Claire’s Birth Story – Part 3

Part One

Part Two

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Before they could even wheel me upstairs, I asked if I could stay in the maternity ward so Claire could come stay with me. They said they’d ask about it, but for now I needed to go to the surgical wing.

The nurse who greeted us was brisk, no-nonsense, and kind. She was a young brunette with a ponytail who looked like she ran eight miles after work every day. She whipped around the room setting up my wires and IV, and I gave myself a mental high-five that I’d scored a good nurse.

Mike had arrived in the ER and traveled up with us while his mom watched the kids at home. He and my mom stood at the foot of my bed and we all quietly registered that it was 9:30pm and there was nothing left to do.

They both offered to stay, but I said I’d be fine; there was no reason for all of us to wake up for the nightly vitals checks. My mom had the pained expression all moms wear when there’s nothing they can do to help their baby. Mike insisted on staying, but I absolutely wanted Claire with him, and no one else — our mothers are wonderful with our kids, but Mike is the kind of dad who innately knows how to care for a newborn. Innate, or practice with the four before her…either way, I knew she’d be at perfect peace in her daddy’s care.

“But tomorrow is your birthday,” he said sadly.

I had barely had the thought, and didn’t care at all. I love birthdays, but they seem absurd when you’re consumed with health issues.

After they’d left, I asked Miss Efficiency when the doctor would be by to assess and make a plan. She said she’d check.

I had missed the hospital dinner hour of 5pm, so I asked if there was anything in the snack room, since I hadn’t eaten in a long time. I also needed to pump again. The nurse brought a peanut butter snack pack, crackers, a sad turkey sandwich, and some oreos. I sat on the edge of the bed and pumped milk. The room was dark except for the blinding light over the head of the bed. Glamour? Loads of it.

Miss Efficiency whipped back the curtain and started typing on the computer and said the doctor should be in around 11pm.

It occurred to me I had a television. What else could I do with my time?

When 11pm came and went, the nurse said she didn’t know why he hadn’t come.

In the morning, after two night pumping sessions, still no doctor. I asked a new nurse why I’d been in the hospital for twelve hours with no sign of a doctor, and no plan for a procedure, and she didn’t know what to tell me.

“I’ll check,” she replied.

“I’ll check,” may be the most commonly used phrase inside hospital walls.

Mike brought the kids in for a morning visit, and I fed Claire while the kids roamed the room and ate my breakfast. I’d over-ordered on the muffins, eggs, juice, yogurt, and fruit, because bogarting my hospital food is one of their favorite pastimes.

Siri sent bright flowers and the kids brought candy and cards for my birthday. I felt like a deflated balloon hanging in the corner of the room, watching the scene from above. I knew how much the kids were expecting me to be happy, so I tried to force myself to be as excited as they were.

Jenny and Heather visited with birthday treats and fresh cheer. I was so grateful they’d come, and so struck by how energetic and vital they looked. “That’s me,” I thought to myself. “I get dressed and run errands and hustle kids and get things done. I don’t sit here like an invalid.” It was hard to talk because I didn’t have any news about my condition, any plan.

After they’d left, my beloved doctor, the one who delivered most of my kids (not Dr. Not My Doctor!) came to see me. He arrived at 1pm and Mike was with me for our meeting with him. Just the sight of him flooded me with relief that he’d know what to do and when to do it.

“We’ve been in this room for 16 hours, and you’re the first doctor who has come in,” we told him. He was stunned.

Then he told us everything was going to be fine. He would arrange for the abscess to be drained, the fluid tested, and a drain tube put in. He was frustrated because he said if Dr. Not My Doctor had come when he was supposed to, they could have booked the procedure already and prepared me for it. Now there likely wouldn’t be an opening in the schedule until tomorrow.

Mike was furious. I was like an indignant Nordstrom customer, appalled at the lack of service.

He reassured us that he would do everything he could, and as he turned to go, he looked back at us and said, still in disbelief, “You never saw the whites of his eyes, huh?”

“Nope,” we both said. “You’re the first doctor we’ve seen.”

He shook his head and closed the door.

We took a moment to check in with each other since my mom had taken the kids home. Mike looked utterly exhausted and overwhelmed, and he was.

This picture makes me cringe, because it perfectly captures the sheer exhaustion and white-knuckling this ordeal required from us. It was a thrill of joy to see Claire every minute, but a plummet to earth with the management of four other kids, meals, school routines, housework. Seeing Mike handle it all while I sat in a hospital was hugely stressful.

My mom returned a few hours later, and we were surprised when a nurse came in and said they’d scheduled my procedure for 5pm that day.

“You mean in half an hour?” we all asked.

“Yep,” she replied, assuming we’d be happy. We were, but this was not my first rodeo, so I knew this had implications.

“But I’ve been eating this afternoon,” I said. “How will they give me medication during the procedure?”

“Oh, you won’t be able to have the normal pain medication, but it will be okay. They’ll give you something to help calm you.”

My heart began to race and I clenched my fists to resist panic. My strength just wasn’t there after the last two weeks of ordeals, and being told to be strong and deal with it left me feeling unable to do either.

As the nurse rolled a different bed into the room to wheel me away, I looked at my mom and started to cry. I felt like I was five years old, out of steam, no pride left to halt the embarrassing tears.

I sniffled my way through my ride down the corridors and the elevator. When I arrived in the procedure room, it was like Santa’s workshop.

