte's death? How much does it suck that he'll never know Charlotte the way he knows Ainsleigh? And how much does it suck that we'll never know Charlotte the way we know Ainsleigh?

A lot. A whole heck of a lot.

I'm angry and sad that Charlotte isn't with us, but I'm happy and at peace too. Don't ask me how those opposing emotions can co-exist because I certainly don't understand it. Beneath the surface, right under the happy, lies the dormant grief. I know if I don't call it back it will emerge on its own at some point, but I'm enjoying the lull; this little sea of calm in a time of change and upheaval.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

can I have chocolate for dinner?

This parenting two children thing .. WOW. Will someone please hold me while I cry? I think Bennett is doing really well all things considered, but I had no idea he could be so defiant. Kiddo has me crying in the bathroom and sneaking chocolate from the kitchen cupboard at 9 in the morning. I hate that half - or maybe even more than that?! - of our interactions are negative right now, but I know this is just the transition period. It will get better.

This morning I had Ainsleigh's two week well check (sweet cheeks weighed in at 8 lbs 7 oz, sheesh!) then I went to the hospital to visit J and get a blood draw. B had a special grandma morning, which was good for both of us. I think we needed a break from each other. We spend our days sitting in the house staring at one another and getting on each other's nerves, but I can't yet fathom how I am going to get all three of us out the door without assistance. I don't know if I could get through a week without our little community of friends and family who help. I guess this is why that old adage about raising children and villages exists.

I thought the sleep deprivation would be the hardest part of having two, but it hasn't been as bad as I thought it would be. Ainsleigh sleeps better than B did (so far) and my energy is through the roof compared to my last two deliveries. Retaining most of my blood volume has helped a lot, and I think placenta capsules are pure magic.

Even though this period of transition is very difficult I am grateful for it. I can't wrap my mind around the fact that I have three children. I don't know if it's because Charlotte isn't here, further tearing up the house and making me even more crazy, or if it's something else, but I stumble over the words, "I have three children."

I consider myself lucky because I know both sides of the coin. I know the silence of a house that was poised to welcome a baby home. I know what it's like to recover after birth without a newborn to love on - oh the tiny head that smells so good! This is better. Even though it's hard it is better. I just have to remember this is the happiest I've been in years.

B brought me back to life in so many ways, but now I feel complete. Well, complete enough, as complete as I can be. I need to focus on the fact that there is finally more joy than sorrow in this house. And we're doing okay. I just have to be patient and kind even when I'm frustrated and chasing B around the house mid-feeding session as he wields a marker and laughs manically. There is a lot of love in this house, and I think years from now that is what B will remember. 

And another positive: I am breastfeeding so I can eat pounds of chocolate to help me through this transition without worrying about calories. Right?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

ainsleigh's birth {part two}

This part of Ainsleigh's birth is not nearly as clear. I don't know when my water broke, or how long I labored before requesting the epidural. I know we arrived at the hospital at 8:00 am and that Ainsleigh was born at 8:58 pm, but other than those definite times I don't know what happened when. I may get this next part all out of order, but that's okay. My main goal is to write out my thoughts and impressions of her birth. HERE is part one.

After my water broke I walked the room for a while. The pressure was really intense. I think this is the first time the nurses and midwives prepped for delivery. It seemed like she was close to being born. After a while I decided to get in the tub, which was SO nice. It relieved a lot of the pressure.

The contractions still weren't bad, but the pressure was really intense and the water helped ease a lot of the discomfort I was feeling. I was hovering on the edge of transition - that's when things get really painful for me - but I couldn't cross over to the last stage of labor. I would feel Ainsleigh start to move down, panic, and stop my labor.

In retrospect wanting a water birth may not have been the best idea. I think getting in the warm water brought up grief I buried a long time ago. There were lots of small triggers too. While squatting in the water I looked down and realized my toenail color was almost exactly the same as it had been when Charlotte was born. Before that moment I couldn"t have told you what color they were for Charlotte's birth, but when I saw my feet through the still water images of the day she was born flooded my mind.

