We were blessed, a few weeks ago, to celebrate our darling Anne-Kelly's fourth birthday. She is currently really into all things pretty, dress-up, princess-related, and the like. So, naturally, we took our inspiration for her party from her favorite book series, Fancy Nancy. The prep nearly killed me, but it was worth all the effort! The children seemed to have a wonderful time. Following are some photographs from the soiree:
All photos courtesy of Ameroy Hunley and the Dot Photography
The month of May is Brain Cancer Awareness Month. This means something to our family because it was this greedy disease that robbed our family of two amazing men, full of life and laughter and love for others.
I can still hear Brent's dad's voice when he was telling a big tale. Young or old, his listeners would nod and laugh at his amusing anecdotes and wide smile as he talked. I know I could sit in a chair and while away an hour or more just listening.
Day-long fishing trips.
A summer baseball game.
Bluegrass and barbeque.
Always family. Always friends.
And always faith.
And I am thankful; oh, I am so thankful for the stories my girls know by heart and ask for on a regular basis.
"Daddy, tell me about my Grandpa Gary and his dirt bike...or that time on the lake...or when he took you camping..."
How is it that they can love someone so much that they never met? I do not know, but they do.
But there is one thing I am more thankful for than the stories. One part of him that I see living on in my husband, his firstborn. You see, as tragic as it is that we no longer have Gary with us, he has left us with so much more than stories, though it is stories we love and many stories that we have. Because the reality is, he was only a part of the story: the greatest story that there ever was. It was so much a part of him and he was so much a part of it that it was just what he breathed in and out.
"I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me."
And not a Sunday morning Savior, but an in-your-life and in-your-messes Jesus. Loving you just as you are and smiling at you like he doesn't just like you, but he loves you and delights in you.
Through his actions: Jesus.
Through his words: Jesus.
And, at the end, in his suffering: Jesus.
It is that legacy for which I am thankful. It is what makes my little ones love a grandfather who they never met--because they see it in their daddy, this incredible faith and devotion and sacrifice in the name of Jesus. What a father he is because what a father he had.
So today and every day, I honor you, Gary. I miss you and your tales. The struggle, the suffering, and the loss was not for nothing. On the contrary: it was for everything.
I have decided to resurrect my blog since I recently decided to quit the Facebook world. I had been feeling a tug to exit for a while now, and I have to say it is freeing to be a bit more unplugged. Simplifying our life is what I'm all about now, and reducing my social media time was a part of that. Who knows if it will be forever, but it is the right decision at the moment.
However, I know that so many of our friends and family enjoy seeing updates about our girls, so I decided that bringing back the blog would be the best way to do that. So here I am!
To kick things off, a few photos of Anne-Kelly's dress rehearsal for her dance recital. She has been in ballet classes for this entire school year, and she has had a ball! They are dancing to "A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes" from Cinderella, so AK is pumped since, of course, she thinks she is Cinderella. Also, her recital costume, as you can see, is bright pink and scattered with sequins, so she is in her element!
They had an absolute ball! As expected, Anne-Kelly wasn't shy in the least; she was right at home on the stage....surprise surprise! ;) Cora watched the entire time and can't wait for her turn in the spotlight.
Today I came across a wonderful interview with my favorite midwife, Ina May Gaskin, along with her husband, Stephen. If you don't know who they are, let me give you the short version: they were part of the group that founded the Farm in Summertown, TN. It was a hippie-commune (they called themselves "technicolor Amish") that has now evolved into a self-sustaining community that serves as a hub for all things natural health. The midwives at the Farm are known the world over and have some of the best safety rates in the maternal health business (Example: their cesarean rate is 1.7 percent versus the US cesarean rate of 34 percent).
Anyway, in this interview, Mr. and Mrs. Gaskin talk about all manner of things surrounding her midwifery practice at the Farm, but what really stuck out to me was something she said when describing laboring moms. She said that women who are laboring unmedicated have a kind of "mystic beauty." She then went on to say that when doctors see what they are denying women of by overmedicating and overmedicalizing birth, they will learn to get out of the way and let the woman's body work.
