When a Picture Is Worth a Thousand Feelings

On Tuesday night I received the link to the family pictures we had taken a couple of weeks ago. These were our first professional pictures since we became a family of four, and I couldn’t wait to see them. I scrolled through sweet pictures of my two girls, but then I got to pictures with all four of us, and my heart dropped. I could not believe how HUGE I looked in the pictures. It’s ridiculous that I was blindsided by this because I own a scale and have been on it recently, so it’s not as though I was unaware of how much I weigh or what size clothing I currently wear. I think in my mind I was still picturing myself at a lower weight, but pictures don’t lie. Seeing these pictures woke me up to the fact that I have allowed myself to reach a weight I never thought I would see again. I’m currently the heaviest I’ve been in nine years, and that is a tough truth to acknowledge. I love the pictures of my sweet family, but I can’t help but wish that I looked a lot thinner.

Mount 7 (Sans Tissue)

I know I had a baby two months ago, but even before I got pregnant I was heavier than I wanted to be and yet doing little about it. I used the pain in my hips and the depression that accompanied that pain as an excuse to eat poorly and not exercise. Instead, I fed my sadness and hopelessness with food. I knew what I was doing, I saw the number on the scale gradually go up, and yet it was hard to stop. After I got pregnant with Ava, I let pregnancy be my excuse for eating sweets more often and generally being a lazy bum. I told myself that after I had Ava I would get serious about losing weight. If I lost the weight before, there is no reason I can’t lose it again, and yet I look at pictures of me when I was at my lowest weight and feel like I don’t even know who that person is anymore.

So here I find myself, completely overwhelmed by how much weight I have to lose and disgusted with how I look, but have I done anything about it? Not yet. I keep telling myself that something has to change, and then I keep on doing the same things that got me where I am today and then feel sad that I’m this fat.

However, moping about my weight isn’t going to make me thinner. Moping about my weight isn’t going to make my clothes fit better. Moping about my weight isn’t going to make me pick healthier foods. Moping isn’t going to change anything, except maybe to make me feel even worse about myself. Dwelling on the past has rarely served me well. Instead, I want to dwell on this fact: God doesn’t want me to be skinny as much as He wants me to be holy. I have to stop being so self-absorbed and remember the truth of the gospel: I am approved before God because of the work of Jesus on my behalf. How I look has absolutely nothing to do with God’s love and acceptance of me. When I remember who I am in Christ, I can let go of the feelings of despair and hopelessness. When I remember who I am in Christ, I can fight the temptation to eat to excess. When I remember who I am in Christ, I can have confidence not in myself, but in the power of the Holy Spirit at work in me. Food does not love me back. Food will not satisfy the deepest longings of my heart, but God will.

The battle I am fighting is a spiritual battle as well as a physical one, and it’s time I put on my armor.

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” Ephesians 6:10-11

“With the merciful you show yourself merciful;
    with the blameless man you show yourself blameless;
26 with the purified you show yourself pure;
    and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous.
27 For you save a humble people,
    but the haughty eyes you bring down.
28 For it is you who light my lamp;
    the Lord my God lightens my darkness.
29 For by you I can run against a troop,
    and by my God I can leap over a wall.
30 This God—his way is perfect;
    the word of the Lord proves true;
    he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.” Psalm 18:25-30

Ava’s Birth Story

Well, hello there.

I have been trying to update this blog for weeks now (in my head at least; I’ve not really tried to put many words on the screen), but I’ve been stuck. Since I blogged about Charlotte’s birth, I wanted to do the same for Ava, but the problem is that my experience with Ava’s birth was nothing like Charlotte’s. I naively thought that the two experiences would be very similar, but they could not have been more different, and therein lies my struggle. Instead of warm and fuzzy feelings, I have pain and confusion and regret tied to Ava’s birth. And even after Ava was home with us, thinking about her birth brought tears, and not of the sentimental, nostalgic variety. When I finally did sit down and write out everything that happened, my effort produced about 4,500 words, which I deemed to be entirely too many for my blog. So I decided to provide a more abridged version of events in a timeline, and while it too is long, I promise I’m really saving you quite a bit of time! 🙂

June 8

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My last picture as a pregnant woman

9:00 a.m.: Arrived at the hospital and got checked into a labor and delivery room. The nurse had trouble finding a vein for my IV, so she had to call someone for assistance. They used an ultrasound machine to find a good vein (I wish I could have that for all of my blood draws; it would make things SO much better!).

