Elijah’s Birth Story

Ever since Lydia was born, I have enjoyed hearing others’ birth stories. Some are encouraging, inspiring, or at times, intimidating, but all have been useful in preparing me for another birth. So this is Elijah’s birth story. Here’s my disclaimer: this is going to be long (for the most part) unedited. If you don’t enjoy hearing lots of medical sorts of details, this post may not be for you.

To read about the events leading up to Elijah’s birthday, click here.

At something like 4:30 or 5:00 in the morning on November 20, Dan and I were settled into our triage room waiting for my doctor to come remove my stitches so Baby could be born. My labors have all been pretty fast, and have gotten faster each time, so I was already doing the math in my head and expecting Baby to be born by about 9:00. But, I was also trying to just take things moment-by-moment, because I know nothing is guaranteed to go the way I expect during labor. I had read up, prayed a lot, and was prepared for a completely natural delivery, if possible.

The resident and hospital doctor came into our room to remove the stitches and I braced myself for an uncomfortable experience. (I had a cervical cerclage, or stitches to keep the cervix shut and hold Baby in longer, put in at around 13 weeks.) My doctor was not on call that night and his partner, whom I’d never met, wasn’t at the hospital yet. So my entire time in triage was with the hospital’s on-call doctor and the resident. They had had some trouble getting the stitches out with Paul, and it was a fairly painful experience. This time was much worse.

The resident started trying to get them out, but after several minutes, she gave up and asked the doctor to try. She couldn’t seem to find the stitches. The doctor sat down and started to try to get the stitches out, but she couldn’t find them either. So the two started tag-teaming, trying different tools, angles, and techniques. Thankfully, I wasn’t in too much pain from contractions yet, because the attempts to find the stitches were painful enough. I lay flat on my back, squeezing Dan’s hand tightly with my teeth clenched and eyes tightly shut.

Occasionally the doctor and resident would ask, “Do you want a break?” but I just wanted the stitches out, so I kept telling them to keep trying. I have no idea how long we were in that room, but it felt like a long time. At some point I started praying. Then I started praying more urgently, “Jesus, help them find the stitches…guide their hands…” It started to look like they were never going to find them, and I started to wonder what would happen if they didn’t. Would I have to have a c-section? Would I labor anyway and just tear right through the stitches? I was praying more frantically and feeling pretty desperate.

When I was feeling rather hopeless, urgently praying, suddenly the darkness of the inside of my eyelids seemed to be replaced by a glowing light and I was filled with peace and calm as some verses came to my mind. They weren’t actually verses that I have memorized so the words weren’t clear in my mind, but the idea was there…”When you pass through the waters, they will not overwhelm you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned…” I was filled with trust. Jesus was taking care of me. Then I heard the doctor and resident and felt the pain again and everything was dark and painful and desperate all over again. And I prayed and again the darkness melted away and I remembered those words, “The waters will not overwhelm you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned.” Calm washed over me again.

Just a couple of minutes later, the doctor declared that she had successfully removed the stitches! There were still buttons in there somewhere, stuck in the scar tissue, but the stitches were removed. (The stitches were tied through a button so that they would be easier to find and cut out. Instead, the buttons got lost and the stitches were very hard to find!) As soon as everyone left the room, I asked Dan to find the passage that had come to my mind. He found it and read it to me:

Isaiah 43:2
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,and the flame shall not consume you.”

Soon we were allowed out of triage (I have no idea what time it was by now) and headed to labor and delivery. We were shown to our room and once there we let everyone know what kind of labor I was intending on having (since we had already been offered pain medicine once or twice). My birth plan was pretty short:

I would like to have as natural of a labor and delivery as possible.
If possible I do not want an IV.
I know that pain medication is available and will ask for it if I want it.
If possible, I would like to hold the baby immediately after delivery.

Our nurse was sweet. She got me all hooked up to monitors and assured me I could have a natural delivery. Then someone told me I had to get the betamethasone steroid shot for the baby’s lungs. I assured them I had already gotten both doses, but they insisted. New research has shown that it can help if Baby gets it right before delivery, any baby born before 37 weeks. Now, that shot takes 24 hours to be fully effective, and 48 hours for two doses to be fully effective. We thought it was silly, knowing how fast my labors are. But we also felt like we were in a position where we would be terrible parents to say, “No”. So, I got that painful shot during labor again. (My doctor later told me that I could have declined, knowing the shot was pretty much useless in that amount of time anyway).

After the shot I was allowed to labor as I wanted. I lay down on my side, shut my eyes, and tried to relax through the contractions. Dan was at a loss as to how he could help and kept asking if I was ok. “I’m relaxing!”, I insisted, “it’s part of my method”. Eventually I couldn’t just relax anymore, so I got up on my knees and leaned against the top of the bed. The nurse offered me a big bean bag to lean up against, and that really helped. By now my contractions were really intense, sometimes coming on top of each other. Dan tried rubbing my back or pushing on my hips to help and I actually swatted him away, thinking, “you’re doing it wrong!”. I’ve always wanted Dan near me and helping me during labor, so I KNEW I was in transition and Baby would be coming soon. I also started to feel like I had to go to the bathroom all the time, but after a couple difficult trips back and forth, I knew it was just the pressure from Baby moving down lower.