The room was prepped for delivery. Patricia and Angie had briefly coached Jon on how to catch a baby born in the water. Everything was still and quiet. I could feel Ainsleigh moving down and the contractions were really strong. I moved from squatting to sitting. I started crying. 

"I think she's going to be here soon." I sobbed.

"I think you're right," someone said. (I had my eyes closed).

"I'm scared. I'm not ready. I can't do this!"

I was so tense I kept forgetting to breathe. I held onto J's hand as I cried, one hand covering my face. I could feel the contractions slowing down and lessening in strength.

"J, will you pray? Please?"

Patricia placed a hand on my shoulder while Angie walked around the tub so she could put her hand on my back. J prayed over me while I continued to cry. A few minutes after J prayed I calmed down enough to try to get back into labor mode. I stayed in the water for a while then decided to get out and walk.

When I stood up the pressure was so intense I thought Ainsleigh was going to fall out (ha! if only). I labored on my feet, tried squatting again, then decided I really did want to get out. I don't know how long I walked the floor, how many times I cried, or how often the nurses and midwives thought delivery was imminent. I could not get past 8 cm. I couldn't let Ainsleigh be born. Every time I felt her moving down, every moment I put a toe in the waters of the last stage of labor, I panicked and the contractions dropped off. (This exact scenario happened with Bennett's birth. I eventually asked for Pitocin to help me get past 8 cm).

Around 5, I think, I was so emotionally exhausted I didn't think I could continue. I sat on the bed, sobbing.

"I can't do it! It's too hard. I'm scared and I can't breathe and I just want to be done. I want an epidural. Maybe that will get me to 10 cm."

Patricia, Angie and J stood around me. Patricia rubbed my leg. "Is it the pain?" she asked.

"No! It doesn't hurt that bad. I just need to be done."

Angie leaned in. "We're going to step out for a few minutes. Let you be with J and talk."

I sat there, hunched awkwardly, contractions barely registering. "I'm sorry I failed, but I just can't do this."

J rubbed my arms. "It's okay, you are not a failure. This is really hard. We'll get you what you need."

Patricia came in and sat on the foot of the bed. She rubbed my feet and legs. "What about narcotics? Do you want to try that first?"

"No! I want the epidural."

"Okay, Angie is putting the order in. It's okay if this is what you need."

Angie came in to let us know that the order had been placed. "You did a really good job getting this far. Your baby benefited from all of the work you did. You are not a failure."

I cried and nodded, too exhausted to speak.

At 7 pm there was a shift change. Our day nurse was wonderful, but I loved our night nurse. She walked into a very emotional situation with calm grace. She leaned over me with a box of tissues and whispered  "I can't say too much because I'll cry, but I understand." Her eyes filled with tears and she bit her lip to keep from crying. She squeezed my arm, "We'll get through this."

After the epidural was placed correctly - the first try went into a vein - I decided to seek support. I posted a picture to social media and was soon inundated with emails and text messages. The prayers and Bible verses that flooded my inbox really helped. I was still crying every few minutes, the tension made my body rigid, and I had to remind myself to breathe, but I could feel love washing over me and battling the overwhelming fear.

Even with the epidural I wasn't progressing. Angie did an exam and found a second bag of waters (just like Bennett's birth). She broke that sac then we waited a while, but I still wasn't progressing. Pitocin was started (I consented to all of this) and I began to feel a lot of pressure. I asked the nurse for the button that would administer more medication.

"I can feel pressure!"

"But no contractions?" she asked as she lightly tapped my belly.

"I can't feel that. But I feel so much pressure. Please, I don't want to feel anything!"

"It's good to feel a little pressure so you can tell us when it's time to push."

"I don't want to feel anything!!" I cried.

"Okay, let's give you just a little more so you can calm down a little."

It didn't take very long for Ainsleigh to be born once the Pitocin was started and I was a little more relaxed. Angie dashed to her house to get an overnight bag since she was on call and soon after she returned I was ready to push. I alternated between holding J and Patricia's hand, but when things got really close I dropped J's hand and asked for Patricia. I knew he wanted to catch Ainsleigh, but I also needed Patricia at the very end to keep me calm.

