Of a Slightly Different Flavor {But a rainbow of colors}

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IMG_5280.JPGMy fingers and cuticles are stained a deep pink from hours of manipulating beets. Washing. Scrubbing. Cooking. Peeling. Chopping. Pureeing. Testing. There may be spinach and/or fennel fronds in my teeth, and I’ll be sure to check before heading out the door for an afternoon meeting. But my skin is clearing, my snacking includes a medley of nuts, seeds and jerky, and my motivation to incorporate more of the Whole 30 principals into our family’s eating rhythm increases as the challenge days pass. David may be even more committed than I am. While our health needed these changes, I think our souls craved the fresh page even more.   IMG_5242.JPG

Ironic though it may sound, the Whole 30 challenge has been good for our marriage. (Leave it to NOT indulging to bring us closer together! LOL!) We spend long periods of time prepping meals together. We cheer each other on to stay strong in our resolutions, as one of us craves berry pie and the other one craves dark chocolate. Mmhh. I can taste it now…

But, I digress. We needed something in this season of our lives – this season of transition, unknowns, financial insecurity, and the relearning of faith – to bring us together. Who knew a food elimination challenge would do the trick? (If you want to learn more about Whole 30, this click on this link.) I think the food challenge, though, was just the conduit for conversations in which we needed to and still need to engage. “How do we want to eat for the next 30 years?” is just the tip of the iceberg. The deeper questions include: “What do we want to prioritize with our finances?” “How do we want the next 30 years to be characterized?” “Who is our family, and what are our individual roles?” IMG_5110.JPGIMG_5217.JPG

No longer do we have the naivety to believe that all of our expectations will come true. Quite the opposite. Bitterness has threatened to snuff out our hope and has stolen our joy for weeks on end, as we fail to see our dreams come to fruition. We are approaching the ages of 30 and 32 without having “attained” or “achieved.” We often feel powerless. So, instead, we work on “accepting,” “adjusting,” and “acclimating.” I realize our initial goals all involved financial stability, and, honestly guys, we thought that was a given. We had no idea how difficult David’s career path would be nor what the cost of living in Colorado would do to us. But, now we re-assess and give thanks that we are doing life together – as husband and wife – for richer and for poorer. I have been given the greatest gift in David, the greatest gifts in our children and in the responsibility to love and shape them, the greatest gifts in family members who are rallying to make an adventure out of what could be a very scary situation, and the greatest gift in a vibrant community of friends who hold us accountable, keep us laughing, and continue to remind us of our faith.

I’ve been angry, but I’m choosing something much sweeter now. A perspective that allows me to see the precious value in those things I just listed: marriage, children, a supportive family, the best friends a girl could have. I am rich.

Now, I am also set adrift. I have no idea where we will be living in 3 months. I don’t know what job is right for me in the coming season. I don’t know how to raise children. And, I don’t know how to be the kind of friend I envision. I’m relearning a lot of basic skills. How to prioritize. How to rest. How to say “No.” How to say “Yes.” How to eat well. How to love my husband. How to love my Jesus.

But, I am rich. 

Let that truth sink in. Close your eyes and say it over and over to yourself.

We are rich. Each one of us. We may not have the marriage or the kids or the family or the job or the house or life we expected. But, we can have something deeper. We can choose gratitude, allow joy to bubble up in rocky ground, stand in Love, accept that Love, be changed by simple, small things, and be overwhelmed by the magnitude of Eternal things.

I think beet hummus and roasted veggies are just vibrant symbols of an overarching rainbow of promise I’ve been glimpsing and yet shying away from.

I wanted the mythical rainbow with the pot of gold at the end. The rainbow that makes life magically easy. I didn’t want the rainbow that comes after destruction and storm and rain and heartache. But, yet, that rainbow shines just as brightly – perhaps more so. All is still. All is calm. All is NOT restored. The broken branches and ruined roads still must be repaired. But, all is at peace for those still standing – drenched with purifying rain. hasz_16_130.jpg

So, I will be sweetening my coffee in September. But, our family is not returning to our haphazard eating or activity style.

And, if you follow me on social media or have talked with me recently, you know that I’m reading business books, using children’s nap times to make plans, and currently launching my essential oil wellness consulting business along side my doula business. Truly, I’ve been given a new passion for seeing other family’s empowered by the chemical-free living model I’m embracing. (Please, if you have any compassion, let me take you to coffee and give you a glimpse of what I’m dreaming up 😉 It’s big!).

But, at the end of the day, this new business, these current dreams, and this haven we have found with family are still only small parts of the new rainbow I’m allowing myself to see. A rainbow I wanted to ignore until we had the house and the jobs and the security. But, I’ve not been given those.

Instead, I’ve been given a rainbow of riches of a different sort. Tokens of promise. And, tonight, I’m grateful. hasz_16_190.jpg

Apparently We Are All Really, Really Tired {And it is a tired that goes deeper than our next Venti latte}

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My brain didn’t quite emerge from its fog, as Abby appeared in our upstairs bedroom for the umpteenth time last night. My voice had lost its gracious “I’m-the-model-Mama” tone and taken on the “next-person-who-wakes-me-is-going-to-suffer-my-wrath” edge. Micah had already been awake to nurse twice, and my body groaned with the sheer effort of focusing on Abby’s small face, cloaked in the shadows, her lips moving in their next request.

“I need to go potty.”

“My room smells funny.”

“I need my ‘confuser’ {essential oil diffuser} turned back on.”

“Daddy didn’t put the right pajamas on me.”

“My tummy hurts.”

“My toe hurts.” 

“My Teddy Bear won’t let me sleep.”

“I need more warm milk.” 

The list goes on for why Abby doesn’t nap or sleep through the night. And these are just the excuses I’ve heard in the last 24 hours. I could have you rolling on the floor with some of the stories she crafts to explain her midnight wanderings. One of my favorites included the outlandish claim that her “bears were singing too loud to let her sleep.” Oh, for Pete’s sake. Those bears are about to earn spankings.

Some days the juxtaposition of simply surviving motherhood and the soul-searching process of repentance, prayer, receiving of grace, and transformation seems wildly opposed. This morning, I really just wanted a latte. And not the unsweetened, coconut milk variety that has been coming out of my Whole 30 kitchen this week. No, the real deal. The “I-know-your-children-don’t-sleep,-but-there-is-rest-for-the-weary” kind of extra-large, extra-hot creation that warms your hands and thaws your heart. But, not today. Today, I was left to muddle through without my preferred brew.

(And, I’ll have you know that I’m currently snacking on celery and almond butter while writing, so not exactly splurging in the comfort food department yet. I’m led to believe that I’m building character.)

But back to my thoughts (if they can even be lassoed and committed to the published page at this point), when I began blogging earlier this week, I had no idea the responses that would greet my confessions in Not in Our Early 20s Anymore. My heartfelt brokenness and questioning drove my words, and they tumbled out in haphazard abandon to be read by – apparently – many other very, very tired individuals. Friends who empathize. Women who have already reached this breaking point, said “ENOUGH,” and chosen something better. People who are praying for me. People who need prayer. Mamas who are at the ends of their ropes and want to run away. Women in ministry who don’t know where their responsibilities end and boundaries begin. Brave individuals who are committing to stop the frenzied drive to “taste and experience absolutely everything”  and to “be perceived as wildly competent” all in the very same moment (Niequest, p. 19).

