Friday, July 20, 2012

The Birth of Emily Hope

FAIR WARNING:  This post is not for everyone!  It is a detailed natural birth story.  Words like "cervix" and "blood" are used frequently.  If that's not your cup of tea, stop reading right now!

After no less than five “false starts” to labor, I barely took notice as the contractions began yet again around 6pm on Friday, July 13.  They still remained as I climbed into bed that evening, but I had been down this road before.  Contractions seemed to coming be no further than 10 minutes apart, sometimes closer, but never increasing in intensity.  I didn’t sleep well that night, because the contractions kept waking me.  They didn’t hurt, just annoyed me and made it hard to find a comfortable sleeping position.  Twice when they woke me, I threw up what felt like liquid fire.  I finally slept a little better for the last few hours after that.  In the morning, July 14, the contractions remained the same and I threw up again.  After over 12 hours of apparent labor, most mommas would excitedly (or fearfully) be exclaiming, “this is it!”  But again, I had been here before.  Twelve hours was nothing; my record in the two weeks preceding had been 19 hours of contractions without a baby. 
Not yet convinced that this was the time, but determined to make it be, I got to work.  I spent most of the morning bouncing on my yoga ball, walking and rocking my hips, deep breathing and practicing prenatal yoga on the living room floor (not without “help” from the dog and Fireman Ben).  I read a couple chapters from Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth in attempt to get “in the zone.”  Wes helped me engage the Four Gates acupressure points, which are said to help move things along when labor is slow to start.  In the afternoon, we went to the mall to walk laps in the air conditioning.  We walked and talked, walked and talked, and Wes kept me laughing as much as possible.  We’d read that laughter can help laboring mothers to relax and therefore progress, and since he’s always thought of my laughter as his responsibility, he took this as a challenge. 
When I’d had enough walking, around 5pm, we headed home for dinner.  The contractions still had not gained any strength or intensity, but since we were now approaching 24 hours, I thought it wise to spend some time tracking them so we’d at least know what we were dealing with.  I started timing contractions on the drive home and was surprised to find that they were about four minutes apart.  My doctor follows the 4-1-1 rule:  When contractions are four minutes apart, lasting one minute each for one hour, it’s time to go.  Though I still didn’t believe it was the real thing, I continued timing the contractions to see if they’d keep at this pace for an hour.  They did.  I knew that if I was following the rule, it was time, but it still didn’t feel like it.  I was functioning fine, breathing and talking fine, and just going about my business with my family.  This certainly didn’t feel like a “Hurry up, the baby’s coming!” scenario.  Wes and I pow-wowed and agreed we’d at least wait until after dinner, because we were both starving.  He grilled steaks and my mom made my favorite squash and zucchini side dish.  It was delicious and we both savored it, not knowing when we’d get to eat again.
I continued timing contractions through dinner and they remained on the same track: about 3.5-4 minutes apart, each lasting approximately one minute.  Reluctantly (because it still didn’t feel like real labor), we packed up our things, kissed Benjamin good-night, and headed to the hospital.  I texted my doula on the way, saying we were going in, but I’d let her know when they told me “You’re not in labor, crazy.  Go home!”  She excitedly replied, “They won’t!  This is it!!!”  Silly doula, I thought.
When we arrived around 9pm, the nurse checked my cervix and determined that I was 3cm dilated and about 70% effaced.  She called to inform my doctor, who said that if I walked for one hour and showed progress, she’d be willing to come break my water if I wanted to get things moving quicker.  Wes and I walked the halls of L&D for the next hour, laughing about my ridiculous “cape” (a second hospital gown worn backwards over the first, to cover my exposed rump), and trying to guess what was behind each mysterious closet door we passed.  I squatted with contractions on every other lap, and he sweetly rubbed my back as I did.  When we returned to the room an hour later, my cervix was a more “stretchy” 3, nearing 4cm dilated and 80% effaced.  Progress!  We were staying!
Around 10:45pm, my doctor arrived to break my water.  There was meconium in it, which worried me a little.  Above all I was worried for her health, but also, I really wanted to be able to hold my baby as soon as she was born.  This meant that if she didn’t come out crying, they’d have to whisk her away to clear out her nose and throat.  I said a little prayer that she’d come out healthy and wailing, and knew that was all I could do.
