Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ainsley's Home Birth - Finding the Sun

When we got married, I said I wanted to have four kids. I think Edgar thought I would change my mind. After 12 years of marriage, he now knows better - some may call it stubbornness but I prefer to think of it as stoic determination. :) Even after our first three children were born, I always felt like our family was missing someone. I was right. (Something else my husband has learned a thing or two about in the past 12 years. LOL!) Here is the story as I wrote it just before Ainsley's First Birthday this past January. Warning: there are some details that some might consider fairly graphic. If you've ever been at a birth at all, you should be just fine!

Dear Ainsley,

I have wanted to record the story of your birth since the very moment you entered our world. I wanted so badly to record every single thought and memory I had and I knew if I didn’t do it soon afterwards, many of those memories could be lost. So I wanted to do it soon, but it just didn’t work out that way.

Instead, it is almost 12:30am on April 2 and in just 4 days, you will be three months old. You’re sleeping on the floor and the house is quiet, so I thought I should take advantage of this opportunity to put it into writing.

I suppose I should start at the beginning, back when we found out you would be joining our family. It had only been about 5 months since my dad died, and I was really struggling to find my way in a world where he no longer existed. As you grow, I will teach you everything I can about your “Papa T” and so I am confident you will have a full understanding of the impact his death had on me. It is a loss I know I will never heal from, and those first few months after he died were especially hard for me. I struggled to be the mother and wife I wanted to be, and the daughter and “successor trustee” I wanted to be. I began to learn all kinds of legal things and waded my way through logistics and paperwork I never wanted to deal with. I got my insurance licenses so I could carry on with my dad’s business, but I never felt as though I was finding the right path.

Then, the Saturday night before Mother’s Day of that year, I posted on an internet board about some strange symptoms I was having. I even joked that if I were reading about someone else, I might suspect they were pregnant. A woman on that board named Nicole has become pretty well-known in our internet community for being able to see into the future, so when she suggested I get a pregnancy test I took her at her word. I got one and took it that night, and couldn’t believe it when I saw the result.

Instantly, I believed with all my heart that you had been sent here by my dad, to help me heal my pain and to help me find my way once again. One day just a few weeks later I felt a calmness come over me and I just knew in that moment that this pregnancy would be ok, that you would be ok, and that your birth would serve a great purpose in my life. I made the decision to sell my dad’s insurance agency, knowing he was trying to help me get back to the life I had before he died. I also felt strongly that you would be a girl, because my dad loved his little girls and he would know how desperately I wanted a second daughter.

Spiritually, the pregnancy with you was a life-changing and transforming positive event. Physically, I struggled through those first few months just as I had in the past. Through days at the pool, a trip to the ADPi Grand Convention in Orlando, and a week at Walt Disney World on a family vacation, I dealt with morning sickness. I tried everything imaginable to cope including ginger, homeopathic remedies, acupuncture, and finally a prescription medication. In the end, what helped the most was time and eventually it passed and I worked hard to enjoy the pregnancy.

In many ways, I think I was more conscious of enjoying that special time with you than I had been before. I expected this to be my last pregnancy, and it was a bit of a bonus one at that (not unplanned or unexpected - there is a difference!) and so I cherished each moment. I spent the second half of the pregnancy working to finalize the sale of the agency and hoping it would be wrapped up before you arrived. We almost made it, but not quite!

Early in the morning of January 5, I noticed I was starting to have contractions about 10 minutes apart. They were mild and reminded me somewhat of the latent labor I had experienced when Aidan was born. I couldn’t sleep and so I paced around the house and then finally sent a text message to Tammy at about 3:30am that I thought I might be in early labor. Because she is a teacher, I knew she needed plenty of notice in order to call in to work and drive down here in time. (Tammy lives in Lake in the Hills.) When your dad woke in the morning I told him I thought things were happening and we made the decision to keep Ethan and Elisabeth home from school. They had only just returned the day before after the Christmas break, and they were very excited that you were finally coming!

However, the contractions seemed to slow down after the business of the morning waking hours and by the time Tammy arrived around 9:30am, I thought it might all have been a “false alarm.” She decided to stay and see what happened, and we spent the day laying around just talking and resting. By that evening I was feeling restless to get out of the house, so Tammy and I went to Starbucks and then out to my grandma and grandpa Shanklin’s house.

Grandpa Shanklin was dying at home, having just been diagnosed on Jan. 1 with late-stage liver cancer. It was another transformational time in our family, and very spiritual to be waiting for your life and his death at the same time. He was still awake and alert that night, and he joked with me again about having not had the baby yet. While we were there, I noticed my contractions seemed to pick up again, and soon they were coming with some regularity.

We drove home (I drove, even though Tammy offered, but they weren’t that intense!) and at 8:55pm I realized it had only been 10 minutes since the last one. I watched the clock and sure enough, they started coming regularly every 10 minutes again. I could feel my adrenaline picking up and at some point we called the midwife to let her know what was happening. I labored in the family room for a while, and a little before 11pm decided to head upstairs and get in the bathtub.