It’s a courageous challenge. To stop. Frankly, Scarlett, our society doesn’t stop, doesn’t pause, and doesn’t give a d***. Neither does the Church as a whole. We build more buildings, add more groups, require more service. And for some, they are in perfect seasons of their lives to build, lead, and serve in those ways. It is a gift for them and they are filled with joy to give in those ways. For others, it becomes a burden too heavy. I have no idea where I fall on that spectrum right now, but I’m open to finding out.

But here is the question that has me catching my breath and hanging on for dear life as the force of it rocks my world: “If Christ came with the promise to make His children’s burdens light, carrying the weight of those burdens for them, then what worth does the power of the Gospel have in me in my current, exhausted state?”

“What makes me any different from anyone who holds to any other theology?

And, let me pause here and say that if you do not espouse Christianity, then I would invite you to read here the processing of a woman who is determined to understand truth, live in truth, shape her decisions around the impact of that truth come what may. I believe in the power of Christ’s life and death to provide forgiveness and comfort to all who come to Him. I’ve staked my claim there. I’m just not sure that my foundation has truly been built on that power lately, but rather on my own self-competency. I was taken aback when David recently commented, “If they were to see our family’s life, then they wouldn’t want it.”

And, here I had always prided myself upon our family’s drive to accomplish goals, and, sure, there was room for joy on the outskirts. But, who really has time to stop and smell the roses? I mean, Abby does, and it can be incredibly frustrating to go on a family walk around the neighborhood. We. Move. So. SLOWLY.

At the end of the day, I don’t rest. I’m not sure I quite know how, but I AM SURE that I don’t prioritize it. Even late at night while watching TV, I’m also meal planning, answering emails, and pondering all of the laundry I didn’t fold – or even wash. And, I’m not saying – at least not yet – that those things shouldn’t be somewhere on our lists of mental priorities.

But, not ahead of the sleep that our bodies need to heal. 

Not ahead of the sex and emotional intimacy that our relationships need to thrive (and simply for the sheer pleasure of it too, I might add. “Become one” was one of the greatest gifts of Creation.). 

Not ahead of the satisfaction of eating sustaining, wholesome meals that our systems need to flourish. 

Not ahead of times of quiet and meditation for our spirits to be restored and re-focused. 

I think many of us have our hierarchy of needs tipped on its head, as we strive to excel at the “to-dos” versus the “to-bes.”

To be loved.

To be known. 

To be a giver.

To be a vibrant human being who loves his or her life. 

That would be something worth marveling over. That would be something worth spending a lifetime in that pursuit. And, I promise it will look different for each one of us. My “rest” won’t resemble your “rest.” My limit between healthy community involvement and over-commitment won’t look like yours. My relationship with my Savior will probably always be more turbulent than many, as I tend to take the hard road and fight my way to stand in truth.

But, gosh, let’s stand in that truth. Let’s muddle our way through sleepless nights, latte-less days, endless work weeks, and daily commitments to actually enjoy what is beautiful and lasting. IMG_4824.JPG

In 26 days, that will include dark chocolate and a Honey Lavender Almond Milk Latte from Two Rivers, the BEST coffee shop in Denver. (That specific drink isn’t on their chalkboard menu, but they will gladly froth your milk and add their homemade syrups to that specification. Amazing.)

But for the next 30 years or more, I want it to involve a lot more of this. This Community. This Questioning. This Relating. This Living. This Building. This Giving. This Loving. This Forgiving.

Gentle intake. Softly out. Resting.

Eyelashes drenched with purifying rain.

I’ve fought with hell.

I’ve lain prostrate, broken on the shore.

Wind-whipped hair. Chapped hands –

I’ve been through a hurricane.

 

Slowly, circling, a seagull swoops down.

I notice him.

A crab struggles across my toes.

I feel him.

Grit in my mouth. Scars on my body –

Salvation soaking this day’s brim.

~Excerpt from my poem Hurricane, written in 2010

Not In Our Early 20s Anymore {Brutally Honest Confessions}

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One of the newest hashtags that David and I bandy about on a regular basis these days is “#notinourearly20sanymore.” This could be used to aptly describe how exhausted we are by 8:30 pm. Or how we have both needed sudden and extensive (and expensive) dental work this summer. Or perhaps how my annual exam revealed that I have borderline high cholesterol (and with a history of heart disease in the family that’s no laughing matter).

“We aren’t in our early 20s anymore, Dear,” David will ruefully remind me, standing in the kitchen, staring in our fridge, and admitting that our waistlines can no longer handle frozen pizzas and bowls of cereal for weeknight dinners. The fruit and veggie drawers beckon with their promises of health, while glaring with reproach at how many sad summer squash and slimy spinach leaves have met their demises over the years.

Well, we are turning over a new leaf. 

(Go ahead and laugh. That was a painfully obvious, senile attempt at a humorous pun #notinourearly20sanymore.)

In “Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler More Soulful Way of Living,” Shauna Niequest references Rohr: “The skills that take you through the first half of your life,” she notes, “are entirely unhelpful for the second half…those skills I developed that supposedly served me well for the first half, as I inspect them a little more closely, didn’t actually serve me at all. They made me responsible and capable and really, really tired. They made me productive and practical, and inch by inch, year by year, they moved me further and further from the warm, whimsical person I used to be…and I missed her” (p. 18-9).

Forgive me while I share more of Niequest’s conclusions. Her words have left me realing, crying, inspecting, questioning, and – hopefully – healing. “The two sins at play here,” she writes, “are gluttony and pride – the desire to escape and the desire to prove, respectively. I want to taste and experience absolutely everything, and I want to be perceived as wildly competent” (p. 19).

Well, I’m responsible and capable and simultaneously lonely. I’m productive and practical and simultaneously lacking the time to pour into relationships the way that I desire. I’m really, really tired. So tired that I have been falling asleep driving. So tired that I can’t put two coherent words together and the thought of being with friends who require conversation (you know, the usual way that friendships work) makes me want to curl up in a ball with an IV of coffee.

Bottom line: I miss what I have allowed the productivity of my 20s to steal. My joy. My deep-seated belief in dreams. My ache for the spiritual mysteries of the Heavens. My love for the brokenhearted and the orphans.

But, it gets worse. I have actually enjoyed – like some crazed-fiend – the ability to wrap myself up in careers that require so much that I have a “legitimate” escape for what is slowly killing me. I have craved the excuse of over commitment. When I was going through years of infertility, painful hormone treatments, and miscarriage after miscarriage, I ALSO taught full time while earning my teaching license and master’s. With a 4.0. I HAD NO LIFE. I was awarded the “2013 Outstanding Graduate Student from the Division of Curriculum & Instruction Education in the College of Adult and Graduate Studies” from my program and then promptly fell asleep on the front row after the president of the university handed me the plaque because I was so bone-weary.

In 2014 after a high-risk pregnancy, Abby was born, David was back in school full-time, the terms of my teaching contract were called into question, and I found myself home with Abby. What did I do? Pick a career as a birth doula that required me to spend up to 60 hours awake at once, supporting families through some of the most intense moments of their lives. Often choosing to work with high risk families. All while pumping every couple of hours for Abby, trying to also build an essential oil business, and volunteering regularly with a church launch team.