11:00 a.m.: Dr. E. finally came and checked me (I was 2 centimeters dilated and 50% effaced) and then gave the order to start Pitocin. (I have no idea why it took her 2 hours to come and do this. It was super frustrating to sit around and wait for everything to get started.)

11:30 a.m.-3:00 p.m.: Nurse increased my dose of Pitocin every 15 minutes. Contractions started picking up. I was trying to labor without pain medication and not having any difficulties at this point. Dr. E. came back at 3:00 and declared me a “tight 3.” I couldn’t believe I’d only dilated one more centimeter with contractions coming about every 3 minutes. Dr. E. said she would be able to break my water after a little while longer.

4:30 p.m.: Dr. E. broke my water, and it was one of the strangest sensations I’ve ever felt. (I remember texting a friend and telling her it felt like I was continually wetting the bed.) The contractions really intensified after that and were coming every 2 minutes.

Sometime before 6:00 p.m.: As the contractions got more and more painful, I debated asking for an epidural and then finally made the decision to get one. I had no idea how long I would be in labor but thought it could be a while, given my lack of progress up until that point, so I decided to get the epidural so I could at least rest and relax (ha!).

Around 6:30 p.m.: I got the epidural, which was one of the worst experiences of the whole ordeal. I supposedly had “the best” anesthesiologist, the one the nurses want when they get epidurals, but I was not impressed. Before he started the process, the anesthesiologist told me that I would feel a sharp prick like a bee sting when he numbed the area, and then he would insert the catheter for the epidural (or something like that–I’m not really clear on the technical terms). I leaned forward and hugged a pillow, with the nurse holding me still, and then he gave me the numbing injection, which did hurt, but nothing prepared me for what was next. I’m not entirely sure what happened, but all I know is that I knew the precise moment he inserted the catheter because I felt it entering my spine. I immediately let out a yelp and said, “I feel that!” He stopped right away and said I shouldn’t be able to feel it (uh, no kidding), so he waited a few moments before continuing. At that point, tears were already flowing, and then a few seconds or minutes later—I’m not sure when—I felt what I can only describe as an electric shock shoot down my left leg. I almost jumped up off the bed and instantly started sobbing and saying, “What is that?! What is that?!” The nurse asked me what I was feeling and when I told her, she said that can “sometimes happen” and that the anesthesiologist had probably hit a nerve (I think she called it a “zing”). I really wish someone had told me that was a possibility so I wouldn’t have been so blindsided. I don’t think of myself as a wimp, and I could not believe how much it hurt. I cried through the rest of the procedure. The anesthesiologist told me I should start feeling the effects pretty quickly, but that if I didn’t within an hour, he could increase the dose a little. He said I should feel at least 75% pain relief, which sounded wonderful to me. Pretty soon my legs started to feel like dead weights, and I anxiously awaited the moment when the pain of the contractions would subside…but I continued to feel almost everything on my right side.

7:00-8:00 p.m.: The nurse had me change positions to see if that would help the medicine reach the spot where I wasn’t getting pain relief, to no avail. The anesthesiologist came back in and told me to give the epidural a little bit longer to work. Meanwhile, I cried and told Stephen I couldn’t believe that after all of that, the epidural wasn’t even working completely. The nurse then decided to empty my catheter because she said that she’d had patients before who had gotten better pain relief with an empty bladder. This sounded crazy to me, but fortunately, she was right, and I soon began to feel very little pain at all.

Around 8:00 p.m.: Dr. E. came and checked me, and I was dilated to 4 cm. I wanted to throw something at the wall when she told me that. I couldn’t believe how slowly things were going. Dr. E. said it felt to her like Ava was positioned at a slant, which might be part of the problem.

Between 8:00-10:00 p.m.: My contractions continued coming every 2 minutes. During this time, I had started shaking all over and continued to do so for hours, even after Ava was born. My blood pressure also kept dropping, so the nurse gave me medicine to help regulate it. (Apparently the tremors and the drop in blood pressure can both happen with epidurals.) More concerning was the fact that Ava’s heart rate kept dipping and then spiking, which made me very nervous. I tried unsuccessfully to sleep.

A little after 10:00 p.m.: Dr. E. came back and said that I had made a little progress but was still somewhere between 4 and 5 cm. Because I had failed to progress much despite my very regular contractions, she wondered if Ava would ever come out on her own. She was also concerned about Ava’s heart rate and wanted to avoid a situation where Ava would be in prolonged distress. She told me she would give me another hour or so to progress but that if things didn’t change, she said it might be time to consider a C-section. Hearing this news devastated me but also didn’t completely surprise me, given how things had been going.

