birthday reminiscing

Today we celebrate a whole year of Cecily Anne’s life.

Our celebration may look small — in fact, the small celebration we will have has been scheduled for Thursday, because birthdays are flexible, right? But this morning, sitting quietly watching the morning dawn, this mama’s heart is flooded with waves of memory, melancholy and joyous mingled together. How can it have been a whole year? And can I go back for just a moment to that newborn babe? And how thankful I am for this year, for the chubby, happy girl who has grown right before our eyes. Marveling that the little bundle of pink skin and soft fuzz has become a laughing, singing, peek-a-booing person, an irreplaceable member of our little clan.

Her siblings are ecstatic about her birthday. They love her so, you know. The boys keep saying, A whole year? How can that be? They are already learning how swiftly time flows, how quickly people grow, and how precious life is.

I’m remembering this morning the exhilarating feeling of those newborn moments (the ones after I collapse onto the bed in exhaustion!) Who can describe the joy that floods the room, shared by every person? The tears, the laughter, the cradling, the sense of communion as we share all of those feelings?

And I’m remembering that before that celebration begins, there is this:

Hours and hours. Counted in minutes. Sometimes seconds. Sometimes you can only manage one second at a time.

But you handle the seconds because you’re looking ahead to the end. You stay in that painful moment, doing your job the best you can, because there is a promise to be fulfilled, and your heart is set on it. You are given to bringing it to pass by playing your part.

Today I remember this beautiful moment God gave to me, this birth of Cecily Anne and the part I was chosen to play. And I also remember the call He’s continuing to put on me in the lives of my children. There is a promise to see fulfilled, and there are hours, moments, and sometimes painful seconds to be faithfully endured. Lord grant me grace to stay the course, to play my part, to labor in the painful moments, because there is a promise and an end:

“My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you…”

Cecily Anne

Cecily.

Named almost the moment she was born, a first for Ryan and Danica. “It’s a girl!”, her daddy exclaimed, and almost with the next breath, “Cecily! I knew it was Cecily!”

Little knowings. I just love those God whispers that become resonating shouts when our eyes fully see. That’s who this little girl was to her daddy, and what a special thing for her to know, for him to remember.

*****

She was born in her own time, like both sisters before her. Nine days past her due date — dates which I always laughed and shrugged off, but after Fiona waited until the 11th hour for her arrival, those pesky little due dates suddenly seemed to bear much more weight in my mind. As soon as that due date passed, the clock began to tick. I tried hard not to notice or hear it or give it any mind, but I did. Please don’t be too late, please please! One week overdue, and suddenly I entered that end game — you know, when walking feels awkward and getting out of bed demands an actual strategy and I just couldn’t bear the thought of real clothes. All activity happened in the morning, because afternoon naps were guarded. I seem to only ever birth babies at night, you know, so naps aren’t an option. Last batches of cookies. Last grocery runs. On the 16th, I even put on make up and a dress and did my last stocking purchases, realizing my stash for Ryan was lacking. It was warm, even balmy, that week, so we would walk down to my parent’s, to the library, slowly and awkwardly, but we did it.

“Any contractions?,” my midwife asked every week, and yes. Yes, plenty of those. But nothing real. A few nights, laying in bed, I would be woken by a couple in a row — and there is nothing quite so disappointing as realizing 6 hours later that you’ve been sound asleep and those false alarms completely fizzled out.

I didn’t really want to go into labor. I felt so much less prepared than ever. What if this time it got the better of me? What if I just lost it halfway through and couldn’t do it? I actually don’t like the feeling of a small human exiting my body.

But I was reaching that spot between a rock and a hard place: you know you can’t go on like this, but the alternative isn’t looking so great — but then again, let’s just do this, because you can’t go on like this.

And the whole time trying not to notice that my window of time was slipping away, day after day, with no sign of labor.

I forget that it truly does suddenly overtake you. There is no warning. It happens when it happens. I really forget. Kind of silly!

