Saturday, June 14, 2014

Dear Joseph: A Birth Story

My dear Joseph,

I want to tell you a story. It’s the marvelous story of your birth. And I want you to know every detail so that you can see what a wonderful Heavenly Father you have and how He was so on that special day.

First, I want you to know that you were sovereignly planned by God. He knew since the beginning of time that you would join our family and that He wanted us to be a family of 6. However, it wasn’t until August 7, 2013 that we knew of God’s plan. Oh, how excited your sister Ella was to find out the news. She had been praying for months for another sibling to join our family, and you were the answer to her prayers!

As the weeks went by, I grew more and more eager to meet you-to see just who you were and what you would look like. Since I started having Braxton Hicks contractions earlier this time around (somewhere around 30 weeks), I was sure you’d be early or at least on time. But as it turned out, you liked to keep Mommy waiting even more than Luke did. At first, I thought the reason you were staying in longer is that you were scared to come out. After all, you’d been hearing the chaos that is three older siblings for 9 months and maybe you weren’t sure you were ready for all that noise? But actually, as I think about it more, I realize the reason you stayed in is that Mommy was a little scared. I don’t know why after 3 births I had these fears, but I did. For one, I wasn't exactly looking forward to contractions. Your posterior position scared me a little since I was afraid of back labor. I wasn't sure how I would cope with it as I had never experienced it before. (Thankfully, a wonderful chiropractor performed the Webster technique to change your position and you were LOA at birth). But I also had fears about your health. I had the irrational thought that since God had already blessed us with 3 healthy babies, maybe we shouldn't expect it again. I kept quoting Ann Voskamp's saying, "God is always good and you are always loved." So, what if you were born with a physical or mental impairment-did that mean that God was no longer good? Did it mean that we weren't loved? Or that we weren't blessed? Of course not, but it took me a while to rest in His care, offering my fears up to Him and asking Him to replace them with His peace. 

Five days after your due date, I was at church Sunday morning and didn’t have to play the piano. This meant that I was able to fully concentrate on all the verses of the hymn that the congregation was singing instead of on the notes I had to play. And the words chosen by God for me that morning?

‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to take Him at His Word;
Just to rest upon His promise,
Just to know, “Thus saith the Lord.”
Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him!
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er!
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus! 
O for grace to trust Him more!

And He spoke- “My beloved, can you trust Me? Trust that I know the perfect timing for this baby’s birth? Trust that I do all things well. Trust that I have your good and My glory in mind?” 

And I was so.comforted. 

But, your Mama’s human and humans forget, and the fears cropped in again later that week. God again spoke to me-reminding me of Romans 15:13-that He, the God of HOPE, would fill me with all joy and peace AS I trusted in Him. So, I kept preaching His truth to my heart and by the time Saturday, April 5 came, the fears had been replaced by great anticipation. It was 11 days past your “due date” and I was so very ready to meet you. I am thankful though for your extra days in the womb because it allowed me to get my mind ready and focused for the birth. That is so important because birth is not just a physical act. 

Now you may wonder why we chose a home birth for you and your brothers (Ella was born at a wonderful birthing center). It's certainly not because your Mama's brave. Or strong. Or seeking applause. Rather, we believe that birth is a normal, natural process and not something to be treated; therefore, we assume the best place to welcome you is in the comfort of your own home surrounded by those who love you. For at home there is no pressure to progress in a certain time frame. And at home there is freedom to labor and birth in the position most comfortable for me and most helpful for you. Whether that is pacing the floor, squatting, hanging on to your Daddy, bouncing on a ball, or relaxing in a pool of warm water, I get to choose. 

