This house we love

Here it is, our last full day in this house. I’m tempted to feel it’s still not real, but the mountains of boxes and the eerie echo assure me it’s happening. Tomorrow at 8 a.m., the movers will ring the doorbell, and all our earthly possessions will transfer from this home to a new one.

We moved into this house nine years ago, three years married, in our mid-twenties and secretly sure we were just playing at adulthood. We put a lot into making this house a home. A lot of life happened under this roof. Here Jon cooked romantic anniversary dinners, enjoyed on fine china in the days of just the two of us. Here is where I crumpled to the floor the day before my 30th birthday, when I learned I wasn’t yet going to be a mom. Here is where I took the calls that said, yes, after years of struggle, I really was going to be a mom and a mom again. Here is where we rang in so many New Years at home, sharing that hopeful kiss as the ball dropped miles away. Here is where we brought home our son, our firstborn. Here I sat on the couch, cradling his tiny body and trying to fathom this new life, for him and for me. Here is where our precious daughter drew her first breaths and where we finally brought her back home again, eight days later, to meet her brother. Here we began knitting together the fabric of our family of four. Here we shared countless meals and hours of good conversation with family and dear friends, some of whom now live half a world away. Ugly fights and heartfelt apologies, lovemaking, and so much laughter. So many hours of the everyday, the nitty-gritty, the monotony and joy of life has happened in this place, under this roof.

Really, I thought this parting would be harder. Perhaps God knew I needed the months it took for all the pieces of this move to fall into place. No question, He knew just the new house to get me excited enough to open my hands and let loose this first home I’ve grown to love. Tomorrow, I will take time to walk through each room and say good-bye. I’ll probably shed some tears, especially over that mural in Corin’s room (which, by the way, has a new addition).

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I’m ready, though. I’m ready for the next thing. I’m ready for our new house and the many years of memories (and I do mean many) that await us there. We make this move now as 30-something adults, a lot of marriage and life under our belts and confident in all that has led us here. We make the move as a family, trusting in a God who brought us this far and will carry us through all that lies ahead. So yes, there is sadness and nostalgia, but mostly, there is joy and anticipation. (Well, okay, at the moment, it’s buried under a lot of sheer exhaustion.)

But time to get on with my day. For all this talk about good-byes, my house still looks a lot like this:

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Gratitude

Jon and I were asked to share a bit of our story as part of a gratitude-focused church service in celebration of this Thanksgiving holiday. Neither of us has much public speaking experience, but we prayed hard and gave it our best shot. It was a beautiful service, but if you’d like to skip to our portion, it begins at 1:17:17 and lasts about five minutes.

http://new.livestream.com/accounts/58396/events/2567642/videos/35545542

I am so very grateful for the two precious lives God has entrusted to us. Jon and I are honored to be Corin and Lina’s parents. Through an often-difficult journey, and through all the chaos and exhaustion of raising young children, we are thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends. May your homes and hearts be full this holiday.

One Year

My baby girl is one year old today.

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There is so much swimming around my head, I hardly know where to start.

One year ago today, this was me:

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And not long after, there was this:

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And then came the chaos. (Full story here, for those who haven’t read it: Part I and Part II.)

I look back to the moment I first held Lina, just a few feet from where I sit now. I remember what I felt when I first laid eyes on her, long before my conscious mind had processed what I was seeing. I looked at my daughter, and she was not what I expected. I didn’t know what that meant yet, but I remember experiencing an instant shift. In my memory, it seems as if there was a nearly-audible “CLICK” as I looked at that tiny, red bundle. Without understanding what was happening, my world adjusted and my heart opened. It was as if a train had suddenly changed tracks. I pulled that baby girl to my breast, and from that moment, there was no going back. I don’t know for sure if it was a formed thought, but I knew: “She is not what I expected, but she is mine.”

A year has gone by. First, there was grieving. Sometimes, there still is.

There was never any question of loving and accepting our precious girl. But we had to grieve the baby we thought we were having, the parenting experience we thought we were signing up for. There are still moments I watch other families and feel a stab. Sometimes I wish for a simpler life. Sometimes I have flashes of resentment for our increasingly-packed schedule, the extra worry, the complicated decisions.

But always, always, always, I am so grateful for my daughter. A simpler life would not be worth having if it didn’t have Lina. When we meet new people, when we mingle with friends, when we visit the local park or library, I feel one thing above all else; I feel pride. My baby girl (who is not really a baby any more) is awesome in countless ways. Above all, through all, I am proud to be her mother. (Jon, it should be noted, wants it said that he is also extraordinarily proud to be her father.)