The bathtub offered a lot of pain relief and helped me to relax, and I could tell the labor was intensifying. We called Brande again and asked her to come - no hurry but I wanted her to start making her way to the house. After I talked to her and knew she was on her way, it was like the floodgates opened and my body just barreled into the labor. I got out of the bathtub for a few minutes to use the toilet and quickly realized I was much better off in the water, so I got back in as soon as I could.

That was probably the moment I decided to birth you in the water, although it wasn’t a conscious decision on my part.

(coming back to write the rest many months later, now January 2, and unfortunately I doubt my memory is so clear. :( )

I began to feel very out of control during the contractions, and I wasn’t getting much of a chance to recover between them. They were coming fast and furious and I felt myself struggling more and more to stay on top of them. My friend (part doula, part photographer) Beth arrived and was able to perch herself over the bathtub and do the hip squeeze on me. It gave me so much relief but it was tricky to get into the right position with me in the tub, and I seem to recall that after a few contractions that way I didn’t feel it was helping as much. Brande and her assistant Penny arrived and there was a lot of activity out in the bedroom.

They were setting out the supplies for the birth - both those we had collected (plastic shower curtains, a crock pot for warm water, clean towels) and those that Brande brought with her. I remember thinking to myself that they were doing a lot of unnecessary prep work because I knew by then you were going to be born in the water, but I never said it out loud to anyone else. When the contractions came now, I felt an urge to push through them and so I did. After a few of them that way I told Beth that I was pushing and asked her to relay that to Brande... who of course had already heard me and knew what was happening. She came into the bathroom with these long plastic gloves that went up to her elbows and I knew we were getting close.

By now, I felt a sense of urgency to have you born and remembering a visualization/vocalization I had read in “Birthing from Within,” I started to moan in a low, loud, almost guttural voice “ooooouuuutttttt” during the contractions. It felt natural at the time, but as I look back now at the video of this I often cringe as it seems like I was angry and yelling at you to get out of my body. The reality is that in that moment, every primal instinct in my body was saying it was time for you to come out and the low, deep sound of my voice was a coping mechanism for those last few contractions. Finally, I felt you moving down and I pushed with everything I had - much harder than I remembered pushing for any of my births and on some level I kept wondering if I was even doing it right - when suddenly Brande said, “the head is out.”

I didn’t wait before giving another long, hard push and I felt your shoulders, then your arms, then your belly, knees, and finally your feet come rushing out of my body. I was on my hands and knees and Brande handed you to me back through my legs. I sat back on my thighs and looked up with you held tightly to my chest, saying “Thank you... thank you.” It was a prayer of gratitude to God that the labor and birth were over and that you were in my arms after so many years of waiting.

You were born at 12:50am on Wednesday, January 6, 2010.

Daddy was calling for the big kids to “come see” and there was general surprise and exhiliration in the air as everyone came to the realization that you were here, the baby was out. There was no rush to see if you were a boy or a girl, and it felt like minutes passed as I held you and just enjoyed the moment in its purity. Although it felt like a long time, the video shows it was just a short bit before I leaned you out away from my body and looked down to see if you were a boy or a girl. The umbilical cord was right between your legs and that combined with my deep-rooted desire for a girl made me unsure at first that I was even seeing it right, so I very tentatively announced, “it’s a girl!” to everyone there. When Brande came back in I asked her for confirmation but of course I knew. I had known all along, deep down I just knew and now holding you I couldn’t imagine that you could have ever been anything but. In that moment, I knew I had my little Ainsley girl that I had waited so long for.

After a few more minutes, I turned around to sit down in the tub and with that, the water suddenly turned a dark crimson red. I held you in the water and we put a towel over you and remarked at how perfect you were. We told everyone that your name was Ainsley, but we were still undecided about your middle names. The truth was we knew what they would be, we just hadn’t decided what order to put them in. Ironically, before she left Beth mentioned to me that the last song she remembered hearing on my iPod before you were born was the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun.” That song had become such an anthem for our family and where we were in the grief process that I found myself smiling at the irony and at the same time, not at all surprised to hear it. Beth suggested we name you “Sol” or some other variation of “Sun or Sunshine” for a middle name, and I just smiled because I knew it was already decided.

I was nervous about delivering the placenta but about ten minutes later I stood up to get out of of the tub and before I could step out, gave a little push and out it came. Brande caught it and put it in an ice cream bucket we had lined with saran wrap and then she and Penny helped me walk to the bed. Once we were settled, Elisabeth cut your umbilical cord. I guess this means your birth was also a partial lotus birth... where the cord is not cut until the placenta is delivered. (To this day, your placenta is in our deep freezer and I smile every time I open the door and see it there.)

You were rooting around right from the start, and took to nursing like a true natural. I think you had nursed from one side to the next before we even got a chance to weigh you! One of my favorite parts of the home birth was getting to weigh you using the “fish scale” Brande had brought, although I was surprised when you came in at 6lb. 7oz... making you the second smallest baby when all through the pregnancy I had been so sure you would be the largest! We continued to take video and pictures and laugh and enjoy the moments. Brande and Penny did all the “usual” assessments on you and of course, everything looked great.