Friday the 18th: I woke up exhausted, thanks to the worst heartburn of my pregnancy the night before. Fortunately I was able to fight that exhaustion with the breakfast of champions: Christmas cookies and Dutch pastry, still on a tray from the night before when the kids slept under the tree. We’d finished our Christmas read-aloud and nibbled cookies and washed it down with milk. We’d sung Christmas carols with four excited kiddos, then put the girls to bed while the boys relished this special evening by the tree with Mama sitting nearby. That was the night before, and now I had to put a plan together for another day. Plan A was always Have A Baby, but since that didn’t seem to work out, I was left to scramble for a Plan B. Along with usual chores, the plan for Friday included cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning and a game of Sorry altogether after my very short nap. We were all hoping to spend the evening shopping for each other’s Christmas Eve gifts (the kids swap names and buy each other something.) Around 5, we put away the game and I started to get dinner ready, just in case Daddy ended up being available. I wrapped my risen cinnamon rolls for the freezer, and felt the first contraction. It wanted my attention, but I stubbornly paid it no mind. I pulled out bread for pb&j, and the boys groaned. “We ate that for lunch!” I wanted to snap at them in response, and that got my attention. My, aren’t we edgy tonight, I chided myself, and bit my tongue. Something about “an easy dinner so we can meet Dad in town,” and they quickly changed their attitudes. 6:30, we met Ryan and he joined us in the van. “This might need to be an efficient trip, babe. I could be in labor.”

I waddled into the store and managed to keep up with two excited boys. The contractions sure felt legit. By the time we got back in the van, I was already tuning out the world. Ryan asked if this was really it. Ugh. I hate having to make that call! We called Regina, my midwife, and told her we’d be in touch again at 9:30, after I’d gotten home and settled, to let her know if things were continuing to move forward.

And they were. Every six minutes, for about 6 hours! I have never had early labor last so long. After Regina and several friends had arrived, and my vitals were all checked, I laid down on the couch and fell asleep. For nearly two hours! A few times I was slightly roused by a contraction, but when I woke up at 2:30am, I had a sinking feeling.

It was a false alarm.

I felt groggy and grumpy. So I pulled out the mountain of clean laundry and started folding. I’m not sure I contributed much to that chore, because sure enough, as soon as I was up and moving, everything kicked back into action. Oh me of little faith. It wasn’t a false alarm; it was the pause I needed to get the rest and stamina for the rest of the night.

Slow and steady: that’s how it started, and that’s how it progressed. Up until the end, I felt like I was laboring in slow motion. (I even remember making a joke about not ruining my slippers right before I started pushing. I’ve never been able to think or talk much during other labors!) A contraction, then that suspended time in between when you lay your head on the kitchen counter and sleep. Squat. Stretch your lower back. Sit on the couch. Hate the couch. Try the chair. Have to move. Get a glass of water, but pause halfway through the filling to breathe. Resume. Take a sip and then breathe through another. It’s amazing how many hours can slip by when you are living in those seconds and moments. My mom slept in an armchair. Friends checked instagram and laughingly complained that no one was updating at 4am. Ryan slept with the girls for a couple hours. The house was a bubble of calm and timelessness.

I think it was around 5am when I finally was feeling too tired and too uncomfortable to stay in the kitchen or family room. I wanted my bed.

I perched on the edge of the mattress. It was getting real. No one could push too hard on my lower back. I was vaguely aware of the time and knew this was lasting awhile (for me), but I also could tell that it was moving along just fine. There were no hours of stalling, as there had seemed to be with Fiona. There was the steady, aching awareness that this baby was moving. Pressing on bones, pushing them aside. Come on, body, get this baby down!

