Thursday, April 28, 2016

Baby Gwendolyn's Magnificent Water Birth

My sweet Gwen was born Sunday, April 17th at 7:47pm at the University of Utah hospital. I think back to that day and so much peace and overwhelming joy fill my thoughts. Not just because I've got my sweet Gwen with me now, but because it actually defied all of the negative perceptions associated with childbirth while simultaneously gifting me with a labor I'd be happy to do again tomorrow. From start to finish it was one of the most blissful, spirit filled days. Each baby I have teaches me I have much more capacity to love than I realized.

The day started the night before, as most birth stories do. I stayed up until 3am watching "Kimmy Schmidt" on Netflix with Aaron and drawing a "Welcome Home" sign for the baby on my chalkboard. Girl was paying attention. I wasn't able to sleep all night. By 6am I felt an irregular pattern of contractions and I tapped Aaron awake. "Just wanted to let you know we are definitely meeting our girl today!"

I got Lake out of her crib for the day and snuggled her in our rocking chair. It felt so crazy knowing those were my last moments with my only child so I held onto her extra long. With every contraction that pulsed through my body, I looked at my Lakey and they got easier.

"Another baby's coming, you say? Whatcho talkin' bout, Willis? Okay, that's cool with me!"
Around 11am my doula, Amanda, came over and started to massage my hands and feet. It made me relax and feel really cared for. I realized I needed someone to coach me through the birth when I started having preterm contractions at 33 weeks and they scared the living daylights out of me. I was so unprepared for the pain and so fearful of the physical toll of labor. After my preterm contractions cooled down and I was released from the hospital, I immediately went on the internet and found Amanda. I am so grateful that I did. And see, everything happens for a reason. The spectacular birth experience I had was in large part thanks to her!

I had so many affirmations swirling through my head to help prepare my mind for the birth. Having Amanda there to tell them to me kept my thoughts positive and my mental state clear and free from stress. It was a great advantage to have given birth before and know exactly what I needed to hear and when. I know how I did with Lake, so it was like taking a test I already took once and was able to go back and study for!

The words to "How Great Thou Art" calm me every time I think of them. Through each contraction whether in the shower, eating lunch, or doing my hair, I'd start to repeat to myself, "Oh Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder, consider all the worlds Thy hands have made." It sounds weird, but just those simple lyrics tell me so much about God and my relationship to Him. This baby was going to come out of me. It was going to be hard. But I was ready to be used by God as an instrument of His love, demonstrating I'd do anything for my children like a reflection of His love for us in Jesus Christ.

After a call to one of my midwives around 3pm, she advised that we head to the hospital soon. Thankfully, my labor this time came in distinct contractions. Very different than the hammer of pain that started the day I had Lake and never let off. When my uterus was chill, I put my hair up, got my shoes on, and waddled to the car. At the hospital is the moment of truth all laboring mothers wait for: A nurse says, "Feet together, knees apart. Cold gel..." And you get the report of how far your cervix has dilated. Just 3 1/2 stinkin' centimeters! I had to be at least at a 4 to be admitted, which was like a cruel joke. Don't even say the "half" after three in that case, you guys. I'd rather not know.

The pleasant ride to the hospital. 

The midwife in labor and delivery gave me the option to either go home to continue laboring or walk around the hospital and see if things pick up. I chose the hospital. It was Indian day in the cafeteria. I love when hard decision are made for me. After curry, hiking the stairs, and leaning over every wall and surface in my given perimeters, I went back to have my cervix checked again. Low and behold, after 90 minutes I was still just at a 3 1/2. Feeling quite unskilled at willing my cervix into opening, I gave up and went home to labor. It actually was a blessing to be able to spend more time with Lake. I just wasn't ready to say good-bye to her yet!

At home I laid in my bathtub for an hour while Aaron poured water over my body. It was such a meditative time. The essential oils my doula put in the water helped me relax even though my contractions were getting much stronger. I found new coping techniques there in the bath. With each contraction I learned to stare at the back of my eyelids. Focusing on my eyes took my attention off my belly and brought it to my nose, then to my breath. I told myself, "This can only happen one breath at a time." It reassured me that I wasn't going to be swallowed up like the way waves crash over your head in the ocean with no room to come up for air. One breath in, one breath out, and it would be finished soon.