And just as Micah’s pregnancy began to really set in during the summer of 2016, I jumped into a more than full-time position as a practice manager of a birth center with hours that often had me home after 8 pm. And I loved every minute of it. Okay, almost every minute. There were some third trimester days when I wanted to glare at every glowing pregnant mama who walked through our doors without “even a single symptom” while my feet were so swollen that my ankles were non-existent. My body didn’t exactly do pregnancy gracefully.

All that to say that at my core, I am a relator. An empathizer. A seeker of glitter and fairy dust. I believe in excellence and lifelong learning. I value servant leadership and introspection and long walks with good friends holding coffee mugs. I love to watch Netflix with David into the wee hours of the morning and play games with friends over whiskey and snacks.

And, this year I have hit a breaking point. I can’t have it all. I can’t trust God through season after season of challenge when I don’t have time to even talk to Him. I can’t keep my anger in check when there is no longer cushion. I can’t really learn how to mother well when I don’t allow myself to be mothered. I hate asking for help. I can’t sustain deep friendships when I don’t even have the stamina to wash my face at night.

This life – these lives – they aren’t the ones that we are meant to live. Frantic. Unsteady. Exhausting. 

And, let me be clear that for me personally, THIS IS NOT THE FAULT OF THE CAREERS THAT I HAVE CHOSEN. No, I believe that somehow I’ve gotten caught up in the need to do everything and prove my competency. My skillsets tend to help me excel in roles that drain me emotionally and physically each day. I think most of us could say that was true of ourselves in one way or another. And then I’ve also needed to prove my own ability. As a woman. A business woman. A mother.

Well, I have a tired family, body and heart to take care of now. Apparently, I’m starting the journey to abundance with a dose of brutal confession. Cleansing, the monastics would say. Transparent, if nothing else.

So, hence August. Lovely, hot, humid, August. Named for a Roman Caesar who claimed Divinity. Claimed he could do it all, be it all, conquer it all. I believe his bones lie with the rest of the ancients – no different than the lowly servant in his court.

I don’t have the answers, but I’m beyond grateful for a community of friends who have rallied – many without even knowing the significance. Women who have encouraged me to do a Whole 30 dietary challenge and cleanse my physical body. Women who have humbled me by their own resolutions to pray for their marriages and serve their spouses. Individuals who have bravely decided to walk away from positions of power into the unknown because their families needed them. Friends who have been present for my family. Friends who have challenged me and confronted me and hugged me and reminded me of who I am called to be.

So, perhaps this blog post gives more context to the road our family is walking down and the personal goals I am setting before I throw myself fully into the next career.

Let me be present.

Let me be a gift.

Let me see with new eyes.

Let me hold my babies close and treasure the moments I have with them. 

Let me allow repentance and grace to do their perfect works. 

Darlings, let’s do August. Let’s do the next 30 years differently. Let’s stand for something different than our generation has stood for, as we stop trying to prove our own competencies. hasz_16_185.jpg

 

The Valley {Beside Still Waters}

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Darkness cloaked the world outside my in-law’s house, as I rose to make a cup of coffee, rock Micah back to sleep, and open my journal for one of the first times in a year. The fans in my upstairs bedroom added a new level of white noise, as we combat the heat of July in Denver.

Those same fans fill my senses now with their whirring. Whooshing. Spinning. Enveloping me with a sense of companionship in this journey. It is dark outside the glass panes once again.

The intensity of the last week of moving out of our rental house and moving in with my incredible in-laws wanes. The boxes are mostly stored. The laundry primarily sorted. The toys strewn hither and thither in regular Abby-fashion. I’ve been welcomed home by our family – a rare gift in this generation. IMG_5084.JPG

And, now, we wait.

An exhausted pause. 

Motherhood continues to burst upon me in fulfilling – overwhelming – breathtakingly beautiful terms. I became a mama of two and a full-time practice manager in the span of a mere 12 months. The ache of not being home with my babies and the joy in serving my colleagues war with each other. For this season, my babies and my husband and my own health take precedence. But, I haven’t lost my passion for empowering women and midwives in the birth center setting. I’m simply resting in the PAUSE to see how those dreams take new shape. I’m actively healing. I’m seeking to empower. I’m reasoning with Abby and cuddling with Micah. I’m cooking with David and making coffee dates with friends. I’m serving as a birth doula and setting my own business goals. I want to see and love the world beyond my world. And, I want to find financial freedom to bless my family and bless my community. I want to hear other’s dreams and sit in the power of others’ goals and visions and desires. I want to hold the space for YOU as you launch into new adventures or take solace from the old ones. IMG_4910.JPG

~~~

One of the little boys that I just about claim as my own since the time he could barely crawl is embarking upon first grade in a few short weeks. His curiosity and brilliance leave me in awe of our Creator and His specific design with this  little-boy-turning-man. I love his mama, and I love his family, and this young man is always a reminder to me that God gives good gifts. That time is precious. That we are always caring for and equipping the next generation. Always.

~~~

In this pregnant pause, I wait to see what will be birthed. I wait to see how I am supposed to equip the next generation in this new season. How am I to serve? How can I love? How can I heal and be healed? My focus has honed to an energetic three-year-old who needs her mama and an almost-mobile baby who needs my time. But, I pray my vision grows wider. To what could be if I look beyond the circumstances and glimpsed eternity. I sit in curiosity.  IMG_4937.JPG

For the next several months, our family is resting with family while we re-evaluate, apply for new opportunities, and test the limits of our faith. I’ve dealt with much anger already at what is, and I’m sure I will continue to have my days. Be patient with me. And, in the meantime, let’s get coffee. Let’s do dinner. Let’s go to the zoo and make Abby’s heart immensely happy.

Darkness continues to shade the future. Distant cliffs loom large. The path ahead appears to have a dead-end. Yet, I believe in the gentle whispers of my Savior. I believe in the power of community. I also believe in the strength of dreams.

So, dream on tonight with me. Dream of strength and peace and patience and joy and provision and health and light. Stand strong in your truth. Drink your coffee strong. (Join me for a Whole 30 challenge if you dare and think of many yiddish ways to ruefully regret that decision while banning chocolate and bread for 30 days…Oy Vey.) Join me in a journey to improve your health, your family’s health, and your community’s health.

Join me in the darkness. Walk with me in the light. Listen to the fans whirring. Heed the chorus of questions that clamor for answers, but have none. And let us learn to live in the power of “not knowing.” In the power of the valley between mountains in the stillness and in the storm. Grow with me in this pregnant pause. IMG_4629.JPG

A Story To Tell {Of Deepening Lines}

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Micah snuggles into my neck, leaving a sticky residue of pureed bananas and crumbling graham crackers on my tired shoulder. His chubby fingers intertwine themselves in my hair, and he giggles at the sensation.

Abby twirls in her latest costume get-up, talking non-stop with every waking breathe. Talking and talking back. Smiling sweetly and stomping her foot angrily. She reminds me so much of myself, and the ache of my own inadequacy in knowing how to raise her grows stronger with each passing day.

David looks up wearily from his computer screen, where the job hunt is in full swing. The months of working long hours and commuting several hours a day in an uncertain contract position have taken their toll on both of us. He is my best friend, my lover, my steady force in the storm. Most days lately that means that we are both lonely.  I do the early morning shift with the kids, and he does the late. If we are lucky, we occasionally meet in the middle. I touch his arm in bed and simply comfort myself with the knowledge that we are committed to this journey together.