“Well HERE she is, look at this great new mama! She’s here and she should be home with her baby so let’s get her in and out of here, guys! Oh no, oh what are these tears? What’s troubling you? How can we help?”

In walked the blonde happy nurse from my CT scan in the ER. She recognized me instantly and beamed, but then saw my tears and wrapped me up like I’d been her patient for years.

The other nurse chimed in, “I know, let’s play some music — does that sound good? What song do you want? Any artist you want and we’ll play it.”

It’s hilarious the way the bedside manner methods work; as an adult with a functioning brain, I know this is what they’re trained to do when a patient is distressed. I think: this won’t work on me. I’m upset, I’m about to be worked on, and babying me is going nowhere. Try the next sucker, doc.

But as a human with a functioning heart, I completely gave in to the infantilization. I stuttered through explaining that I was told I wouldn’t have pain medication, and they gave me every assurance that I’d be pain-free. They also insisted I name my favorite singer.

“What’s her name?” I wondered aloud. I’m one of those people who, when asked for my favorite song or artist, suddenly cannot think of a single song or artist, much less my favorite. But out of the sterile air her name came to me:

“Lauren Daigle,” I replied. “I’d love to hear Lauren Daigle.”

“Wow!” the sweet nurse said as she typed, continuing the game that I was eight years old. “Look at this! She’s won a Grammy! Did you hear that everyone? She’s won Grammys! Let’s her this gal sing!” I laughed as I cried.

As Lauren’s voice filled the room reminding me of who our good God is, they began the sedative and the doctor began his work. I don’t know how we got there, but I told him I was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, after he said he went to medical school in Philadelphia.

“Turkey Hill ice cream,” he said. “That’s from Lancaster, isn’t it? Turkey Hill ice cream got me through late nights studying in med school.”

I was amazed at this microscopic connection, and the immense comfort even the tiniest commonality brought.

He described everything they were doing, and when they accessed the abscess, he warned me I’d feel the fluid as it erupted. It was like they’d poured warm tea all over my abdomen. They rushed to mop it up and made various comments on the color and viscosity.

I mouthed the words to the songs and felt the faint detachment of whatever sedative they’d given me. Before long, they had stitched my skin closed around a drain tube with a bag taped to my side. They said it’d be with me for a week.

Back in the room, I lifted my hospital gown and saw the tube coming out of my side. I looked at Mike, and all of the things I am privileged to carry came tumbling down on me at once. I told him I couldn’t recover from a c-section, have a newborn, care for four children AND have a tube hanging out of me that needed to be checked and drained and cleaned regularly.

Of course I could do these things, and many people do far more, but in that moment I felt like I couldn’t. I went dark for half an hour, unable to see the way forward. My mom told me the darkness wasn’t my mentality, it was the after-affect of the drug used during the procedure. This rang true because my brain felt hopeless at a chemical level.

It was an awful hour, made worse by the pending doom of them leaving me for the night, which neither of them knew how to do being that it was my birthday and I was so depressed. I didn’t remotely care that it was my birthday, but it made it emotionally harder for them to navigate.

Late that night, two nurses came in to do the first “flushing” of the tube. They showed me how to twist different parts to insert a syringe and push clear fluid through. Except when they tried to plunge the syringe, it wouldn’t budge. They took turns pushing and twisting and all I could think was of my checkered post-birth past and how forcing anything caused a visceral reaction.

I insisted they stop and get a doctor, and they said they’d have him look at it in the morning and they wouldn’t push anymore.

Look, I’m a squeamish gal. There’s no getting around this. It’s not blood. It’s things that are both inside and outside the body at once. If a surgeon goes inside me to make me well and sews me up so all evidence is concealed, groovy. If he puts a cast on the outside of my arm, hand me a pen and I’ll sign. But catheters, colostomy bags, chest tubes, tracheotomies, IVs and drain bags? Shiver me timbers and run for the hills.

I had two of these happening at once. It was all I could do not to look at my body below the neck. Every time I got out of bed to use the bathroom or sit on the edge of the bed to pump, I clenched my teeth and moved at a glacial pace to avoid yanking my IV or drain tube. The sensation of either one moving inside made me cringe.

I prayed and prayed that somehow I wouldn’t have to go home with the drain tube. I couldn’t imagine being around the kids without them accidentally snagging it. The thought made me wince. It wouldn’t be their fault, but they are all over me all day; there’d be no way to avoid it.

The next morning, Valentine’s Day, at 8:30am, my wonderful doctor came to check on me. I told him what had happened with the nurses and he did an assessment on the tube and tried the syringe. He knew immediately that it meant the abscess had drained fully during the procedure, and this was why there was nothing in my bag. He said the syringe wouldn’t shoot the fluid through because the blood where the abscess had been had successfully clotted at the site.

I smiled as hope shot through me.

“Do I have to go home with this then?” I asked. “This thing really freaks me out.”

“I know it does,” he patted my leg kindly. “I’m going to talk to the team who performed the drain and see what the results were on the fluid and I’ll let you know.”

Say no more, doc! I’ll alert the prayer people!

I texted the families to pray and sent a message to Jackie, my friend from church who’d been sending me verses and words of encouragement.

A little after 10am, my friend Nina came to visit, which was miraculous in itself — it was a weekday and she had a babysitter watch her four homeschooled kiddos to be able to see me.

She sat on my bed and prayed over me that God would free me of the tubes and I’d be healed before I even went home.

We went over to sit by the window, me gingerly approaching the hospital recliner with my IV pole, she sitting in the sun-filled window seat. We were only talking a few minutes when a nurse came in holding handfuls of gauze and scissors and tape.