When I started moaning more and more loudly through the contractions, Dan and I knew it was time for them to check me. I was a little nervous, not wanted to hear I was only dilated to four. But I was also confident that I was in transition and Baby was coming fast. They told me I was dilated to “six or seven” and I clearly remember thinking, “Whatever. That baby is coming soon.”

I hit the peak of transition and thought, “If this goes on much longer, I can’t do it”. I was moaning so loudly that I heard the nurse saying, “Stay with us Justine!” If I remember correctly, Dan was expressing some concern that, “They’d better get in here!” Then I felt Baby moving down fast and pressure to push. I started yelling (how else could I tell them Baby was coming?). The nurse knew instantly that I was starting to push and she got right up near my face and asked, “Did the contraction stop?” I frantically shook my head no and she told me I had to turn over onto my back during the contraction. This seemed cruel and almost impossible to me at the time, but I was also in a state where I would do whatever I was told. I managed to roll over onto my back and the contraction just kept going.

I was concerned about tearing, and I knew it could be good to stop pushing and wait even if it hurt. I was preparing for that moment, but everything was happening so fast. The next thing I remember was feeling the most intense pushing contraction and the nurse demanding my attention. It took every ounce of will-power to not push and instead listen and obey what the nurse was trying to say, so I opened my eyes wide and looked right into hers. Later Dan told me he would never forget the face I made. He said my eyeballs were almost outside of my head and I looked completely crazy.

The nurse told me to let go of Dan’s hand (I wasn’t even aware I was holding it) and bend my right leg and wait to push. I did. It seems like there were about five people all crowded around me at that point and that a couple of them started telling me to go ahead and push. I have no idea if I was having a contraction or not, but I pushed and then I heard Dan say, “Justine! Look!” I looked down and there was my baby! Well, there was the top half of my baby. I heard one of the ladies there (A nurse? Or doctor? Or pediatrician?) say something like, “What do we have?” and in the next moment someone declared, “It’s a boy!” and scooped him up and put him right up on my chest.

Dan and I both thought it was a girl (again). And I had really wanted a boy. So I was relieved and thrilled and so happy I could cry. They were about to clamp the cord when Dan jumped in and asked if they could wait. They said that was fine, and waited until the cord stopped pulsing to clamp it. (From what I understand, the baby gets more blood if you wait to clamp the cord. Since all of our children have been anemic at some point during their first years, this was important to us.) They left Little Elijah snuggled up on me for the next 45 minutes.

Then my Doctor’s partner came in (he missed the delivery, but I guess I really only did push once or twice). He sat down with the resident and they spent the next half hour or more digging around looking for those long-lost buttons. They finally found them, after a miserable search, lots of hand squeezing with Dan, and lots of sympathy from the nurses. They had to cut them out of scar tissue in the cervix and then stitch up the cervix and a second degree tear.

However, I snuggled my Baby that whole time before they took him away to weigh him and clean him off. He weighed 5 pounds, 11 ounces and was 19 1/2 inches long. He was born at 8:38 in the morning, just 5 hours and 23 minutes after my water broke.

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It took a while to settle on his name, even though we had pretty much picked it out when he was only about 14 weeks along (that’s another story). But soon enough we announced it: Elijah John, and we were transferred to the Mother-Baby room to enjoy the first couple of days with our new baby.

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Later in the morning, the kids came to visit and meet their new Baby Brother. Lydia very sweetly brought a stuffed lamb for Elijah to sleep with, in fact, the stuffed lamb my mom gave her before she was even born (we told her that wasn’t allowed, but kept the lamb where Elijah could see it.)

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It was sweet to see the kids together, but I especially enjoyed watching Paul react to his new brother. He loves him already, and even though he doesn’t have a lot of words, we’ve heard him say, “Baby” and “Lijah” and sometimes he gives Elijah kisses.

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Like Paul, Elijah got to be held almost non-stop in the hospital. It’s a privilege we just didn’t get to have with the girls.

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And after two (sleepless) nights in the hospital, we got to take Elijah home!

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There Was a Small Girl Who Swallowed A Nail

Last week Dan’s factory was closed for “shut down” so we took a whirlwind of a trip up North to visit some of our family. We headed up late Sunday night and spent Monday with Dan’s parents. Well, that was the plan anyway. The girls enjoyed their morning with Grandma, playing, eating, and enjoying this great big chair I used to spend a lot of time in as a college student.

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After Grandma left for work, we had a lull in our day before Grandpa would get home from work. I decided to take advantage of the quiet house by having everyone take naps. Lydia asked me to lie down with her for a while but when I did she was climbing all over me instead of going to sleep.

Now, when we spend the night at Grandma and Grandpa Taylor’s, we all stay in Dan’s old bedroom. On one wall are several framed pictures and awards hanging up above what is now Lydia’s little bed. We were afraid one of these pictures might fall on Lydia during her nap time so we made sure to take the frame off of the wall before naps.

