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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.

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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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A Day in the Life While We are Still Six

I’ve documented the minutia of our lives at various stages of children, and it seems tedious, but I’m so glad I did it because reading back on them now there are so many things I’ve forgotten.  I can distinctly remember how each phase of our family has felt, but it’s much harder to recall how the details of our days actually played out.

Here’s a day in the life while we were:

A family of five

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A family with 18 month old twins

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A family with 12 week old twins

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The last two I’ve written right before adding a new baby to the family, and today is no exception.  I’m set to give birth in a week, so I’m knocking this out before the newborn haze sets in.

School is the main difference between all our previous years’ of routines and now.  In all of my earlier days, we might have somewhere to be of our choosing, but it was flexible and just that — of our choosing.  Now we have two six year olds in kindergarten, and randomly opting out of class is generally frowned upon, so we do the morning hustle.  Lucky for us, we are in a school that offers 3-day a week kindergarten (all day), so we only have to do the hustle a handful of times.  This is glorious.

This sample will be from one of their three days of kindergarten, and for fun, let’s also choose a day that Hunter has morning preschool (he also goes 3 days, but naturally only two of them overlap with Henry and Arden’s days at school.  Such is life).

~Henry and Arden, 6.5, Hunter, 4.5, and Jameson, 2.5~

6:20AM  The alarm goes off and I immediately snooze it for 8 minutes.  I’m not a snoozer by nature, but pregnancy will do this to a person.

6:28AM  The alarm goes off again and I face reality.  With the speed and agility of the Titanic attempting to miss the iceberg, I steer my 9-month-pregnant body out of bed, waddle across the room and begin our day.  Henry is usually peeking from our doorframe, as he has the ninja ability to wake when he needs to based on the day.  I give him the nod, and he bounds silently into our room and into bed to snuggle.

If this were a non-school day, we’d get up at 7:15 and all the kids would be in our bed, snuggled up tight and fighting for the insufficient real estate provided by our queen bed.  Today, I dress and head downstairs to start breakfast while the other three sleep.

6:50AM  I’m making eggs and toast and peeling tangerines while Mike showers, Henry and I chat, and Arden comes into the kitchen.  If Mike and I were disciplined the night before, then praise be!  Their lunches are already packed, and all they need to do is pick out two snacks to fill their little reusable zippered bags (my cousin makes these and I’ve bought at least a dozen. They’re brilliant and we no longer buy ziplock baggies at all. End of aside).

If we were worthless oafs the night before, then we are harassed by the empty mouths of the bento-boxes before us.

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(They don’t get notes every day.  That’s likely why I took a photo, so when I’m old and gray I can reassure myself that I was, occasionally, a decent mother.)

7AM We hear Jameson on the monitor and Henry bolts upstairs to get him.  They are best buddies and it fills my heart to the brim.  Jameson comes in with Henry and says, “I waked up!” and gives everyone hugs and hellos.  Babies in pajamas with huge smiles is the greatest morning joy there could be.  Mike wakes Hunter, the family sleeper, and brings him down holding his Roux puppy.  It is adorable.

7:10AM  Mike is helping everyone get what they need and drinking coffee and pouring a drop of milk in my tea.  It’s all a melee of eating and packing school bags.

7:25AM  We send the twins and Hunter upstairs to dress — twins in their uniforms, Hunter in whatever he wants (so…a dinosaur sweater).  All brush teeth and I hurry Arden so I can do her hair, tell them all to put on shoes and grab coats, and work our way outside.  Mike has started the car so it’s at least tepid by our loading time.

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Clues it’s not a real before-school photo: it’s daylight, and they’re not in uniform

7:40AM After 3/4 kids self-buckle and 1/4 gives us a little grief about it, we pull out of the driveway.  Henry is our timekeeper and always notes the time, along with the number of minutes until the doors of his classroom open (they open at 7:45, and tolerate lateness he does not).  Who can believe their school begins at the eye-watering hour of 8AM?

7:46AM  The twins sail out the door of the van and run into school, and I park further down the way to take the two boys down to the soccer field for a little morning runaround.  Hunter’s school doesn’t open until 8:30, so we have substantial time to fill.

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8:20AM We arrive at Hunter’s school and park, waiting for the doors to open.  When they do, we kiss him goodbye and watch him say good morning to his teacher.  Jameson and I sail off in silence, giving each other a look that says, “We have done ALL of this and it is only 8:30AM.”

8:45AM  Jameson and I do a little cleanup, read some books, have a morning snack, play a little music, stick a load of laundry in, and generally enjoy the tranquility of the house to ourselves.

9:45AM  When I was a little less pregnant, we’d load up the jogging stroller and jog/walk to the library a mile away; drop last week’s books, do any printing for MOPS, pick out new books, and enjoy the fresh air and exercise.

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10:40AM  We’d get back, he’d play in the playroom, I’d take a mighty fast shower, and then I’d dress and get ready to pick up Hunter.