I see myself in the mirror, and a woman with deepening lines stares back. Her lids are heavy with sleepless nights, and her forehead creases with the telltale signs of years of smiling, years of pressing through, years of pressing in. Her body still needs to heal from her last pregnancy and birth, and her soul craves answers – house, jobs, goals. She drinks coffee before water in the morning, and sips whiskey before tea in the evening. She hasn’t journaled or blogged in months, but most thoughts are accompanied by prayers. And, yet, there is no naive trust. But she wields the power of truth – and even from ugly truths – she doesn’t shy away. She has grown braver in the last year. More confident in her ability to lead, to work full time as a mother, to creatively find solutions for business problems. And, yet, in the crush of what 50+ hour work weeks have produced in her personal life, a new resolve has formulated. The resolve to choose a different – a harder – path: come what may.

We aren’t buying the house. We aren’t saving for our kids’ college. We aren’t saving at all. We don’t know where we will be living at the end of this year. But we know we will be together. We know we will learn to pray together again. Learn to sit once again in situations that, frankly, make me angry. When it feels like we are professionally moving backwards, I’m tenaciously hanging onto the beauty and power of the choices that we are making. To leave a job that has filled me with so much fulfillment to treasure more of the moments with my favorite people in the whole wide world.

Micah’s slobbery kisses.

Abby’s princess dresses. 

David’s touch as sleep claims us both.

So, in August, when our boxes have been moved into storage and friends’ basements, and our lives have slowed down a bit, I’m embarking upon a personal journey to stare deeply at the lines of that woman in the mirror. Stare at the lines on her face and smile even more. Stare at the lines in her soul and find her new equilibrium in God’s grace and His sufficiency. Stare at the lines of the budget and figure out what it is going to take to make ends meet. I long to find the woman who trusts God and trusts in daily sweet communion with him. I have some harsh lines now that are unbecoming. Lines that make me cringe when they speak out in frustration.

But, one day those lines will also hopefully speak of wisdom gleaned and hope found. Of dreams realized and children received in thankfulness.

My Miracle {On the Eve of Having Not Enough}

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Micah laid in front of me on the bed, feet kicking, fists clenched, crying. I sobbed too. Waiting for my milk to letdown. Waiting for the tingle to know that Micah wouldn’t have to work very hard to latch and drink. Despite several tongue and lip tie procedures, his latch has never been good. He tires easily. Nurses often. Has often returned to a pattern of eating every 2 hours even through the night. And while his head and height measurements remain steady and strong, his weight constantly teeters on the dangerously low.

~~~

Perhaps my blog has remained silent because I didn’t want to put these struggles into words…

~~~

After too many tears had been shed, I spent all of Saturday giving Micah my precious pumped small supply of milk by bottle while simultaneously…endlessly…trying to pump more. My crying continued.

~~~

Ever since returning to work in February after maternity leave ended, I dubbed the first day of the weekend “Crying Saturday.” It all hits. The exhaustion. The messy house. The laundry that barely gets washed. The constant need for even more groceries. And now this. The challenge of feeding a long and lean baby in the 4th percentile when I can’t be for sure on any given day if my milk supply will be up for the challenge. 

~~~

Tomorrow, Micah will officially be four months old. He is waking up to the world around him in an entirely new way. Rolling himself into positions that leave him upset with himself and fussing for rescue. Cooing when it is just the two of us. Grinning with that one dimple. He has my heart. My precious boy. And, I have chosen to feed him no matter what it takes. Nursing. Pumping. Breast milk. Formula. Gifted donor milk. To him, it is all nutrition. And for me – just that simple permission to divert from exclusive breast milk if needed – is grace. It is a gift. A gift that I have given other mamas with words of affirmation, but never extended to myself.

And, with that decision, have come miracles. First, in the form of 60 bottles worth of formula in my pantry. (For those interested, after quite a bit of research, I ordered Pure Bliss off of Amazon. It is made in Europe, sold by Similac, and – most importantly – from grassfed dairy.) Then, a traveling doula offered to bring me all of the milk she was pumping while traveling before boarding a plane to go back home. She estimated that she would have 50 ounces. She brought me 100 ounces. And, despite having the flu this week, my own milk supply has been sufficient each day so far.

All miracles. The formula. The incredible gift of milk. The opportunity to nurse and pump for Micah myself this week.  

Thank you to the mamas that have reached out. Thank you, Jesus, for grace. Thank you that I live in a world of plenty where I have options. These are all gifts.

~~~

So, Micah, on the eve of your four month birthday, know that your mama loves you so very much. She would do anything to help you thrive. She also knows that you and your sister and your daddy need a happy mama. A mama who can see beyond the next pumping session. Beyond the bottles of milk in the fridge. Beyond a number to a family. That craves laughter and joy and fun. Welcome, Sweet Boy, to the world of grace and to seasons of finding the balance between expectations and reality. IMG_0160IMG_0161.JPG

Dear Abby {On the Day You Turn Three}

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IMG_0093.JPGMy Sweet Abby,

You have been counting down the days until your birthday. Talking about all of the sweets and pink sparkly things that you wanted. And, today, you finally turned three. Donned your pink sparkly birthday hat. Prepared to greet the world with the same enthusiasm that you have for all of life. You are My gift. My lens into what is fun, lighthearted, social, important, out-of-my-control, wild, crazy, messy, emotional, and tender-hearted. IMG_0090.JPGIMG_0091

It snowed today. Thick, wet flakes after a run of warm Spring days. It snowed on your Birth day too. I remember the swirling white magic around the car, as your Daddy and I drove to the hospital. The world was coated in newness in expectation of you.

You bring a freshness to our days that can’t be rivaled. You are ready to go and do. Always active. Always entertaining or being entertained. Always talking. Always using your imagination. Rarely still. IMG_0101.jpg

Today, instead of a traditional birthday party, I took a day off of work to treat you to an over-the-top Mommy-Daughter date. (That day off work couldn’t have come at a better time, since I have been very sick the past several days.) Despite my fever and respiratory challenges, we braved the cold to go do “Big Girl” things. Ride the carousel at the mall (they let you ride free, dressed as you were in your birthday outfit). Ride the train (once again, you rode free and were even given money by other passengers?!?). Be serenaded by the train driver. Eat a scone at Starbucks. Shop for a bathing suit. Have your first haircut. Enjoy a pedicure and manicure with me. It was grand. And my heart will always treasure the look of pure delight on your face today. The feeling of your hand in mine as we walked through the mall. Your profile as you ran ahead of me. Your warmth as you snuggled in my arms. IMG_0113.jpg

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Family came over in the evening to celebrate with you, and I couldn’t have asked for a sweeter time of gift-opening, playing in the snow, riding your new bike from Grammy and Pop, and watching you sample more sweets than we normally see in a month. Your Grammy even made you a Thomas the Train cake and cupcakes. I think you will sleep well tonight, Little Girl.  IMG_0134.jpg

IMG_0138.jpgIMG_0148.jpgToday reminded me of why I love being a mother. Why all the long days and sleepless nights are worth it. Why the recent weekends of crying because I haven’t been able to produce enough milk for Micah will fade into distant memories as you both grow and thrive. Life looks different in each season. When you were little, you and I spent endless hours doing nothing but playing together and going on adventures. In this season, our routine barely allows for clean laundry much less exploration. But, what matters most to you is that you know that you are loved. You are seen. You are special.

You are my most amazing birthday girl. I fear time will fly too fast in the coming years. But, today…today was perfect.

I love you,

Mama

Pregnancy Reflection {These are a few of my favorite things}

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Nights full of broken sleep. Coffee. Sore boobs. Half-finished sentences. Healing foods, supplements, and essential oils. Coffee. Newborn snuggles. Sibling snuggles. Coffee. Soaked nursing pads. Changing diapers. More coffee. 

Hasz_x4_168.jpgThese are a few of the things that currently fill my days and nights. But, it was not so very long ago that my sweet Micah was on the inside, and pregnancy with its joys and challenges was one of my main focuses. And before my memories surrounding that season fade, I want to highlight a few of the things that supported my pregnancy goals and helped prepare me for my current postpartum journey. For ease of reading, I have broken up the following post into several categories that address questions that I am often asked by fellow pregnant mamas and doula clients: nutrition, exercise, clothing and gear, and community partners/practitioners.