So, as I grew weary of Lydia’s nap time shenanigans, I told her I was going to go over to my bed (only about four feet away from her). As I looked up, I saw Lydia playing with the nail in the wall that the picture had been hanging on. I gave her a look that said, “Stop that!” and she did, but not before the nail fell off the wall onto the floor behind her bed (so I thought).

I moved to my bed just as Dan came into the room. We were chatting about something when Lydia made a strange gulping noise and looked up at me with a funny expression. Instantly I had a suspicion which Lydia soon confirmed: she had swallowed the nail. Dan called the pediatrician while I talked to Lydia some more, making sure she really swallowed the nail and telling her what was going to happen now.

Lydia loves Curious George, so I reminded her of the story where George swallows a puzzle piece and has to go to the hospital to get an x-ray. Smart Girl reminded me with fear in her voice that at the end of the book George has to get a shot. 🙂

I assured Lydia she wouldn’t need any shots and Dan rushed her to the ER while I stayed behind to feed Paul and wait for Abby to finish her nap.

The ER visit took up the rest of the afternoon. Lydia did a pretty good job (Dan tells me) although she was pretty scared. We used the opportunity to teach her the lesson that you shouldn’t ever put small objects in your mouth!

By dinnertime Lydia was sent home with instructions to get another xray in 5-7 days to make sure the nail passed without any problems.

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We wrapped up our crazy day with a stop at Bob Evans for dinner before heading back to Dan’s parents’ house for the night.

Tuesday began the whirlwind part of our trip where we visited family like crazy, but I’ll save that for another post.

Oh, and for the record, Lydia had her second x-ray on Monday and it was all clear. The nail didn’t cause any problems and is gone for good. Thanks to everyone who was praying and asking about her. She is doing just fine.

The Hospital Stay

I suppose most birth stories end at the baby’s delivery, but due to the circumstances surrounding Paul’s birth, the story just feels incomplete without including the next couple of days. So I guess this is Part 2 of Paul’s birth story: the hospital stay.

It was close to midnight before we were settled into our room on the mother-baby unit. Dan had run down to the hospital coffee shop and store to find us some dinner (finally!) and, after quickly feeding Paul, we scarfed down some food and got ready for bed.

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The nurse gave us a brief explanation of what the next 24 hours would look like for Paul. Babies born at 35 weeks often have problems with their blood sugar. The problem is, the fat stores that get babies through those first milkless days just aren’t there on a 35 weeker. There’s nothing to keep the blood sugar up, and once that drops too low a lot of other problems can follow. So, every three hours Paul was going to have his blood sugar checked. As long as it stayed above 45, everything was fine. If it dropped below 45, he would get one more chance. If it dropped below 45 again, it was off to the NICU to be put on an IV. Paul had to make it 24 hours with good blood sugar levels and the last 12 hours had to be consecutive.

That night went great. Paul’s first blood sugar was 67. For several readings he hovered in the fifties. It wasn’t until his second to last reading that he dropped to 40. Our nurse gave us a bottle of formula and explained that, by taking in about 15 ml of formula with each feeding attempt, Paul’s blood sugar level should stay high enough. So we reluctantly gave him the formula and I started pumping to try to encourage my milk to come in faster.

The formula did the trick and the next 12 hours went smoothly. Well, it was a sleepless nights (aren’t all nights in the hospital?) but as far as blood sugar levels, everything went smoothly. By Wednesday morning our nurse took the last blood sugar level. It was high enough and she declared, “We’re done!”.

Rooming in with your baby is entirely different from having a baby in the NICU. No rushing back and forth to and from the NICU trying to make it for nurse reports and “hands on” times. No trying to squeeze in rest between meals, showers, visitors, and trips to see Baby. I hardly even had to get out of my bed! Every time I looked over to see that little Baby bed next to mine, my heart was just so happy. I kept reliving the whole birth experience over and over, hardly believing things turned out the way they did.

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We snuggled Paul almost all the time. Even in the middle of the night it was hard to put him down. After two NICU babies, we just couldn’t fathom leaving him all by himself in that little bed when he could be in our arms.

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Wednesday brought it’s own handful of trials. Because Paul was born early, and because he was born quickly with a lot of bruising, and because he had a high blood count at birth, he was bumped up several risk levels for jaundice. Whether or not a baby has to be treated for jaundice depends on their bilirubin levels. However, the level that requires treatment depends on a number of factors including the baby’s age, and the risk factors I just mentioned. In other words, Paul was very likely going to need to spend time under the bilirubin lights.

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Sure enough, by Wednesday afternoon a light was brought in and Paul was put under it. Poor little guy was not happy being unswaddled and unheld. He spent the next several hours trying to tear off his face mask, all the time crying and squirming. His little cries were so small and squeaky (like a puppy, many have said), and it was so sad to watch him struggle under there. But he needed it and we were happy to do anything that might keep him healthy and bring him home.