And I knew. Freedom was at hand.

She told me I’d been given the all clear to have the tube removed.

“Right now?” I gasped. “Really — it’s coming out and I don’t have to wear it home?”

“Right now,” she smiled.

I shrieked with joy. Nina and I looked at each other in awe. Answered prayers never lose their shine.

The nurse laid me down on the bed and Nina held my hand as she removed the stitches and pulled the tube straight out. Nina deserves a lot of credit, as witnessing this extraction was more than she bargained for in her hospital visit.

After Nina left, I laid there stunned, completely overwhelmed that I went from a week at home with a drainage tube to total healing inside hospital walls. I was going home without the ball and chain.

I started to cry from gratitude, life-giving, humbled gratefulness. I knew I had to worship through song. It was as urgent as being hungry and eating, thirsting and drinking, being tired and falling into slumber.

I stood up (without cradling my side!) and guided the IV pole to the enormous window. I turned on a favorite song and raised my arms to honor my Great Physician.

Hallelujah, praise the One who set me free…

I sang to the Lord for how gracious and compassionate He is, my Rescuer.

The sun warmed my eyelids as I cried, lost in the joy that I wasn’t the one who got me out of my misery.

Jackie came to visit that afternoon (I still had antibiotic IV treatments before I could leave). We drank Jamba Juice and marveled that I would be going home in a few hours.

And go home I did.

I was too weak to dance so I let my smile do the dancing.