My doctor left around 11pm in hopes of getting some sleep before my delivery, and instructed the nurses to call her when I was 8cm dilated.  Ashley, our doula, arrived shortly thereafter, and Wes and I were both so glad to see her.  Still not feeling contractions too intensely, I was in a great mood.  The three of us just kind of hung out for a while, listening to my carefully selected labor playlist, talking and laughing.  I stood and swayed back and forth, rocking my hips with the contractions.  It wasn’t long before I had to stop mid-sentence as a contraction literally took my breath away.  It shouldn’t have, given the circumstances, but this feeling surprised me.  It was the first time in now over 29 hours of labor that my brain finally got the message my body had been sending: the baby is coming!  I gave Ashley a look that must have said “umm… WTH?!” because she gave me a bless-your-darlin-heart kind of smile and said, “It’s ok, you don’t have to talk.  Your baby is about to be born!”
From this point on, I lost all sense of time.  Somehow, everything seemed to happen in fast forward and slow motion.  I believe it was around midnight that I was checked again and found to be 5-6cm.  The nurse decided to go ahead and call my doctor with a heads-up, since it was happening so fast.  When she arrived (12:45ish, maybe?) I was already 7-8cm, deep into transition and making all kinds of noises that I had no idea I was capable of producing.  No longer able to stand, I found laboring on my hands and knees in bed to be most comfortable.  Mind you, “comfortable” is a relative term here.  In the many natural childbirth books I read in preparation for this experience, most of the women tried to avoid the word “pain”, and referred to contractions instead as “rushes” or “waves”.  I would love to say that my labor was not painful, but by God, it was.  If it were any other situation, I would have crumbled.  If you were standing outside my door (or anywhere on the third floor for that matter) you may have said I did.  But somewhere in my head – or maybe more in my soul – I was in control.  I knew that this pain had a purpose, and I knew that it would end.
I remained on my hands and knees for the duration of labor, with the exception of cervical checks, which I had to flip to my back for.  I held on to the elevated head of the bed and breathed (or attempted to breathe, at least) with my doula.  She and Wes each held one of my hands during contractions, and massaged and encouraged me in between.  I never once said to them, “I can’t do this”, but I’m pretty sure my eyes did.  They knew without my asking that I need to hear “you can do this; you are doing this!”  Their unwavering faith in me helped me to believe when I wasn’t so sure.
The last hour went very quickly.  Contractions were coming right on top of each other it seemed, and I could tell that we were getting close.  At some point I was checked again and found to be 9cm dilated.  I began to worry about how much blood I was seeing as I flipped back and forth from hands and knees to my back, but they assured me it was normal.  I guess I just never noticed this with my first labor as I spent the majority of it on my back with an epidural, unaware of anything I couldn’t see.  Very soon after I was checked at 9cm, I felt my baby’s head move down and knew immediately that it was time to push.  “She’s coming!  She’s coming!” I shouted!  I knew I’d have to flip to my back again, and boy did it feel urgent, so I somehow managed to do it mid-contraction.  My IV line caught on the bedrail and was ripped from my hand in the process… more blood all over the place.  (And man did it leave a nasty bruise!)  My doctor checked me and said to the nurse, “Oh yeah, she’s right!  She’s coming!”
They rushed to get everyone and everything in position while I tried with all my might not to push.  When they were ready (they really did move fast, thank God) I began to push.  I had read so many natural birth stories, and the mommas always said that the pushing was the best/easiest part.  I just didn’t quite understand that; logic told me it should be the most painful!  They were right though – pushing was such a relief!  Without an epidural, I could actually feel my baby moving down through the birth canal.  I could tell very quickly what wasn’t working and was able to correct it because I was in control of my body.  I could feel her crowning (p.s. the “ring of fire”?  definitely real. but it only lasted a second!) and I felt each part of her being born.  Compared to two hours of pushing with Benjamin, Emily Hope was born within minutes, at 1:52 am.
She came out crying and was placed on my chest while Wes cut the cord.  I held her in awe for a few glorious moments, but then she stopped crying and the nurses wanted to make sure her airways were clear of meconium.  They took her to the warming table to suction her, and Wes went over to be with her as I very easily delivered the placenta and the doctor stitched my tear.  Our doula encouraged Wes to talk to Emily as she was being tended to, so that she could hear one of our voices, but he couldn’t muster a sound through his tears of joy.  After she was weighed and measured – 8lb 15oz, 20.5in long – they brought our baby girl back to me.  She was so beautiful, and I just couldn’t believe how easy it seemed now that it was all over.  I just had a baby!  The pain was over and done with, gone and already forgotten.  Instead of feeling like I almost died, I felt more alive than ever!  What a truly holy moment.
Emily Hope, literally meaning “admiring hope”, was named for what she represents in our lives.  It was a long hard road to get to her, but we knew that we would make it.  We knew that the perfect baby would come to us at the perfect time.  We had HOPE.  And just look what it got us.