And I believe that the entire birth process is beautiful, not just the wonderful part at the end where I get to meet you, so I don't want to complicate it by adding interventions.  For though natural birth doesn't scare me, interfering with the natural birth process does. There's the possibility of unwanted side effects, yes, but also the realization that interventions can actually lead to a birth emergency. Thus, I actually feel safer staying at home where I choose to fully embrace all that birth encompasses. I want to experience the joy and the pain, because it's a sweet pain-one of working with my body and with baby in order to get the most wonderful reward at the end. God has designed my body to birth, just as He has graciously designed it so that contractions gradually increase, with times of rest in between. Most importantly, though, He has designed me to need Him. I cling to His promise that He will never leave me nor forsake me, especially during birth. And I actually feel His presence the most when I'm in labor. Perhaps it's because I have a deeper awareness of my reliance on Him, as I know that He is the only One getting me through it. It's never been about how strong I am, but rather how His strength is made perfect in my weakness. And it truly is

However, I do realize that there are times when the specialized care a hospital can provide is needed for a birth. And I want you to know, son, that your Daddy and I prayed from the time we knew about you until the day of your birth that God would direct us if we were supposed to be anywhere else but at home on Labor Day. We were always listening to His still small voice and felt safe entrusting your care to Him. After all, He who created and fashioned you certainly knew your needs best. 

The morning of your birth, April 5, I got Ella to take pictures of me holding your brother Luke. How I cherish those last photos of you both; the last of Luke as the baby and the last photos of you in the womb. 

I was already having some contractions at that point, but I still didn’t know for sure if it was the real thing since for days I had been having contractions that would come and remain for a while and then peter out.  Your Grandma was on call though to come watch your siblings.  I didn’t especially want to be distracted with 3 children while I was in labor, but I did want your siblings to see you being born. After all, they had been loving on you as much as Mommy these past 9 months (constantly showering my tummy with kisses), so how could I exclude them now? I wanted them to experience how beautiful and normal birth was. And truly what a miracle it is. I hope that they felt the Lord's presence in the room because I surely did.

By 3:30p.m. I had called your Daddy inside to help me clean up. I could feel things were progressing more and we needed the house straightened up. Wouldn’t want you birthed in a messy house, now would we? :-) Daddy started cleaning the kitchen, and I began dusting.  The piano was first. While dusting it, my eyes rested on the hymnal...and guess what hymn it "just happened" to be opened to? The same one that had given me comfort 6 days before, "'Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus." See, God knew that as the contractions grew more consistent, I would need to be reminded to Trust in Him Who had never failed me. I was safe in His care.

Around 5p.m. I was cleaning windows (you should be honored-yours is the only birth I felt such a need to clean so thoroughly for!), and suddenly I knew that I needed to hand the cloth off to your Daddy to finish up because the contractions were now requiring my full concentration.  Your grandparents had recently been called, and they would be arriving soon to watch your siblings. And I had just called Christy at Studio 9 Photography so she could get prepared to come photograph your birth. You, darling, had only one first breath and I wanted it captured. 

I did notice during this time that our great God, who so cares about the details and loves to answer His children’s prayers, had allowed some more flowers to bloom that I had planted earlier in the week. From the windows and sliding glass doors, I could see the colors-purple and red pansies and white, orange, and yellow snapdragons. They had fully opened and were beautiful. It was a wonderful metaphor for birth. 

Christy arrived at 6:30 and about that same time, I was reaching for my lavender essential oil. I inhaled that calming smell quite a few times before getting in the pool. I'd also pace around, but when a contraction came, I'd lean into the chest of drawers, breathe deeply, relax my muscles, and count.  Soon after the pool was filled, I got in. It was about 7:20p.m. I had decided I wanted to try again for a water birth, since I hadn't had one since your sister's birth. I had attempted one with Caleb, but there was too much sediment in the water from not draining the water heater. This time, God answered that prayer too. We had recently purchased a new water system which would soften the water, help clean out the pipes, and filter the chlorine and other nasty chemicals from the water as well. When the system was installed, the water heater was drained. At our test run at 37 weeks, we still saw some sediment in the pool, but it was so much better than what we saw at Caleb’s birth. We continued to let the water run out in the tub every night to drain the water heater further. By the time you came, there were only a few small specs which Daddy easily removed with a net.