11:30AM  Hunter pickup!  I’m always so happy to see that cherubic face.  I want to ask him thirteen questions, but I usually settle for two or three, since he likes to ride quietly back to the house.  School fills his social cup and he likes to recover without being pecked to death by we chickens next to him, and no one understands that better than his introverted mother.  Jameson, ahem, does not, so I always hear:  “Hunter!  Hunter!  Hunter?” until he replies, “Jameson I don’t feel like talking,” and I say, “You can play with him at home, lovey, he’s just tired,” which placates him enough to put his thumb back in his mouth and gaze happily out the window.

11:50AM  I make lunch, which is fabulously easy for just two littles, and they sit in their stools and chat with me.

12:30PM After they eat, they occupy themselves together in the family room while I clean everything up.  Then I ask Jameson if he’s ready for nap and he always says, “I go night night” and “Hunter get me!” since he wants Hunter to chase him up the stairs.  Hunter always does, since they’re buddies, and they just became roommates, so it’s extra cute.  We tuck Jameson into Hunter’s bed (he loves to nap there because Hunter has dinosaur covers) and he holds his silky blankies and sucks his thumb and says, “nigh-night!” and goes to sleep.

12:45PM  Unless I’m starving, this is Hunter and Mommy time.  We head into the playroom and play Sorry, Hisss, Guess Who, Yeddi Spaghetti, whatever he chooses for the day.  We play two or three games (or two or three of the same game if a certain someone hasn’t won yet…), and then I make my lunch and he reads books.

1:45PM  I do some computer work, email, MOPS work, paying bills, whatever needs doing, and Hunter has a little fruit snack and hangs out with me or does a puzzle.

2:10PM  We wake Jameson, who’s usually okay with this, unless he was right in the middle of a REM cycle, in which case, he’s an angry elf.

2:35PM We’re in the car and headed to pick up Henry and Arden.  Many times Hunter will fall asleep in the five minute ride, and I let him snooze as we wait in the pickup line.

2:50PM  Henry and Arden tumble into the car, jazzed from their day at school and spilling information and questions in equal measure.  Jameson sticks his arms in the air, (often just one arm so the other thumb can remain in his mouth) and he expects each twin to give a big hug as they make their way to the back of the van.  They’re giddy to oblige.

3:05PM  We arrive home and the twins do their after-school routines of emptying backpacks and changing into play clothes.  Then they all head outside to see who’s available to play; it’s the daily neighborhood roundup.  We don’t have much daylight these days, so they rush door-to-door to gather the gang and start football or tree climbing or bikes or basketball.  Jameson and I follow them out and cruise around making sure no one is too close to the street and everyone is being kind.  Sometimes other moms are out, sometimes only one of us will shepherd the herd, but it’s a team effort.

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5PM  Everyone is called inside since it’s basically as dark as night, and I start making dinner.  This is my hairiest time of day, since they all want attention or help with something, or in Jameson’s case, to climb the pantry shelves, just as I’m starting to cook.  This is when I’m calling Mike for an exact ETA, and it’s also when my body most needs to sit down, but can’t.  I try to tell one twin to start piano practice, have the other color, let Hunter play Bey Blades with Jameson… but usually the twin on piano needs help, the other only wants to play indoor football, and Jameson only wants me to put his Bey Blades back together, despite Hunter having a PhD in the subject.

5:30PM  Mike walks in the door and everyone charges him, pummeling him with hugs and love and questions.  I give him a look of exhaustion or desperation or joy or relief, depending on the day, and after a quick change of clothes, he either plays with the kids to keep them occupied or takes over putting dinner on the table so I can sit for a minute.

6PM  We dim the lights, light a candle, and dinner commences.  If a child begins the meal with “What is THIS?” I feel like I might throw my fork straight into the drywall.  But other than that, we say our prayers and dig in.  Dinner is fun and chaotic, all chatter and laughing and a little too loud and sometimes too many buns getting up out of seats (mine included) but it’s also when Mike and I look at each other and our full table and feel like it’s all worth it.

6:30PM  Mike or I do dishes (he is technically always on dish duty since I cooked, but often I’d rather do dishes than play with the kids because my cup is full on that front…see 11:30AM introvert description).

7PM  We all head upstairs where 3/4 of the children get into pajamas and brush their teeth without help (hallelujah) and one child is dressed and brushed by us.  We either read or tell stories, then all go to their own beds while we do-si-do the goodnights and closing of doors and getting of waters.

7:30PM We are in our own jammies and downstairs for parental recovery time, which looks like watching a show and eating food we can’t eat in front of the children.

10PM  We’re in our bed, tired but also still wired, still talking about the kids, still grateful for another day, still in disbelief that soon there will be a baby in the bassinet next to us.  It’s wild, it’s a ton of work, but it’s so exquisitely good.

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