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.  And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.  Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”  Romans 5:1-5

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Here's to the bride and groom!

In case you haven't heard, my brother got married on Saturday.  It was kind of a big deal, and I don't mean because I was the MOH and our adorable Ben was the ring bearer.  It was a big deal because, well, it was about damn time Leslie became an official part of this family.  I could go on and on about the festivities of the day (and week preceding) and maybe I will later, but for now, I'll just post what I've promised to post:  my toast.

Hello, I'm Ali, Leslie's maid of honor and also Kendall's sister.  I can't tell you what an honor it is to be here, to have been asked by my brother's wife to take on such a special role in their big day.  Leslie and I had kind of a slow beginning to our relationship.   She knew that I had my eye on her, dating my baby brother, and she didn't like it.   I had a precious little brother to protect though (yes he's precious.... to me) and I took my job very seriously.  She passed all tests with flying colors though, and it became clear pretty quickly that she wasn't going anywhere.  Anyone who can put up with the constant teasing and pestering and endless sarcasm that is The Slaughter Family and still want to hang around is definitely a keeper!  She earned my respect even more when she became comfortable enough to try and dish it back out... and I say "try" because when Leslie makes a joke one of two things happens:  either everyone looks around awkwardly at each other because someone else JUST MADE that exact same joke, OR, if she actually has a good one, she starts laughing so hard at her own cleverness that she hyperventilates and can't actually spit it out!  The second way is my favorite, because even though we don't actually get to hear the joke, she still gets everyone laughing hysterically.

Eventually, with the passing of time and a whole lot of laughter, I think Leslie and I both realized that whether we meant to or not, or whether we really believed it could happen, we had become sisters.  She learned that I'm not really that scary... and  I learned that even though she's not what I expected - the female version of my frisbee chasing, beer drinking, school hating, seldom showering, island travelling,  shoe-less hippie of a brother - that doesn't mean she's not the perfect woman for him.   In fact, I thank GOD that Kendall didn't choose someone exactly like himself!  Because where he is loud, she is peaceful.  Where he is spontaneous, she has a plan.  Where he runs and runs, she walks and remains steady.  She is his perfect balance, and they are both so lucky to have found one another.

I wanted to wrap up with a quote, but most typical wedding quotes I think would have my brother rolling his eyes and laughing under his breath, and I don't want to get him in trouble with his new bride already.  So I chose one from someone who's wisdom I know he would NEVER argue with:  the late, great, Bob Marley. 

“He’s not perfect. You aren’t either, and the two of you will never be perfect. But if he can make you laugh at least once, causes you to think twice, and if he admits to being human and making mistakes, hold onto him and give him the most you can. He isn’t going to quote poetry, he’s not thinking about you every moment, but he will give you a part of him that he knows you could break. Don’t hurt him, don’t change him, and don’t expect more than one person can give. Don’t analyze. Smile when he makes you happy, yell when he makes you mad, and miss him when he’s not there. Love hard when there is love to be had. Because perfect people don’t exist, but there’s always one that is perfect for you.” 

So here's to two amazing, wonderful, imperfect people, Kendall and Leslie ~  May your perfect LOVE for each other always be enough.  Cheers!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

She is my moonlight.