I also knew this time not to recline so much in the pool but to be in more of a  squatting position when it came time to push you out. Still I wondered how I would do actually laboring in the pool, since before I always labored standing up (even with Ella’s birth I didn’t get in the water until close to transition.) But I was also afraid to get in the water too late because by then I would already have my system down for dealing with the contractions, and it’s hard to move to a new location or position at that point. So...your sweet Daddy also made a wooden birthing stool for me just in case I ended up with a land birth. (He had no desire to be the birthing stool again as he'd been at Luke's birth). I so wish I could have used the birthing stool and the pool. But at least Luke is getting some use out of it-it’s his chair when he’s watching a movie. :-) 

In addition to wanting a water birth, we also wanted to do it ourselves this time around. I had never understood all those Ina May Gaskin stories about women who desired midwives, apprentices, friends, family, (i.e. the whole gang) with them while they were birthing. I felt like that would be a distraction and I just wanted your Daddy there. However, we didn't feel completely comfortable going unassisted and unattended. Thankfully, your Aunt Erin, who is a missionary midwife in Thailand, helped us out.  She had "met" Olivia at an online midwifery forum and thought she'd be the perfect match for us. She was someone with midwifery experience but not the licensing, so she could sit back and not be involved at all unless we asked her. Basically, she'd be our back-up and someone to confer with if there were any problems. Due to regulations, S.C. licensed midwives don't have that kind of freedom; they are required to be a little more hands-on. Olivia also gave me prenatal care; she came over to our house several times to measure fundal height, listen to your heartbeat with a fetoscope, palpate your position, check my blood pressure, and answer any questions I had. Your siblings loved getting to be involved with all of that. 

So... I had gotten into the water around 7:20p.m. I was discouraged soon after that because it seemed like my contractions were getting further apart and not lasting as long. I had heard of water sometimes slowing labor down, and I really thought, “Oh no! Christy’s here, grandparents are here, Olivia’s on her way, and this may be a false alarm!”  But about 10 minutes later, I had to go to the bathroom. Just in the time it took for your Daddy to help me out and get me to the bathroom and back, I had 3 contractions and they were doozies. “Phew, this is the real thing.” When I got back in the pool again, the contractions kept up, and your Daddy held my hands as I breathed through them. 

During that hour, your siblings ate supper, read books, and played outside with Grandma. One time, Ella came back in to check on things. She wanted to know for sure if you were going to be born that day. Poor thing, she'd been hearing for over a week now, "Maybe today, honey." She so wanted to meet you! We had the sliding glass door open in the bedroom so that I could hear the pond fountain outside. (Originally, I had wanted to birth you outside on our deck, but the pollen put a stop to that. And it was dark by the time you came, so inside turned out for the best.) But in addition to the fountain, what I found most soothing was hearing your siblings' laughter and chatter as they played outside. It felt so normal and right to have that as my labor background music. That is until I heard Grandma ask, "Has anyone seen Lukey?" Fortunately, your brother was found soon enough. 

I'll always be forever grateful that I asked Christy to come to the birth to capture these timeless memories. It's so wonderful to see what your siblings were doing while I was laboring. And I was so surprised at many of the shots she got; I just wasn't aware of her presence, especially the further I got into labor. She just faded into the background like a good birth photographer should. The following picture was taken about 30 minutes before your arrival. I'm simply amazed looking back at it that I looked so peaceful in between contractions. But what surprised me most was the next shot. They were both taken within the same minute.

Here I was deep within myself during a contraction, breathing and counting through it, and I had no idea that Luke had come back to check on me. Now I shall always be reminded of your sweet brother who wanted to make sure that his Mama was okay.