~~~Nutrition~~~

First of all, I should clarify that I am NOT by any means qualified to give medical advice, so please consult your team of health practitioners on anything that you have questions about. However, I have done a good deal of research on the nutritional needs of pregnant women and now have had two pregnancies during which I personally experimented with foods, supplements, and eating habits. For those trying to conceive or currently pregnant, my favorite go-to book is “Real Food For Mother and Baby” by Nina Planck. Not only does Planck break down the nutritional requirements of perinatal women during all trimesters (including the fourth trimester), but she also delivers her information with a good deal of grace and personal anecdotes from her own motherhood journey.

But back to my favorite nutritional tips, I have learned that very little is in your control during pregnancy (welcome to parenthood). How sick are you going to be during first trimester? How much energy will you have? What does your home/work schedule look like? How often do you pee at night? Do you have pregnancy insomnia? When do you notice relaxin being released in your body and your joints becoming looser and less able to handle impact activities? All of these things impact your pregnancy and nutritional needs. So let me emphasize, there is not a one-diet-fits-all approach, and each pregnancy must be approached with grace for yourself and awe for what your body is doing: growing a baby.

But, there are some general principles that are helpful to keep in mind. First, according to many nutritionists including Planck, the three months PRIOR to conceiving can be some of the most important months nutritionally speaking. Before nausea and exhaustion set in, the three months prior to pregnancy prep your body with nutritional reserves for your growing fetus. If you need to detox, these are the months to do it. If you haven’t been taking a prenatal vitamin with folate, these are the months to begin. If you haven’t been eating a high-quality, high-fat diet, these are the months to intentionally add large amounts of healthy fats: grass-fed butter/dairy, eggs, avocado, olive oil, coconut oil, and nuts/seeds. These are the NOT the months to fad-diet or allow your weight to yo-yo, as both of these things can be detrimental to fertility.

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Once pregnant, listen to your body. Don’t panic if you can’t consume “the perfect diet” during the first trimester. If you are sick like I have been with both of my babies, then simply SURIVE. If you can eat normally, then do so. Otherwise, try to listen to your cravings and base your food choices off of the “healthiest version” of your cravings and aversions. For example, if you are craving salt, try to choose combinations like plantain chips dipped in hummus, coconut-oil based chips, celery with nut butters, etc. versus the traditional nutritionally-empty saltine cracker and canned chicken noodle soup. Bone broth is an excellent way to satisfy your salt cravings and receive an amazing boost of protein (I don’t like the taste, BUT the Epic brand has just come out with pre-made delicious bone broth. It is worth the price if you can’t get much else down!). If like me, the though of eating vegetables makes you want to barf, then try to sneak in fruits and veggies in other forms such as frozen smoothies. I have found that cold foods without smells are much more easily consumed. Keep snacks by your bed and strive to eat protein. Research has actually shown that protein can help calm nausea even though it is usually the last thing you want to eat. Almonds, specifically, have shown to be a snack that helps mamas in first trimester to feel better. Keep in mind, though, that your goal during these early weeks is simply to stay hydrated as best as you can and know that second trimester will be the time to replenish your body again. img_9036

For me, I begin to feel better around week 16 of pregnancy and usually feel that I can resume normal eating around week 20. Now the focus shifts to eating healthy fats, high-quality proteins, and high fiber foods including fruits and vegetables. Honestly, I think the healthy high-fat foods are what is most often missed in the traditional American pregnancy diet, especially with our focus on not gaining too much weight. Granted, pregnant women stereotypically consume plenty of ice cream, and I fall into that stereotypical category 😉 BUT, we miss the importance of eating fat during pregnancy. High-quality fats support the development of your baby’s brain, help your skin stretch with your growing belly and feed all systems of your body as it grows another human.

In addition to fats, fiber is my best friend. This should generally be understood to mean that constipation is one of my worst enemies in pregnancy. The extra progesterone and just the general state of your organs being moved around (I’m rather sure that my stomach was on the left side of my back) don’t promote seamless digestion. In addition to foods, I require supplements to keep things moving. Extra magnesium (which is also helpful for sleep), Comfortone (a supplement from Young Living), and even the occasional stool softener have helped me manage the pregnancy bloat. Staying hydrated is also crucial.

As far as supplements go, my favorite nutrient-dense food supplement that I recommend during pregnancy is Collagen Hydrolysate. It is a protein-rich powder that contains important amino acids for joint and muscle strength. It is also one of the few things proven to help reduce stretch marks. Not to mention, prior to pregnancy, it is one of my favorite foods to help gut healing. Since it is tasteless and colorless, I generally add it to tea, coffee and/or smoothies depending on what else I am consuming that day. Technically, it can even be added to plain water as well.

And, overall, let me just say: when pregnant, eat and eat a lot. It is hard to not worry about weight gain, but also learn to trust that your body knows what it is doing. With both my pregnancies, I ate constantly, but with my daughter I only gained about 15-20 pounds, but with my son I gained 35-4o pounds. It is what it is. And, though I am not at my pre-pregnancy weight at this time, I actually feel stronger and healthier after this second pregnancy than after my first.

