Saturday, July 16, 2016

I Don't Know What to Buy Her

The month of July is a tough one.  Or at least it has been for about two years now.  For loss families, the days and weeks leading up to the birth and/or death of their child can be tricky to navigate.  Many parents have said that they tend to become anxious, sad and moody.  I can say that in my experience the same holds true. Each day brings new emotions. Last year I thought this year would be better since we would have Olive's brother here with us.  

I don't know that it's easier or better, just different than what I expected to feel.

Having Abner in our lives is amazing and beautiful and we wouldn't change anything.  Yes, I just said that - it's hard to put into words, but even if we had to endure this all over again, my husband and I both agree that this is the way it would be.  That's hard for some to swallow - but the way we look at it, we won't ever get to change it so it doesn't make any sense trying to imagine a different life.

Yet I do.  

There are clearly still times I wonder what life with an almost two year old little girl would be like.  I wonder what she would look like, whose personality she would most take after and whether she'd be a better sleeper than her brother.  In my heart I know her, I have her pictured, I have her figured out. But in my head she's still just a blur of emotions and moments.

The months, weeks and days leading up to Olive's birth and death are very, very vivid for me.  I remember exact dates - my baby shower on May 31st, my husband's birthday dinner at Cafe Hollander on June 5th, our anniversary dinner at Mr. B's Steakhouse on June 18th, July 3rd - the day a dear friend gave birth to her son earlier than planned, July 4th - another friend gives birth earlier than planned, July 15th a college friend gives birth and I specifically recall them responding to my message on Facebook, "you'll be next!" - more July babies followed throughout that week as quite a few friends were due around the same time I was.  July 26th - the day a friend from elementary school lost her husband, July 27th - our last prenatal class where everyone brought their babies and told their birth stories to the two of us that had yet to deliver.  

This month is hard.  Even with Olive's little brother here these days pass me by and I feel myself getting tense as I choke back tears.  

Last year our Olive's Branches Day (coming up again on July 29th!) brought a new friend into my life.  It just so happened she also had a daughter that was born that same July.  She was kind enough to invite us to her birthday party and the day she invited us I happily accepted - that day I didn't feel extra sensitive, and even though watching these babies grow up has been difficult at times, it's also helped me create the version of Olive I know in my heart.  

But yesterday I stood in the store, searching for a gift, when it hit me.

"I don't know what to buy her"

I have absolutely no idea what a two year old girl would enjoy.  I stared blankly at the shelves, not able to figure out what on earth to buy her.  To anyone else they would have just asked the parent what the child was into, or maybe they would have just guessed and hoped for the best. Ironically in June I had attended a 2 year old's birthday party, and I guessed at what to get her.  But come July it's like my brain flips a switch. I was standing in the store, a mother of a child who should be the same age, and I didn't know what to do. 

I will never know what to do.

I moved over to the clothes, which was a bad idea.  For months after Olive died I would bypass any little girl's clothes in any store I was in.  I would take the most round-about way through the store so that I would not have to look at those clothes.  I still try to avoid them for the most part - but today I stood there, holding up dresses and outfits that should fit my 2 year old daughter and I lost it.  I stood in the store, tears streaming down my face and prayed, "Lord God, please give me the strength to leave this store."

I put the dress back in it's place and walked away.  I could not go to that birthday party.  As much as I wanted to celebrate that beautiful child I knew in my heart it would be too hard.  All day I felt sad.  I felt a weight in my chest and a lump in my throat.  And I know it will be here all month.  

Instead of planning a 2nd birthday party I've been thinking about what we can do this year to spread love and joy in Olive's memory.  The truth is that I may not know what to do until that day comes. People always ask if we have anything special planned, and I feel bad saying no.  But honestly, it's hard to think of "special" things to do when the day holds so many mixed feelings. I know once the 29th comes we will once again be blown away at the acts of kindness, and will have no choice but to feel joy in our hearts for the way our daughter's life is celebrated around the country.

Until then I've got about 12 more days of recalling what I was doing and how I was feeling as I prepared to welcome my first child.  I look at Abner and wonder if he'd be here if she were still alive. He's the age she would have been when we found out we were pregnant again.  I can't help to think I'd be too busy (and tired!) to even think about another baby, and then I remember I was too busy and too tired - busy grieving and tired of having empty arms - so I stop and give thanks.  Thanks to God for knowing exactly what we need when we need it.  Thanks to God for these beautiful children and the overwhelming emotions that come with being their mother.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Abner's Birth Story

If my lack of writing is any indication to you how life has been, you'll understand that I've been completely consumed.  Becoming a stay-at-home mom has been more challenging (also very rewarding) than I ever could have imagined.  As this little guy grows and changes, I find that my days are more and more involved.  While this is such a blessing, it's also been quite challenging to find time for myself.