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At 6:30 on Wednesday night, Paul was taken to the NICU to have some blood drawn to check both his blood count and bilirubin level. Our nurse suspected we might be able to accompany him and was certain our girls would never be allowed in the NICU. She didn’t know our history. The next half hour or so was a happy reunion. The doctor, nurses, clerks, and techs all enjoyed seeing Lydia and Abby again. We visited and caught up while Paul had his blood taken and everyone rejoiced in Paul having made it so much further than the girls. We were reminded, yet again, of how wonderful the NICU staff is at our hospital and half wished we could have somehow stayed in the NICU instead of the Mother-Baby unit for those two days we had to be in the hospital anyway.

After our little reunion, I went with Paul back to the room and munched on my dinner while Dan took the girls for a walk. We were waiting for the verdict. Most likely, Paul would be transferred to the pediatric unit to stay under the bili light and I would room in with him there (I had already been discharged).

Close to 8:00 the nurse came in and said, “Well, I talked to Paul’s doctor and we got the lab work back. You can go home.”

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Dan showed up in the room just a couple of minutes later and the nurse told him the good news. We couldn’t believe it. A take home baby! We packed up our things, and just like the story I thought I would never tell, we headed out to the car. The only differences between that story and this one were that Paul was in his car seat on the cart, Dan was pushing the cart, and the nurse was pushing me (in my other version I was holding the baby, Dan was pushing me, and the nurse was pushing the cart).

I share those details only to emphasize the goodness of God. While I can’t rightly call it a miracle that I made it to 35 weeks (others have done the same), I can declare with confidence that God heard our prayers and graciously, kindly answered them the way we hoped. He gave us a take-home baby, a safe and natural delivery, and let me hold Paul right after he was born. He gave us peace and joy through it all. Even in the days after coming home, He has filled our home with more joy and peace in spite of sleepless nights, fussy toddlers, and illness. God certainly has been kind to us and we will continue to acknowledge the good things He does for us.

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Paul’s Birth Story

Ever since Lydia was born, I have enjoyed hearing others’ birth stories. Some are encouraging, inspiring, or at times, intimidating, but all have been useful in preparing me for another birth. So this is Paul’s birth story. Here’s my disclaimer: this is going to be long (for the most part) unedited. If you don’t enjoy hearing lots of medical sorts of details, this post may not be for you.

To understand the full impact of this story, it may be helpful to read (or reread) this post from a year and a half ago. I recently went back and read it and was so surprised at how similar the beginning is to Paul’s story. God is so kind.

Monday Morning

Monday (March 16) started off in a pretty routine way. We woke up, ate breakfast, and Dan went out to the garage to exercise. While he was out, I snapped this picture, my 35 week photo. I never thought I could make it to 35 weeks and we were thrilled to get this far. In fact, when Abby was born my doctor told me I would probably never go past 32 weeks. Our current doctor told us a 35 weeker is usually a “take home baby” and we were thankful for even a chance to bring Baby home without spending time in the NICU.

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We were running low on leftovers so we had a pretty small lunch. I had just a peanut butter, banana sandwich, figuring I would grab a more substantial snack after my nap and dinner-time would come soon enough. After lunch, one of the girls from our church came over for a couple of hours to clean our floors and play with the kids outside, since I have been unable to do those things for a while now. They stayed out extra late and didn’t come in and get settled down for naps until after 2:00.

I was chatting with Dan (who happened to be home that day) while he washed dishes. “Aren’t you going to go take a nap?”, he asked me. I told him I was headed that way, just wanted to print off a couple of things from the computer. I had spent the morning tidying up our kitchen from the months I’ve spent “taking it easy”, and I had just finished and wanted to move our printer upstairs so the counter would be clear. I printed my documents and was just looking through them when I felt a big gush.

Just a second later I felt another gush, and then a third. My water had broke, and it took a moment to realize what was happening. I hesitantly tried to get Dan’s attention while he worked away at a particularly dirty pot. As soon as he knew what was going on he sprang into action, gathering items for the hospital, calling our babysitters, getting the girls up from their short nap. I was all but helpless because I was leaking so much fluid and I didn’t want to move around and risk speeding up the coming labor.

After half an hour, what seemed like a very long half hour, we were in the car on our way to the babysitters, and then the hospital. Contractions had started but they weren’t coming in any predictable pattern yet, they just hurt.

3:45 PM

By 3:45 the contractions were coming more regularly and we were in the waiting room of the family birth center. I was excited, restless, and nervous, so we just stood in the waiting room holding hands and waiting to be called in. A nurse came and got us settled in our triage room, where we spent the next two hours.

I was amazed at how peaceful everything was. In the past our room has been full of medical staff poking and prodding me in a million ways. This time there was just one midwife entering my data on the computer and hooking me up to be monitored for the next 20 minutes (which turned out to be two hours). This was the first time I got to see a graph of a baby’s heartbeat and my contractions during labor. It was almost fun, watching the coming contraction and then seeing how far apart they were (3 minutes) and how long they were lasting (1 1/2 to 2 minutes). I thought to ask Dan to take a picture but by the time he got the camera ready I was right in the middle of a contraction. We took the picture anyway.