My labor was fast progressing by this point, and Jesus was so good to keep reminding me how sweet it is to trust Him by bringing that hymn constantly to my mind. I was heading right into transition when Olivia finally made it to my house. (She was returning from a homeschooling convention and had been held up in traffic.) It was 8:25p.m. when she came into the bedroom to let me know she was there. She got down by the pool where I was laboring, looked right into my eyes, and said, “How’s it going, Mama?” Oh, the tension that floated away. I hadn’t even realized how anxious I was about her getting there-how much I truly did desire that “with woman” presence. And there was such a strength and calmness in her voice that it just brought me down a notch. Your Daddy had been doing a wonderful job-holding my hands, pushing my hair back, giving me water, providing me with comfort, but there really is something about having a woman there who has been in labor...who knows exactly what you’re feeling. And the timing of her arrival? It was just another reassurance from God that He had it all under control-every detail of your birth was under His watchful care. 

I was worried a bit when she arrived (can you see it in my eyes?) because I was trying to time my own contractions and I didn’t think they were lasting long enough (45 seconds) for how intense they were (it felt like one wave after the next). When I told Olivia that, she timed the next one and said it was definitely a minute. The next one over a minute. I was so relieved to hear that because I didn’t know how to survive if I was still in early labor at this point. 

She then began telling me about meeting Angie Smith; Angie had been the featured speaker at the convention. I would have loved going to it myself had I not been so very pregnant. I used to follow Angie's blog faithfully, and I had just finished reading her book Chasing God.  During their talk, Olivia told Angie about my upcoming birth, and Angie said she’d be praying for me-how awesome is that? This is how my conversation went with Olivia. 

Me: “So, tell me all about Angie.”

Olivia: “Oh, Laura, you would have loved her. She’s so easy to talk to. She's just like you read about on her blog. And her speaking topic was on the women in Moses’ life.”

Me: “Oh, I bet she talked about the midwives then.”

Olivia: “Yes, she...

Me: “Wait.” (Then I breathe through a 1-1.30 minute contraction.)

Me: “Okay, go on.”

It went on like this for a little while longer, and then about 8:45 p.m., I didn’t ask her to finish the story anymore. But it had served a great purpose-distraction-and I needed it during transition. And if you're wondering where your Daddy is in the above picture, he had just taken an empty hot water pot back to the kitchen. He was meticulous about assuring that the pool stayed at just the right temperature for your birth.

Now the contractions were lasting longer and were even more intense. Yes, it was hard, but really, I had my legs bent back behind me, and I kept wiggling my toes. Your Daddy later asked me about that and I told him it was my way of remembering to try and relax I could actually feel you moving down the birth canal getting ready to greet us; it's an indescribable feeling. In one sense I was relieved, and in another sense, I was trying hard not to fight it because I knew you'd be crowning soon. I was also empathizing with you, buddy, because I knew this wasn’t easy for you either. This is the part in labor where I always begin moving my head slowly from side to side; it's my silent way of saying, “No, no, no. I can’t do this anymore.” But thankfully it never lasts long-this time it was maybe 3 contractions, and then I said, “That last one felt like I needed to push.” And I managed to add, “Video camera,” to remind your Daddy to turn it on. He told me later how surprised he was that you were ready to come out; he didn’t think you’d be born until 10 or 11.  I'm so glad he was wrong! I was ever so ready to meet you, my precious.

Would you be a girl or a boy? We didn't know and couldn't wait to find out. During your 9+ months in the womb, I'd often try out names on you. One of our favorite girl names was Lillie, and whenever I said it, you'd usually kick. But you never kicked when I said boy names. "See," I told Ella, "it might be a girl because the baby likes the name Lillie." Ha-ha. Now we know that you were kicking out of anger; "STOP calling me girl names!"

Daddy stepped out of the room just for a moment to get your siblings into the room. (They were snuggled up with Grandma and Grandpa on the couch watching, of all things, “Frosty, the Snowman.")  As they came into the room, I remember hearing Daddy ask Ella if she wanted to get into the pool. (She already had her swimsuit on under her clothes.) She said yes and was about to get in when he spotted her dirty feet and told her to go wash them off. She barely made it back to the room in time! 