Who wouldn’t glow going home to this doll?

~~~~~~

In the many months since that day, one thought has haunted me again and again: I got out. The majority of people I know, and many that I don’t, haven’t yet experienced walking to the other side of wellness and good health – maybe most never will before old age. It’s a gift most of us take for granted, that we can hop out of bed each day, put on our clothes, eat our food, and fret about all the things we need to fret about.

But this past year I’ve come to see that while hospitals may be places down the street, they’re figurative places, too. For one reason or another each of us will likely have to go there, and we’ll discover that the doors are locked from the outside. When you’re in there, you don’t know if you’ll be given a key to leave. You don’t know if you’ll get well. Figuratively, if you don’t get well, your hospital becomes a prison. You might go home, but you are locked in a state of physical pain from which there is little escape.

And instantly, as quick as a glass shattering on the floor, you realize: all my life I’ve been outside the hospital, and millions of people have been inside. They weren’t given keys. Those in chronic pain, those with prolonged illnesses, those with bodily failures that modern medicine cannot fix, those with disabilities from birth or newly acquired, those with injuries that happened out of the sheer blue sky that can’t be undone — they’ve been carrying the burden of suffering while I’ve blithely lived my healthy life.

But now you’re here, and the door is locked, and you realize that you too, may be denied a key to escape your bodily ailment. And just as quickly the next thought arrives: what will you do then?

Will you despair? Will you adapt? Will you give in to bitterness? Will you rage against the unfairness of your position?

When I was lying in bed in the darkness of the hospital room, listening to the machine beeps and staring into the glow of my phone, I looked up a favorite blogger in hopes of reading an encouraging word. I was struck dumb that she was recommending a book called, “Suffer Strong.” The title and cover image alone made me put down my phone and close my eyes in the harsh recognition that I was not suffering strong. I was weak. I wanted this to end. I wanted to go back to my life before I was locked in the hospital.

And the arrogance of that thought – of that feeling – is what haunts me today. Though it’s an entirely natural human desire to want to be healthy and able to function, how dare I be so blind to those who cannot escape their ordeals? It’s not as though I was unaware of suffering before — I have several people in my life who suffer substantially physically, and of course I’m aware of global human suffering. But having gone through the briefest of visits to this prison of suffering twice now, I could feel true empathy for the countless others who are permanent residents.

In His mercy, God healed me and allowed me to recover. I don’t know why He did, and I don’t know why He sometimes permits others to continue to suffer. These are questions I’ll always have. I know enough to know that God is good, and He works to bring beauty out of our ashes.

To my shame, I still haven’t read this remarkable book. My escape is still fresh, and I am very aware that the keys I was given to leave the hospital are no longer jangling in my pocket. Should I enter bodily suffering again, I have no assurance I won’t be there indefinitely.

But now that I know, really know that life could be taken away, or made infinitely more difficult by physical burdens, it has fundamentally altered me. As cliched as it may be, every single day I have felt a foundation of contentment that wasn’t there before. I’m alive, my kids and husband are alive, we have a God who loves us, and a roof over our heads. It is blessing over blessing. And if the Lord decides that we are to move into that hospital permanently, I am praying He will be my portion to suffer strong.

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Claire’s Birth Story, Part Two

Part One

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Returning home from the hospital was brutal.  But Claire Colleen was our bright light, which was fitting, given the meaning of her name (clear and bright).

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Even with the tremendous help of our mothers, and meals arriving from wonderful friends, caring for five kids while being mostly helpless myself was overwhelming.  For Mike, he was caring for five kids and a post-operation wife.  We coped moment-to-moment.

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(I insert cute, happy pictures because everyone was not as miserable as I was.  It might be my blog, but navel-gazing flatters no one.)

Our moms came by each day and helped with the kids, ran a load of laundry, got lunch on the table.  My dear friend, Kay, came by to take or pick the kids up from school (remember those days?).  Mike had to be present to help me as I could barely stand up, much less take care of a newborn on my own.

It’s incredible the mental effort it took just to move through the day.  I had to watch the clock for feeding Claire, for taking three medications, for school schedules, for nap schedules, for meal times, for bedtime.  When I wasn’t nursing, talking to a child, changing a diaper, taking a pill, I was keeping time for the next necessary action to keep our lives together. There was also the regular, gross postpartum realities: postpartum bleeding, bleeding nipples that must continue to be in use, pumping several times a day, three feedings a night, total exhaustion.

Twice our sainted friends Jenny and Heather took our four oldest for two hours to feed them dinner and let them play with their kids.  Mike and I would collapse on the couch with a sleeping Claire and watch a show and eat takeout.  It was all we could do to zone out and rest to prepare for the next round.

It’s funny how something perfect and something unbearable can occur simultaneously.  Claire was heaven, a baby that made me cry every single day from nothing except my overwhelming love for her.

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At the same time, I had never experienced physical misery at that level.  I was in pain, I was exhausted, my body was stripped of vitality.  I kept flashing back to Hunter’s arrival, and thought, “It can’t happen twice.  Everything is going to be fine, it has to be fine.”

But my head had been throbbing for two days.  I’d tried to ignore it but every time I sat up, I felt a rush of pressure and it wouldn’t subside.  I looked at the “Post-Birth Warning Signs” paper they’d sent home with me and read: “Call your healthcare provider if you have a headache that does not get better, even after taking medicine.”

Ding ding ding.  I was on Tylenol, ibuprofen, and OxyContin.  Any typical headache would’ve been wiped out by one of these, let alone all three.

I reluctantly called my OB, and the nurse recommended I go to the hospital.

An hour later I was lying on a bed in the maternity center triage area, and an anesthesia resident came to assess me.  He was tall and thin, with dark brown hair under this surgical cap, dark rimmed glasses, and an incredibly pensive and thorough approach.  He asked me two dozen questions at least, all with one hand under his elbow and the other cupping his chin thoughtfully.  It was exactly the interaction one would hope to have in this situation.

He concluded that my spinal fluid was leaking from the point where the anesthesia had been administered for the c-section.  The fluid supports the brain, so when it leaks from the spine, the brain loses its cushion from the skull and it creates pressure, causing the headache.

“Is this a fairly common consequence of a spinal tap?” Mike asked.

“It occurs about one percent of the time,” he replied quietly.

We burst out laughing, rolling our eyes at the odds that I’d be both the never-before-seen bladder rupture patient AND the one percent spinal fluid patient.  Naturally.

The lead anesthesiologist joined us and gave us our options.

We could do a blood patch, which meant drawing my blood and then reinserting it back into my spine to patch the hole.  It would be a lot of blood and I’d be wide awake.  It would create a great deal of discomfort and pressure in my back while it was happening, and it wasn’t guaranteed to work.

I am notorious for having invisible veins.  The guy with the vein ultrasound machine and I are practically on a first name basis.  At the description of this procedure, I could already hear the squeak of the wheels on his cart coming at me for the multiple pokes to draw my blood.  I dropped my forehead into my hands and took a deep breath.

Normally, I’d have the fortitude to move forward with whatever needed to be done.  But I’d just returned home from the hospital after major surgery, I’d just been poked with too many needles to count, and I’d just been told I might go through another hideous process only to have it not work.

The doctor added, “Because the blood patch isn’t guaranteed to work, most people only do it if the headache is so severe and life-impairing that they can’t take it one more minute, they’ll do anything to stop it.”

“I don’t think I’m there yet,”  I said.  “What’s the other option?”

“We wait it out,” she said, with a resigned half-smile.  “But you’d have to firmly commit to laying down 24 hours a day.  That’s the only way the hole will heal.”

I nearly choked.

“I have five kids,” I said, incredulous. “One of which is a newborn.  I’m nursing her.  I can’t lie down for more than an hour at a time, and even that’s a stretch.”

Her eyes widened and she let out a sigh.  “I have two kids who are older, and I’d find it hard to do this, but I could do it.  I don’t know if you could do it with five kids.  Maybe you could sit up at a slight angle when you feed her, or roll to your side.”