This past year has taken me to school. I have learned that hiding behind my conviction of my own open-mindedness lay a lot of preconceived ideas about people with certain kinds of differences. I’ve learned what it means to toss out the superfluous and really get down to the core of what you want for your kids. I’ve learned a new vocabulary. (Levothyroxin, conductive hearing loss, baha, organized feedings, hypotonia, ling sounds, TEIS, ISP, IEP… The list goes on.) I’ve learned to navigate the Vanderbilt metropolis like a boss. I’ve learned how to find and read school achievement stats. (Thank you to my good friend Kelli Gauthier on that one.) I’ve learned that my prenatal worries over bonding with a child who wasn’t biologically mine could not have been less relevant. I’ve learned that God really is as big as I need Him to be.

The lessons are ongoing. The challenges are ongoing. But Lina is growing and changing every day, and I get to be there for it. I get that front-row seat. I get to be her mom.

Lina is a year old. There’s still a lot I don’t know. But of one thing, I am certain: I’m so glad she’s mine.

Happy birthday, Eline Katherine Sharp. My love for you is endless.

Downpours of blessings

It’s a truth I have known but am experiencing in a whole new way that as big as any challenge is, God is bigger. It has dawned on me that perhaps it is through the enormous, threaten-to-swallow-you-whole challenges that we experience how BIG God truly is. What I know for sure is He has poured out blessings on us over the last few weeks that have left us in awe, even as we have struggled to find our footing in a changed landscape. As I count out those blessings, I can’t help but feel grateful.

1. The unwavering love of family – I am certain the news of Lina’s diagnosis was as great a shock to our family as it has been to us. But there has never been a moment of hesitation in the acceptance and love they have shown to our daughter. Grandparents, great-grandparents, uncles and aunts have cuddled, cooed and swooned over our newborn, exactly as we imagined they would. From the moment of her birth, Lina’s familial fan club has proclaimed her beautiful and remarkable with a genuineness that has helped heal our hearts. Our little girl will not lack for doting relatives. She is unquestionably loved.

My dad and Lina nap together on her second day at home

Jon’s dad and Lina, second day at home

Great-grandma Ginnie meets Lina, 1 month old

Great-grandpa Bill

Jon’s mom, a proud Mimi

2. An amazing network of friends – I mentioned earlier that friends have organized an entire month of meals for us. Many of them drive quite a ways to get to us, many of them have their own little ones demanding their time and attention, and all of them lead busy lives we know make the meals they bring a true act of love. It has been such a gift to us. And as these friends come bearing food or meet us at church, they, too, cuddle and admire Lina with a genuine acceptance that bolsters our hopes for her future. This past Saturday night, I attended my rescheduled baby shower (which had been planned for the weekend after Lina was born), and I again was overwhelmed by the love and support of some amazing people. Friends from all over the country have reached out to us with support and encouragement that has touched and strengthened us when we have needed it most. Neighbors have offered support and love. People we barely know have contacted us to offer encouragement through their own personal stories and experiences. God is using so many people to meet our needs.

3. The circumstances of Lina’s birth – I have had many occasions over the last several weeks to be so thankful that even with all the unexpected that came our way on September 13, I was able to have the home VBAC I hoped for. At 5 weeks post-partum, I feel pretty much normal. Even with the D&C, recovery has been easier than post-cesarean with Corin. The peaceful, spiritual atmosphere here at home as we welcomed Eline is a memory I treasure, and I am so grateful I was not facing a more extended hospitalization myself as we dealt with those first few days of Lina’s NICU stay.

4. Our remarkable donor family – Some of my first thoughts as I began to process Lina’s diagnosis were for our donor family. I put myself in their place and thought about all the ways this new development would be hard for them. I knew they were waiting on pins and needles for news of our baby’s arrival. It took me several days to work up to writing that email. I wanted to make sure they knew that a diagnosis of Down syndrome did not change the gratitude we felt to them. I wanted them to know we still believed we had been led to them and to our Lina, and that she was our miraculous gift. I wanted them to know that she would be loved and accepted, and that they would not have to worry for her. I sent the email to our donor mom a few days into our NICU stay and waited anxiously for her response. It came quickly, and when I read it, I felt again how much I loved this amazing family. Lauren* wrote first about how beautiful Lina was and about how she looked like their daughter. She offered congratulations and such genuine sympathy for what we were facing. She said their hearts were with us. She expressed an interest in learning about Down syndrome along with us. I just now went back and re-read her message, and it made me tear up again. I know it has been a lot for their family to process, and I imagine they have wrestled with their own difficult emotions. We’ve talked since about how it was certainly not what any of us imagined and how it has already changed all of us. But I also know Lauren* and her family love our little Lina, and I am so grateful that with the long list of things we will have to worry about in the coming months and years, how her biological family responds to her will not be a concern.

5. An awesome big brother – Corin has certainly had his adjustments to life with Baby Sister, but he has been so very sweet with Lina. His parents have no shortage of meltdowns and battles of the will to navigate, but none of his angst has thus far been directed baby-ward. He clearly loves her and is proud of her, and it reminds me of what Jon said in the NICU, when I was thinking about Corin and how he would relate to Lina. Jon said, “At this point, Corin is the one person who won’t look at her as being different. To him, she will just be Baby Sister.” He was right. This is what unconditional love looks like. I pray this is the beginning of a very special relationship.

