Sunday, February 26, 2012

Behind My Incredible Boys Is An Amazing Father

I have learned so much about parenting and about accepting the cards life has handed me by watching my husband.  From the moment they sent me out the door of the hospital with my firstborn, and all the fear was rising up inside me wondering what in the world I would do with this tiny little thing, Adam has stepped up and grasped the role of Father with both hands. 

Our firstborn had colic for his first four months of life.  For four months Damek would not sleep longer than two hours at a time and would only fall asleep if we bounced him while standing up.  It was exhausting.  It was difficult.  It would have been impossible if Adam had not shared in the load.  He offered to take every other awake time so we could both get a small chunk of uninterrupted sleep.  He was vastly more patient than I was and kept us laughing in spite of the pain.

Our second came along with many more complications than mere colic. Caedmon was born with a team of doctors and nurses waiting for him, whisked away to a separate hospital, and was in surgery within two hours of birth. Adam did not leave his side until the surgeon came to take him and was waiting for him the second he was placed in recovery.  He asked to be the one to go to myriad medical appointments, clinics and procedures. Multiple times the medical staff would comment with surprise that the father was there.  "We never see the fathers!" they would say.  The first few weeks of Caedmon's life, when I was struggling with my emotions at his obvious deformities, the stress of his seemingly neverending procedures, and new baby adaptation, I would see Adam treating Caedmon with total love, devotion and acceptance.  That dedication got me through many long nights.

And now that our little Asher has joined us, the same love holds true.  Adam has been a constant support, showing acceptance, love and compassion from the beginning.  He did not bat an eye when the diagnosis of Down syndrome was given, he just did what he does best as a father.  Picked him up and loved him. I'm sure he has had some fear, some doubts, some questions, but they haven't gotten in the way of his love.

His constancy makes me a better mother.  It also makes me understand God a little more.  How God sees the imperfection, in some cases the mess, in us and just picks us up and loves us with all the love He has (which is pretty immense!).  How He sees past a diagnosis or a label, because He's way bigger than that anyway, and sees the reality and the potential and is just happy to BE with us.  You know, BE, just sit, just hold, just spend time and see how the story turns out, see how the journey goes.  And how God looks forward to the time when He can have a little play time with us.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Asher's Birth Story Part 3: Falling In Love

I was discharged from the hospital first thing in the morning. Adam filled me in on all the details of Asher's first night and news from the doctors as we made the 30 minute drive to Children's. I was feeling numb and nervous.

Asher had been on oxygen since he first entered the NICU. Sometime in the night they weened him off and he had done fine on room air since then. He was on the antibiotics and was halfway done. Adam and I were thinking he would just finish that up and we'd be home tomorrow. The doctor had informed Adam that Asher was dealing with textbook DS symptoms but we wouldn't have the chromosomal study back for 72 hours. We prepared ourselves for a positive result, meaning he did indeed have Down syndrome. I was prepared for a very short stay.

Coming into Asher's room and seeing him hooked up to all the equipment with the iv in one arm and that hand all bandaged up, all my emotions from Caedmon's hospital stays came flooding back. In fact, it was several days before I quit calling him Caedmon by mistake.

More importantly, seeing him, being able to touch him and smell him and hold him, did what a night by myself could never do: see Asher as a baby, my baby, my sweet boy, and not a diagnosis.

The next morning brought the doctor and it quickly became apparent Asher would not be discharged that day and probably not for several days more. His problem was he was too sleepy and had no interest in eating, again textbook for a large baby with DS. I gave my consent for a tube to be placed down his nose into his belly so he could be force fed small amounts in the hopes that the milk would give him the energy to wake up and eat for himself.

The days turned into a week and then more. Nurses kept saying to me things like, 'I'm not scheduled to work again until next Friday. I'm sure you'll be home by then.' At first I would get really excited about the prospect but as time kept going on I started to grimace and say, 'I certainly hope so but I'm not betting on it.'

Amazingly, as the second week started I began to be more positive, not that we'd be discharged but just about life in general. I credit several things to this change.

First, my very aware husband told me I needed a break from the hospital. I had not even been outside for a week and did not realize how much this was effecting me. He said he wanted time with Asher too. Since we were focusing more on bottle feeding, he could trade off with me, taking every other night, so I could go home and be with my older two boys and get a little more sleep.