You may be saying, "but, Nicole - you gave up time for yourself when you decided to stay at home", and to that there is some truth.  However, I'm finding that in order to be a better mother, I need to carve out some time each week for me.  I told myself that I was going to be better about writing, and I probably start a couple of blog posts a week in my head never to get them on the actual computer. I'm really hoping that will change as I get into more of a groove here at home.

Since baby is currently napping (which means he'll probably wake up at some point during this post...because that's just life, right?!) I've decided to write the post I get asked about the most:  Abner's birth story.

With this pregnancy we decided to do things a bit different as it related to our back up plan.  When I was pregnant with Olive we used the back up OB that the midwives at our center practice with.  That OB was great, but we wanted someone closer to home and I preferred someone that I could continue to use as an OB/primary care provider after the birth of this baby.  My midwife made a couple of calls as the provider I had my heart set on wasn't currently accepting new patients.  I'm so thankful that she was able to take us on as it made me feel 100% confident in the plan we had in place.

I was due on December 12th, but I knew in the back of my mind that as much as I trusted all of my providers, the closer I got to my due date (actually going over my due date) the higher the chance was that this baby could also aspirate on meconium.  I'd love to tell you that all of my trust was in God, but I'm human - and if there were things I could do here on earth to make my heart and mind rest a bit, I was going to explore all of my options.

When we met with the OB at our consultation we discussed what my options would be as we approached my due date.  We had decided that we would consider having my membranes swept (or sometimes referred to as a stripping of membranes) and if that didn't work, we would induce a week before my due date.  I felt comfortable with this plan at the time and continued on with the pregnancy.

As the weeks passed, my appointments were going well as were our non-stress tests.  Beginning at week 36 I started to go to the OB twice a week to get hooked up to a monitor that would measure baby's heart rate and check if there were any contractions.  The goal was to get baby to move around and increase heart rate a certain amount of times within a 30-45 minute time frame.  In addition to these non-stress tests I was also seeing my midwife each week.  I'm so thankful for an employer who understood and allowed me to leave the office 3 times per week to make sure our baby was getting the best care possible!

Week 38 approached and I knew we had discussed inducing around week 39 if I wasn't progressing.  I wasn't entirely comfortable with that anymore, as I really did want to deliver at the birthing center.  I had talked with my midwife - I was about 3 cm dilated for roughly a week and we both felt comfortable waiting and doing the membrane sweep at week 39 instead.  We scheduled that procedure for Sunday, December 6th.

That morning my husband and I packed a bag and headed to the birthing center.  I was roughly 4 cm dilated at that point and was 39 weeks and 1 day along.  The process of having your membranes swept consists of your provider taking their fingertips and running them along your cervix - really just loosening the bag of waters (which is suctioned to the cervix) and releasing that suction.  If your body is ready, labor typically begins within 24-48 hours - but there is no guarantee as we all know babies come when they are good and ready!

It helped that at that time I was now at 4 cm and having some minor contractions. I felt comfortable that we weren't doing anything unnatural and just trying to encourage my body to move along.  She performed the procedure and told my husband and I to get up and get moving.  We planned a day of lunch and walking around a local outdoor area (thank goodness for a mild December!).  A few hours later we returned to the birthing center for her to do the procedure again - at that point I was already to 5 cm!  Contractions were also getting stronger, but nothing super consistent.  We had hoped we'd be checking into the center, but baby was holding on a little longer.  After a long day we went home and I was in bed by 830pm.

I woke around 130 in the morning wide awake - no contractions, just couldn't sleep (probably since I had gone to bed so early the night before).  I laid in bed checking my phone - email, Facebook, Instagram - anything I could do to stay awake.  Around 3am I decided I should probably put the phone away and try to get a little more rest since I had to work that day (I had been working from home but still needed to be logged in by 8am). I plugged my phone back in, rolled over and felt a sneeze coming on.  I sneezed as quietly as I could, not to wake my husband, and then I felt it - a pretty strong contraction.  I got comfy and shut my eyes to fall back asleep - 8 minutes later - another contraction.  This went on for the next two hours - every 7-8 minutes I had a contraction.  At 5am I thought I should get up, log in, check some emails and wrap things up - these contractions were different.  I knew baby was coming!

Throughout all of this I was very calm - my emotions had been in check.  I was confident in our plan and was certain we were bringing home a baby.  I figured I would stay on my feet and check my email to let gravity do it's work.  From 5-6am I stayed online and while my contractions got closer together, they were no longer as strong. I laid down and they started back up, but by 7am all contractions had stopped.  STOPPED!

What the....???

I started climbing the stairs two-by-two, bouncing on the exercise ball, doing laps around the kitchen - clearly the baby didn't get the memo: I was expecting him TODAY!