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We gave the midwife a copy of my birth plan, which was as simple as I could keep it while still being meaningful:

-Please direct any possible questions to Dan.
-Unless it becomes medically necessary I would like not to have an IV.
-I would like to have as natural of a delivery as possible.
-If at all possible, I would like to hold the baby immediately after delivery.

The midwife informed us that at 4:00 our doctor had started a c-section and we would have to wait at least half an hour before he could come do anything.

Now, back at 16 weeks, I had a surgery to put stitches in the cervix, adding support that would hopefully enable things to stretch and Baby to stay put longer. My fear during our time in triage was that I would dilate too quickly and the stitches would tear. So we waited and prayed and watched my contractions on the graph. Dan named the unitless graph, the “Graph of Awesomness” and let me know when my “awesomeness” was “off the charts”.

By 5:00 I was starting to feel the stitches pulling and we kept waiting to hear some word from our doctor. A very sweet resident came in and chatted with us for a while. She did an ultrasound to check that Baby was head-down, and she told us that she could remove the stitches if our doctor took too long.

5:30 PM

Our doctor rushed in around 5:30 and sat down with the resident immediately to start taking out the stitches. The procedure took longer and hurt more than I was anticipating. Dan held one arm while a nurse held the other and both kept streams of encouragement coming as I scrunched up my face and braced myself through each painful poke. Finally the stitches came out and I was able to get up and walk to our labor and delivery room. Much to my dismay, I was only dilated to 1 1/2.

As we walked to the room where Baby would hopefully be born, I drilled our nurse with questions about 35 weekers. Would I get to hold the Baby? Would I be able to have a “normal” delivery? She told me that Baby had to be a certain weight (4 pounds, 9 ounces?) to stay in our room. The resident had predicted Baby was probably 6 – 6 1/2 pounds, so that was encouraging. I could have a normal delivery in a normal labor and delivery room, but there would have to be a special team present to evaluate Baby and decide if s/he needed to be taken to the NICU.

6:30

When we got to our room a new nurse took over and chatted with us for a long time. I was leaning against the bed waiting for her to finish so I could try to get into some sort of more comfortable position. She kept offering me all sorts of natural pain relief methods: bean bags, birthing balls, the shower, heating pads…I was overwhelmed and just wanted her to leave. I knew it would help to move around but I could hardly bring myself to do that, so I asked for the birthing ball, figuring I’d been using it over the past couple of weeks and maybe I would have some idea what to do with it.

During the entire labor I had Philippians 4:13 playing in my head to a tune I learned when I was a kid:

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. I can do. All things through. Christ who strengthens me. Christ who strengthens me.

Because this was going to be a VBAC, I had to be hooked up to the monitor continuously and I had to have a hep lock so I could be hooked up to an IV quickly if that became necessary. I asked for some water, determined to stay hydrated and avoid that IV. I was feeling the contractions almost entirely in my back and legs, so the nurse showed me how I could sit on the ball and lean forward on the bed to help with the back labor. Dan was a champ and started massaging my lower back. When the contractions became more intense he would press hard on my back, which helped significantly with the pain. Then in between contractions it was back to massaging. As soon as a contraction would end I would whisper, “Water” and Dan would grab my ice water and hold it for me to take a sip, then I would relax for about thirty seconds before another contraction came.

7:30 PM

There was a shift change and our new nurse came in and brought a heading pad for my back. Dan and I were in our groove now, but wondering how long labor would last. We were spoiled with Lydia and the entire labor was 8 hours. I was starving, but couldn’t bear to eat anything, and Dan was hungry too. Those pb sandwiches were not holding us over very well. Occasionally we would discuss the likelihood that Baby would be born early enough for Dan to run out and get us some Qdoba.

When Lydia was born I didn’t make a sound until very close to her actual delivery. So when I started moaning through the contractions we thought for sure we must be close. We kept waiting for the signs of transition. Dan was sure I would throw up, and I kept waiting for that moment when I would feel the urge to push. Time seemed to be moving so slowly. I know, it’s kind of pathetic when others have labors that last days, but like I said, we’ve been spoiled.

8:00 PM

I’m guessing on the times here, because I was to absorbed in labor to pay much attention to the clock. I would occasionally check it to guess at the likelihood of Qdoba though. I was so hungry. Dan kept asking if I was going to throw up and if I felt pressure. Both the nurse and Dan could tell by my behavior that the contractions were getting really intense, but I still didn’t feel any urge to push.

The pain reached a new level and I started standing up for the contractions, leaning forward on the bed. Afterward I would collapse back onto the ball and dread the next one. The pain was so intense I bit my tongue to resist yelling out, “God, help me”, and I was silently praying all along. Although I was fully aware of the things happening all around, I couldn’t respond to them. When Dan asked me questions I didn’t respond. When he tried doing something different, like rubbing my back higher up, it was all I could do to grab his arms and move them back down. I kept looking back at the contraction chart to see how much time I had before another one came. I guess at this point, I was in transition.