Second, we had so many people praying for us. I sensed it with Caedmon's journey and now with Asher. This overwhelming peace and Presence even when we had no strength or energy to pray for ourselves.

Third, every time I held Asher and we worked on nursing or bottling or we just cuddled and napped, my heart grew, like the Grinch on Christmas Day who realizes Christmas is so much more. I loved the moments when he would open his eyes and look at me. I anticipated seeing him when I had been away for a night. I loved how his body would sink into me when I would hold him. I started to let go of the future, even the near future of when we would finally get to bring him home, and try to enjoy the quiet of the hospital room where I could focus solely on him for this brief time without the cacophony of noise that comes with siblings.

In short, I fell in love with my son.

It was an amazing realization when our second son was born and we worried that we could never love him like we loved our first, yet our love just multiplied to cover him too. The same was happening again, diagnosis be damned, and our little Asher took our hearts by storm.

By the time we got the okay to head home, exactly two weeks after being admitted and on his due date, I was ready. I was ready to bring my son home, ready to introduce him into the family, ready to face whatever his journey would bring, ready.

This doesn't mean I am completely through grieving or totally okay with everything. I am not disconnected from my emotions! I know that every developmental stage will bring fresh grief and new opportunities to grow and let go but with a deep basis of love and trust I have learned I can make it through a lot.

So on we go.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Asher's Birth Story Part 2: Transport

My biggest fear in deciding to have a homebirth was having to be transported to a strange hospital and being treated horribly by the doctors and medical staff because my decision was deemed stupid or dangerous or crazy. It seems, in my life, God takes delight in helping me face my biggest fears and guiding me through the fallout.

When Asher was born the midwife handed him right to me. I was completely spent, collapsed over the birth ball that I had finished up labor on, so the midwife handed Asher to me between my legs. Such a strange perspective. He was so floppy and blue. His eyes were still closed. There was no newborn cry, no noise of any kind coming from him. These things didn't register until the midwife's head appeared from the side and she started blowing air into Asher's mouth. Two puffs, three puffs. I heard Adam say, 'Come on, Asher, breathe buddy!' It slowly started to sink in that things weren't going exactly according to plan.

With the fourth puff, Asher started to respond. But not in a robust, 'here I am world' kind of way. More just a moaning, grunting kind of way. The midwives, doula and Adam got me situated sitting at the head of our bed and handed Asher to me. As I held him the head midwife did a checkup on all Asher's vital signs. From somewhere far away I heard her tell the apprentice that she needed to call a transport.

Oh, dear God, I just had my baby! All I wanted to do was curl up with him on my bed and take a nap. In fact, that was how I got through transition, the time in labor when you feel like you cannot go on. Now they're saying I have to take him in an ambulance to a hospital?!

As we waited for the paramedics, the midwife, Aly, who I finally met, continued to check Asher's heart rate and respiratory rate. He improved some, enough that she asked the paramedics if they could just wait a few minutes before we made a final decision.

At this point Aly checked me and found a fairly large tear that could only be taken care of by a doctor. Asher was not rapidly improving. We prepared to head out to the ambulance.

There was some tension between one of the paramedics and Aly. The paramedic refused to allow any of my birth team to ride in the ambulance with Asher and I. I wasn't concerned about that but my fear began to rise wondering if this was indicative of what awaited me at the hospital.

I was grateful that they laid Asher right on my chest in the ambulance and purposefully moved the blankets so we could be skin to skin the whole ride over.

On the ride to the hospital the same paramedic who had been so brusque with Aly chatted pleasantly with me. About halfway to the hospital she asked the question I would be asked many times over the next few days. 'So, why did you do a homebirth?' I gave her a shortened version of the reasons I listed in Part 1. That was the end of the conversation, we pulled into the hospital.

When we arrived, they wheeled us into a room in the ER. Adam and the birth team were there immediately and shown right in. There were three doctors waiting for us, one from the maternity ward, a pediatrician and one from the ER. Everyone was so kind and so respectful. All my fears started to dissipate.

As I was being looked after, Asher was getting his own check up, in a bed next to mine. I watched as they worked on him. Heard them say he was 10 lbs, 2 oz and 22 inches long. My biggest boy yet.