That next hour felt like twenty. I was lying on my left side with my legs in an uncomfortable, scissor kick kind of position that the doctor hoped would help Ava move down, and I had to grip the handrail on the side of the bed so that I wouldn’t tilt too far forward. On top of the discomfort I felt, my mind was also racing with the possibility of having to get a C-section. I knew next to nothing about C-sections and was very anxious, but I was so tired and emotionally drained that if that was how I had to meet Ava, then I would have to be fine with it. I prayed and tried to listen to a playlist of worship music I had made, but it was hard not to stare obsessively at the screen displaying Ava’s heart rate. Her numbers were still all over the place, and in my heart I think I knew a C-section was inevitable.

A little before 11:30 p.m.: Dr. E. came back in and checked me. I was dilated to “maybe” 5 cm. She said that the contractions weren’t doing their job of pushing Ava down the birth canal (possibly because of Ava’s positioning) and that technically she wouldn’t even consider me to be in active labor at this point. Ava’s heart rate was the biggest concern, and so I made the decision to move forward with a C-section. Things happened really quickly after that. The CNA came in and explained the procedure to me and told me that I would get to see Ava as soon as she was cleaned up and that she could stay on my chest while I was stitched up. Knowing that I would get to have Ava with me afterward gave me a lot of comfort, and even though I was extremely nervous about the surgery, I clung to the hope of getting to hold my girl soon. I signed a consent form (layman’s description of procedure: “get baby out”), the nurses prepped me for surgery,  and then they wheeled me down to the operating room.

June 9

Sometime between midnight and 12:31 a.m.: The CNA sat right behind my gurney and gave me some medicine when I told him that I felt really nauseous and anxious. The doctor checked to make sure I was sufficiently numbed, and then Stephen came into the OR after they had me all ready to go. He got to sit right beside me the whole time, which was such a relief to me. I listened as Dr. E. and her assistant worked and made chitchat about everyday things (so strange that they could talk about things like grocery shopping while they were cutting me open!). Finally, I felt a very strange pulling sensation, and then Ava was out at 12: 31 a.m.! I remember Dr. E. making a comment about how much hair she had, and then I heard something about meconium, but I don’t remember much else. Stephen told me at this point my eyes were getting really heavy and I was fighting sleep, but the CNA told me to just rest and that they would wake me up when Ava was cleaned up and ready to be held.

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Sometime between 12:45-2:45 a.m.: A team worked on cleaning up Ava. We had no idea what was really going on at first, until my nurse came over and explained that Ava had aspirated meconium and that the special care team was caring for her. The same thing had happened with Charlotte, so I wasn’t worried at first, but it seemed that they worked on her forever. Stephen was able to go over at some point and take pictures, and they made us buttons with Ava’s footprint on them. Stephen showed me the pictures he took, and finally someone brought Ava over to us. However, we weren’t allowed to hold her, as they decided that she needed to go the NICU for further treatment. I only had a brief glimpse of my baby before they whisked her away. They then transferred me to a recovery room, where I tried to absorb everything that had happened. I was exhausted from the long day and heartbroken that not only had I had a C-section, but I didn’t even get to hold my baby after it was all over.

Around 4:45 a.m.: A transporter came and wheeled my bed down to the NICU so Stephen and I could see Ava. She looked so tiny wrapped up in all the tubes and wires, even though she weighed 8 pounds, 1 ounce (and Charlotte only weighed 6 lbs, 12 oz). The nurse said we couldn’t hold her yet because her heart rate and respiration rate were so erratic that the smallest thing could overstimulate her. They hadn’t even bathed her (and didn’t until the following evening).

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Our first time to see Ava

Later that morning: We went back to the NICU to see Ava, and they let me hold her! It took some maneuvering around the tubes and wires, but finally I got hold her in my arms. I remember saying, “Hi, Ava,” and her beautiful dark eyes popped open and stared at me. It was a sweet, tender moment that gave me hope in the midst of a trying situation.

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Holding Ava for the first time

Ava ended up spending 4 nights in the NICU, and while that experience was one of the hardest I’ve faced, we are so thankful that things did not turn out worse and that Ava is now healthy and home with us.