He announced to strangers at the greenway, “I am pushing Baby Sister’s stroller all by myself.”

There are more blessings to count, but given it has already taken me two weeks to write this post, I figure it’s time to wrap this up. There is always more to say, but I have a date with my old friend, the breast pump. (That really is a post for another day.)

*Name has been changed for privacy reasons. 

The road before us

I have followed the blog Enjoying the Small Things for probably the past couple years, and it has been consistently among my favorite internet reads. It’s written by Kelle Hampton, mother of two beautiful girls, the youngest of whom has Down syndrome. It has a huge readership, so many of you may already be familiar with it. In fact, a lot of people have recommended it to me in the last couple weeks. Kelle also recently published a book, which I just received as a gift and can’t wait to read. I’ve always strongly identified with her perspective on finding joy in the unexpected.

In the earliest moments of coming to terms with Lina’s diagnosis, I thought a great deal about that blog. It seemed so STRANGE that after so long reading about the Hampton family, I was now on such a similar journey. There have been moments when I have almost felt as if I somehow wished this upon myself. But aside from the uncanniness of the whole thing, it was so encouraging to be able to think about the beautiful photos of Kelle’s family. It helped me begin to picture our own family’s future. It seemed as if the time I had spent reading that blog had in some small way been preparation for Lina’s arrival.

In fact, there are a lot of things that, looking back, have probably helped prepare me for the experience of being Lina’s mommy. My dad was in an accident when I was 18 months old that left him legally blind. “Different is okay” was a theme of my upbringing, not just in what my parents said to us but in the whole way our family lived. I spent many, many hours at disability awareness seminars my parents helped conduct at churches all over the region. I had a childhood friend with a chromosome disorder similar to Down syndrome.

But it’s also been a bit jolting for me to realize how different it is now that it’s MY baby. I have smiled at children with Down syndrome in the stores or at the park and thought, “He is adorable,” or “She is just precious.” But suddenly I was thinking about the closet full of gorgeous clothes for my little girl and having a very hard time picturing those clothes on a child with Down syndrome. This is me being brutally honest. I was so accepting of everyone else’s children with Downs, but coming to terms with it being my child was a whole new ball game.

Those first couple days were complicated. I was initially in shock, just trying to wrap my head around this new reality. How I felt varied from minute to minute. Jon wanted to be sure we were able to celebrate the arrival of our sweet baby. I agreed, but I was surprised by what a relief it was when I called our embryo adoption counselor to tell her about the situation and her first response was, “Oh, Jolene, I am so sorry.” At that moment, I was hungry to have my feelings of grief and loss validated. I cried and cried on the counselor’s virtual shoulder.

Jon seemed to have an easier time coming to terms with Lina’s diagnosis than I did in those first few days. He was immediately on the internet, reading wikipedia entries and finding blogs by parents of children with Down syndrome. He found it encouraging to read stories of people with Downs leading successful lives. I wasn’t there yet. I did think and talk about the positives, but I was also grieving. During our NICU stay, I picked up a book about Down syndrome that had been given to us by our contact at Vandy’s Downs clinic. I started reading through the list of common health and developmental problems, and suddenly I felt very angry. It wasn’t so much for myself, but I was angry that my precious baby was going to have to face so many extra challenges. I resented that so many children would breeze through their milestones while my Lina had to work so much harder for every achievement. I felt envy for parents with “normal” babies. I thought about all the children in our circle of friends who will be so close to Lina’s age, and I grieved for the type of friendships I had imagined for my daughter. I thought about the family of the future I had imagined so many times: big, loud holiday gatherings with lots of grandchildren to fill our golden years. I thought, “Corin better marry someone who wants a lot of kids,” and then I thought, “Goodness, I hope I don’t actually put that kind of pressure on him.” Jon and I talked about how he had fallen in love with the name Eline because he pictured how elegant it would look on a wedding invitation. I felt keenly the loss of that future I had imagined for my daughter.

And yet, even as I grieved, God was working on my heart. Truthfully, I wasn’t doing a whole lot of praying. I just didn’t have the words, or the heart, to try to piece together what I needed to say to Him. Our first night in the NICU, I stood in the middle of the room after a midnight feeding, tears pouring down my face, and told God, “I don’t know what to say, but you know what’s in my heart. I need you more than ever before.” My faith was weak, and I was facing that question without an answer: “Why?” Why, after all the lengths we went to to give us the best odds of a healthy baby, after all the prayers we prayed, specifically asking God to bless our child with intelligence and to guide her development in the womb, why this outcome? Why, when it came to building our family, could nothing just be simple? I knew there was no answer, but asking the questions was a part of trying to process an outcome that was so very different from the expectations we held so closely for all those months.