I hated pushing. HATED it. I just wanted the baby out. I didn't feel any connection with her and I wasn't anxious to meet her. I wanted her born for selfish reasons. I wanted to take a deep breath and I wanted the heavy blanket of anxiety to lift. When it was time to push I lifted my brown blanket with my right hand so it was covering my face and held on to Patricia with my left. I could move my legs and I could feel everything - except the contractions. I felt the ring of fire and all of those other lovely things that come at the end of a birth.

I moaned. I might have screamed. I know I said the following:

"It hurts!"
"I can't!"
"Get her out!"

It felt really strange to push while on my back, but Angie said it was more effective to push that way with an epidural. When she was close to being born someone asked if it was okay to remove my gown so we could start skin to skin bonding immediately. When Ainsleigh was halfway out she cried, just like Bennett did. The nurse later told me that was her favorite part, that she's never seen anything like it. The nurse at Bennett's birth said the same thing. The Lord knows I need to hear a really strong cry from my babies as soon as possible. J, with the help of Angie, caught Ainsleigh when she was born. That makes three out of three that have been born into his hands.

As they were lifting her to me Patricia said, "Oh! She is her own person! She has a neck roll. And leg rolls. Look at these leg rolls!"

I was really scared Ainsleigh would look like Charlotte. Patricia eased me past that moment of fear with her joy and enthusiasm. Ainsleigh was hungry. She began rooting immediately and Patricia helped me get a good latch so we could cuddle and bond.

I did not hemorrhage, though I was kept on Pitocin for five hours after the birth to ensure I did not, and I only needed one small stitch. Ainsleigh and I didn't have any trouble with breastfeeding and our hospital stay was stress free and calm.

I think what tripped me up with Bennett and Ainsleigh's birth was an expectation of redemption; a grand movie montage worthy moment of beauty and healing. But reality is much messier than that. How could I expect subsequent births to heal the gaping wound Charlotte left behind? I don't expect Bennett or Ainsleigh to replace Charlotte, or fill the space she left behind, so why did I hope - or think - their births would erase, or at least obscure, the memory of my first birth experience?

I am hard on myself, which further complicates every birth. I wonder what is wrong with me, why I can't labor normally. I discount the trauma I bring into a birthing situation and focus on the wrong things: labors that are not mine, time, comparisons. I feel like there is something wrong with me, like if I was just strong enough I would be able to push through and have the water birth I always wanted. But I can look back now and realize that there is no shame in asking for help. It's okay to admit that it was too hard for me emotionally. Asking for help does not mean I let the grief win.

Truth is, the body and mind don't forget extreme trauma. When I experience labor all that came before rushes in and the scab that will never scar is ripped off. All of the initial wounds, bruising, and bleeding rise to the surface and spill forth as the contractions intensify. And instead of being excited about what's to come - a little human! a new life to love and nurture! -  I get trapped in a vortex of what was lost.

I was so disappointed after Bennett's birth. It wasn't what I wanted, or expected, or needed. Even though Ainsleigh's birth wasn't the redemptive water birth experience I thought I wanted I'm choosing to let the disappointment drain from me like water through a sieve. I birthed her. I had to make some tough choices, but they led to this moment of joy in my life. All that matters is that the little girl sleeping next to me was born alive and healthy. I birthed two babies after Charlotte died. That's something to be proud of.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

ainsleigh's birth {part one}

I thought it was going to take me a long time to write this out, but my brain can't leave the subject alone. I've been writing bits and pieces of this over the past eleven days. A hastily written page in a notebook, notes jotted down on my phone while nursing in the middle of the night, a sentence written in the margins of a book. This is long, and it's only the first part. I wrote down some of my initial, raw thoughts in a post on November 1st. You can find that post HERE.

Sunday evening, the 27th of October, I had contractions on and off for three hours. I called my midwife Angie as well as my mom, who was going to take care of Bennett when I went into labor, to let them know I was having inconsistent contractions. At 8:30 I sent a text to my mom letting her know it most likely wasn't baby time then went to bed.