I was immersed in defeat.

“I had a c-section,” I said. “I can’t even roll to my side, and sitting up at a slight angle is brutal on my abdomen.  I don’t know what to do.  I really don’t want to get the blood patch — what if I go through that and it doesn’t even work?”

I looked at Mike and he didn’t know which way to go either.

“How many days will it take to heal if she lays down consistently?” he asked.

“Probably 5 to 8 days,” they both said.  In other words, every last day of Mike’s paternity leave.  I couldn’t imagine the workload he’d be under with me completely laid out.  I couldn’t imagine the burden on our moms to support us.

He said it was up to me. I couldn’t deal with it being up to me — these were doctors.  I just wanted them to tell me what would make me well and then do it.

“Fine,” I conceded.  “Let’s do the blood patch.  I don’t know what else to do.  I know I won’t be able to lay down for days and days.  There’s just no way.”

The anesthesiologists left to gather supplies, and I gingerly shuffled down the hall with Mike for a moment, because I had no peace about the procedure.  We tried to discern what the right choice was, and it was arduous because we knew either one held painful consequences.

I prayed and asked God to make it clear — which one was right?  What did I need to do?

I didn’t feel a clear answer.  Sometimes the absence of peace is the answer, so I changed my mind.

We approached the doctors and I said, “We’re going to go home, I’m sorry, I just can’t do this.  I’ll take my chances.”

The anesthesiologist looked at me for a moment, and I thought she was going to argue.  Then she said, “You know, as I was prepping, I thought about what I would do if I were you.  I’d probably not do it either.”  The peace settled over me like calm air over still waters.

The resident promised to call me the next day to see how I was, and offered to do the blood patch if my headache worsened.

We returned home and told Mike’s mom what had happened, and I felt terrible knowing she and my mom would continue to help at such a high level.  I was so grateful to them and also full of shame for my high needs.

I climbed into bed as Colleen and Mike hustled the kids through their nighttime routines, and clouds of fear came rolling into the room.

The darkness whispered that it was happening again.  “You’re going to be ill for your baby’s newborn days, just like you were with Hunter. You’re going to miss this precious time, you’re going to be useless to everyone except to nurse, and you’re going to be physically miserable.”

It wasn’t postpartum depression.  It was a specific grieving of what could have been, and the uncertainty and misery of what lie ahead.

I prayed prayers that night I never thought I’d pray.  My wellness felt lost and all I wanted, all in the world I could ever conceive of wanting again, was to be restored to my family.  I always knew I loved being their mother, but that night in the darkness, a surge of desire stronger than any I’ve felt rushed through me and brought me to desperation and a stark clarity of my priorities.  I prayed and prayed for healing.

The next morning I woke up without a headache.

Mike helped pull me upright out of bed and I walked downstairs, and my head felt normal.   I had texts asking how I was and I felt foolish replying that it was gone because how could that be?  Would we all doubt I’d ever had a headache?

Isn’t that what we do when a little miracle occurs?  Instead of accepting it with a grateful heart, disbelief leads us to doubt we had a problem to begin with.  At least that’s how I function.  I beg God for an answer to a problem and when He takes away my pain, instead of awe and gratitude, my first instinct is to wonder if I really had the pain.

But that prideful moment passed quickly.  I started telling my family I’d been healed and was utterly overjoyed.  No laying down for a week!  When the resident called to check on me (let’s clap for doctors who really do call you at home) I told him the good news and he was so happy with us.  It was lovely.

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Four days later, on Feb 8 (nine days after giving birth), I got a fever in the evening.  It was low-grade and we’d had Mike’s sister and family over for dinner, so I just thought I’d overexerted myself.

The next day, I felt substantially better than I had since the birth — I told everyone ten days must be the magic number for recovery.  Late that afternoon, the fever was back.  I put on my puffy coat and laid shivering on the couch, dreading each nursing session since I’d have to remove some of my clothes to feed her.

The fever rose overnight and then broke, and I woke up drenched in sweat.

Later that afternoon, I spiked another fever and called the doctor, who said I might be experiencing “menopausal-like symptoms that sometimes happen postpartum.”

Um, what?

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After five days of fevers, I called the nurse and she said I needed to go the ER.  My body was alerting us to something and we needed to find out what it was.

As my mom drove me in so Mike could stay with the the kids, I remembered Dr. Brothers.  Dr. Brothers is an ER doctor who helped us when the kids had emergencies a couple of times.  I was 99% certain he was the brother of a friend of mine from college, because he looked exactly like him and shared his unusual last name.  In those instances I couldn’t tell him I knew who he was because I was so focused on the kids  But as we neared the hospital that night, the thought flashed through my mind that if I could have Dr. Brothers, I’d know God was present and working on this.  The thought left my mind as soon as it entered, because there are dozens of ER doctors, and there was such a low possibility of him working this day and being assigned to my room.

Once we were settled, the nurse gave me a mild med for the pain and fever, and then we waited.  We realized we might be there awhile so my mom suggested having my dad bring food to the hospital.  Five Guys Burgers was the comfort food solution.  We could taste it already.

Moments later, the curtain whipped back and in walked Dr. Brothers.  I could have fainted.

As he started to chat with us, I stopped him and told him he’d helped us before with our children.  He was pleased, and then I told him about knowing his brother for several years and he suddenly looked at me like a friend.  Few things are as powerful when you’re as vulnerable as I felt.

Mostly, though, I just squeezed my eyes shut in gratitude to God that He showed up so obviously.  His comfort set my soul at ease.

Dr. Brothers ordered a CT scan and a friendly nurse came and wheeled me down the hall.  She was incredibly upbeat and warm, reassuring and jovial.  The technician put some dye into my IV so they could create an internal contrast for the scan.  The friendly nurse told me I was about to feel like I had peed my pants, and she was right.  Then they sent me into the scanner.

Back in my room, we prayed for answers.  I told my mom my biggest fear was they’d find nothing, deem me insane, and send me home.  I told her I couldn’t go on shivering on the couch with a 101 degree fever, pretending I was fine but crying myself to sleep.  I had to have answers.  I had to get better.  My family needed me back on my feet, and I needed to move into wellness and be with Claire.

When another nurse came in and saw the burgers had arrived, she looked reluctantly at me and said, “I’m so sorry, but you can’t eat until we know your diagnosis and treatment plan, in case it involves surgery.”  Burger and fries, I hardly knew thee.

A kind, older nurse named Vern took care of me the rest of the time, and he came in and out many times adjusting tubes and chatting with us more than is common with busy ER staff.  He had definitely earned a beef patty with all the fixings.  When we offered it to him, he froze like, “please don’t be joking,” and when we handed him the still-hot food he bounced out of the room like it was his birthday.

Half an hour later, when Dr. Brothers pushed the curtain aside, he walked in holding a folder and I could tell by his eyes he had an answer inside it.

I could also tell by his eyes that we were both mortified; I was fully bare-chested, pumping milk for my young.  His professionalism was impeccable and my swift covering attempt was earnest, so we made a full recovery, but it was touch and go there for a moment whether this patient would die of embarrassment.

He sat down next to me and said they’d found an abscess on the top of my uterus, an infection that can happen after birth, especially after a c-section.

I squeezed my mom’s hand with joy — an answer.  All I’d wanted.

I sighed with relief.  I could get an antibiotic and head home.  It’s over!

“…so you’ll need to be admitted and we’ll perform the procedure likely in the morning…” he continued.

“Wait, what?” I stammered.  “Stay here?  Overnight?”

“Yes, we need to monitor your condition and after the procedure – ”

“But Claire!” I was crushed.

I laid my head back and thought I’d feel low, but realized immediately that I didn’t.  The peace remained.  Jesus answered my prayer of an answer and a solution; I wasn’t insane, and this was the beginning of healing.  The beginning of the end.  I was strangely, solidly happy.

“Oh and you can eat and drink tonight, since we won’t perform anything until tomorrow,” he added.

My mom and I burst out laughing, knowing Vern had long since annhiliated that sack of deliciousness.

“The doctor in charge of your care will meet you upstairs in your room, once it’s ready,” he added.  “I can’t remember his name, hold on, it’s something unusual, let me check,” he opened his folder.

I braced myself.  “Could it be Dr……Not My Doctor?”

“That’s it!” he smiled.  “You know him already?”

OH, I do, sir.  I do indeed.