After going through my last birth experience, I have to say that I have to agree. My incredibly supportive mother-in-law, Sandy, who admittedly didn't know very much about unmedicated birth up until now, told me last week that if she hadn't been in the room to see it, she wouldn't have believed it could be done so peacefully and powerfully. Women all over the US are in the same boat, especially moms-to-be. If I had a dime for every woman that I talk to that tells me she is "terrified" of giving birth, I'd unfortunately be a very rich woman. Because of modern-day media and an alarmist medical community, American women are just plain uninformed about what birth is really like and what their bodies are capable of. It breaks my heart to see fellow women being robbed of knowing their own powerful woman-strength.
In the interview I mentioned, Ina May says that up until the mid-twentieth century (starting with President Carter's generation) babies were born at home. My grandmother was born at home. She is now 82. Now, don't hear me wrong -- I'm not saying every baby should be born at home. I had unmedicated hospital births. I have lots of friends who had wonderful, perfectly safe home births. Choose what is right for you and your little one. What I'm ultimately saying is that natural, unmedicated birth, no matter where, isn't an unattainable concept. I am no martyr or superhuman for doing it. I simply believed in my body's innate wisdom and trusted that it knew how to have this baby just like my great-grandmother did when she had my Nanny at home 82 years ago (By the way, that same great-grandmother's name was Cora -- how cool and full-circle is that?!).
So I suppose I say all that to encourage you and say that your body, too, is wise and capable. Don't doubt it. There is a "mystic beauty" inside of you just waiting to come out.
If you'd like to watch the interview with Stephen and Ina May Gaskin, see it HERE.
It's really very easy as a wife and mother to get caught up in the madness that is Christmas. My thoughts race like a looping marquee -- "Tree decorated? Presents wrapped? Groceries bought? Who did I forget to buy something for? Does one child have more presents than the other? 3 days-2-days-1 day until relatives arrive! Ohmygosh, the house is filthy!" -- anyone else's brain on the same channel as mine? And then you log on to Facebook only to see how Sarah from Smithville or Jill from Jefferson has already done all of the aforementioned things and is presently sitting on the couch sipping diet hot cocoa in her size six designer jeans and admiring the holiday splendor that is her living room all while her well-behaved children lounge in monogrammed pajamas in their pottery barn miniature armchairs. The self-judgment begins and before you know it, it's December 26 and you can barely remember Christmas because you were so tired from preparing that you nearly slept through the day itself.
It's a sad, but true cycle that many of us mothers fall into. And for what? So we can put photos on our blogs or so we can feel good about ourselves in front of our mother-in-laws?
I started recollecting about this subject last night when I saw a beautiful video made by some children at St. Jude's Research Hospital. For those of you who aren't familiar with St. Jude's, it's a children's hospital that never turns a child away because his or her family can't pay. And not only that, but their cure rates are unbelievable and their research is one of the major reasons that so many strides have been made in the fight against childhood cancer and other diseases.
Check out the video yourself in a moment. After watching it, I was struck with a few astounding realizations.
None of this holiday nonsense really matters.
Sure, having a tree and putting up lights and making Christmas dinner is wonderful and enjoyable, especially when it brings your family together. And giving gifts, if done in the right spirit, is a noble sentiment. But honestly, looking into the precious faces of the children featured in this video, I was struck with the idea that any of these children could be my child. Each one of them is the beloved, hoped-for, and dreamed-about baby of a mom or dad whose only worry and only stress this Christmas is whether or not their son or daughter will be here to celebrate next Christmas with them. How frivolous and how selfish of me is it to act like my own silly worries are even of the slightest importance? I'd even go as far as saying that by getting so tied up in the materialism of Christmas, I am dishonoring these children and their parents.
Please join me, this Christmas, in promising yourself that you'll put down your to-do list and pick up your healthy child. Then, thank God for that child and the blessings that you have. The real blessings. Like good health and unconditional love and food to eat and warm homes to gather in. And most importantly, don't forget to thank the Lord for the most precious gift of the season -- His son, Jesus, without whom we would have nothing and no hope at all.
I've put off writing Cora Rose's birth story for long enough because it was simply so amazing and so perfect that I'm afraid I couldn't do justice to the beauty of the experience if I put pen to paper. But I know it has to be done, so here is my best attempt at conveying it.