In the weeks since Ava was born, I have fought against the many what ifs that have haunted me: What if I had waited for labor to begin naturally instead of being induced? What if I had not gotten an epidural? What if all of my choices were the wrong ones? But I can’t really know the answers to these questions. All I know for certain is what actually happened, and there is nothing I can do to change that. Dwelling on the what ifs won’t help me, but destroy me. So instead I am fighting to remember that my life–and the lives of my family members–is in the hands of One far wiser and kinder than I am, One who withholds no good thing from me. Nothing is a surprise to Him, nothing outside of His sight, and so I give thanks for His sustaining presence in that operating room and in the NICU and give thanks every day as I kiss my sweet girls good night.

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My 2 girls

Winner of Never Unfriended

It’s time to announce the winner of my Never Unfriended giveaway. Thanks to all of you who entered! I had 8 people enter, and I used the random number generator to select a winning number.

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winner

That means that CAPPYLOVE3 is the winner! Congratulations! Check your email for details about how to get your book.

For those of you who didn’t win, I highly recommend ordering a copy of the book for yourself.

The Prayer I Stopped Praying

As the weeks leading up to Ava’s arrival pass with increasing speed, I am filled with a variety of emotions: panic at the thought of raising a newborn, when it’s been 6 years since I did such a daunting thing; stress about the fact that her nursery is nowhere close to being ready (she does have a crib to sleep in, but it would help to have a clear path to said crib); excitement as I think about what Ava will be like and how she will be different and similar to her big sister (will she be born with a head full of adorable hair like Charlotte and cry incessantly the first few months of her life, or will she be bald and content?). And of course, there’s the anticipation as I think of meeting Ava for the first time, gazing into the eyes I have dreamed about, clutching the tiny fingers, caressing the tiny feet and toes that spent weeks kicking me from the inside. There will be much to wonder at and take joy in, much to compare to my experience with Charlotte, and no doubt much that will be new and different.

One such new thing is that this time, after I bring my daughter home from the hospital, I will not have to think about counting down the weeks until my maternity leave ends. In those early weeks of Ava’s life, I will not have to agonize over getting her ready to sleep in a daycare crib and eat on a schedule. Why? Because this time I am getting what I long ago desired with Charlotte–the chance to stay home with my baby. Last week I sat down with my boss, after much dread and anxiety (I have worked for him for 7 years), and I told him that my last day is May 17 and that I do not plan on coming back after Ava is born. Even as I type those words, it is hard for me to believe they are true, but they are.

After Charlotte was born I struggled mightily to reconcile my desire to stay at home with the need that my family had for me to be working. Over time I made peace with the fact of being a working mom, but pangs of longing still lay buried in my heart, and I would plead with the Lord to make a way where there didn’t seem to be a way. I prayed off and on about my desire to stay at home for several years, until finally I didn’t pray anymore. I decided that God was telling me “no” to that particular prayer, and so I did what I could and searched for all the ways that being a working mom was a blessing: it helped provide for my family; it gave Charlotte the opportunity to socialize with other kids and be exposed to so many sweet, dear teachers at her daycare; it stimulated my mind. And in those early days of being desperately sick with ulcerative colitis, and later on with my two hip surgeries and lengthy recoveries, it was a relief for me to know that Charlotte had a place to go every day where she was loved and cared for, when it was hard for me to do those things for her.

Nevertheless, when I found out I was pregnant with Ava, after years of wondering if my health would ever be stable enough for me to have another child, I felt that familiar longing rising to the surface. So I started praying again, asking the Lord to provide a way for me to stay at home, even for just a while. Our finances were certainly better than what they were when Charlotte was born, but we still were uncertain about how it would work. Meanwhile, we put as much money into savings as we could and talked about the pros and cons of quitting my job. The numbers didn’t completely add up, but with our savings, we knew we could make it work for several months at least. I had to ask myself if I could be okay with giving up my job in exchange for 4-6 months of time at home with Ava, and when I thought about it, the choice was easy. I knew what I wanted to do, and I knew it was possible in a way it hadn’t been 6 years ago when Charlotte was born. There will be other jobs, but there is only one Ava. So we’re taking a step of faith and walking into unknown waters and trusting that God will help us cross safely to the other side. I don’t completely know how it will all work, but that is the way of life, isn’t it? We pray and we trust and we do our best and know that God will give us what we need, nothing more, nothing less.
I may have stopped praying that prayer a long time ago, but the hope in my heart was resurrected, and now I see God answering prayer upon prayer upon prayer, and all I can do in response is offer my deep gratitude and praise.

We will sing to our souls,
We won’t bury our hope.
Where He leads us to go,
There’s a Red Sea road.

When we can’t see the way,
He will part the waves.
And we’ll never walk alone,
Down the Red Sea road.

from “Red Sea Road” by Ellie Holcomb