The nurse and Dan made the call that it was time to check me, something I had been avoiding because I was terrified I would only be dilated to 4. But I did what they told me, hoping for some encouraging news. I climbed on the bed and a resident came in. I was dilate to 8, fully effaced, and Baby was at station zero. He said there was a little bit of the cervix over Baby’s head.

The nurse suggested that if I roll on my side and try another position, it might be enough to pull the cervix away from Baby and speed things up a little. I was all to happy to oblige. I think it was two contractions later when the nurse panicked a little because she saw Baby’s head.

She hit an “emergency staff” button and a team of doctors, residents, nurses, and pediatricians came storming into the room “like a SWAT team” (said Dan). I didn’t know if I was supposed to be pushing or not, so I didn’t try to push, but I didn’t fight it either. But it became pretty apparent to us all that Baby was coming whether or not I was “supposed” to be pushing.

Our doctor told us his part of the story later. Normally if he has a patient dilated to 1 1/2 at 5:00 in the evening, he doesn’t stick around. He knew my history with Lydia’s speedy labor so he grabbed some dinner at the hospital and was just sitting down to read a book when he got the page. He came walking to my room, not aware of how quickly things had been progressing. As he walked into my room, he saw Baby’s head.

I asked Dan later how long I was pushing. “Three minutes” was his guess. The nurse said I pushed through two contractions. I remember pushing the head out and hearing the nurse suggest I curl up to feel the head. Not a chance. I was just going to get that baby out. I pushed once more and was surprised that Baby wasn’t coming. The head was out, after all. It turns out Baby came down so fast and hard that he didn’t have time to straighten out. Dan says his knees were still curled up to his chest when he was born.

Then it was all over. Just like that. Baby was placed on my stomach and Dan cut the cord. Somebody said, “You have a little boy.” We were shocked. Both of us had convinced ourselves Baby was a girl. The pediatricians took Baby to the warmer and started their evaluations with lots of exclamations about how bruised his face and feet were from the delivery.

The doctor and resident began stitching up some second degree tears, a process that took half an hour and was miserable for me. I had an episiotomy with Lydia and this time I tore in the same spot, where the skin was still weak. Sadly, as soon as Baby was ready to be held, I couldn’t hold him. I was in too much pain as they stitched me. So they kept him on the warmer and waited for my stitches to be complete.

I remember looking over at the bed, thrilled to have a little boy this time, and thinking, “He’s a Paul.” We had discussed a few baby names but hadn’t picked one out yet. When they handed him back to me, Dan said, “I kind of like the name Paul.” And his name was chosen.

Then I got to hold him. This was a moment I’ve wanted since Lydia was born. I’ve prayed for it more times than I could count. I almost cried just thinking about the possibility as we got further along in the pregnancy. And God made it happen. It was so happy.

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Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4

We could have made it to Qdoba but it just felt wrong to have Dan leave me or Paul that soon after birth. So we just waited. I had brought some energy bites, made and frozen long ago, and they were lifesavers in those hours following birth. Much better than the hospital’s jello or popsicles.

11:15 PM

When our two hours in recovery were over, the nurse helped me to a wheel chair. I got the much loved heated blanket and the even more loved swaddled Baby and they wheeled me to the Mother-Baby Unit. As we rolled along, and I marveled at the birth story we got to have this time, the hospital played a little lullaby announcing Paul’s birth.

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He was perfect. Twice the size of Abigail at her birth. Much older than Abby or Lydia. Able to eat and breath on his own. And he had hair.

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NICU Survival Guide

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Now that we’ve had two babies spend time in the NICU (124 days between the two of them), I wanted to take some time to write a little guide for ourselves and anyone else who may find themselves spending any extended amount of time with a baby in the NICU.

Preparations

If you have a clue ahead of time that baby might come early, my best advice is to plan ahead as much as possible. Cook and freeze meals, the more, the better. Make sure you have everything prepared for when Baby comes home. Errands are no fun once Baby is born. Figure out a workable routine, find out if you (or your spouse ) can work from home, and set up any extra help or baby sitters.

When Baby Comes

When Baby is born, the first thing to do is take a deep breath and process a little. A new baby changes everything, but a new baby in the NICU really changes everything. Once you’ve had a chance to take a deep breath (and decide on a name!), it’s time to make some phone calls. Announcing the birth of you child is exciting and when Baby comes early it’s even more of a surprise to those on the other end of the line. When I called my mom to tell her that Lydia was born (nine weeks early), she answered the phone by saying, “What do you know about puppies?”. My sister’s new puppy had just hurt her foot and my mom was trying to decide if she needed to take her to the vet. It was pretty comical (later).

If your baby is healthy and doing well, considering the circumstances (just trust what the doctors tell you) make sure you start off every announcement with that information. And halfway through, you should say it again. And then, before you hang up or say goodbye, say it again. Most people don’t know much about premature babies. I certainly didn’t. And they don’t know how critical of condition your baby is actually in.