I was exhausted. I would sit or stand for a few contractions, and then lay down for a couple. My legs just couldn’t hold up. But they needed to, because I wanted this done. Kids woke up and asked to play wii; it was morning. I was waiting for the pressure that would cue pushing, but knew this time, I needed to help. Get up one more time. I sat on the edge of the bed — as far as I could get before the next wave hit (those crazy piggyback contractions with barely a breather that are oh so hard but they get things done.) My water broke. Soon. I stood, or, rather, Ryan held me up. Time to push, at last — and fighting inner waves of panic that this time I wouldn’t know what to do. There was the sudden quiet, intense hustle of assistants manning their positions, birth team in place, eyes on Regina. Except then there’s that grand lull. It seemed to last too long. Is my body going to push this baby out or not??! When the next contraction came, and with it the involuntary first real push, I was flooded with relief. It was going to happen. My body still worked! And efficiently. Only a few of those powerful pushing contractions.

It seemed an eternity of panting before that head was delivered, but Regina talked me through it, flawlessly, again. And seconds later, at 8:01am, born.

“It’s a girl!”

I was so surprised. They laid her on my chest, damp and purple and screaming, her face looking like maybe this had been a long night for her, too! A precious new life, healthy and kept through the wild ride of childbirth. And me, too — exhausted and ravenous, but strong. Stronger than ever. An answer to my prayers, and to Ryan’s, too.

She was 9lb, 8.5oz (beating Beatrice by 1/2 an ounce!), and 21.75″ long, with a nice round head that filled out her Hannas hat from day one. And we thought this baby would be a tiny one!

Her Nana dressed her and swaddled her and laid her in my arms — another sweet-smelling gift from a good heavenly Father. Another wave of love filling my heart. Another chance to take in the scent of brand new baby, laugh at the bubbling joy of older siblings, count tiny toes so perfectly formed, kiss fingers curled around my pinky, sleep all night with a bundle just meant for a mama’s arms. A chance to know a whole new person. Sacred. Miraculous.

Cecily Anne Dunphey: Cecily, a long-loved name, Anne, a family name on both sides. It means “Blind, Full of Grace,” a combination that immediately reminded me of the hymn Ryan sings to the kids whenever he puts them to bed.

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found
‘Twas blind, but now I see.”

chubby babies, labor pains, and joy: gal 4.19

My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you… Galatians 4.19

Some verses get lodged in your heart, always in the background, being mulled and processed and slowly shaping how you live and see life. This is one of those for me. Mike Tomford read it on a Sunday several years ago, and it’s been lodged ever since.

Today it comes to the forefront.

This makes sense, because May 28th is always a day that makes me think of labor, babies, and life. Twenty-four years ago, I was a 9 year old girl, scrambling downstairs at dawn with my siblings, excitedly tiptoeing into our dining room, peering through doorway past a cluster of my mother’s friends, hoping for a glimpse of the miracle taking place: a baby being born! She came, chubby and sweet, and Mrs. Colbert swaddled her and named her Butterball until a more suitable moniker could be chosen.

julia
She’s the cute brunette, still a little butterball-y!

And so May 28th, labor, and Galatians 4:19 all converge this morning in my heart.

*****

I’ve learned things about childbirth and labor in the last few years. I learned that it’s not easy, watching my strong and courageous mother, a woman I knew could take on the world, meet her match in labor. I learned that it can last for days as I waited for news of my first nephews’ arrival (and cried to Mrs. Kinnen, wanting so badly to take my sister’s place so she could just rest.) I learned that it can go much faster and more intensely than anticipated, when Jameson was born 4 hours and 15 minutes after my water broke, with barely 3 hours of contractions. I learned that it can include complications requiring life-saving measures, as my littlest brother was delivered by emergency c-section, and a niece followed suit several years later. I learned that it requires determination, that it exacts all reserves of courage, that it crashes like brutal waves and leaves you depleted only to find a new depth of strength. I learned that your last labor is not your next labor, and no two are exactly alike.

I learned that no one can promise you or tell you much about how it will go. The only true comfort is this: “There, that contraction is over. You’ll never ever have to do that one again.”