~~~

Part Three coming soon!  Ish.

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It’s a Girl!

Our little “she” is here!

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She’s nearly twelve weeks old now, so she’s been here for two months, and what a ride it’s been already.

We had a tidy little C-section scheduled for Feb 5, just like we did when we had Jameson.

Was she born on that date?  She was not!

Let’s begin.

The morning of January 30 held an intense itinerary.  Hunter was to be “Star of the Day” in his preschool class, which means he gets all sorts of special attention and gets to do all the jobs of the day (his favorite part).

He’d waited two years for this day, ever since he witnessed the twins each having their Stars of the Day.  Parents attend these days, but siblings are not invited, so we asked my mama-in-love to watch the twins (who don’t have kindergarten on Thursdays), and Jameson (who doesn’t have school on any days).

Preschool begins at 8:30am, and the morning was compounded by my 10:50am OB appointment, and picking Hunter back up at 11:30. This meant Mike and I had to leave the preschool together, get my car back at the house, he race to work and me race to the appointment, and then race back to preschool to get Hunter.  It was a headache to arrange and a hassle to execute.

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But the effort paid off. Hunter glowed the entire morning as his teacher and classmates celebrated him.  We were delighted to be there and beamed with pride at the little man he’s becoming.

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When I got to my OB appointment, I told my doctor that all was well. I was having contractions but they’d changed just in the last day.  They’d gone from the standard Braxton-Hicks “tightening” contractions, into the kind where I’m certain my cervix is widening because it’s a “tearing” sensation in the netherparts.  He said only to be concerned if they became ten minutes apart.  We were both sure they wouldn’t so I bounced out of that appointment as we called to each other, “See you in a week!”

La di da!

When I got home I spontaneously snapped a picture of my belly, which was unusual because I had only done this a handful of times this pregnancy.

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I picked up Hunter and fed the kids lunch, got Jameson down for a nap, and then the next portion is a little graphic if you’d like to jump ahead.

(the sound you hear is all the men speed-scrolling past)

At 2:30pm I was in the bathroom and my mucus plug came out.  I know!  I know! I can barely type it.  But it’s an important part of the tale because it was the kickoff to the big show.  I called my mom and texted several people who’ve had babies to see if this gnarly occurrence proved labor was imminent, or meant nothing.

Each reply was a variation of “I never even had that happen” to “It was ten days from mucus plug to delivery.”  Well okay then!  We’re fine!

Except my mom, the Oracle.  “You’re having this baby.  Didn’t you say the contractions were different yesterday?  It’s happening.”

My response included every denial possible since the dawn of time.

I opened my contraction-counting app and began timing them.  They were 20 minutes apart, so I wasn’t alarmed.  I looked at the clock and decided that I wouldn’t eat again until this had all passed, just in case it did result in a C-section (you’re not supposed to eat before surgery).

The kids were being fine, but after about a half hour of managing them, a primal instinct kicked in and I couldn’t be around them.  Shoving them into the backyard and closing the door isn’t an unusual thing for me to do, but in this case it wasn’t annoyance, it was essential.  I knew something was happening, but I was still convincing myself that I was overreacting and this would pass.

I called the doctor and left a message with his nurse.  I sat on the couch watching the kids outside until the guilt of denying them their preferred front yard play overwhelmed me (I have to be with them in the front yard because Jameson is too young to be near the road).

When we got out there I stood watching them play from the driveway, but I was very much in my head; I took long, deep breaths when a contraction would hit, and even between them had to breathe to steady myself.

I heard a drum beat in my head saying, “sit down, sit down, sit down” and I kept answering back “I never sit out here, I don’t do that, where would I sit?” until my body was so uncomfortable I went and got a camping chair from the garage.  I positioned it behind our van so people driving by wouldn’t see me in a camping chair on my driveway.

Why did I care?  There are no excuses for my vanity.