Believe the Doctors

The first question everyone has about a preemie is, “How long will we have to stay in the NICU?”. Doctors don’t like to give out false hope or unrealistic expectations, and their estimates are usually pretty good. For Lydia, they guessed 6-8 weeks, and she came home in 6. For Abby, they guessed 8-12 weeks, and she came home in 11 1/2.

However, both our girls started out fantastically. Every day we came in to hear praise about how well they were doing. We let it get to our heads and figured, surely, they would be home sooner than the original estimate. But the NICU is a roller coaster with unexpected turns, and both times the doctors were ultimately right. When I asked Dan what his best NICU advice was, it was to listen to the doctors estimate and don’t doubt it even if your baby seems to be doing amazing.

The First Week

The first week always feels like a whirlwind to us. First Baby comes, then there are announcements and visitors. You get to watch everyone’s reaction to your news and share your story. But after a couple of days, and you head home from the hospital, you have to get a plan together for how you’re going to handle your NICU stay. When Abby was born, both my parents and Dan’s parents came down at different times to watch Lydia and help around the house while I recovered. We would have completely fallen apart without that help.

During that week I sat down on Excel and figured out a tentative schedule that allowed us to visit Abby twice a day. We had to see if Dan could get in eight hours of work each day. It turns out he could, but only by working six days a week, getting up early, and going to bed late. If you do this, don’t forget to account for drive time. It was not uncommon for either Dan or I to spend over two hours in the car every day between driving to work, the hospital, home, and Lydia’s Babysitter’s.

Also during the first week, my parents took me grocery shopping. We stocked up on food for the next four weeks. I also got to ride around Meijer in one of their little electric scooters.

It’s OK to Cry

When I have babies in the NICU, I cry. I cry when they are admitted. I cry when they are not doing well. And I cry, even when they are. It’s sad. It’s hard. Your baby is supposed to be at home or in your belly. Not in an isolette. So it’s ok to cry.

I talked to a NICU mom once who had been in the NICU for two months already. They had a long road ahead and I empathized with her. She smiled and light-heartedly told me it was “sort of fun” to have a baby in the NICU. I hid my shock, but in my mid-NICU-super-emotional state, I felt like she had no heart.

I saw another Mom standing at her baby’s isolette, just watching her baby sleep. She was crying. I always liked that Mom after that, because it was so obvious how much she loved her baby boy.

Now, I’m all for having a good attitude and looking on the bright side. But you don’t have to pretend everything is perfect. It’s ok to cry.

Feeding Your Baby

Feeding times are the times you really want to be in the NICU. This is when you get to change your baby’s diaper, take your baby’s temperature, and, once your baby is stable enough, hold him or her. Once babies are over a week old, they usually have their feeding time every three hours.

Mothers of preemies aren’t able to nurse their babies so they have to express milk with a pump to be fed to their baby through a feeding tube. Lactations consultants recommend pumping every three hours, around the clock. I found that it works best to pump one hour after Baby’s feeding time, so that you can be involved with the hands-on part and not skip a pumping time. I also found that, once the milk supply is established and if it’s plentiful enough, it worked well to pump an hour early before bed and and hour late afterward so that you could have a couple of four hour stretches during the night.

Dan and I like to be at the hospital at least twice a day. This way we could each get a turn holding the Baby, and we could often be there for rounds. We got a morning update on how the night went and an evening update on how the day went.

What about Meals?

I’m sure a lot of NICU parents just eat out for every meal during their NICU stay. Dan and I avoided this for two reasons. One: it’s more expensive. Two: It’s much less healthy. And during the chaos of a NICU stay, eating junk won’t make things any better but it can make things a lot worse.

To handle this issue I made a meal plan of fast, easy-to-put-together meals for one week. We ate things like spaghetti, rice and beans, curry with a store-bought sauce, veggies and hummus, and chili (which was the most time consuming meal and I wouldn’t choose that one again). And we repeated it every week until Abby came home. We would go grocery shopping once a month or so to buy the non-perishables. For the fresh produce, we asked a family from church to buy our groceries once a week and deliver them to us at church. They graciously continued to do this for the entire time Abby was in the NICU.

We also had one night a week when we ate Qdoba using gift cards given to us by loving friends from church. Those nights were my favorite. No preparation and no clean up.

Babysitters

With Abby we had another challenge of taking a care of a toddler while visiting the NICU. It worked best for us to bring Lydia once a day and leave her with a sitter during our second visit. Our favorite way to do this was to take her in the morning. In the evening we would eat dinner together and tuck her into bed. Then the baby sitters would come and stay while Lydia slept and we went to the hospital. We had such loving sitters who also tidied our messy living room, cleaned our dishes, and did our laundry. Those nights were also my favorites.

We found that it was very important to spend one-on-one time with Lydia. Snuggling, reading, tickling, talking, and playing were very important because she was getting much less Mommy and Daddy time than before. Sometimes she would scream from her bed at night, but we realized it wasn’t because she was being “bad”, it was because she was having trouble coping with our being away so much. So on those nights I would snuggle her extra until she was ready to sleep.