By 3am, everyone had gone home, our room and bathroom were cleaned up and back to normal, and the only sign of what had happened just two hours before was the beautiful baby girl cuddled in my arms.

In the days that followed, we had many interruptions to our “baby moon.” You had dangerously high bilirubin levels due to an ABO blood incompatibility and had to be admitted to the NICU in an emergency situation when you were just 48 hours old. Within hours, they were performing a complete exchange transfusion while your dad and I sat a few feet away, feeling helpless and scared and vulnerable. I lived with you in the hospital for 3 days and we were so grateful when you rebounded so quickly. At the time, it felt like one of my worst fears being realized to have to be there but in retrospect, of course it really wasn’t. It wasn’t the start I had hoped for and envisioned for your life, but it was just a bump and we got through it. You were admitted on Friday afternoon and you came home on Monday night. We were so lucky.

Two days later, just one hour short of you turning one week old, your great-grandpa Fred died in his sleep at home. Because you were born at home and the bilirubin issues didn’t manifest right away, we were able to take you to visit with him while he was still conscious and lucid and you were just 12 hours old. I took your picture with him, and I will treasure it always. By the time your hospital ordeal had ended and I could go visit him again, he was unconscious and slipping away from this world. The last time he and I talked together, it was so I could introduce you to him. Your connection runs so deep, I am sure of it. Born and died within a week of each other, both at home. His death and your birth both had so many lessons to teach us all about the circle of life and the importance of respecting and honoring those passages by allowing them to happen as our bodies and nature have both intended. When we made the decision to birth at home, I knew we had made a very spiritual choice but I couldn’t fully understand the impact of that until it all played out in our lives.

I learned so many lessons from your birth. I learned again that birth is a powerful force that cannot be summed up as one experience... it is the transformation of woman into mother, man into father, and bump into living, breathing being. I learned that I am even stronger than I thought I was, and that birth is even more beautiful when you leave it be and let it be. I learned there is a difference between a “natural” hospital birth and a home birth. I learned that we can feel very alone in this world, even when we are surrounded by people who love us... but that there is also great power in that loneliness and rather than fear it, we should embrace it and welcome it.

And I learned again that God does answer prayers. For years I had prayed to be blessed with another child if that was God’s plan for us. I didn’t pray for it, but deep in my soul I wished and longed for another daughter. And to this day, it absolutely takes my breath away that you are here. That I carried you, birthed you, and have the amazing honor of being your mother on this Earth. You have completed our family, and you are sent from heaven... sent by my dad, who won’t ever know you on Earth but does know and love you nevertheless, and sent by God who had planned it this way all along.

In just a few short days, you will turn one year old. The memories of your birth and the days that followed have already started to fade with time. But the intensity of your place in our family is secure and strong and our love for you continues to grow. We love you Ainsley Rose Sunshine!

Wow, how time flies

So, I'm blogging again.

There, I said it. I made it official and after I post this I'm going to let others know.

I'm making a commitment.

It's funny to see that it has been almost exactly two years since I last posted an entry. Ironically, it was Election Day that had inspired me that day and here I am, starting at another Election Day just around the corner. The first time we will elect a Mayor since my dad was re-elected four years ago.

Four years ago. How is that possible? For that matter, how have 2 years passed here?

Funny that I didn't seem to take my own advice. I know (and knew) that I needed to journal more. But doing it was just a commitment and let's be honest, I was in no place 2 years ago to commit to much. It's interesting to look back on those last few posts though and realize that although it seldom feels like it, I AM making progress on this crazy grief ride.

Oh, it's still a roller coaster. And this week has been full of some unexpected twists and turns. But I've felt my dad beside me through it all and when I doubted, he sent me little signs to remind me.

The major change in our life of course came in the form of sunshine... and the best kind of sunshine you could possibly get. Funny that I last posted about being so tired in the mornings... I didn't know it at the time, but of course there was a reason for that. Her name is Ainsley and she is my "rainbow" baby. (No offense intended to my friends who have lost babies as that term is generally reserved for them. In this case, I hope they'll understand my use of it.)

Had she been a boy, we had planned to name her Noah because she was the light after the storm. But the truth is, I always knew she was a girl. And it was a beautiful moment that cold January morning when she entered the world and proved me right. (More on Ainsley's birth to come in another post.)

In any case... here we are, back to another Election Day. Time moves on, whether we like it or not and whether we feel ready or not. I've been working on another person's campaign - someone I know my dad would support and feel very happy about. I find myself, these days, trying to maintain his legacy while foraging ahead with figuring out my own. Some days I find the balance. Others I don't. It's all ok.

I still miss my dad every single day. I am grateful for the people who have taken the time in the past few weeks - out of nowhere (and one of them was a stranger) to tell me they miss him too. They were worried about saying the words, didn't want to make me cry. Believe me, I'd rather shed a few tears and know I'm not alone. Some days, I still feel very alone.

I really am going to try to blog more. I've said it and committed to it, so there it is. I think I need it. And my life doesn't feel so stuck in grief anymore so I hope I can find interesting snippets to write about. We all have a "story" - and this is mine. Picked up from 2 years ago and moving forward. I think it's time.

Thanks for reading!