To give you a bit of background, we moved back to Kentucky (and into my parents' upstairs temporarily) when I was 35 weeks pregnant because Brent started a new job in Bowling Green. It was great to have help with Anne-Kelly during the last weeks, and for those of you who have been to the farm in Burkesville, you know that it is my "happy place." For those of you who haven't been, my parents live in a river bottom in the middle of nowhere on the Cumberland River in south central Kentucky. No cell phone reception, hardly any neighbors, you get the idea. Perfect for getting myself into a state of peace before delivering our second baby, I thought. So I was thankful for our temporary living arrangement.
Before moving, we had been living in Charlotte, NC and had been planning a birth at Carolina Community Maternity Center, a birth center with fabulous CPMs. I loved my midwife, Christine, and was so comfortable with her. So, needless to say, I was pretty upset about switching care so late in the game, and especially to an obstetrician that I hadn't even met. I decided that my best option was probably giving birth at TJ Samson Hospital in Glasgow, KY, about forty-five minutes from my parents' home. I picked what I thought was a pretty reasonable obstetrician. Anyway, my guess-date (not due date), as I call it, was conservatively set for September the fourth, but my midwife and the ultrasound I had at 20-ish weeks confirmed my suspicions that I was probably not due around the fourth but probably somewhere between the eighth and the 11th. So when my due date rolled around, then went by, and I was hanging out at about a week overdue, my OB started saying we needed to come up with what she called a "game plan." Ok, I understand that it's good to have plans, but I felt that I still trusted my body and God's plan for this baby, and I knew that he or she (we didn't know what we were having) would come on the day that the Lord had set out for his or her birth. However, we are not unreasonable people, so I did go in for nonstress tests and a biophysical profile. When I got to almost two weeks past the September fourth due date, my doc was getting a bit nervous I could tell, and she gave us the talk about placental failure and fetal demise and how this all basically adds up to irresponsible parenting if we don't induce at the 42 week mark. However, we kept praying and asking the Lord to guide us, knowing that He would give us a clear sign if we needed to induce and interfere with the process. Everything continued to look great, though, so we felt fine waiting it out. And additionally, I reminded my doctor that my midwife and back-up OB in NC had said I probably wasn't due til the eighth or the 11th anyway. My doctor said she didn't have any record of that in my chart, so she wasn't willing to entertain that idea. As you can imagine, this created a bit of a disagreement. After a tearful, on my end, appointment, and much emphasis on the idea that we could have a dead baby if we waited any longer, we finally agreed to come in and induce on the 18th if I hadn't gone into labor by then. I knew from the moment I left that setting that induction date was a mistake.
I wrestled with the Lord the entire week leading up to Cora's birth on Monday. We went to a Bluegrass festival in Burkesville on Friday night. We went shopping on Saturday. All the while, I begged for God to put me into labor. I pitied myself for being so overdue. I even tried bargaining with him. Finally, I read a copy of Amy Carmichael's poem, In Acceptance Lieth Peaceand realized that I just had to accept what was happening as part of God's plan. "But could a second induction be a part of God's plan?" I wondered. Surely not when my gut had told me differently this entire pregnancy, my conscience told me. I went out and walked alone several mornings in that final week; looking at the beauty of God's creation really quieted my heart. My father has a small herd of cattle, and I remember gazing at the mothers with their calves, knowing that if God cares for them, how much more does he care for me and my baby? I knew I had to trust him. When I was out on those walks, I also went up to our family cemetery. My grandmother, who I called Meemaw, had just passed away this past May. She had four babies naturally herself and was always one of my biggest sources of strength and encouragement. I was missing her tremendously. However, just knowing that women in my family, especially my Meemaw, had walked this road before me was a major source of strength for me.
In the midst of all this retrospection, I did go back to my doctor and allow her to twice strip my membranes and do a couple cervical checks, which revealed that I was about 50-75 percent effaced and FIVE centimeters dilated. Five centimeters. Walking around for a week. And they were worried I wouldn't go into labor. Remember this ladies the next time your doc tells you that because you're x-number of centimeters that labor is imminent. Hogwash. So, knowing labor was supposedly imminent, we did everything we could do to help it along. We walked and walked and walked. We were intimate. I meditated and tried to clear my mind of any mental obstacles to labor. I tried the breast pump. I even got so desperate that I tried a tablespoon of castor oil. None of it worked, which at the end of the day just made me realize that our baby just wasn't ready to be born. This was not such a crazy notion, considering my due date was probably later than we thought AND my mom and my aunt both went about 10 days over their EDDs as well.