All day Monday I had contractions on and off. I met up with friends at a nearby coffee shop . The coffee shop has a playroom on the second floor and we meet up there most Monday mornings for coffee and conversation while the kids play. (One of the friends there was due a week after me. We were both miserable that day. Her baby was born 3 hours after Ainsleigh.)

I had one good contraction while there so I made sure to go for a walk with Bennett later that day. I was uncomfortable, but the contractions weren't very strong. 

I was up and down all night on Monday. Every time I woke from a contraction I would think about starting the contraction timer on my phone, but would drift off before I could actually do it. At 3 am I was up for the day. At 4 am J woke up. Bennett was asleep in his bed - a rare occurrence - so I asked J to bring me a piece of dry toast. We talked for a long time then J went downstairs to get ready for work.

I could not get comfortable, and there was no way I could sleep longer, so at 5:45 I decided to take a shower and see if that helped me feel better. While in the shower I thought, Oh no, this is it, as the intense pressure during a contraction caused me to bend over. While I was showering Bennett woke up. I paced around the house while J made Bennett breakfast.

As I walked through the kitchen J looked at Bennett and smiled, " I think mama is going to have a baby today."

"I don't know if I'm in labor!" I called from the hallway.

"Babe, I have seen you in labor. You're doing the walk. This is it."

A few minutes later I called Angie.

"My contractions aren't consistent, but I am really uncomfortable. This could be it. Maybe. I don't know." I said as I continued my slow shuffle around the house, one hand pressed firmly against my lower back.

"Why don't you come into the office and we'll evaluate you?"

"Okay, that sounds good. I'll do that."

I hung up then said to J, "You're not going to work today. I'm going to call my mom and Patricia."

I woke my mom up, but she said she would leave quickly as she had a 45 minute drive to us and we had a 50 minute drive to the hospital.

By the time I called Patricia I was pausing in my pacing every few minutes so I could breathe through a contraction.

"Hi, what's up?" Patricia answered.

"I think I'm in labor."

"Tell me what's going on. Why do you think that?" 

"I'm having a lot of pressure. Inconsistent contractions ... hang on." I leaned against the bathroom door and paused for a minute. "Okay. Okay. Whew. There's just so much pressure."

"Yep, you're in labor. This is how Bennett's started. Remember? What do you want me to do? Do you want me to come?"

"We're going to Corvallis, to the clinic, for evaluation. How about I call you back when I have a better idea of what's going on?"

"Okay, that's fine. Whatever you need."

With two people who have seen me through two labors independently telling me I was in labor I decided to blow dry and flat iron my hair. Bennett was eating in the dining room, J was starting to feel a little panicked - "I better load the car. We have to go, what do we need ... babe, what are we taking?!" - and I was trying to do my hair quickly.

"I wonder if I should call Dana?" I said to J as he passed by the bathroom. Dana is a good friend who lives three houses down. She was backup #1 in case I went into labor and had to leave before my mom arrived. "When did I call my mom? What time is it? I really think we need to go."

"Well then call Dana!"

"Hold on, I have to finish my hair."

"Oh yes, because that's important!"

"It is! J the hospital won't allow flat irons!! This is my last chance for a few days. Uhhhh." I put down the flat iron and bent over. "Okay, okay. I'm calling Dana."

The phone rang once then went to voice mail. "No answer! You better go down there and knock. Wait, wait! Go to the cupboard at the top of the stairs. Get the doll, the one I bought for Bennett. That's his baby, I want to give it to him before we go."

J raced up the stairs then back down. He wiped Bennett's hands and face then I picked Bennett up and gave him the doll as I explained a bit about what was happening. J took him out of my arms and went to Dana's while I finished my hair and packed a few stray items.

A few minutes later J was back. Bennett was still in his arms. "Where's Dana?!" I was feeling anxious, like we really needed to get in the car and go.

"I don't know! She's not answering her door."

"Okay, okay. What about the Watsons? Across the street, take him there."

"I checked, all of the lights are off."