Slowly, over those days in the NICU and in the following days since we’ve been home, my perspective has begun to shift. The second night in the NICU was much better than the first, and I found myself beginning to really bond with Lina. Over those late-night feedings, I looked into her face and began to recognize my daughter. The wheels of those deep instincts of motherhood began to turn, and I realized that already, I would go to the ends of the earth to give this child the best odds of happiness and success.

I began to see more clearly that my child’s extra chromosome will not prevent her from finding that happiness and success. Jon and I talked about how many “normal” people lead lives of dysfunction and unhappiness. It somehow brought me comfort to remember that having a child without development challenges does not guarantee freedom from parental disappointment or heartache. I began to remember the truths of those disability seminars: We all have our own difficulties. Some may be more visible than others, but they are there. Lina will have more challenges than some, but it was sinking in that she will find her own path to achievement and fulfillment. It is our job to help her. She will have her own interests and passions, her own talents and skills. They might not look like those we had imagined, but they will bring her happiness. I began to value the innocence she will likely carry with her through life.

As I have gotten to know this tiny new person over the past three weeks, I have fallen more and more in love. She is my precious daughter. I have stood over her cradle, watching her sleep, and breathed the prayer of every God-fearing parent: “You have entrusted her to me. Teach me. Help me be the mother she deserves.” I have looked down at her tiny form in the stroller as we walked at the greenway and felt joy that she is mine. I am more certain every day that her diagnosis does not change the fact that God chose this child for our family. I believed all along that He led us to embryo adoption, to our donor family, and to this baby. Yes, there is disappointment, confusion and pain, but I know Lina is a priceless gift, and I believe deep down in my soul that she will be a blessing in ways we can’t yet imagine.

Our day-to-day reality right now is really just your normal newborn stuff: round-the-clock feedings, sleep deprivation, lots and lots of tiny diapers, soaking burp cloths, the struggle to balance the needs of a toddler and a newborn while maintaining a semblance of normal routine. But truthfully, most of the time I’m finding it to be easier than I feared. I reserve the right to change my mind at any time, but for now, I am able to enjoy the tiny newborn stage with much less stress than I experienced with Corin. Lina’s feedings are complicated (nursing, pumping and supplementing by bottle), but she’s actually a better eater than Corin was at this age. Lina is a snuggler, and as much as I want her to sleep in her cradle peacefully all night, I kind of enjoy that she likes to be held close. I remember feeling in those first weeks with Corin as if someone had dropped me off on an alien planet; I recognized nothing of my life. This time, I have been pleasantly surprised by how much of our family life feels normal, even as so much has changed.

As we mark three weeks of Eline’s life, I am finding joy in picturing her as she grows. I think she’s going to be beautiful. And those clothes hanging in her closet? They are perfect for her. I know it won’t all be smooth sailing from here. There are still times when my heart hurts, and there will be many more of those as we walk the road in front of us. But this is our road, and as different as it is from where we thought we would be, it is beautiful in its own right. Here’s to the journey ahead.

A metric ton of the unexpected: Eline Katherine’s birth story, Part II

Continued from Part I

Not long after Eline’s birth, Kathy began to have some concern over getting the placenta delivered. In fact, she asked Jon to pray as she worked. I did eventually deliver the placenta, but she and Gaylea both said they had never seen one in such poor shape.

Probably as a result of a badly degraded placenta, I ended up developing bleeding issues and severe cramping. Kathy administered several medications but felt that a hospital transfer was needed. The next couple hours were incredibly chaotic, and I was in excruciating pain. Jon called the ambulance, which arrived within minutes, and I was taken to the hospital where Corin had been born. Jon put Lina in her car seat and followed in the Jeep. Once I arrived at the hospital, they asked a lot of questions and got me admitted and prepped for a D&C. At that point, I just wanted them to knock me out and get things taken care of. I could concentrate on very little besides the immediate pain.

I got to see Jon and Lina for just a moment before they wheeled me into the OR for the D&C. Then… blessed relief, and waking in recovery feeling much, much better. After a half-hour or so, I was wheeled back to my hospital room. At some point, a nurse must have told me Jon had taken Lina to our pediatrician for evaluation. The information sank slowly into my still-foggy brain. As I lay quietly in the bed in the hospital room, exhausted and alone, things that had been lying dormant slowly began to register. Why had Jon taken our baby, who passed her post-natal evaluation with flying colors, to the pediatrician? I pictured her tiny face, and suddenly I was terrified. There in that hospital room, I was facing the realization that Lina had features that looked very much like Down syndrome.

I hadn’t been alone very long before our midwife Kathy arrived. She asked how I was feeling, and then I asked about the baby. Was she okay? Kathy said yes, she was fine, that Jon had taken her to our pediatrician for evaluation rather than having her admitted there at the hospital. I asked again: “But she’s okay?” Unspoken fears hung in the air. Kathy came around close to the side of my bed and gently asked, “You and Jon did not have time to talk about a potential chromosome issue, did you?” I said, “No…but I wondered.” Those fears no longer hung suspended in the air; now their full weight settled on me. I think I choked out, “Oh, Kathy,” and broke into sobs. Kathy hugged me close and said, “I know. I know.”