And, in an effort to be fully transparent, I probably ate my weight in bowls of cereal at all hours of the day and night. 🙂

For a list of essential oils that I love (specifically in the weeks leading up to labor), I have written a blog post completely devoted to that topic. You can read about my personal use here: Essential Oils for Birth.

~~~Exercise~~~

I probably get the most questions about my exercise during pregnancy. It is no secret that I love to exercise and have historically erred on the side of too much/too intense exercise for my life season. BUT, this pregnancy, I resolved to be gentle with my body, maintain my strength, but not push too hard and damage my joints/abdominals. I also sought out expert advice this time around, as I had a three-finger abdominal separation after Abby that took me nearly two years to heal. It doesn’t help that my favorite form of exercise is running – a very high impact practice that can be quite jarring and potentially detrimental to the pelvic floor and core during pregnancy. When it was all said and done, I exercised almost every day in second and third trimesters, but was much more intentional to honor my body’s needs and modify my activities to nurture myself.

Without a gym membership, all of my workouts were accomplished either outdoors or in my basement. I own a set of resistance bands and 3 and 5 pound hand weights. Supportive tennis shoes are also a must for any jogging. I also can’t say enough about the belly splint I wore that was made specifically by a pre- and postnatal trainer and mom for other exercise-enthusiast moms. Known as the Maternity FITsplint, the band supports the core muscles. img_8242

img_8619I worked with two trainers specifically this pregnancy (both local to Colorado, but both schedule Skype/online consults/training as well). First, I had an initial consultation with Brooke of The Bloom Method when I was about 14 weeks pregnant. As her website explains, Brooke has designed an innovative program with “cutting-edge core techniques [that] use diaphragmatic breath and deep core engagement to keep the abdominal muscles strong as the belly grows throughout pregnancy.” After this initial consultation, I faithfully completed between 5-20 minutes of deep core engagement exercises everyday for the rest of pregnancy. I also had several subsequent training sessions with Brooke and worked on incorporating core engagement with functional movements during intense circuit training sessions. The difference in my core strength just five weeks postpartum is remarkable when compared to my postpartum journey after Abby was born. I weigh more this time around (just to point out that it is NOT about strict weight standards), but only have about a single finger separation in my abdominals at this point and am feeling my muscles re-close as the days go by. IMG_9434.JPG

I also worked with Beth Reese Jones of Beth Jones Coaching. I knew Beth from my time in as a full-time doula and reached out to her before I got pregnant and during pregnancy for training programs designed specifically for the season of preparation/restoration that I was in. During pregnancy, I was often working 10-hour days as the center manager of Baby+Co birth center and needed fast, but safe workouts for my 4:15 am wake-up time. Given those constraints, Beth created 20-minute workouts that helped me stick to my daily exercise goal. She now has an online training program called Mama Sport that I recommend.

Additionally, I used the wonderful and FREE world of prenatal workout videos on YouTube to mix up my routine, as well as a couple of prenatal barre exercise DVDs. Among my favorite YouTube videos are the prenatal series of workouts by BodyFit by Amy and the prenatal series of workouts by Glow Body PT. After exploring many, many exercise DVDs, I found several by Suzanne Bowen that I love including “Slim & Toned” and “Long & Lean” and a series of prenatal videos by Tracy Anderson called “The Pregnancy Project.” I highly recommend purchasing these DVD series if you enjoyed barre workouts pre-pregnancy and desire to continue those routines.

~~~Clothing & Gear~~~

As far as maternity clothes go, I despise most of them. They are over-priced, don’t last long, and are often unflattering. The one exception to my rule is maternity leggings, which I adore, but I always buy several sizes “too big,” as the last thing I want to be while pregnant is uncomfortable and squished. Target carries a great line of leggings and tanks, but I buy the large size even with my small frame. Once again, a tight waist band drives me crazy and just adds insult to injury.

My maternity “uniform” consists of leggings, tanks, and then a kimono/cardigan/flowy top to complete the ensemble. Every so often, I find a comfortable maternity piece that I add, but overall, I don’t expect much from most maternity lines. View More: http://rachaelhopephotography.pass.us/hasz-family-collection

Round ligament pain struck early and often this pregnancy, and I found that I wanted additional support earlier on. For this purpose, the Blanqi support tanks are great  – if a bit overpriced. I only bought one and wore it on days when I needed a slimming look under a dress or on days when I was going to be on my feet for long periods of time. As an added bonus, its length and compression also help to hold up pants/leggings under a growing belly.

As far as pregnancy gear goes, I borrowed a large maternity body pillow during my third trimester and used it periodically. However, for most of my pregnancy I loved the Bellifly Pillow, as it doesn’t take up the entire bed and can support various sleeping/sitting/nursing positions without much moving of pillows/blankets, etc. img_7660

Everyone finds their favorite belly cream, but mine was definitely Burt’s Bees Mama Belly Butter. It smells wonderful, is thick enough to provide long-lasting moisture, but doesn’t stay greasy on the skin. I also made a homemade shea butter blend with Young Living essential oils for thicker, evening applications. “Gentle Baby” is a wonderful YL blend for pregnancy skin, and one of my favorites in body butter creations – pregnant or not.

~~~Community Partners & Practitioners~~~

IVF injections. Sterile procedure rooms. More blood tests than I can count. This is how my pregnancies begin. It is a gift – modern medical technology. But, it also leaves a lot of the intimacy out of conception. When the months came for me to begin the IVF medications this year, I sought the prayers and hugs of a small group of friends, and I began a journey to make this a “conscious conception.” I wanted to nurture myself and seek the expertise and support of amazing local community practitioners in my infertility struggle and ensuing pregnancy. IMG_6460.jpg

Amy Colo, a retired midwife, is an incredible Mayan abdominal massage therapist. She helped me prepare my body for pregnancy and then nurtured it throughout the duration of Micah’s growth. (She was also incredibly influential in my postpartum healing…more on that in a future post.) I highly recommend her for infertility, women’s self-care, and perinatal massage. Her website is http://amycolo.com/maya-abdominal-massage/.

On a similar note, the practitioners at Alpenglow Acupuncture were incredible supports during my third trimester when circulation issues and prodromal labor nearly got the best of me. I highly recommend them! Their website is http://www.alpenglowacu.com/.

Karina Constantino of Dynamic Doulas was my amazing doula and supported my birth experience both at the birth center and during our transfer to the hospital. She helped me emotional prepare for the postpartum time and held the space for David and I to labor during the long night of Micah’s birth. She has worked with both low and high risk families, and is absolutely amazing. Her website is http://www.dynamicdoulas.com/.

Rachael Hope has been my photographer since David and I moved to Colorado as newlyweds in 2008. She is a family, lifestyle and birth photographer. I don’t have words to describe her talent, but all I can write is that she captures magic. She is sensitive, compassionate and understands the needs of mamas. I have been honored to be her friend and walk with her through the birth of her three babies. Her website is http://www.havenlifeandphoto.com/.

And, this list wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention the midwives at Baby and Company birth center. I realize my recommendation could appear biased as the center manager, but truly I had always dreamed of delivering at Baby+Co since they opened in May 2015. If you are pregnant or in need of well woman care, then please consider them. Amazing, compassionate, holistic care! I should also note that the midwives at Avista Women’s Care did an incredible job caring for me during the beginning of my pregnancy, and I highly recommend them for natural hospital birth 🙂

~~~

Thank you again to my family and friends who prayed for our family, kept me sane during pregnancy, and have gone above and beyond to love on our family of four since Micah arrived. I am speechless and blessed to be part of this village. Hugs. XOXO

Dear Micah {4 Week Letter}

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Dear Micah,

You’ve just begun to smile at me, and it’s a private smile, as though you and I share the sweetest secrets. And perhaps we do. We share the secret of birth. The secret of midnight nursing. The secret of dawn coffee dates when you stare at me with your big, wise eyes while I sip my first cup of the day. Hasz_bath_144.jpg

We share a story that made me stronger and more passionate about motherhood and womanhood. More certain that God makes broken things beautiful. More certain that you have been and will always be my Little Lion baby. You will be fierce, yet gentle. A defender of the weak. I’ve felt this about you since you first took root inside of me. Now you are four weeks old, and I feel this still.