Let me take a moment to say that if it hadn't been for Ina May Gaskin's Guide to Childbirth, I would not have survived this crazy time. And I know that she would point out that this time shouldn't have seemed crazy at all, as going until 42 or 43 weeks can be totally normal for some women. Armed with this knowledge and other assurances, I kept my sanity.
When the day before the induction rolled around, I got to looking through my copy of my obstetrical records and I happened upon a note where my midwife had written that my due date was probably the 11th. Now, as I mentioned earlier, my OB said that she couldn't find that information anywhere in my record. When I read it in my copy of the very same records that she had, you can imagine my dismay. I immediately got on the phone with labor and delivery department and asked them to have my doctor call me. However, I only got a call back from a nurse saying that my doctor would not be calling me, and that I could either come in or not come in. I told them that I would not, in fact, be coming in. And that was that.
So when the induction day, Sunday the 18th, came and went, I was myself starting to get admittedly a bit anxious. I decided that I wanted to go in for another nonstress test on the morning of the 19th. If everything looked good on it, we were still going to wait. If something looked off, we would induce then, we decided.
On the way to the hospital for the nonstress test, we turned the radio to the local Christian station and Charles Stanley was preaching. He was talking about faith and waiting on the Lord. It was as if God was directly speaking to me and telling me, once again, to wait on His timing. It was the confirmation I needed to know that what we were doing was not, in fact, reckless, but exactly what the Lord wanted for us and our baby.
When we arrived at the hospital, we went up to triage for the non-stress test, as I wasn't actually being admitted. It was at this point that we met our nurse/guardian angel for the day, Rhonda. I told her our whole story about my doctor and my disagreement, the pressure I felt to induce, and our reasoning for not doing so. Looking back, I see how silly it was of me to care so much about what others thought instead of listening to my own mother's intuition. As I told our story, my eyes filled with tears, and Rhonda looked at me and said, "Don't cry! I'll cry." And her own eyes filled with tears. I was floored that someone who barely knew me could care so much about myself and my baby. I'll never forget her words, "I will do whatever you want. I am not just your nurse, but your advocate." I felt so much freedom after she told me that, knowing I had someone in the "medical establishment" on my side.
During the monitoring, I had a couple contractions, so Rhonda urged me to stick around and go walk to see if they would pick up. Before walking though, she said she had an idea and had me go in a room. She brought me a hospital grade breastpump, which I looked at and told her defeatedly that I'd already tried a breastpump. Only a hand pump, not a double pump, though. She said she thought this one might be stronger and would do the trick if I was on the verge of going into labor. I spent fifteen minutes on the pump, during which I had intense contractions. I'd been having Braxton Hicks contractions for the month leading up to delivery, but nothing like these! They certainly got my attention. After the 15 minutes on the pump, we decided to walk around. Brent was hungry and so was I, so we decided to go to the cafeteria and get something to eat. I was craving fresh pineapple and melon, so I found some on the salad bar, along with some cottage cheese and a boiled egg for protein (in true Brewer Diet fashion, ladies). I also drank a Gatorade for hydration. While all this was going on, I continued to contract every 2.5 to 3 minutes. Brent, being the scientific left-brained one, was really into timing them, but I'm a little more freeflowing about my labor and don't care anything about timing them. So I kept forgetting to tell him when my contractions started and he was getting a little frustrated with me, which made me laugh. We walked for a full hour, during which my contractions continued, then went back up to the third floor to possibly hook back up to the pump. When I sat down, my contractions slowed a bit, so back onto the pump we went. The contractions increased in intensity this time, and after fifteen minutes, we went back to walking. This time, my contractions got closer together, probably somewhere between 1.5-2 minutes apart. I was having to stop and breathe through them, and I wanted some fresh air, so we headed outside for a few minutes. It was about this time that my parents arrived, as well as my dad's mom, Nanny, who is 82 but decided she wanted to be around for the momentous occasion, since it seemed like this was "the real thing." My first birth ended up being a "family birth" and I knew I wanted the same this time around. So we called Brent's mom and told her not to be in too big a hurry, but that we thought things were happening. She lives about three hours away.