Things are a bit hazy after that. I remember telling Kathy that it didn’t seem fair, after all we’d been through just to get pregnant. I wondered if Jon had said anything to either set of parents. What was the doctor saying? In the chaos of the transfer to the hospital, I had not thought to bring my cell phone (or shoes, or anything except the gown they cut off me when I arrived). Thankfully, Jon had Kathy’s phone number, so he was able to call her and talk to me. He was still at the pediatrician’s office, and he was clearly overwhelmed. The pediatrician was fairly certain of a Down syndrome diagnosis and wanted Eline admitted to the hospital for better evaluation and observation. Jon was worried about her being separated from me for so long. I knew the hospital where I would be staying overnight was probably not the right place for the expertise we needed, though, so we ended up agreeing that we wanted her to go to Vanderbilt Children’s.

To make an incredibly long story a tad bit shorter, Jon spent six hours at the pediatrician’s office while they tried to sort out how to get our baby transferred from there to Vanderbilt. Usually, a transfer of this sort would happen from one hospital to another, and it apparently required quite a bit of extra processing for the Vandy NICU –on-wheels to make the trip to a pediatrician’s office. Frankly, Jon threw that doctor’s office into chaos when he showed up with our hours-old infant. No one really knew what to make of us and our confluence of unusual circumstances. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to our doula, Gaylea, who went to be with Jon at the doctor’s office and stayed with him through that entire ordeal, all after having attended back-to-back births and with groceries spoiling in her car.

Vanderbilt’s Angel One NICU transport finally arrived late that evening, and Jon took the ride with Lina and arrived at the hospital around 10:30 p.m. Lina was admitted to the NICU, and Jon spent the night there with her.

Sweet friends came to my hospital room to offer support and to bring dinner and a few necessities from home. Jon had avoided telling our parents about Lina’s likely diagnosis until he had been able to talk to me, but by evening, he had made the calls and my parents headed to the hospital to offer their support. Jon’s parents live about three hours away and made plans to leave as soon as possible the following day.

I spent a lonely night in the hospital with IVs running antibiotics and two units of blood. I was released in the morning around 10:30, and my mom was there to pick me up and drive me straight to the Vanderbilt NICU.

Vanderbilt’s NICU team was able to begin answering some of our big questions very quickly. The diagnosis of Down syndrome was certain. A chromosome karyotype run a few days later would confirm that Lina had the most common form of trisomy 21 – three copies of the 21st chromosome in every cell of her body. The medical team ran diagnostic tests and immediately ruled out several very serious health conditions that are common with Down syndrome. We are incredibly grateful that Lina’s heart and all other major organs are perfectly healthy.

The one remaining issue, which would keep us in the NICU for eight days, was making sure Lina was able to feed well enough to get the nutrition she needed. Because of smaller mouths and lower muscle tone, feeding challenges are common for newborns with Down syndrome. Lina ended up with a feeding tube for a few days to help her get the volume she needed to build her strength. I stayed with her to nurse and pump on a three-hour schedule around the clock. Jon was able to make periodic trips home to be with Corin, who was enjoying time with Jon’s parents – Mimi and Grandpa – but was also clearly struggling with the very uncertain state of affairs.

My mother-in-law – Mimi – cuddles Lina in the NICU.

I will say this: I have a new respect for any parents who have endured a NICU stay. It is not an easy experience, and I honestly have no idea how parents of preemies survive those months-long stays before they are able to bring their little ones home. I struggled with feeling terribly isolated in that NICU room, even with frequent visits from family and friends. The steady cafeteria and restaurant fare did a number on my digestive system, sleep was almost non-existent, and worst of all, I desperately missed my sweet boy. Jon’s parents brought Corin out to the hospital several times so I could see him, and saying good-bye left me in tears every time. Children under four were not allowed in the NICU, so Corin wasn’t able to meet Baby Sister until we brought her home.

Oddly enough, the feeding issues we have faced with Lina are ridiculously familiar. In fact, Lina has been a better eater than Corin was in his first few weeks of life. We were grateful the NICU staff worked with us to make sure she was getting enough to eat, but by the end of our stay, we were beginning to feel like getting her home was going to require a jail break. I started joking about having checked into Hotel California.

Eline was released from the NICU late in the day on Friday, September 21. The discharge process was painstaking, but we finally walked up our own stairs just in time for dinner, and Corin finally laid eyes on the phantom Baby Sister we’d been talking about for so long. (He promptly attempted to poke her in the face. Things have improved from there, although there was also the “accidentally beaning in the head with a toy truck” incident. Overall, he has been curious and very gentle.)