I called my midwife and she assured me that labor was in process and I should actually be resting because I was probably going to need my energy!  I had a chiropractic appointment already scheduled that day and since she was in the same office, she agreed to have me come in so she could check baby's heart tones and help me continue to feel confident.  I continued to check email (but did cancel my conference call as I was certain that me groaning to a customer wasn't good for business!)

By the time my appointment came I was having contractions again.  I saw my chiropractor, was adjusted and then stopped in to get baby checked out.  Everything sounded great with him and I was advised to go back home and rest.  We were to have a prenatal group class that night and I told my midwife we'd be attending that class as I wanted to keep my day going as normal as I could.

My husband and I stopped at the grocery store on our way home to grab a couple of things and randomly I would stop in the aisle, hold my belly, breathe through a contraction and then move on. They were stronger, but still very inconsistent.  After the store we went home, I set my out-of-office and laid down on the couch.  Throughout my "nap" my breathing must have changed because my husband asked me if my contractions were strong - he felt that he could hear it in the way I was responding to them, and he was right - laying down definitely brought them back, harder and more frequently. I had only been lying down for about an hour and they were roughly 3-5 minutes apart.  I called my midwife and told her that we were going to be heading to class early so she could check me again.  By 430pm my contractions had gone from 3-5 minutes apart to 1-2 minutes apart - we needed to leave NOW.  But of course, I ran around the house - grabbing things and stalling.  By 5pm we were finally in the car - just in time for rush hour traffic.

The birthing center is about 25 minutes away from our house but that day it took a little longer - thankfully nothing too crazy.  By 545 we had arrived and parked.  I wasn't prepared for what I saw when I walked in.

At the reception desk were the receptionist, all three midwives that were present for Olive's birth, a traveling midwife who was visiting and one of the students who I have known since my pregnancy with Olive.  They were all there - waiting for me - with tears in their eyes they welcomed me in.  It was too much.  All of the emotions came over me and I broke down.  I was going to have a baby...again.  But first, another contraction.

Lord, be with us.  Be with the midwives watching over us and caring for us.  Be with our son and aid him through this birth.  If it be your will, Lord, grant us a healthy, breathing baby.

There are three birthing suites in the center, and weeks before we had decided not to deliver in the room that Olive had been born in.  We wanted a different experience and one that would set this baby's story apart from his sister's.  We got settled into the Sophia Suite and after an initial evaluation I got into the tub to labor.  I kept trying to see if I could feel baby's head, and I could, but in my mind I still felt as though I had a while before he would be here.  My husband was trying to keep our family informed while helping me to stay as comfortable as I could. I kept changing positions (as best I could in the water), doing anything I could to keep things moving.  This labor was already much different than my labor with Olive, as with her I just wanted to sit and not move.  I had forgotten how intense labor was, but I told myself I was going to power through because I wanted this baby OUT!

My midwives were getting ready to leave us to labor, but told us to page them when I felt like pushing.  I remember laughing to myself and telling my husband (after they left the room) that I was no where near ready to push.  Why did everyone think this baby was coming so quickly?  I asked one of them if she would do me a favor.  After Olive died we had gifted her a picture of Olive's feet so she could keep her close to her in her office.  I knew that picture was in the birthing center and I asked her if she would bring it to our suite.  She set it on a table right next to the tub.

With each contraction I remembered how much I hated this part and then decided that I was going to start to bear down a little. I didn't feel like I had to push but thought there wasn't any harm in trying to get baby moving a little further down the birth canal, right?  Once I started to bear down my body took over and went into full fledged pushing.

I pushed for about 10 minutes and then the midwives returned with a cart for delivery.  I STILL was not convinced that I was having this baby so soon (maybe since I had been up since 130am? I must have been out of it!) My water broke around this time and someone exclaimed, "it's all clear!" to give me reassurance that there was no meconium in the waters.  What a relief! After about 15 more minutes of pushing one midwife exclaimed that she could see the head.

Yep, no one had to tell me that baby was crowning - at that moment I clearly remembered that feeling.  The burning sensation I was feeling was awful, but I wasn't going to stop now....I kept pushing as hard as I could.  And then his head was out.  I have never wanted that next contraction to come as fast as I did then. They put a mirror in the tub so I could watch him come out and with the next push - he was here!  My midwife grabbed him, brought him out of the water and laid that SCREAMING baby on my chest.  He was born at 745pm - exactly two hours after we had arrived at the center.

Our midwives were crying, my husband was crying and I was crying, but more importantly our baby was crying - a sound we had never heard before.  It was the most amazing sound we'd ever heard! We stayed in the tub for awhile and after about 20 minutes I was able to cut his cord, my husband took over holding baby and I got out of the tub to get cleaned up and get into bed.