At some point in there, my best friend and birth photographer, Ameroy, arrived as well and started taking pictures. It was also around this time that I started feeling more intense pressure and got more serious about my labor. I wanted to go back up to my labor and delivery room to use the birth ball and possibly get in the shower. My first labor had lasted only six hours, so I didn't know how quick this one would be. I still felt very in control, though, so I thought it would be a while.
Once in the room, I asked Rhonda to do a quick cervical check to see if we had made any progress. She said I was about a 6-7, so things were officially happening! I have to say, if there's any benefit to going post-dates, it's how thankful you are when you actually go into labor. I met each contraction with gratitude and openness, and I think that is one reason why this labor was so much more manageable compared to my first birth.
I spent the next couple hours laboring in the room, but never sitting still. I did the "labor dance" with my arms up around Brent's neck and my hips swaying. Ameroy put some music on her iPod, and I remember telling her that, strangely enough, I was in the mood for a little reggae. That got us all laughing, which was nice. I also labored over the ball and sometimes leaning over the end of the bed. I just knew that giving into the strength of my contractions was a must, so I curved my body into them and tried to relax. My water stayed intact throughout all of this.
Somewhere around five pm (we'd started laboring around noon), I began feeling tons of pressure and labor in my back. I tried to remember to keep letting my bottom be loose and free to open up for the baby to descend. I also remembered what Ina May had written about keeping my jaw and mouth open and relaxed and vocalizing low through the contractions, as this has a direct, related effect on keeping your pelvis open as well. When the contractions had become so intense that they required all of my attention and concentration, I knew it wouldn't be long. Still, I kept wondering when I would go into transition and "the fog" as I had the first time. Little did I know that I was actually already transitioning. Somewhere around this time, Rhonda came in and asked how I was doing and monitored me for a few minutes. I asked her if she needed to check me and she said, "Only if you want me to." It was so nice to feel respected and listened to by my nurse. I decided to be checked and we discovered that I was around eight centimeters! I knew we were in the home stretch, so Brent and I decided that I should get into the shower. He put on his trunks and got in with me. He sat on the seat and I leaned over him through each contraction. Throughout all of this intense part of labor, my contractions were still two minutes apart, though they did get longer and stronger. So different from pitocin-induced contractions, though.
After about 30 minutes in the shower, I started feeling the baby really moving down with each contraction. I knew it wouldn't be long at all, and I felt so much pressure in one contraction that I actually checked down there to see if I could feel her head -- I could! We got out of the shower and I put on my robe, and then I decided to brush my teeth since I had been drinking a purple powerade and it had stained my mouth. Always the girly girl, I didn't want to have purple teeth in my post-birth photos, ha! I remember leaning over the sink while brushing and looking at myself in the mirror, thinking how lucky I was to get to experience this intense experience, even though it was incredibly hard work. I think it was also somewhere around this time that I looked at Ameroy and said, "I think this is why they call this labor!" We all had a big laugh about that, too.
Finally, I left the bathroom and decided to tailor sit for a while on the bed. I was excited to see that my other best friend, Chelsea, who is also a physical therapist, had arrived. Chelsea is a very calming presence for me and always knows how to calm me down. While I sat on the bed, she started brushing my hair. I can't tell you how this simple act ministered to me in this hardest time during my labor. I remember it bringing tears to my eyes, and I can't even tell you why. After several huge contractions and starting to feel a little "pushy," I had Rhonda come and check me again, and she said I was 8-9 but with a bit of a cervical lip. This was very discouraging to me and made me doubt myself a little bit, as I had heard horror stories about cervical lips and how they could swell if you pushed against them, causing the baby to be unable to descend. I just didn't think I could hold off from pushing for much longer.