"Put him in the car then. We have to go. My mom can meet us there."

We walked out into the frosty, cold morning. "Let me try Dana one more time," J said. He walked quickly down the street, knocked for a minute, then came back. "No answer, but a light just came on across the street. I'll take him there." I nodded as I paced and moaned in the driveway. The neighbor who lives next to us scraped ice from her car and watched me walk, pace and bend over in front of our house.

Bennett was having a great time. He enjoyed racing up and down the street in J's arms with his new doll clutched tightly to his side, yelling "Dana!". He was not happy about being left across the street, but calmed down soon after we left.

When we reached the freeway I called Angie to let her know I would meet her at the hospital. I called Patricia as J accelerated onto the freeway.

"We're going to the hospital. I ... will you ... can you ... please come."

"Of course. I'm on my way."

I kept my eyes closed most of the drive. The contractions were coming every four-five minutes and I had to focus on getting through them so I wouldn't panic about how far we had to go. The pain wasn't bad, but I was really uncomfortable. We got to the hospital at 8:00 am, went through the admitting process, then were escorted up to labor and delivery.

A nurse weighed me, asked me to use the bathroom, then told me where I could find a gown. I told her I wanted to stay in my own clothes then sat down on the bed for fetal monitoring. My midwife, Angie, wanted me to have a long stretch on the monitors before she made a decision about whether or not I could birth in the water. I was contracting every 2-4 minutes and I was dilated to 5 cm. I was definitely in labor!

Ainseligh was doing well, but her heart rate was dipping with every contraction. I panicked a little when the nurse asked me to roll to one side so she could place a pillow under my back and see if that changed anything, but J reminded me that it was normal for the baby's heart rate to dip during a contraction. Once Angie came in to check on me I put on one of the gowns I brought and then I was hooked up to a telemetry unit so I could continue pacing, walking, and squatting while being monitored.

Patricia arrived soon after we did. I was so glad she was able to be there even though I wasn't one of her clients this time. I cannot express the gratitude I feel for her presence. I needed her there and she found a way to be by my side during the entire labor.

The nurses set up a portable birthing tub while I walked back and forth in the room. Once I'm in labor it's really hard for me to sit still. I have to move. After a while the telemetry unit came off, my hep-lock was put in place (I always have one placed just in case I hemorrhage)  and Angie decided to walk over to her office, which is next door to the hospital, for appointments since Patricia was there and I was still in early labor - I was talking and laughing and didn't need to focus very hard to get through a contraction.

I wrapped myself in the soft brown blanket I had brought from home and walked while J and Patricia talked quietly. Every now and then I would join in the conversation, but I spent most of my time focused inward. I did a lot of coaching and pep talking and general okaying. I wanted a good birth experience, and I wanted a water birth - finally, please, I just want this one detail to be a certain way okay, God? I prayed - and I thought I could use stubborn determination and sheer will to make it happen.

I had a lot of back labor, just like Bennett's birth. Patricia applied counter pressure with each contraction, I squatted, got down on the floor on my hands and knees, used the birth ball. After a few hours had passed Angie came back to check on me.

"Do you want to get in the water?"

"No! I don't want to slow down my labor!!"

"Sometimes the water can help. Do you want me to check if you are progressing?"

"No! I can't handle knowing I am only at 6 cm."

"Okay. What if we put the birth ball in the shower and you can try laboring in there for a while?"

"Okay, that sounds fine." I was beginning to panic. I could feel myself starting to get scared. I was losing focus, looking at the clock every few minutes, trying to figure out how much longer I could handle the emotional strain. Physically I was still doing fine. Just like my previous labors I wasn't in very much pain and could easily handle the contractions.

After Ainsleigh was born a friend asked, "Was her birth harder than Bennett's?"

J's response was that I "was in a better frame of mind for a longer period of time," during Ainsleigh's labor, but it was still very difficult.

Once J adjusted the water temperature I climbed in the bathtub and sat on the ball. The hot water hit the exact place on my back that was the most painful. I exhaled and let myself relax a little.

"Leave me alone, please. Turn out the light and leave me alone." I asked.