By 830 pm we were all nestled into bed and were able to call and text some family with the news. We still hadn't decided on a name yet either.  We thought we had a name chosen, but then a week before he was born, my husband came up with Abner.  It was a name that I hadn't thought of, but between both names I was leaning more towards Abner (I think he was too).  I had some very specific reasons why I liked the name, which I'll explain a later post. Thankfully we were on the same page, and we settled on Abner for sure.  We also knew we wanted to honor Olive by using Oliver as a middle name.

Abner (Abe) Oliver was born on Monday, December 7th.  He was 8 pounds, 6 ounces (bigger than his sister!) and 22 inches long (2 inches longer than Olive as well!)  He was perfect and we were in love.

*Fun fact: my great-grandmother and I delivered both of our babies on the same exact dates! Both of our firstborns were born on July 29th - 74 years after she had my grandfather, Olive was born.  Our second babies were born on December 7th - 72 years after she had my great uncle, Abner was born.*

Sunday, April 24, 2016

And Then I Left You Wondering....

Wow!  What a whirlwind these last 4.5 months have been.  So many times while on maternity leave I thought to myself, "Self, you should really write a blog post."

I probably started about 30 posts in my mind, but never quite brought myself to sit down at the computer and share them with you.

I wonder now if that was intentional.  The post before my last one, Glass Belly, indicated to you that I was feeling a bit guarded during this last pregnancy.  It was almost as though I was trying to protect this baby in a way I hadn't been able to protect Olive.  And while I recognize that I am the one who started the blog, and I am the one who chose to be so vulnerable from the start - I also recognize that there are moments when I need to be guarded - to hold onto these feelings and emotions until my heart tells me it's OK to let go of them.

Abner (Abe) Oliver Smith joined our family the evening of Monday, December 7th.  His birth was quick and it was healing.  I'm working on his birth story to share with all of you, and that will be released soon. It has been an emotional and beautiful journey as we welcomed him into this family

My first thoughts of Olive actually came on his third day of life.  I should say that I thought of her before that, but memories of her flooded my heart and my mind when I recognized that he had outlived her.  I remember nursing him to sleep that night - still struggling with his latch, wondering what on earth I was doing, feeling very frustrated - and then I stopped.

In my sleep-deprived state I realized he was older than his older sister.  My heart sank.

Here I was - tired, frustrated and sad.  The bond of breastfeeding that I never got to share with her, but I had this moment with him.  All the hormonal feels hit me at once and I broke down and sobbed.

Memories of her usually come in those quiet moments with him.  For awhile I would keep her to myself, but then I began using those moments to share her with him.  Telling him all about his big sister and praying over him that prayer I've shared with you in posts before, "Lord, I trust you with my life and death, and with the lives and deaths of my babies."

Now that Abner is older, and breastfeeding doesn't take nearly as long as it used to, I find those moments don't hit me as hard.  To be honest, thoughts of her come and go and some days I have to dig really, really deep to find her.  I'm certain it's my brain's way of protecting me, protecting him, right now.  After all, he is the one that is here with me.  He is the one that I need to be aware of and tuned into.   There is still room for both - both live in my mind and are loved in my heart, but right now he is who I'm focused on.

I've accepted that.

It took awhile, but I'm ok with that right now.  There were many moments throughout his first 12 weeks of life that I would tell my husband, "I can't wait until these moments pass - until he's older and it's easier."  Those were hard things to admit, but they were true.  A year ago I was begging for the hard days, the sleepless nights and the challenges of motherhood.  Yet, when they arrived, there were days I felt as though I would never get it right - add on top of that the guilt for feeling that way when I so desperately wanted those feelings just months prior -  and I was a hot mess.

He assured me I was allowed to have bad days.  I was still human and just because I longed for those days when I didn't have them, didn't negate the fact that they were HARD days and I was not a bad person for wishing that time to pass.  It's funny because I think back to those moments now and they feel like an eternity ago - much like she does.

Just yesterday Abe and I were out for a walk, and I was telling him all about the walks I took when he and sissy were in my belly.  The way that walking helped me to process my thoughts and feelings. I told him of the days I would contemplate motherhood, especially after Olive died, wondering how on earth I was going to love him as much as I loved her.  It's funny, they say that your heart expands when you have more children.  I definitely have love in my heart for them both, but I love them differently.  I have to.  He's here and she's not.  There are parts of me that he will always have available to him, and parts of me that will be reserved for her and her alone.

Right now we are doing well.  Our journey is taking us into a new season of life - one that will require much more of me, but will allow me to focus all of my energy into these parts of motherhood that I've waited so long for.  More to come on all of that!

Thank you for your patience (and continued support when you thought I had played the worst trick in the world and left you hanging.....) as I got my bearings and finally found it in me to sit back down and continue the story.  All of you have played a role in this journey, and Abner and I pray for you every night during our bedtime prayers "....God bless all of my friends and everyone who loves me and prays for me"

God bless you, friends and thank you for your love!