After getting out of the bath I felt amazing and rejuvenated, but my labor picked up insanely fast. Throughout the whole day Amanda was right there to apply counter pressure to my hips while I leaned on whatever was close by. It was an invaluable service. My birth with Lake was so unbelievably hard, but I did learn countless lessons from it. I learned to be present with my body and let things be just as they are. Wanting to be somewhere else is a way the mind creates unhappiness. I was getting to meet my baby that day, I couldn't tell myself to be unhappy if I tried.

It's baby day! 40 weeks and five days pregnant

No matter how hard my contractions got, I stayed present and at peace with the pain. I also learned from Lake's birth that my body does not respond to any pain killers during labor. So for me, a natural birth was the healthiest and best option. There are so many additional benefits to a natural birth for both myself and my baby girl so I was excited to meet the challenge! But still, pain demands to be felt. It doesn't have to win though. It doesn't have to make you lose control.

It was getting time to head back to the hospital when I started to hit that insanely intense transition phase of labor. And again, I knew what I needed to hear. It was time for me to plug in my headphones, strap on my fanny-pack, and blast my Jesus music. But right before the Meredith Andrews playlist started pumping, I took one last look at my affirmation board hanging in my room.

My board had an empty area in the bottom corner that I never knew what to write there. Still contracting up a storm, I remembered the words from a favorite sermon of mine. (I am more evangelical Jesus freak than Mormon some days.) Simply put, if something is a lie, but we believe it's true, it gives that lie weight and relevance in our lives. Even a lie becomes true after a while because you've given it power. Like how there is no truth to the notion that carrots improve your eyesight. But still knowing that, people live by it and it has power over their actions.

I thought about how intimidating giving birth was, especially naturally. I told myself that was only for endurance athletes or extra hippie mamas. But that's a lie! Not only could I do it, I was made to do it. So instead of believing a lie, I believed what God had to say. You buy into one story the world has told you your whole life, but when you realize it's untrue and things don't have to be that way, you get to write a totally different story for yourself. I can do what I always believed I couldn't. I wrote that down on my board and felt so empowered. It was like a door had been opened because I had just found the key.

On the car ride back to the hospital I listened to my music and never lost my cool, so for that I'm proud. But the transition phase does not mess around. Another affirmation that changed the course of my labor for the better was telling myself, "You exhale what you inhale." Every time I got close to those terrible mama shakes I told myself I am inhaling calmness and exhaling peace. There was no negativity or fear to be had because I was not allowing it!

As Aaron was parking the car and Amanda pushed me through the halls of the hospital, I had to just stop for a moment. I paused my music and broke down. Through my tears I told Amanda that if it looks like I'm crying because I'm in pain, it's not. I am just really happy. And I am just really grateful. God gave me this body and it's working exactly how it should be. I'm just so blessed to be a woman and know how I fit into God's plan right now. Amanda told me to quit it before I started to make her cry.

Aaron ran into the hospital room just as I laid down on the bed. Then feet, knees, cold goop...I was 8 centimeters dilated. Eight! I threw both my hands in the air and high-fived everyone. "Fill up the tub!" I had been waiting to labor in my own giant personal bath of delightfully balmy water since the morning. The things I've read about water birth have been ridiculously positive and encouraging. It was finally my turn to give it a try! I was so excited!

Within only three contractions after squatting down into the tub I told everyone that this baby is definitely coming sooner than they all thought. The position I was kneeling in was incredibly conducive to a baby falling out of me. I never want to give birth any other way again! I hesitantly said, "Um, Amanda? She's crowning." I didn't think anyone would believe me. My bag of waters was pushing down and I just needed to muster up a little more strength before my baby girl would be in my arms.

By 7:46 the evening of Gwen's birth I was relaxing with my arms over a birthing ball as I knelt inside my fabulous tub. MVP to that tub. With only seconds left before I met my sweet girl, my midwife, Julie, bent over and held my baby's head in her hands. I pictured my daughter's face with chubby cheeks and thick lips. Julie asked for one more push from me to free the baby's shoulders. Through the pain of my last contraction, I pictured the face of my new daughter again and couldn't think of anything else. A face that sweet took up too much room in my brain so I guess there was no place for pain to stay. With a final push, I sprung off the birthing ball and reached underneath my legs where I placed both my hands on my baby and brought her up out of the water to meet the world.