Everyone left the small bathroom, closing the door most of the way behind them in the dark. Patricia came in for a minute to give me my water bottle, and the nurse came in a couple times to check Ainsleigh on the monitor, but other than those interruptions I was by myself.

I sat in the dark, head bent forward, hair obscuring my face, and I sobbed. I cried because I missed Charlotte. I cried because I was scared. I cried because I was frustrated. I cried because I could feel myself refusing to let go and let Ainsleigh be born. I could feel the tension radiating from my core, stretching its invasive tentacles outward until every square inch of my body was locked in a battle between letting nature do as it needed and letting despair and sorrow take over.

For the first time I talked to Ainsleigh. I tried to connect with her. I told her it was okay to be born, that I was ready, that we could make it, that she would make it. I gave myself permission to dilate. I told myself it was okay to let the contractions come, that it was time, that the baby was doing well. I mediated. I prayed. I focused on breathing and only breathing, just like my therapist taught me to do when I was in the throes of panic.

I worked through the panic and fear. I cried and prayed and let it all go. I forced myself - gently - into a really good head space. I allowed my grief to have its moment and then I pushed it aside so I could focus on what was to come; the hardest part of labor.

Moments after stepping out of the bath and back into the room my water broke. As I leaned over and moaned through a contraction Patricia rubbed my back and softly said, "Good, good job." I asked to be checked because I wanted proof of the hard work I had done. I was a 7/8; I had made good progress.

I did it, I did it, I did it! I thought. I was still feeling okay. I was uncomfortable, there was a lot of pressure, but I wasn't in a lot of pain. Each contraction felt manageable. I thought I could easily finish. I didn't know that was the beginning of an emotional cycle that would play itself out over and over until Ainsleigh was born. I didn't know how many hours I had left, or how difficult it was going to be. I felt proud, capable and ready.

Part two coming soon ...

Thursday, November 7, 2013

holding the pieces together

Our family is so blessed. We are being loved and served well during this time of transition. From friends who stop by at the perfect moment with cupcakes and kiddos to distract the Bennett whirlwind, to the gifts that keep arriving, (I admit, gifts are one of my love languages) to my mom who has given up days to help us manage our lives.

Three birds for three babies 

Custom bowl - three eggs for three babies 

This is a delicate time as I find my way in the parenting of two (ahhh it's hard, how will we ever leave the house alone??) while still holding space for Charlotte. I find myself in a strange place as I try to incorporate Ainsleigh into my parenting narrative. I could not connect with her, or comprehend what it would be like to have a living daughter, before she was born and now I have three unique life strands I am trying to blend into a cohesive whole so I can better understand who I am as a person and mother. I am lucky to have so many acknowledge our three children, our family of five. It gives me permission to be confused, and it allows me time to find my footing as a mother to two living, one gone. 

I am waiting for grief to wash over me. If I have learned anything in the past 3.5 years it is this: grief is circular and thinking one is beyond a certain stage only guarantees a swift and painful fall into darkness. But it may not come for a while. I cried enough tears while in labor my heart may not have any more just yet. There have been a few tears while nursing as the quietest, sweetest mama/baby moments find their existence within those frequent feedings, but it's very different from the early days with Bennett when I wept absolute buckets. 

Having a deep net of support beneath us is helping immensely. There are so many in my life who know and understand this confusing path, and those who have not been to this particular place of deep joy and great sorrow have been silent witnesses and strong shoulders. I've always felt that we are blessed to know and feel so much love as we build our family. Thank you for celebrating Ainsleigh, spoiling Bennett, and remembering Charlotte.

Monday, November 4, 2013


I feel like I'm in a boat on a very calm lake. I'm in the middle, I can't see the shore from the boat, but I am content and it is peaceful. All is well. I'm scared to move. I want to stay flat on my back in the bottom of this boat with the skies changing above me; they shift constantly from dawn to dusk, from clouded to wide open blue, from sunny to rainy, but even the rain is warm and soft.