And the greatest joy is that there is a baby.

*****

I learned how to meet childbirth with Holy-Spirit inspired strength from my mother.

And I’m learning what it means to be “again in labor” as I watch my mother (and my father) persevere in seeing Christ formed in me and in my siblings.

All of those things about courage and perseverance and trusting for grace for this moment and not dwelling on how long that last labor was — all of those things, I see them doing still.

I’m learning that the ecstatic moment when you hear, “It’s a girl/boy!” is only the start of a life of laboring.

I’m learning that “I can’t do this anymore!” needs to be swiftly met with those scripture cards I wrote out for labor. He makes me able.

I’m learning to labor alongside. I’m learning that just as I am strengthened by my sisters and friends in a circle around my bed, wetting my sweaty forehead, rubbing my feet, whispering and cheering — so we strengthen one another as we each labor to see others come to maturity in Christ.

I’m learning that personal expectation and desires and any selfish grasping must be done away with. Just as I surrender my body to bring forth a baby, so we lay down our lives — our time, our energy, our money, our everything — to see people find Jesus and His purposes.

I’m learning what incredible joy it is to labor and pray and persevere alongside and then see someone dear be set free, fall in love with Jesus even more, set their hearts completely on Him.

Because this: “I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.”

*****

“It’s a girl/boy!” isn’t the end.

Neither is their 18th birthday, or high school graduation.

It’s not over until Christ is formed in them. (Yes, that’s a life-long labor we’re talking about.)

This is parenting that all believers are called to — married, single, childless — all.

*****

When the contractions keep coming, and you wonder how much longer, and no one can tell you?

There’s this:

“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.” –Galatians 6.7-9

diastasis recti: fun!

I mentioned in a pre-Fiona post several months ago that I have diastasis recti. Well, that became all the more clear during my labor, which took its time starting in the first place, and then seemed to pause for a couple of extra hours (and by “pause”, I just mean “didn’t progress.” Because no, I haven’t discovered the secret to pushing “pause” at the height of labor.) Pushing required more effort, too. And I felt very, very discombobulated when everything was all said and done. That makes perfect sense, of course, if you realize that your abdominal muscles have deserted their post, and there’s nothing keeping your insides in check. Details.

During my pregnancy, I’d done lots of reading about several different exercise-based approaches to healing a diasasis (rather than surgical). I’d figured I’d take a laid-back approach, incorporating some of their principles as it fit into my life. Ha. After the strange twists and turns of labor, and the condition of my muscles post-baby, I quickly realized this wasn’t going to be something to just “fit in” here and there. So I ordered a whole kit from Tupler Technique, including the not-a-joke splint (which I think could double as bullet-proof gear?) I’ll be honest: I watched the DVD, found out how much time this would really take each day, put the splint on and realized I’d be wearing that uncomfortable contraption for months — and cried.

But here’s the other honest truth: two days later, I didn’t feel like I was falling apart anymore. I’d read that simply doing the baby-step exercises and wearing the splint would be effective very quickly, but I was really surprised at how effective.

Still, this is for the long haul.

I’ve checked off three weeks’ worth of daily exercises. I’ve only torn the splint off a few times, when the humidity + kevlar was just more than my claustrophobic self could handle. I’m going to repeat Week Three’s regimen several times, waiting for 6 weeks post partum to really pick things up. It’s really hard to find 10 minutes, 3 times a day, when I can sit still and do the exercises. And it’s only going to increase in time as the program continues on. But my midwife, my mom, and my husband said: do it. It’s part of being faithful in this season, and so I just pray as check off another box, Lord, use this. Heal me.

(I’m posting this because I heard from several people that they, too, had diastasis recti. If you’re interested in how the program is working for me, or have questions, let me know!)

fiona, part one

I was just looking at my phone history to see what sort of text conversations were happening one week ago. They were something along the lines of: “If I don’t have this baby soon, I’m in ‘trouble.'”