I wanted to remember to breathe you out instead of pushing you out with loud grunts because I really didn’t want to tear like I had at your siblings' births. But now I know, midwife there or not, someone saying “push” or not, I will push when it comes to that point. It just takes over me, and I’m just so ready to have labor over with that “taking it slow and easy” just doesn’t work.  So, I went from quiet breathing to loud moans, and the next thing I felt was your head! It had come out in one big push. (And with it the bag of waters-all clear.) And for the first time in a birth, I had instinctively reached down with one hand to help guide it out. 

And now I come to the sweetest thing about your birth that I shall always remember. It was the one minute that I spent just rubbing your precious head, saying “Hey, baby" over and over while the rest of you waited patiently to be born. I wanted you to be comforted-to know that all was well. I was fully present in the moment. In fact, it felt like it was just you and me in that moment and no one else.  Two lives still as one for a minute longer. And for the first few days after your birth, love, I could still close my eyes, rub your tiny head, and relive those last beautiful moments of birth. And I think you were comforted too as you remembered feeling Mama's touch for the first time.

About a minute later, I had another contraction and out slithered the rest of you. (That’s the easy part, you know.) As I looked at your sweet face under the water, I immediately knew two things.

  1. You were okay.
  2. You were a boy.

It’s so funny because I was enjoying looking at you under the water and wanted to keep you there a while longer (underwater shots are cool, you know?), but your Daddy was getting worried and wanted me to hurry and bring you up. He forgot in that moment that babies don’t take their first breath until they leave the water, but also you probably looked a little scary to him all white and all (you were covered in vernix). So with Luke’s birth it was Daddy calming me down, but with this one, I was the one calming him down. I knew right away that you were okay because God gave me complete peace the moment I laid eyes on you. Before you even took that first breath, I knew you were going to be fine. Even after bringing you up out of the water, you didn’t cry, and I didn’t worry. I could tell you were breathing. 

I noticed soon after that you had cord around your neck, but it was okay. You had a very long cord (30 inches), and it was loosely wrapped, so Daddy just slipped it right off. 

A few seconds after that, you finally cried a short, mad cry and went back to snuggling on my chest. You were here. Finally. "Oh, thank you, Jesus." We had done it-Him through me, strengthening me, calming me, reassuring me that I could trust Him, for He is absolutely trustworthy. Always remember that, son.

After a few minutes, we realized that in our euphoric state, we hadn't caught the time of your birth. We figured it had been about five minutes before, so we called it at 8:57p.m. Grandma and Grandpa came back to see you for a few minutes before they had to leave to put their goats up for the night. You were born on Grandpa's 93rd birthday; he said it was his best birthday present ever! Soon after that, I called your other Grandma, my mom, and she was thrilled to know we were both doing fine. She was the only one who got a phone call that night; we were just too caught up in the loveliness of you to remember to call anyone else.

We stayed in the pool, love, just you and me snuggled together for about 30 minutes. The water was still perfect temperature, and I was in no hurry to leave the deliciousness of the moment. No one was concerned about taking you from my arms or covering you with anything. You had the warm water, Mama’s loving arms, and warm milk to drink-you didn’t need anything else. 

During that time, I asked Ella if she wanted to get into the pool but she said no. There wasn’t much blood actually, but I think she was a little put off by the vernix which was COMPLETELY covering you. You were slathered in it-in your ears-up your nose-every crevice was covered. (This was another sign that you weren’t late according to God’s timetable.) Ella kept asking me when we were going to clean you up and dry you off. And I had to keep telling her that we weren’t going to "clean you up." That vernix? It’s good stuff. The best body lotion you could have. 

Now for your siblings' first thoughts about you. Ella said, "That was so fast! Baby just came out! Caleb noticed two things; “He has a tiny bit of hair. The baby has tiny ears, Mommy.” And Lukey, who had been told for months that new baby was hiding inside Mommy’s tummy and would come out soon, wanted everyone to know “New Baby Out!” They all began giving you kisses soon after birth and haven't stopped since!