I hadn’t been seated two minutes when a car rolled up driven by Cathy, my beloved across-the-street neighbor.  I instantly had a distinct feeling that God brought her at that exact moment to help.  She got out of the car, took one look at me, and knew.  It was a testimony to the friendship we’ve built that she knew.

That, and she knows I wouldn’t be caught dead in a driveway-camping-chair scenario.

“What’s with you?” she said, giving me the classic mom look, meaning, “I know exactly what’s with you, but I will wait for you to tell me.”

This not being a shout-across-the-road conversation, I pushed myself out of my chair so I could go talk to her without alarming the kids.  She crossed the street, I gave her the rundown and she promptly called each of my kids to her yard.  She told me to go lay down on the couch and she would handle the kids.  Normally I’d say, “No, it’s okay, I’ll be fine,” but I knew this was necessary and it was the answer I needed.

I hadn’t called Mike yet because I was still in denial, so I laid on the couch and prayed and waited for the call back from the doctor.  When the nurse finally called back, she said the doctor wanted an update on contractions and I said they were 20 minutes apart.  She said she’d tell him and call me back.

This felt unhelpful.

Around 4PM, Cathy texted me a picture of the kids doing art and told me all was well.  My mom asked for contraction updates.  I played song after song on Alexa to keep calm and try to consider what was potentially happening.

The contractions started to arrive closer together, so at 4:30 I finally called Mike and told him to come home.  I told Cathy Mike was on his way so she could send the kids home and she said, “I won’t leave you alone with them. When he knocks on this door then you can have them, they are perfect.” You don’t mess around with Cathy, God love her.

Once they were all home, Mike started making tacos while I laid on the couch and timed contractions.  My doctor called at 5:30, and by then the contractions were ten minutes apart.  He said to go to the hospital if they were still ten minutes apart by 6pm.

Of course they were, so naturally I chose to keep swimming in the river of denial and said to Mike, “Let’s give it another 30 minutes.”

I texted my friends to pray with me that the Lord would make it abundantly clear whether this was labor or not.  When I checked another message, my friend and neighbor Kelsie had already texted this prayer to me ten minutes before: “Dear Lord God, make your presence KNOWN to Abby right now. Cover her with peace and calm in the midst of what feels like chaos.  Make the next steps clear beyond the shadow of a doubt. We trust your hand in this. AMEN!”

At 6:15, a contraction hit that was a full two minutes long and so intense that when I exhaled, I looked at Mike and said, “We have to go.”

I asked Kelsie to come watch the kids until my sister, Sam, could arrive, and she took a last picture with just four kiddos.

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Mike is out of frame because he’s standing by the door, wide-eyed, keys in hand, saying, “LET’S GO.”

On the drive over, we realized we hadn’t commited to a boy name.  We’d had our girl name for years, but we’d already named our boys every boy name we liked, so this selection was eluding us.  We tried to finalize as we drove, and we hoped our struggle meant we wouldn’t need one.

By the time I was in triage, the monitor said my contractions were two and three minutes apart.  Even then, a big part of me thought, “They’re going to see that I’m overreacting and send me home.”  I voiced this by saying to Mike, “When this is over I can’t wait to get home and eat dinner,” because I hadn’t eaten since 2:30 and it was now almost 7, eternity in the life of a pregnant woman.

The nurse looked over at me and delivered the verdict with an amused smile,  “You’re not going home.”

I looked at Mike in bewilderment.

“Are you sure?” I asked, frantically looking back and forth between them.  “But my doctor isn’t here.  I know he will come if you call him, will you call him?”

“We don’t do that.  We just call the on-call doctor.”

Mike was all placid waters.

“Babe, this is great!  We’re going to meet our baby today!  It’s happening!”

No, no and no.

He was beaming with excitement. “Babe, you need to get over this.  It’s happening.  You need to move past the shock.”

I couldn’t move past the shock.  We were a week away from my C-section date!  I was only 38 weeks!  I never go into labor early!  I was induced with the twins at 39 weeks, I went into labor with Hunter two days before my due date, and Jameson was delivered at 39 weeks scheduled!

I listened as the nurse described my history to the on-call doctor on the phone.

“…four previous live births, three previous c-sections, contractions are two to three minutes apart, she’s 38 weeks 2 days…”

I knew he would say we had to have the baby.  I knew the risks that if I kept contracting my uterus could rupture due to the C-section scar that had already been opened three times.  I knew, but I wasn’t ready.

Then I thought of our baby.  I thought of actually seeing this baby, knowing who he or she would be, holding him or her, and a bright spark of excitement lit inside.

But then the rush of thoughts —

I’m going into surgery now!?  With no warning?!  Like when?  Give it to me in minutes.  What about the kids?  It’s already their bedtime! They won’t be able to come!
There was an arrival schedule!  A visitation plan of all our family. Now it’s not happening!
What is happening?
Is my mom here?  Is Colleen on her way?
My dad is golfing in Vegas!  I can’t have a baby he won’t even meet!
WHAT IS HAPPENING!?

One might think a mother of four would not have such new-mom thoughts, but one would be wrong.

Contraction — breathe, stop all movement, get through it.  Remember why you’re here and why this is necessary.

The OB came to triage to meet us before the surgery, and I could only think of him as “Dr. Not My Doctor.”  I hate to admit to quick judgments, but intense contraction pain erases the abiltiy to think generously.

Dr. Not My Doctor and Mike swapped kid stats, but he made no attempt to connect with me.  I found this off-putting, as it was my insides into which he was about to be elbow-deep.