Look ma, no wires! Headed home…

Finally meeting Baby Sister

I cannot tell you what a relief it has been to be home. Jon’s parents were able to stay with us through the weekend, and then we were on our own: our family of four. We are terribly sleep-deprived, but so thankful to be settling into a more normal routine. It is so sweet to change diapers and snuggle our newborn without tangling wires and setting off sensor alarms. Corin is definitely still adjusting to the major changes in our lives, but he has settled down a lot over the past few days. Our fantastic circle of friends and family has organized a meal rotation to provide us with dinners for a MONTH. How amazing is that?! I am finding satisfaction in resuming the mundane tasks of laundry and housekeeping, although I admittedly cannot even begin to keep up with all the things I’d like to get done.

Of course, I know the bigger question on everyone’s mind is: How are we feeling about all this? How are we coping? The answer deserves its own post. Bear with me as I try to snatch a few more free moments in the coming days to share our continuing journey. {Follow-up post here.} For now, I will say that God is good. Even when I cannot find the words, or perhaps even the faith, to ask for what I need, He is here. I am certain today, as I was 16 days ago, that our family is safe in His care.

Two weeks old

A metric ton of the unexpected: Eline Katherine’s birth story, Part I

I thought, when I began this blog a few months ago, I knew where it was headed. I was chronicling our experience with infertility and embryo adoption and would document our continuing navigation of that path, along with our everyday experiences of parenting and transition to life as a family of four.

I titled my blog “A Dash of the Unexpected.” It did occur to me as I typed in the title that I hoped I wasn’t setting myself up for…something.

And now, here I am, sitting in front of my computer, attempting on a very few hours of sleep to document for you the last two weeks that have rocked our world and reshaped much more than the direction of this blog.

Our precious Eline Katherine was born last Thursday, September 13, at 11:27 a.m. She weighed 6 lb. 12 oz. and was 19 in. long. She was born at home, just as we planned.

Eline Katherine Sharp

My labor began around 10 p.m. Wednesday night. Jon and I were watching an old episode of Law & Order. Jon was working from his laptop, as he usually is in the evenings. I’d had plenty of Braxton Hicks contractions for months, but something about these made me take notice. I didn’t say anything at first but just kept an eye on the clock. The contractions were coming about 10 minutes apart. Around 10:30, I casually asked Jon, “So… How’s your work load?” He looked at me for a moment and said, “It would be very inconvenient if she came now.” I said, “Well, that was probably inevitable.” I told him I wasn’t sure what I was feeling was labor, but it was a strong possibility.

Just before heading to bed, I sat at the computer for a minute to catch up on emails. The last one I read was from our donor mom, telling me she had been thinking of me and that it felt like it was TIME. She talked about how certain their family was they had made the right decision in donating and about all the people who had gone into making our baby’s arrival a reality.

Before I drifted off to sleep, I told Jon the contractions seemed to have eased a bit, and it was probably a false alarm. He stayed up for quite a while longer, working from bed. He finally put the laptop away and settled in for the night at around 1:30. I woke up as he draped his arm over my belly. I lay still as his snores began, riding out contractions I realized were much stronger and closer together. I still had an internal debate as to whether this was really labor, but the questions faded further with every contraction. I hoped to be able to get a little more sleep, but the nervous excitement and the increasing strength of the contractions made it impossible. I tried to rest and decided to let Jon sleep as long as possible.

Around 4 a.m., the contractions began requiring active management and were consistently four to five minutes apart. I decided it was probably time to wake my husband. He went to work bleaching out the tub in case I wanted to labor there. I called our midwife, Kathy, to let her know where things stood. I told her we had things well in hand for now, and she could get some more sleep before heading our way. Jon ate a small breakfast, and I had a cereal bar (that I later threw up). Jon got a shower. Our bedroom was lit with candles, and I danced to a Jason Mraz song playing from our birth playlist. I plucked, because who knew when I would have time for that kind of maintenance again? At some point in those wee hours, Jon climbed in bed with me and we prayed together, for a safe labor and for our precious baby.

Laboring, sometime around 5 a.m.

I called my mom shortly after 5:30, when I knew she would be up, to tell her she would be watching her grandson rather than going to work. We arranged for her to come by at 7:00, about the time Corin would be waking up. When she arrived, my contractions were strong and about three to four minutes apart, and I had the shakes, which happened several times during labor. Corin was still sleeping, so she rubbed my back as I lay in bed.

Once Corin was awake, Jon and mom got him dressed and ready to go, and I came out between contractions to tell him good-bye and that Baby Sister would be here soon. He seemed a little confused, but as usual, he was more than happy to go with Grandma. I, on the other hand, fought back tears. In the days ahead, I would think back on that moment and wish I’d had more time with him. As it was, I had to run back to the bathroom to ride out another contraction before sending him out the door.