After about 30 minutes in the pool, I moved to the bed (like an inch away?) and all of us got to study you more closely. Most of the vernix had been absorbed into your perfectly soft skin, so Luke wanted to touch you since you weren't so "sticky" anymore. Also, we could now tell that you looked a lot like Caleb did when he was born. You had his dark complexion and dark hair. Daddy even calls you Caleb, Jr. at times. We also noticed that you had a cleft chin like your Grandpa Kitchings and a small, sweet birthmark on your left leg. 

You nursed fabulously after birth; you just did not want to open your precious eyes. You reminded me of a newborn rabbit. In fact, it was about a week before we felt confident stating what we had already assumed-that you had beautiful, blue eyes. Caleb's blue eyes changed to green when he was 3.5 years old, so we'll just have to wait and see what yours do. 

About 30 minutes after getting out of the pool, the placenta came out-fully intact and looking great. Your siblings got their 2nd science lesson for the evening as Olivia explained to them all about your home in the womb. I actually decided to let Olivia do placenta encapsulation this time, and I do think it helped me during those early postpartum weeks when hormones can be a little crazy. 

We didn't cut the cord until we were sure it had completely stopped pulsing; we wanted to make sure you got all the good oxygen-rich blood from it. Then we weighed and measured you. The scale ended up being off; it said over 9 lbs! Since Caleb had been 8.15, we knew that wasn't accurate as you were much tinier than he was. In fact, changing your diaper took some time that first week as we didn't want to hurt your skinny, itty-bitty legs. We finally got a good scale on Monday, two days after you were born, and went with that weight-7 pounds, 4 ounces. Your length was 20 inches-just like Ella.

And boy was Ella thrilled when she got to hold you! You can just see the love in her eyes. She kept saying how tiny and precious you were. She just adores you, even though you're not a "Lillie." :-). In fact, she didn't go to bed until 2 a.m. that night because she didn't want to stop loving on you! We assured her that you'd be there the next morning for her to cuddle with some more.

I did have more afterbirth pains this time but AfterEase greatly helped with that. The worse thing that night was actually the cramping in my legs. I had my legs bent behind me during birth and even afterwards when I should have relaxed in the pool and stretched them out in front of me. Silly Mama.  But the great news is that I didn't tear AT ALL having you!  Simply amazing-first time ever! I think the water definitely helped with that, as did squatting and guiding you out. God was so gracious to allow this because it meant that I had a much easier and faster recovery time. I really felt awesome the next day, and I was able to be at church and play on Easter Sunday, something I had so been hoping to do. 

And I think that Lukey had an easier time adjusting to his big brother role since he still got to nurse. Whenever y'all tandem nurse, he sweetly pats your hand or head. And when I put you on my shoulder to burp you, he says, "Hey, Joseph. Wuv you, Joseph." Kiss, Kiss. "Joseph is yo,yo precious!" He's also very quick to tell me, "New baby 'pit up, Mommy!"

As I finish writing this, love, you are turning 10 weeks old today and are close to 14 pounds! Your legs are quite plump now, as is your tummy. In fact, I jokingly call you our Buddha Baby-all tummy, small head, no neck. And.completely.adorable. We especially love hearing all your coos and seeing that beautiful smile. Our prayer for you, son, is that you grow up to love and serve Jesus all your days. Whether you become a preacher of the Gospel like your namesake (your great-great grandfather), a civil engineer like your Daddy, or something else entirely, we just pray that you'll be faithful to the One who provided for you from the very beginning. 

I love you to pieces,
Mama (for us all)

P.S. And the song chosen for your birth video? It's "Boat Song" by JJ Heller, and the lyrics remind me of one of our favorite children’s books, The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown. "If you become a bird and fly away from me...I will be a tree that you come home to." For we do indeed belong together.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oh, Laura!!

I just love this story! Thank you for enjoying it all so much and writing out all the details. It's a good help to me as I get ready for a 4th birth also, and dealing with my fears and letting things be sweetness and light :)

Love you, hope the babymoon goes on and on <3