Get to Know Parents and Nurses

One of the most therapeutic things Dan and I chose to do was to make friends in the NICU. Time in the NICU passes slowly, but having another baby to cheer on helps a lot. Talking to other parents is encouraging, distracting, and helps pass the days. We had a lot of fun celebrating when our friends would move to an open crib or take their first bottle.

It also helps to make friends with the nurses. They are the people you’ll see the most and they are the ones caring for your (very) little bundle. It’s a lot better to have friends watch your baby than strangers. We also discovered that nurses which we didn’t care for at first, grew on us as we got to know them.

Once we transferred to Mott’s, we had trouble getting to know our nurses. It was just a less-friendly atmosphere. So we made an extra effort and brought them chocolate. That helped a lot. We also befriended Russell, the parking lot attendant.

Take Naps

The house is trashed. The sink is full of dishes. The laundry isn’t folded. Take a nap.

Someone just called your phone. A delivery man knocked on the door. You didn’t get to shower today. Take a nap anyway.

Some things just have to wait. Sleep isn’t one of them. Life in the NICU is hard enough without being exhausted. And, even with naps you’re still not going to get enough sleep, so take them!

Turn to Jesus

Even if you follow all of my NICU advice and think of fifteen other helpful things, having a baby in the NICU is still rough. Our greatest source of strength and hope rested in Jesus Christ. God is, after all, the Great Physician, and even if doctors fail, He never will. He knit together that Baby in Mom’s womb, and He can keep knitting that Baby together out of it.

Many times, I felt like everything was falling apart, and I didn’t even know what to pray. But I remember riding in the car, looking up at the night sky and silently crying out, “Help me! Help us! We need Your help!” Sometimes the change wasn’t instant, but He always came. He always helped.

Times when I felt so down I knew no one could offer me any comfort and He would. Through a song in the car, through a sermon at church, or through some unexpected blessing, He would carry us along.

The Roller Coaster Must End Sometime

There were times when I seriously thought Abby would never come home from the hospital. I thought she would just stay there forever, not finishing her bottles, not gaining weight, not keeping her temperature up. It’s silly, I know. But that’s how it felt.

Life in the NICU is a roller coaster ride. There are unexpected turns, and many ups and downs. But, the roller coaster will end. There will be a time when you will stop taking those car rides to the hospital every day. There will be a day when you have time to wash your own dishes and do your own grocery shopping. It’s true, what they say, that there are no kindergarteners in the NICU.

I hope this post will be useful for some. Or perhaps it can give others a glimpse into NICU life. And if not, thanks for bearing with me. If Dan and I have another baby I know that we will, at least, find this to be a great help.

Abby Update: 8 Days Old

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Weight: 2 pounds, 9 ½ ounces
Feedings: 7 milliliters (about 1 ½ teaspoons) every 3 hours

Yesterday when Dan and I walked into the NICU our nurse informed us that Abigail has been hungry. Standard procedure in the NICU is that for the first seven days of life babies are only allowed to receive their MEN feedings (minimal enteral nutrition) which is only four milliliters every four hours. The point is to get things going in the digestive system without causing any problems. Well, Abby wasn’t happy with her MEN feedings. She was hungry! Our nurse asked if she could get her feedings bumped up a day early, but the doctors turned her down. That’s ok. Today Abby is getting more food at last. Now we can really start watching her gain weight.

Yesterday Abby was off of the bilirubin light. Her bilirubin had come down from 7 to 4.6, but today she was back up to 6.6 and had to go back on the light. That’s ok. She may come off and on a couple more times before she’s done for good.

The other excitement today was that Abby is being weaned from her cannula. She has been on 2 liters and today the nurse turned it down to 1.5. If she continues to breath well, and she seems to be, they will continue to wean her until she is breathing on her own. Last night Dan and I helped give Abby a bath, and she was off her cannula for almost an hour with absolutely no problems. Out of all of her achievements so far, it’s the breathing that amazes me the most. She seems to have very strong lungs, especially considering how early she was born.

And, thanks to all who were praying! Abigail’s first brain ultrasound came back normal. She will have a few more ultrasounds as she gets older to make sure there is no bleeding in her brain, but so far, so good.

  photo 03_zps695c5a49.jpgHow is Lydia handling her new role as big sister? The first couple of visits to the NICU were a few steps short of disaster. She wanted to touch everything and when she couldn’t she screamed and cried (not an ideal situation when there are babies in critical condition). However, she’s been doing much better and will not sit happily with us as we read to her and listen to Adventures in Odyssey. Every time we visit, Lydia gets a sticker from the nurse at the front desk. Then she tells everyone we pass, “Abigail!” as we head in to Abby’s room. Once there, she knows that she has to wash her hands (she loves throwing the paper towel in the trash). We hold her up to see Abby and then she entertains herself, or we entertain her, until it’s time to go. When we leave, she says “Bye!” to Abby, blows her kisses, and then says “hug” and won’t let us go until she, Dan, and I all take turns “hugging” Abby’s isolette. It is precious.