I've carried a sense of doom for so long. A feeling that it is my fate to be perpetually caught in a storm of loss and grief. Somehow having Bennett and Ainsleigh has finally repaired a broken place within me. I still feel hovering shadows. It's still tempting to look over my shoulder and wait for the other shoe to drop. But how can I encourage my children to wring every drop - both good and bad - out of life if I don't do the same myself?

Yesterday I told J I had no idea how tense and unhappy I've been. It is as if something toxic left my soul when Ainsleigh was born. I am at rest with the family we have, the children we are raising. I am at peace even though Charlotte isn't here. And I have no idea how I came to this place of calmness. I don't know if it's time, or faith, or prayer, or a combination of elements and emotions. I don't know if the feeling will stay. I hope it does.

The idea of staying still so the boat continues to float without disturbance is naive. I am not the only one who affects the drift and pace of the water. Storms will come. Waves will crash over the sides. Grief will resurface. It always does. It is incapable of being drowned. But I like to think I have the ability to face what comes with strength and faith. Life is a series of good and bad events. We are in the midst of a beautiful time and I want to hold it close so that when something occurs and the waters beneath me rise I can continue on with faith and the understanding that life can get better.

I can't believe I have three children. I'm writing this curled up by the fire. Ainsleigh is sleeping next to me after a very long nursing session. Bennett is curled up asleep in his bed. And Charlotte is at the feet of Jesus.

Charlotte brought strength into my life while Bennett blew air and light into the clouds of grief that surrounded us until golden sunshine broke through. And Ainsleigh, oh my sweet second girl, she has infected my heart with not only hope, but joy and calmness too.

This is not the life I planned, but I'm right where I'm supposed to be.

Friday, November 1, 2013

I couldn't let go (1/4 of a birth story)

We are home and adjusting well. Ainsleigh is a champion nurser and Bennett is doing quite well with all of the changes. He loves his sister with an intensity that must be closely monitored. Bennett loves to kiss and hold Ainsleigh, it's the sweetest thing.

I think it's going to take me a while to write up Ainsleigh's birth story because I had such a difficult time of it but I do have to get some thoughts down.

I had the best team possible for this birth. The midwife I saw throughout the pregnancy was there as well as the midwife who has been with us for all of my pregnancies and births. Of course J was there. He caught Ainsleigh just as he caught Bennett and Charlotte.

And the nurses were wonderful too. I was very pleased with how kindly everyone treated the situation. I think our midwife must have been informing everyone personally about Charlotte, or she may have made it very evident on my chart, because every single staff person was kind and understanding and we didn't have to repeat the story over and over and over. Even the lactation consultant was sensitive to our situation. When we were talking about how many babies I have I said something about having three but only nursing two and her response was, "Yes, but the first is important too."

 We were blessed to be so well cared for during an emotionally difficult time. Ainsleigh was fine throughout the delivery, but I struggled. When I decided I wanted an epidural because I could not see myself letting go so Ainsleigh could be born (I have this amazing ability to stop contractions and decide to go no further even at 7 and 8 cm) I received so much love and support from my care team.

The physical pain wasn't unmanageable, but the heart pain was too much.

I cried more during Ainsleigh's labor and delivery than I have in a long, long time. It was the kind of crying that just won't quit; even when you're exhausted, even when you want it to.

I'm a little sad I won't have the water birth I always dreamed of. I thought this birth might be different because I had the experience of Bennett's birth stacked on top of Charlotte's, but knowing it was a girl made it more difficult. I hate that there is a well of trauma deep within my soul that makes pregnancy and birth such an overwhelming prospect. If I could alter my perspective somehow I would, but after Ainsleigh's birth I finally understand that the trauma is entrenched and it's not something I can overcome with willpower and prayer. I was blessed to be surrounded by people who pulled me up, held me together and told me, "you are not a failure" when I realized I couldn't do it.

And now that Ainsleigh is here the question of how she arrived doesn't matter. What's important is the life we've managed to create from the desolation of grief. Our little family doesn't feel complete, but it does feel whole. And for the first time in a long, long while I feel like I can quit striving and dreaming and focus on the present and raising and loving my babies.



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