We called Kathy to let her know it was probably time to head our way. Gaylea, our doula at Corin’s birth, was apprenticing with Kathy, and we texted her, as well. Kathy arrived at around 8:00, and Gaylea pulled up maybe a half-hour later. By then, I was laboring in the bathtub. Kathy checked the baby’s heart rate, and all was well. I remember saying something to Kathy like, “It really seems like there should be an easier way for babies to arrive.”

Nearly complete, with full support from Kathy and Gaylea

I labored in the tub, on the toilet, and eventually in the bed, where I could rest more completely between contractions. Jon, Gaylea and Kathy took turns providing support, allowing me to squeeze the blood out of their hands with each contraction. Gaylea applied heavenly-smelling cool rags.  I’m not sure how long I labored lying on my side, nestled in the pillows, but maybe an hour later labor began to change, and the pushing urge arrived with full intensity. Kathy confirmed I was fully dilated and effaced. Now the real work began.

At first, my pushing was not terribly effective. I was wearing myself out and beginning to hyperventilate. It felt a lot like the point at which my labor stalled with Corin, and I was scared and exhausted. Kathy and Gaylea both proved their worth so MANY times over that day, but it was at that point in my labor that my midwife knew just what to say to change my approach. She told me not to work so hard, but to allow my body to bear down and simply work with it. With that instruction, my approach changed, and immediately the pushing began to bear results. The work was HARD, and it was a bit frightening for me, since I’d never successfully pushed a baby out before. I badly needed the encouragement and soothing confidence of my midwife and doula. They gently reminded me that God had designed my body to do just what it was doing, and that I was fully able to deliver my baby.

My labor with Corin began with my water breaking, but this time, as the baby began to move down with each push, the amniotic sac was still intact. The midwife showed Jon the baby’s hair swirling inside the protective barrier, and I was able to reach down and feel the protruding sac. A few more pushes, and the baby’s head emerged, carefully guided by Kathy’s skilled hand and still protected inside the intact amniotic sac. Kathy pulled the membrane away as the rest of Eline’s body emerged. Our baby girl was born “in the caul,” a rare occurrence that historically was fraught with superstitious meaning. In our case, we believed it was a direct answer to prayer. I had tested positive for Group B strep, a bacteria that in rare cases can cause a dangerous infection in infants exposed during delivery. Kathy would have been able to administer antibiotics during labor if it was necessary, but because Eline was fully protected in the amniotic sac throughout the entire labor, she was never exposed to the bacteria.

Moments after birth

I was able to hold Eline immediately after birth. She did not immediately cry, but Kathy and Gaylea rubbed her down and her wails filled the room. I was incredibly relieved and overwhelmed as I held her to the breast and marveled that our precious baby girl was here. Jon kissed me, and together we counted fingers and toes and looked at baby Eline’s thick, dark hair and chubby cheeks.

We drank in those quiet moments together after Eline’s birth, thanking God for her safe arrival as we held her close. Kathy weighed her and did her newborn assessment, which Lina passed successfully. As it happened, that precious hour or so was the calm before the storm.

The story continues: Part II

Head and shoulders, knees and toes

It is inevitable that anyone meeting Corin for the first time will be struck by how much he resembles his daddy. There is no question: His looks come from Jon’s side of the family tree. There may be a little of me in there somewhere, but you’d have to search pretty hard to find it. I’m okay with that; I happen to think Corin’s daddy is pretty handsome.

Hearing comments about Jon’s “mini me” has gotten me thinking again recently about what Baby Girl will look like. We’ve gotten to see lots of pictures of our donor families’ kids, so I mostly imagine someone who looks a lot like their daughter. But of course, not all siblings look alike, and I do wonder if the prenatal environment has any impact at all. There are similarities between our two families, and I wonder if we might hear that familiar comment from unsuspecting parties: “Oh, she looks so much like you/your husband!” I also wonder: Will it ever be difficult to look at her and see a striking resemblance to a biological parent or sibling?

Ultimately, I don’t think it matters much to me who she looks like. She is a member of our family as surely as Corin is, and I so look forward to getting to know her. I may have said before that it is such an awesome part of parenting to watch your child’s unique personality and physical traits take shape before your eyes. I’m pretty certain that will be true regardless of where those traits originated. It may not be daddy’s chin, but it will be HER chin. Those feet won’t be my feet, but they will be the feet I have felt kicking all these months. Her eyes, her nose, her hair… They will all be traits of the daughter I love with all my being.

A decade of together

Tomorrow is our tenth wedding anniversary. Someone asked me yesterday if the years felt long or short. I told her I didn’t really know. Sometimes, I can hardly believe it’s been ten years since our wedding. How is it possible that I’m here, in my 30s, married for a decade, with a second baby on the way? But it also feels as if there never was a time before us. I suppose that last part is understandable, given it’s been 15 years since we first started dating.