They helped me into a wheelchair to head to surgery, but all those contractions made it clear I had to pee.  I almost didn’t ask to go because of my “open concept” hospital gown, but the thought of being splayed on the surgical table with a full bladder and a full-term baby on top of it made me reject my dignity and ask for a restroom break.  The nurse followed me in and my husband and mother stood at the door.  Faster than you can say Jack Nicholson in Something’s Gotta Give, I had a full audience.

I looked at the nurse and announced, “I don’t care even a little,” before realizing I was explaining my nudity to the person who gave birth to me and the one who sees me naked all the time.

When we arrived in the surgical wing, Dr. Not My Doctor was down the hallway scrolling on his phone.  This did not win points with me, his vulnerable little patient.  Couldn’t he pace the floor with his finger on his chin like he was rehearsing the exact slices he planned to make?  Could he at least pretend to?

My mom looked up and said, incredibly loudly, “THAT’S your doctor?? He’s a toddler!”

While they prepared to numb me, Mike and my mom put on the full surgical protective regalia.  One would think they were carrying a bomb with the hollering and commotion that ensued when they walked into the room and the surgical team saw Mike had put his baseball cap back on his head — on top of his scrubs.  It was like he’d carried an AK-47 into an airport, so he bolted back out of the room to remove the germ-carrier.

Once they got me numb on the surgical table, they began the surgery and tried to talk to me to distract me.  We talked about our other kids and I asked questions and Mike held my hand.  We told everyone we didn’t know if it was a boy or a girl, and the whole room cheered with excitement because they said that never happens anymore.

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And then they said, the head is out!  I couldn’t believe it was already time.

I looked at Mike’s eyes and he looked over the curtain as the baby was lifted high.  His eyes grew wide and he froze from surprise as he took his first look at our baby.

“It’s a GIRL!” he shouted.  “IT’S A GIRL!!”

Then, in stunned disbelief, “IT REALLY IS!  IT REALLY IS!  IT’S A GIRL!!”

Radiating joy exploded from my heart, an unstoppable force of excitement so powerful I still think I’ll never get over it.

A baby girl.  A sister for Arden.  A daughter to cherish for the rest of our lives.  Here was a gift to our family, one I’d prayed for more earnestly than I can describe.

And they cleaned her up, weighed her, and placed her in her father’s arms.

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When Mike brought her to me, he laid her across the top of my chest, right up under my chin, so her little body was right next to my face and I could fall in love with her, head to toe.  I spoke into her tiny ears and felt the ocean of love envelop me, as it never fails to do.  My elation was matchless.

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She would pause her cries to hear the two voices she knew best in the world, and we relished finally meeting the little someone we’d longed to meet.

I called to the nurse nearby, asking if she could get right on the making of her little bow hat.  I was kidding, clearly, as she had important medical work in front of her, but STILL.  The BOW HAT.  Where IS it?

My mom was bursting, “I knew it!  I just knew it!” because she’d been convinced it was a girl all along.  


DSC_0167As she came over with her camera we said, “This is Claire Colleen,” and she squeezed her eyes tight with happiness for my mama-in-love, saying, “She deserves it.”

When we’d been settled in the maternity room, I had a complete change of heart about her arrival.  Here we were, just the three of us, as if she were our first baby and not our last.  Here were our two precious moms, the two who gave birth to us, here to welcome Claire.

One of the finest moments was introducing her to her namesake, Mike’s mother.  We’d wanted to honor her in this way for years and were so thrilled we could now.  Telling her Claire’s name was one of our happiest moments of the day.

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Aren’t they a pair?

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What a gift of time, of closeness, of zero hurry and savoring every second.  God knew I didn’t need a clipboard of a dozen timed arrivals.  He knew I needed a full night of just mama and dada and baby makes three, to get to know this little ember of light who’d joined our family.

You would think the novelty and wonder of a new baby would diminish when it’s your fifth.  For us, it magnified.  We had eyes wide open, taking in her every detail, searing into our memories her fresh baby scent, the cupping of her weight in the crooks of our arms, the impossibly tiny blonde hairs along the ridge of her ears, the chubby dimples on the knuckles of her hands.

My memory of that night will always be the glow of joy we felt for her, for our entire tribe of kiddos we’d been given, by God’s grace.

By the time the kids arrived the next morning to meet her, we were trembling with excitement.  We removed her pink blanket so it wouldn’t give it away the moment they saw her.

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When our four favorite people walked up to the bed, their faces eager with anticipation, we said, “It’s a girl!” and the glow that came over Arden was indescribable.  Hunter smiled his most endearing smile, Jameson reached for her, and Henry almost collapsed on the floor in disappointment.  It was classic.

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While the other three cooed at her and tried out her name, Henry came to the other side of the bed and leaned in close to make his point clear.

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“Mom,” he said, deadly serious, “you need to have more brothers.”

Guess who was a puddle of mush in front of her within the next five minutes?  Same guy.  He hasn’t mentioned more brothers since.

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This picture is proof of the goodness of God.  Nothing in this photo is credited to our account; it’s by His generosity that these five little souls are in our care.

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She was born on a Thursday night; we went home that Sunday.  As we left, the nurse told me to beware the recovery red flags: a headache that won’t go away, heavy bleeding, fever above 100.4, changes in the incision.  I told her I had a slight headache but I’d see how it went; neither of us were concerned.

Three days later I was in triage for a headache so severe I could barely sit upright.

~~

(Part two coming soon)

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