All the details bleed into each other and seem rather hazy. I have a very clear memory of someone turning to Adam and I and saying, 'We're seeing markers for Down syndrome.' Tears started falling fairly quickly. I remember Adam turning to me and saying he thought Asher looked like Damek and he didn't see anything that looked like DS. I clung to that last thread of hope, knowing how silly it was to trust my nonmedically trained husband over competent medical professionals but not caring if it meant Asher would be 'normal' for a little while longer.

'Just before Asher heads to the NICU'

Asher and I were taken separately to the floor that housed both the maternity ward and the NICU. Adam came to tell me that they were wanting to put Asher on antibiotics for 48 hours due to high white blood cell counts. We had already decided that if he needed to be in the hospital longer than a day we wanted him to be at Children's. Adam asked for a transport.

I continued on with the day's trend of most difficult moments. I was already admitted to the hospital. I could stay for the night and head for Children's in the morning or be discharged immediately. I knew there was little rest once I got to Children's. I knew I needed some recovery to be worth anything as Asher's advocate.

I made the hard choice of staying one night alone. Adam headed out following Asher's transport.

That night was the longest night of my life.  I was exhausted and needed sleep but I continued to replay the events of the day, especially the very real probability that I had another special needs child.  I cried a lot.  I felt very alone.  The nurses left me to rest, so I didn't have a lot of interruptions during my dark storm.  I questioned God a lot.  I doubted I would be able to love this little stranger who just appeared with so many unknowns, so many needs.  I wanted to run away. I grieved. I felt picked on.

At my lowest point a song started playing in my head.  This has happened enough times in my life that I know to listen to the words because it's some message being sent to me.  The song was Jill Phillips' Grand Design.  The specific lyrics were

I could start running in anger
But then what's the point of a Savior?

I feel the pain but it still doesn't change who You are
Nothing I feel is outside of the reach of Your arms
My whole world can crumble but all of the pieces remain
In Your hands that are waiting to put them together again

Just like I know You will, in Your own time, in Your own wisdom
One day I'll look back and see the Grand Design
Maybe it will make sense then, these questions I have
But with it all here front and center
Sometimes it's hard to remember

With those words running through my mind, I fell into a troubled sleep.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Asher's Birth Story Part 1: Homebirth

In telling Asher's birth story I felt compelled to start with why we chose a homebirth because that has been, by far, the most commonly asked question.

There seems to be several preconceived notions that pop up when people hear that you have had or are planning a homebirth: you are uninformed or naive; you are anti-modern medicine, anti-establishment, anti-doctors; you are crunchy; you are more concerned with your birth wishes than you are about your baby's health; you're weird.

I can only answer that, while we may be a little out of the mainstream and some may tag us as strange, we do not fit the description above. In fact, without exception, the people we have met who have chosen homebirth are the most well educated parents we have spoken to on all things related to childbirth and chose the homebirth route because they are convinced it was the safest place for their baby to be born.

When we decided on a homebirth we were hoping to have our child in a peaceful environment, surrounded by people who were positive, patient and believed that a woman's body was designed to do this amazing, miraculous thing: give birth. That the act of giving birth, in most situations, is not a medical emergency that needs to be attended by a trained surgeon but is a beautiful and natural part of being a woman. We also fully believed (and still believe) that our child would be in a safer place being born at home.

We researched and interviewed several providers before selecting the one that fit our needs. This was a much more thoughtful process than my previous pregnancies, where I just blindly took the doctor in the closest practice. I had a page of questions to ask, checking to make sure the midwife would be on the same page as my family.

In the end, we went with a traditional midwife. She was a midwife through experience and apprenticeship rather than formal education and certification. She had attended more than 1500 births in over 20 years of experience. She had an air of quiet confidence and calm about her. I loved her right away.

In our state a homebirth is always attended by two midwives. I felt very well cared for and confident that if anything went wrong we would have good decision makers to get us to the right place. We also hired a doula, a birth assistant, who would be with me while I labored in the quite likely event that Adam would be busy with our other two boys. She turned out to be invaluable.

On Sunday morning at 4, I woke up to some pain in my stomach. I thought Asher must have turned a funny way or be stretching out and poking into me wrong. I turned in my bed and felt the unmistakable gush of fluids. Here we go! I shook my husband awake and told him to call the midwife. Mine was out of town until that afternoon, as luck would have it, so he called her apprentice who then contacted the on-call midwife. She asked how my contractions were and told me to get some more sleep if I could and call if things got more intense.