My hands were quickly joined by two other sets of hands as all three of us tried to unravel the umbilical chord wrapped around the baby's body. When she was safe, I pulled her into my chest. Amanda excitedly told me to speak to my baby, but I was at an absolute loss for words. I spoke to my new daughter, saying the only words I had on my lips all day. "I love you!"

I cannot begin to describe the joy in that moment. I was in shock. I was in love. Holding the child I've been praying for and thinking about since August turned me into an even bigger ball of tears. Aaron looked at us and told me he was so proud and what a beautiful baby I made. I really did make a beautiful one. I looked up at him and laughed, "Do you see her?!" She was really here. It was over. I did it. We made it. She was healthy and gorgeous. So gorgeous.

I love being a woman and knowing that I am trusted by God to raise such adorable girls like Lake and Gwen. There is an amazing transformation that happens when you just lay the will of something as crucial as the birth of your child at God's feet and let Him make it happen. God says blessed are those who are in need of comfort, for they will be comforted. That is true and I am proof. There were times when I was laboring in the tub I was so excited I declared, "This is fun!" It actually was.

My midwife Julie and doula Amanda. Phenomenal women. 
I could hardly rest for the remainder of our stay at the hospital. I believe I had a cumulative eight hours of sleep over three days. I'm not the type woman who just makes a human being and can go to sleep afterwards. Regardless of my fatigue, I have felt so fantastic and my recovery has been too good to be true. It was such a fantastic birth. I couldn't have asked for better midwives, nurses, or a better husband or doula.

It took a day or two for it to sink in that this baby with jet black hair and olive skin was really mine. She is too precious for words. I love her times infinity! I couldn't be more thankful for her safe arrival. It's been nerve racking waiting for Aaron to graduate next week, find a job, and move all of us into a new home. We don't know what will happen. But I'm at peace knowing I've got my two perfect, sweet girls and a loving man they can call their dad. I can see the ways the Lord has watched over us through each phase of our lives and especially through the birth of my two daughters. I've got my faith and I've got my family! Alright life, bring it on.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Baby Machine

It is two days away from my due date. I am a happy, giant pregnant lady with no complaints! This pregnancy has been virtually unnoticeable compared to my pregnancy with Lake. The hardest part has honestly been trying to choose a name for this baby! I'm having a GIRL, in case you were wondering. Uggg, I don't like girls names. Why can't I just name her "Carah"? Why deviate from a classic?

Hello little baby! You are just 7 weeks along! 

I realized I was pregnant when I had a not even one year old yet. I was a little stressed. Did you know you can be breastfeeding, not have a period yet, AND be taking the pill and still get pregnant? Needless to say, the husband and I agreed to employing all forms of birth control and end each evening with a firm handshake.

I really am so in love with my babies though. Having another sweet newborn in this house is going to bring so much more joy to our lives. I can't wait!

A lot is happening these upcoming few months. Not only is there a baby to watch out for, Aaron is finally graduating from the U with his degree in Computer Science and we will have to find a job and new place to live. So if someone could just give Aaron a job back in Santa Monica where he's making loads of cash and I can frolic regularly on the beach with my two babes....that would be great. Plan B is to just eat away at our savings in Salt Lake until such an offer is made.

Plan C is to just take a job anywhere that offers him money, but that one's not nearly as exciting to think about.

Take me back! LA OR BUST!

Lake is now 18 months and she is a handful. That's just the truth. But I don't remember her ever being an "easy" baby. I don't know what I was expecting. But oh, yes. A baby sister rocking her single child world cannot be timed any better! She can already do the sign for baby, say "sissy!", and she attacks all babies smaller than her with pokes and kisses. They will be total best pals.

I'm counting down the hours I have left with just Lake. She is so bright and absolutely hilarious. Aaron and I can't get enough of her. She has mastered the cheesey smile that stops us in our tracks. It's the cutest. She knows something like 20 words now and it feels like she understands everything we're telling her. I like when she obeys me and thinks she deserves an applause break for herself.

This last year and a half as a mom has been such a blast. I think I am learning so much more about how God sees us as His children too. I love my little family. Like, LOOOOVE them. So come join us, baby sister! It's going to be a great eternity.

39 weeks, 5 days and 14 hours...but who's counting.