Rhonda, in her calm and knowing way, told me to try laying on my side to take the pressure off the side of my cervix so that it would melt away and allow me to dilate completely. It was also around this time that Brent was starving, and his mom arrived with some food. I told him I was ok for a few minutes, so he left and decided to go eat. Chelsea, Ameroy, and my mom all stayed with me. As I laid down, I remember the contractions suddenly changed and became completely unbearable. I remember thinking that if I had many more like that one that I wouldn't be able to bear it at all. Someone, I don't remember who, asked what I needed, and I said, "A hand." Ameroy grabbed my hand, and I held on for dear life. This contraction was different. I suddenly raised up out of the bed after only two contractions and declared that this baby was coming now.
Rhonda ran in and checked me, only to say that I was indeed complete and ready to have my baby. She told me that my doctor wasn't going to make it, but that I could start pushing and hopefully the doctor on call, Dr. Craddock, would be in. If not, she assured me that she could catch my baby. I had full confidence that she could. My brother had gotten there and popped in for a second, only to realize that I was about to start pushing. So he ran down the hall to fetch Brent. Apparently, Brent threw his french fries and burger into his seat and sprinted down the hall. I wish I could have seen that! Right after he came in, I yelled that I wanted Anne-Kelly to be present, so my mother-in-law, Sandy, brought her in from the waiting room.
Brent climbed into the bed behind me, as we had planned. And thankfully, after only a few minutes, Dr. Craddock arrived just as I was starting to push again. As I started pushing, I felt her head descend. With another push and squeezing Brent's hands as tight as I could, she was crowning. I felt the intense "ring of fire" and my doctor told me to breathe through the contractions and let things stretch for a moment. I remember looking at him and thinking, briefly, that he was a man and had obviously never pushed a baby out because if he had had, he'd know that the urge to push is just too strong! I decided right then that the desire to push far outweighed having a small tear. So, with one big grunt, I pushed with all my might and felt her head come out, closely followed by her shoulders and the rest of her body. It was 7:09 pm. Three pushes and one contraction was all that it took. I attribute the short second stage to regular chiropractic care and doing my exercises, both of which helped me be well aligned for the birth.
We didn't know what we were having, but as soon as they placed her on my chest, I was so relieved to see my precious baby that I didn't even notice whether she was a boy or girl for a few minutes. She didn't cry too much, but had perfect apgar scores, which my nurse told me is almost unheard of. She said it was probably because of my unmedicated birth that the baby was so alert and healthy. That made me feel good. We immediately locked eyes and she latched on and began nursing like a champ. Her big sister was right there kissing her and welcoming her into the world, which was wonderful. I felt so aware and so serene, which was definitely different from my first delivery.
It wasn't too long before the cord stopped pulsing and Brent cut it. Around the same time, I had another contraction and my placenta began to slide out. I gave a slight push and my doctor gave a slight tug, and the placenta was delivered. I was a bit nervous about bleeding too much, as I had had a piece of retained placenta with my first, so when I began clotting quite a bit they did give me a bit of pitocin to stop my bleeding. I was ok with that though. After a bit of uterine massage as well, the bleeding subsided. Dr. Craddock also had to give me one small stitch as well. Nothing major, though. He did a fantastic job with my delivery, especially considering he'd never even seen my birth plan!
After my doctor left, the pediatric nurse did an assessment of Cora and weighed and measured her. She was a perfect 6 pounds 10 ounces and 19.5 inches. She had a bit of peeling and a few long fingernails from "being in the bathwater a bit too long" the nurse said. I thought that was funny.
After I got cleaned up, we transferred to a postpartum recovery room and settled in for the night. My brother also brought me some ravioli from my favorite restaurant. I did shake quite a bit for a few hours after delivery, but I knew that was normal and had the nurse bring me some warm blankets to cover up with and cuddle Cora for a while. It took me hours to fall asleep, as I was on such a high from the whole exhilarating experience and I just couldn't stop looking at this amazing little person that had just entered my life.
Looking back three months later, I can honestly say I wouldn't change a thing about the whole experience. It certainly didn't go exactly as we'd planned, but God had his hand on us the whole time and it worked out just how it was supposed to. We are so blessed to have this precious new life in our family, and we feel that we couldn't have gotten a better Christmas gift. Many thanks to all who helped make this birth possible, whether you were there physically or just encouraged us in some other way.