I laid back down while Adam flew around the house trying to fill up the birth tub, cover windows, and generally prepare before the boys woke up. I didn't actually sleep. I think I knew this would go quickly.

By 6, the boys were up and my contractions were coming harder and faster. My midwife called to check on me and I told her I was going to ask my doula to come but the contractions were irregular enough that I didn't think the midwives needed to come yet. My doula headed over.

It seemed to take her forever to get there, though I'm sure it was less than 30 minutes. By the time she walked in the door I was laboring hard, the contractions were coming right on top of each other and the only way the pain was tolerable was if I was on my hands and knees. I felt like I was already in transition but that couldn't be right, I'd only been in labor for 3 hours! The doula took one look at me and called the midwives to tell them to hurry up and get here. I told her I felt like I needed to push, she stayed on the phone with the midwife.

At some point I heard the doula tell the midwife to please hurry. I felt Adam's hand in mine shortly after. He told me later the doula had come to get him and told him the baby would be here soon. I was so grateful to have him there and the relief I felt at being able to grab his hand must be similar to what a drowning person feels when someone firmly grasps their hand and pulls them out of the water.

Still no midwife. I heard my doula tell me to quit pushing and breathe like I was blowing out candles. That was the single. hardest. thing. I have ever had to do in my entire life. I don't know how long I did that, it seemed like an eternity but was probably more like a few minutes. I heard the doula say in a relieved voice that the midwife was here and I could push again.

I remember finding the perfect 'zone'. That when I pushed from that place there would be good progress and the midwife would sound really excited. I felt like I was in a good groove and the baby would be out in just a moment. Then the midwife told me I had to lift one of my legs so that I was in a position much like the often criticized Tim Tebow. It was so hard to find that zone again. The dola was saying, 'Just one more push and he'll be out!' but I couldn't find the place to make that one more push. Onbeknownst to me, Asher had a barrel chest and the midwife was needing to shimmy him out a little at a time. I finally found one last drop of energy and with a primal scream I felt Asher slip all the way out.

It had taken five contractions and was only 8:11 am but it felt like much more.

Little did I know that would be the easy part of my day.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Limited Energy

Driving home tonight to switch places with Adam and spend some time with my big boys I started thinking about how much energy I waste trying to hold off things I have no control over.  I realized how tense I had become in the last 24 hours, willing Asher to eat more, wake up longer, get home sooner, when there is really absolutely nothing I can do about it.  There are moments when I relax into the present, where I think gratefully of this bit of quiet time I get to spend with my youngest before he is thrust into family life and things get a lot busier.  But for 90% of the time I am pushing a mountain hoping to move it a few inches or trying to redirect the waves of the ocean using only my two hands.

It's ridiculous, really.  I only have so much energy in my body and much of it is being taken up by lack of sleep and a 3 hour feeding schedule.  Why in the world would I want to use the rest of it on something so fruitless and how often do I do this with everything else in my life without even thinking about it?  What would happen if I allowed myself to take things as they came without fighting tooth and nail every inch of the way?  The Serenity Prayer comes to mind.  What I wouldn't give to have that wisdom to clearly know the difference between what I can and can't do anything about.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Asher's Short Birth Story

A little later, when we are all home and settled, I will come back to share Asher's full story.  Until then, here are the fun basics.

Asher Riley was born peacefully, quickly and a little early at home on Sunday, January 22 at 8:11 am.  He was so quick, in fact, my midwives almost didn't make it.  When he was born he had trouble breathing and wasn't as quick to pink up.  The midwife did mouth to mouth and he began to breathe but wasn't crying or engaging.  They decided to call an ambulance to transport him to the local hospital.  As we waited for the ambulance to arrive Asher began to stabilize but still wasn't quite as stable as we would like, so Asher and I were transported together.

At the hospital we learned that Asher weighed in at 10 lbs 2 oz.  We also learned that he was suspected to have Down syndrome.  They took some blood and ordered a chromosomal study, we would find out the results in 72 hours.  They also found he had an elevated white blood cell count and needed oxygen.  They wanted to put him on a 48 hour antibiotic.  We asked them to transport him to Children's Hospital.  We had already decided if he needed to be in the hospital for longer than a day we wanted him at Children's.  

He has been there ever since.  And he does, indeed, have Down syndrome, the 'fluke' kind, the doctor tells us.

We have lots of hope that someday soon he'll be headed home.