Jameson was born hours before his due date rolled around.

William was born hours after his due date.

Beatrice waited a whole four days before labor kicked into gear.

And this baby? Well… Dates can be wrong, but you go with what you’ve got, and according to calculations, this baby was happy as a clam, despite the Big Bad Forty-Two Week mark that was quickly approaching. Sometimes I’d have a contraction that would make me perk up and wonder, Yes? Maybe? Then long minutes, hours, would tick by, and No. Not it.

Thursday, when I was 41w4d along, I met with my midwife and we discussed Options. When she left, I knew I had a few days to do my best to walk and take baths and drink tea. And I knew that Monday morning, she would call the hospital to make arrangements for me to go in and get things rolling.

Here’s the deal: I don’t hate hospitals. But I do home births for good reasons, one of those being a deep preference. Giving birth in a hospital isn’t my first choice, but getting an IV, pitocin, EFM, and all that could lead to? Really, really not my first choice. But [deep breath], God is bigger than all of that. I know that. I knew that. But I had to remind myself. A lot. Things don’t have to go my way. Sometimes they don’t for good reasons, for reasons I can’t possibly understand and simply have to trust in the perfect Father who holds my life in His hands.

These are the thoughts that would go on in my head while I walked briskly, mile after mile. (Because, as an aside, I felt really, really good right until the end of this pregnancy. I was incredibly thankful for that. Floradix? Liver? A walking regimen all 9 months? Whatever the reason, it was a gift.)

There were plenty of mornings waking up and feeling “hope deferred-ish”, as I told Ryan. And then I would remind myself, don’t hope in labor today. Hope in God. (Hope in God never leaves you with a “deferred-ish” feeling.)

Anyway, that Saturday, we had the option of having my midwife stop by in the evening to strip my membranes, or we could just wait till Sunday, when she was planning on coming and pulling out all the stops — herbs, membranes, you name it. We just couldn’t decide! Saturday or Sunday. Or Monday in the hospital? Were we getting ahead of God? Gah! I just couldn’t sense what was the right decision. My hormones, which had stayed amazingly in check for 9 months, were suddenly clouding everything. Take it away, Ry.

He made some last phone calls for advice, and finally decided Yes. Tell her to come tonight.

At 7:08, she texted to say she’d be at our house in an hour or so. I let my friends and family know what we’d decided, and then got a game plan together. “Okay, kids. Here’s the deal. In an hour, Regina is coming. We need to clean the kitchen, pick up the house, get pj’s on, and be in bed by then. Let’s go!”

And — I kid you not — no sooner had I stood up to start cleaning up from dinner than a contraction hit me. And another. And another. In fact, the whole time I was tidying, they just came faster and faster. It took me a bit to realize what was going on, and when I did, I just couldn’t believe it. Didn’t believe. Just cleaned faster and more furiously, thinking I should just ignore them rather than get my hopes up? But they were there. I’ve always been a bit excited when labor started, in spite of the looming ordeal, but I’ve never, ever been so thankful. Really? Really, we decide to go ahead with stripping the membranes, and Boom! Labor starts? Really? One more day of trying every trick up our sleeves, knowing none of them were sure guarantees of anything, and Boom! God steps in? Really? I wanted to cry, but I was just too surprised to even do that.

Ryan was out mowing the lawn — we all have our Before Baby priorities! — and although I was tempted to ask him for help with kids, I decided to let him keep mowing, and I’d just keep moving. There were a couple of snippy moments I had to apologize for, trying my best to explain to them that I was just getting really uncomfortable. Jameson seemed to understand, and got very busy going the extra mile on my behalf.

We all sat together on Beatrice’s bed to read Jemima Puddle-duck. Ryan came in, and I told him about the contractions. Regina arrived and smiled at the news. I finished the story, tucked them all in bed, and — deep breath — got ready to move on to the rest of the night. Here we go!