Well I sure held up to my Thanksgiving post commitment, eh?  Made it all the way to Day... Four.  My sincerest apologies, loyal readers.  I feel terribly guilty to have disappointed all (eight? nine?) of you.   ;-)

So, what's new with me?  Oh, that's right-- WE'RE HAVING A BABY!  Benjamin's baby sister (yep, it's a girl!) will be here in July.

I cannot even begin to describe how dearly loved and wanted this baby is.  It was a long hard year that led to her conception.  Most of you know, as we have chosen to be open about our journey, that we lost two babies along the way.  When we finally decided we were ready to try again, I was terrified.  The thought of losing another child was unbearable.  But the drive to fill the void in our home was stronger.  Something was missing.  We needed to complete our family.

So we pressed on.  Months passed, and I became discouraged.  What if the "something" that caused me to lose our two angels, was now keeping me from carrying another?  My faith was tested.  My hope was fading fast.

And then it happened.

We couldn't believe it at first.  We were too jaded.  Too afraid.  But then, the numbers looked good.  And a few days later, even better.  Then there was a gestational sac.  A fetal pole.  A heartbeat.  Maybe, this time, there was hope.

The next few weeks passed in a blur of tears.  Tears of joy, of hope, of heartache and fear.  One long month later, it was finally time for the doc to pull out the doppler.  I held my breath, and closed my eyes.  Then I heard it.  That tiny heart was still beating!

And it still beats today.  Now four and a half months along, I have been feeling movement from the life inside me for few weeks.  We've seen her beating heart, her breathing lungs, her tiny hands and feet through ultrasound; and confirmed she is a girl.  I'm not sure exactly which milestone did it for me, but I believe it now.  She's coming. We're really having another baby.

My heart is filled with so much joy, I think it could burst!  And yet, now that I have accepted this news as reality, I am consumed by a whole new set of fears.  Am I really ready for this?  Is Ben?  How will I split my time and attention evenly between my two children?  What if I can't?  Will Ben resent his baby sister?  Will he resent me?  Life as he knows it will soon be over.  I know it is for the best - that a sibling is one of the best gifts a parent can give to a child - but will he see it that way?  And scariest of all... is there really enough love to go around?  I know I love this baby now, and my love for her will only grow.  But will it be enough?  Can I ever really love another child the way I love my precious Ben?

And the tears begin to fall... again.

"You are my sunshine, my only sunshine..."

I am a musical being.  My heart speaks in song.  When it aches, it plays on repeat.  "You are my sunshine, my only sunshine..."  That's my Ben.  That's our song.  I sang it to him when I was pregnant.  I would sit in the rocking chair in his nursery, rubbing my belly, dreaming of the baby that was to be.  And I'd sing.  "You are my sunshine, my only sunshine..."  After he was born, it soothed him.  When he cried, I'd sing our song and it soothed us both.  We'd lock eyes, breathe deep, and all other sounds would cease to exist.  "You are my sunshine, my only sunshine..."  He lit up my world.  He lights it every day.  "You are my sunshine, my only sunshine..."

Last Wednesday, as I lay in bed, I thought about my sunshine.  My Ben.  I thought about my new baby girl, who we had just seen that afternoon on ultrasound.  I loved her so much.  But it didn't feel like enough.  I didn't know how to let another sunshine into my heart.  In what world can there be two suns??  It just didn't make sense.  I couldn't do it.  I laid there, and I tried.  I tried with all my might, but I just couldn't love her the way I love my Ben.  It just wasn't the same.  It isn't the same.  My love for her, and my love for him, will never be the same.

Because she isn't my sunshine.  She's my moonlight.

She's the light in my darkness.  The hope in my night.  She came to me when I thought I couldn't carry on any longer.  When I'd lost my way, her light shone bright.  She saved me.  She's not my sunshine; no.  But that's ok.  She is still the light of my life.  And so is he.  He is my sunshine, and she is my moonlight.  I love them differently, but I need them the same.  There will be challenges, yes.  I will make mistakes, I am sure.  But what I know now is that I can do it.  I can love them both, as much as they need.  And probably more.

Yes, there is room enough in my world - and in my heart - for both the sun and the moon.

                      You light my world, little babies.  You light my world.