You are a miracle. And my heart and soul and body have found a new peace since you came. Hasz_bath_150.jpg

When I wrote your birth story, I put behind me the moments of trauma that lingered and chose to share a story that I pray continues to brings healing to the readers, as the processing of that night brought healing to me. But our story isn’t done. Because truly your birth instilled in me an even greater desire to see women empowered by their labor experience. Empowered for a new strength. Accepting of a new vulnerability. Believing in a stronger hope.

So I will continue to speak out. Serve families. Bring beauty when and where and how I can.

And live honestly. With a heart wide open. As I pray that you and your sister do.

~~~

Snow fell and dawn was just a hazy shadow in the night sky when your sister Abby woke up this morning. Padding around in her polka-dot pajamas, she peered out the window. “May Abby wake up yet, Mama? Is it light out?”

“It’s still pretty dark outside, Abby, but you may wake up.”

“Mama, light and dark are opposites,” she assured me, certain of this new knowledge she had recently acquired. “Yes, they are, Sweet Girl. You are right.”

But, as she chattered away, I was struck by the mystery out our frosty windows. Dawn defies the strictness of opposites. Light and dark mingle. Night gently fades, and the morning steals slowly in. And dawn is beautiful. Perhaps even whimsical. Sometimes brilliant in its sunrises. But often unnoticed. It’s a fresh start. A herald of hope and healing.  

As have been these past four weeks with you.

~~~

For nigh on a month, your arrival in our family has been a mixture of light and dark – a study in opposites. Your first days were tumultuous, but your first weeks some of the sweetest that I have ever experienced. Hours so intense have never been followed by healing so powerful. And I think it is that gift that I desire to share. The power to re-live, release, remember, and re-find. Hasz_bath_136.jpg

And so this blog post shares some images that I initially debated whether or not they were appropriate for me to personally and publicly share (even though I was dressed in the tub). Some of the photos from our postpartum bath session will remain my private treasures, but some pictured here convey so perfectly the essence of this past month. These weeks of DAWN. These days of snuggles and cuddles and nursing and figuring out what it means to be a family of four. To mother two precious treasures. To honor my postpartum body. To return to the same birth center and the same tub in which I spent hours laboring in order to bring you into this world. To sit in that sacred space and cry. And relax. And remember. And walk out of the dark into the light.

You have filled my heart with greater joy. Hasz_bath_122.jpg

~~~

Gentle intake. Softly out. Resting.

Eyelashes drenched with purifying rain.

I’ve fought with hell.

I’ve lain prostrate, broken on the shore.

Wind-whipped hair. Chapped hands –

I’ve been through a hurricane.

~Excerpt from my poem “Hurricane” written in 2010~

~~~

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IMG_9448.JPG View More: http://rachaelhopephotography.pass.us/hasz-family-collection{Photo Credit Rachael Hope of Haven: Life & Photo}

Micah’s Birth Story {A Little Lion’s Tale}

Joys are always on their way to us. They are always traveling to us through the darkness of the night. There is never a night when they are not coming. ~Amy Carmichael

Dear Micah,

It is fitting that you came to us this Advent season through the darkness of the night. Weeks of preterm contractions led up to your birth, and I was prepared for what I thought would probably be a fast labor. I imagined an intense, but peaceful day. I’ve been a doula for too long to not know that birth is unpredictable, but I still never expected the wildness of the hours that would bring you into my arms. But here you rest. Wrapped to my body right now in peaceful slumber. You are okay. Perfect, even. And the world is a better place for your arrival. IMG_9144.JPG

micah_birth_126.jpgIf Advent is the expectant waiting, then birth is the pinnacle of travail, tears, and battle that brings such fragile beauty in its wake.

Such raw power.

Such broken hallelujahs murmured between the waves of contractions. 

But such joy.

I press my lips to your dewy soft forehead and stare into the depths of your eyes and know that it was all worth it. You have been my warrior – my Little Lion Baby – from the day of your conception. How could I picture your birth as anything less?

Micah David Hasz.

Born at 7:16 am on December 8. 7 pounds, 10.2 ounces. 20.25 inches long. IMG_9137.JPG

micah_birth_104.jpgNo matter how the rest of the telling goes of your birth story, I am empowered by the long hours. The arms of your Daddy holding me up. The touch of my doula and dear friend Karina calming quivering muscles. The eyes of my sister soul friend and birth photographer Rachael locking on mine in love and strength. The power of my midwife Tracy and the understanding of my midwife Ellen. The deep sounds of the laboring mother next door.

I was never alone.

Never.

And in birth, that changes everything.

~~~

{The rest of this post shares my heart – and intimate, but perhaps graphic, details – of Micah’s birth. Please don’t read on if you would prefer to not know these moments. But the telling – yes, the actual writing – of this story is for me. My healing. My heart. My memory. My community of birth professionals and passionate mamas who wish to change the face of maternity care. These details are for us, for them, for our the generation that will come after us and who should expect birth to empower no matter how it progresses.}

~~~

My water breaking at 10 pm on the evening of December 7 woke me up from a deep sleep. After a quick text to my midwife, I vacillated between going to bed and waiting to see if labor was going to kick in. At 10:07 pm the first strong contraction began, and very quickly I was having to concentrate, moan, and change positions with each one. Still, I didn’t want to arrive at the birth center too soon, so I tried to get dressed and braid my hair between contractions. By about 10:20 I knew I was going to need to wake your Daddy. Contractions were hard and already 5-7 minutes apart. Your daddy was in a much bigger hurry than I was (thankfully), and we were in the car by 10:40 pm. On the way, contractions were 4-5 minutes apart and made me want to force your dad to break a few traffic laws to get us to our destination faster. (Alas, that’s not his personality.) But, with great calm, he steadied me, and Tracy met us outside of Baby and Company birth center.

Settling into the beautiful Mama Bear room at the center, candles aglow and bath tub filling, I remember my midwife Tracy Ryan telling me that “It would be soon” based on her exam. I didn’t need to know more than that, but focused on those words in the coming hours. The force of 3-5 minute apart contractions took every ounce of concentration and will power to simply survive. “Surely, you would make your entrance soon,” I believed. IMG_9135.JPG

micah_birth_129.jpgmicah_birth_133.jpgWater was gently poured over my back in a gentle stream. Flooding. Dripping. Easing.

Your Daddy held my hand as I hung over the birth bath tub’s white rim. Gripping. Strengthening. Believing.

The hand held fetal heart doppler regularly declared your heart steady and strong. 130 BPM. 135 BPM. 130 BPM. 

Beating in rhythm for both of us. Our two hearts beating as one. Sharing the intensity of the night. Waiting for morning’s joy.

Surviving.

The next hours became a testimony of sheer survival. I could barely moan deep and low much less stifle the screams that wanted to escape. My doula’s background told me not to waste energy in yelling, but my mama’s body didn’t care. “I just want to be done,” I told Tracy. “I just want to hold Micah.” And while I began pushing intermittently somewhere in the 2 am hour, you kept descending and then disappearing. Nearly crowning and then gone. The moments were agonizing. img_9136

IMG_9224.JPGmicah_birth_178.jpgWe pushed in every position. In the birth tub. On all fours. In a lunge position on the yoga bars. Seated on the birth stool. Laying on the bed on both my back and side. Tracy used a finger forceps technique to aid my pelvis for several of the hours. Karina calmed and steadied me, using pressure points, essential oils, fans, and affirmations. Your Daddy supported me through position changes. My body straining. Deep belly breathing you down. Every ounce of energy poured into moving you down. Over and over again.