This was us in 1999:
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Opening our first wedding gift in 2002:Image

June 23, 2002:Image

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June 23, 2005:
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May 2007:
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By that last picture, our family-building adventures had begun. I remember passing under a particular bridge during a boat ride on the Seine River. The guide said it was rumored that wishes made under the bridge would be granted. In the quiet of our hotel room later that night, Jon asked, “What did you wish for?” I said, “You know.” He said, “Me, too.” We didn’t know what lay ahead. But the thing about the last ten years is we’ve learned exactly how strong we are together.

We made a conscious decision not to waste those years of working toward a family. We spent them traveling, backpacking, watching movies, going to concerts, eating at great restaurants and learning how to lean on each other like never before. Infertility could have taken over our lives. It could have driven a wedge and left us fragmented and isolated. Instead, we pulled together and determined to live life and enjoy each other. Don’t get me wrong: There were HARD times. We struggled. But we did it together, and we learned to trust each other’s judgement and rely on each other’s strengths. We refused to allow what we lacked to overshadow what we had. I doubt I could have kept that kind of perspective without my husband to anchor me.

This was at a baseball game during our stay in Washington, D.C. for our final IVF cycle:Image

And this is the father the man I love became:
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It’s been worth the wait to tackle this parenting stage of life together. We argue. We get on each other’s nerves. We get so. tired. There’s more of that ahead. But the lessons of the last ten years serve us well. We pull together. We don’t let the imperfections overshadow the joy in front of us. We remember how strong we are as a team.

—-

Unafraid
“Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds,” says Shakespeare. I stand beside you as we make this our mantra, and I am unafraid.

We have many dreams, you and I, of the moments we will spend together, and in our minds they fill the blank pages of our future. Those dreams, made of the joy we find in our common goals, have brought us here. We will hold them close and live them out one by one for the rest of our lives.

Yet we know that there are pages of our future that will not fit in the framework of our dreams. There will be moments for which we did not wish, days for which we could not plan. But I am unafraid.

For we have been guided, you and I, to this day, to this moment, by One who knows that together we are stronger than we could be alone. Joy doubled, sorrow halved.

Doubled joy we know today. We feel the warmth of support from family and friends, the brightness of new beginnings, the richness of love. But this day is so much more.

“Love is a choice,” they say, and they are right. Today I choose you and you choose me. Today we choose God as the immovable cement that binds us together, that gives us the strength to choose each other every day again, the strength to share each others’ joy and bear each others’ sorrow.

So as we say the words that forever unite our futures, know that I love you with a love that will not alter when it alteration finds. Take my hand and we will walk into the unknown, full of joy and unafraid.

—-

Those words read at our wedding are more true today than they were ten years ago. I love you, Jonathan Sharp. Here’s to all the future decades of together.

Attitude adjustments

I’ve been (very!) slowly reading through the Bible over the last couple years, and right now I’m in the book of Acts. This morning’s chapter was the story of Peter’s vision of unclean animals and God’s call for him to take the Gospel to someone he never would have associated with on his own. It got me thinking about God’s power to change our attitudes.

It happens often for me, in different ways. I might be sitting in church when words from a sermon suddenly strike home. Sometimes a casual comment or well-timed advice from a friend will provide a shift in perspective. Maybe it’s just that still voice in a quiet moment, helping me see myself and the world more clearly.

My process in our embryo adoption experience has been a big lesson in God’s ability to change my perspective. I started out flatly rejecting the idea, mostly because it didn’t fit the plans I was busy making. It’s pretty amazing to look back on how God moved me from rejection to embracing embryo adoption. He was clearly at work.

But it’s been a longer process than that. It would be misleading to say we made our decision and never looked back. Our counselor told us several times that you can be excited about new opportunities while at the same time grieving a loss, and she warned us that grief is not a linear process. Sometimes little things can trigger feelings you thought were over. She was right, as she always seems to be. The thing about infertility is that every option involves a loss of some kind. We did grieve even as we moved forward with embryo adoption. More than once, I felt a stab as I saw myself or Jon (mostly Jon!) or maybe even a grandparent or uncle in my son and mourned the loss of that experience with our next child. We wondered how well other people would relate to what we were doing and whether our child would face extra challenges finding her place in the world. We grieved the loss of “normal,” whatever that is. In fact, there was a time somewhere in the middle of the process – I think around the time we were reviewing donors – when we both were questioning enough to need to walk through the entire decision again. We started at the beginning and talked about all our doubts and questions. What if finances weren’t a factor? Would things be different if we waited another year or two? After going over the whole process again, we came out in exactly the same place. This was the right choice. It was where God was leading. After that, things were easier.

I suppose, keeping in mind the counselor’s warning, there will probably still be some difficult moments ahead. But God has brought me to a place of peace and joy. Knowing He has led us here gives me such confidence in the future. In the way only He can, He changed my attitude to match His plan. Throughout this pregnancy, I have felt such a bond growing with Baby Girl, and the fears have faded away. I love the incredible way she came to us, and I love that someday, I will be able to tell her how she was chosen for us, before those tiny cells even began dividing.