Until it was finally enough. And we knew that you needed more help to be born. And it is at this point that I can’t say enough about our transfer process from the birth center to Lutheran hospital. As center manager of Baby+Co, I always rave about the seamless transition, but I was truly overwhelmed by the continuity of care throughout the long night. And for my midwife team. Ellen kept calm even in the midst of my obvious distress. She often just sat quietly, holding the space. And Tracy was my rock. She sat near me for hours, held my body as I pushed, didn’t let me quit, always gave me choices, and orchestrated a transfer to the hospital just as I was nearly spent. “Lauren,” she said after about 4 hours of pushing, “baby needs a little bit more help. You are a powerful pusher, and he is just stuck. There is nothing more we can do here.”

Dawn was just breaking. It was in the late 6 am hour. I yelled and cried and pushed and simply survived as we made the 0.2 mile drive to the hospital, Tracy in the back of the car for support. I remember my body writhing on the seat and the seconds feeling like an eternity. As I look back now on those dark hours, the sun just barely peeking over the horizon, I never want to return to that emotional or physical space. The despair. The pain. The knowledge that the journey was not over until it was over. I had no control over the pace or the place or the coming minutes.

But, that is where miracles happen.

In that place where you lose control.

In that time of desperation.

When we aren’t alone.

As Ann Voskamp writes, That is always the secret to the abundant life: to believe that God is where you doubt He can be.

When we arrived on the labor and delivery floor, a nurse quickly ushered us into Room 1 where a team was already prepared for me thanks to the report that Tracy had called in ahead of time. I was a mess. Covered in bodily fluids. Beyond exhausted. Hours and hours of pushing already in the bag. My face so swollen that my nose had almost disappeared. The blood vessels around my eyes and in my eyes had ruptured and were already red  and swollen. Everyone who saw me in the coming days commented that I looked like I had been in a fight.

Well, I had.

A fight for my your life, my Little Lion Baby.

A fight for my own heart.

A fight to voice as many of my original birth wishes in the face of rapid interventions needed to keep you safe.

And, as I have processed what came next, that is the conclusion that I have arrived at. The interventions were NEEDED, life-saving, life-giving, and not chosen hastily. I replay the room’s scene in my mind. Karina, my doula, right by my side. Tracy acting as nurse and helping me speak my wishes. My dearest friend and photographer Rachael respectfully putting her camera down and simply holding the space. Crying with my husband. David, standing strong, but also breaking with the yearning and the hoping and the fear.

After rushing into the room, I found myself kneeling on the hospital floor. IV being placed. Blood drawn. Nurses introducing themselves. A big white fluffy bath robe from the birth center still wrapped around my shoulders. Gripping the hospital bed, as I bent over it. And still the contractions would not stop coming. The pushing would not stop. The bright florescent lights of the room filled my senses in stark contrast to the dimly lit birth room from which I had come.

And then the OB commented that I was doing a great job pushing and questioned”Did I just want to push for a while longer before trying anything else?”. I nearly cursed. It had been over four hours of pushing and it was not more time that was needed to help you into this world. I knew it. Deep down. Tracy knew it. Something else was going on. And then the doctor also saw what we had been experiencing through the long night: you, Micah, crowning and then re-entering the birth canal back to a +2 or+3 station. He offered me three contractions with a vacuum assist before we immediately moved to a Cesarean.

On my back with my legs up in stirrups barely able to see out of the slits of my swollen eyes, I no longer cared how you arrived. Who delivered you. Whether I was on the birth stool or in the birth tub. I just wanted to hold you to my shaking body. Meet you. Know you were safe. And so I pushed. Again. And with just one vacuum-assisted contraction, your head emerged in an acynclitic position.

My son.

But there was no sound. 

Other than the palpable panic of the nurses and OB in the room.

Immediately, a flurry of activity ensued. I continued to push. Nurses literally put their weight on top of me, using their hands on my belly to assist. The OB expertly inserted his hand around your body to dislodge your shoulder from under my pubic bone and untagle your arms from their twisted position behind your own back.

And in the urgency of those moments, God was still there. I didn’t see His presence then, but I realize it looking back. He was there in the care of an excellent, well-trained hospital staff. He was there in my cries and my husband’s prayers. He was there in the strength of my midwife. I was never alone. You were never alone.

I remember seeing the sun tinge the sky pink outside my hospital room window.

I remember the touch of people who loved me.

The powerful burn of your bluish-toned head and body wedged.

The instants of sheer terror when I wasn’t sure if  you were going to be okay. IMG_9223.JPG

Curled up pushing, I saw you emerge. Your face turn pink. Your first – and instantaneous – cry. It sounded more like “Ma Ma” than any cry I have ever heard. And, I gave thanks. Shaking uncontrollably, my arms received you to my chest and warm blankets covered us.

I was so cold.

So weary.

So done.

The next minutes were a blur. But, I do remember realizing that my body had immediately stopped contracting and the placenta was also stuck. Several different medications were administered including pitocin to no avail. The cord broke and more help was needed.

img_9141img_9142IMG_9143.JPGYou went with your daddy and a nurse to the warmer and the scale, so I could focus. I was given the option of pain medications, but if I accepted, then it would most likely be hours before I would wake up and be able to snuggle you. While I did briefly try nitrous oxide for the second time that night (the gas seems to have no affect on me at all), I refused other pain medications. I had gone without so far, and I would continue without drugs if possible. I might have changed my mind if I knew the pain of a manual placenta extraction. But, thankfully, the doctor was very skilled and fast and the excruciating pain was probably over in 5-7 minutes. I screamed into the nitrous oxide gas mask.

And then you returned to my chest. And we cried and shook and met this great big world together. You, a newborn. Me, also reborn. Cherishing a greater love than I imagined possible. You were worth every moment of that long night. IMG_9140.JPG

We are both healing. More slowly than I had expected prior to your birth, but healing nonetheless. Your broken clavicle should heal in 2-4 weeks. My body is losing its swollen appearance and all but the blood vessels in my eyes have returned to a more normal color. Miraculously, I didn’t tear (I’m chalking that up to all of the essential oils and perineum massage I used in the months leading up to your due date, as well as the collagen I regularly added to drinks/foods) – though I think that miracle also goes way beyond supplements. More importantly, my heart is healing. The trauma is fading. I’ve re-entered the birth center space and cried. Had a massage in one of the birth rooms. Scheduled an appointment with craniosacral therapist for both of us and worked through some of the painful images. In the coming weeks, I plan on taking a postpartum herbal bath with you in one of the big birth center tubs and re-living some of the moments that I missed in the hospital.

Resting. Eating. Nursing. Breathing. Staring at you. Snuggling your sister.

Enjoying the final days of Advent as we prepare to celebrate Christ’s birth. IMG_9134.JPG

I am not victimized by your birth story. No, not at all. Rather, empowered. Birth was hard and agonizing, but also tangible grace. In the bright light of the hospital. In the vulnerability of those final moments. In our mingled weeping tears.

You came, and I did it.

And, I love you. More than words can say. I love you.

{All photos credit to Rachael Hope of Haven, Life & Photo}

Some women fear the fire. Some women simply become it. ~ R.H. Sin