A Decoupage Birth Story, Part IV

If you haven’t already read the other parts to this story, click HERE to get caught up.

*SNAP

I hear my necklace break, in the same way a vivid dream can startle you awake, I am suddenly wide-eyed. 

I glance around but before I can register where exactly I am, I notice a small heaviness on my chest. 

I blink, look down, and there she is, clutching the chain of my necklace in her impossibly small fist. Here in the quiet calm of the early morning, I finally meet my daughter for the first time. It takes a minute for me to determine I’m no longer deep in dreamland. This is in fact, real. SHE is real.

Soft morning light is just beginning to make its way in through the windows, causing the room to glow. I didn’t get my “golden hour” of uninterrupted skin-to-skin immediately after her birth, but it appears God is giving us a second chance at it.

Finally. Together.

As it should be.

Only the edge of the sun is peeking in at us at this hour. No one is documenting the occasion or swirling around us to check vitals. Brandon is in and out of sleep on the couch by the window, exhausted.

I breathe in this moment. It feels just right, despite everything.

It’s been hours since her birth and no doubt she’s already been checked over many times by everyone but her mother. Now it’s my turn. I stare and study and take her in, just as if she were minutes old. How is she so perfect? She looks just like her siblings! (But really – they favor so much it’s like I’ve had the same baby three times.)

Things are still hazy for me but a defined peace, thick and heavy as a warm winter blanket, settles over me as my mind and heart catch up to the reality that she’s here and she’s safe. 

// 

I learn her birth stats from what’s written on the whiteboard that faces my bed:
Baby Girl born 5-23-2019.
2:43am.
8 lbs 6 oz.
20 inches long.

My smallest baby yet.

//

Later in the day, a kind and familiar face appears at the door of my hospital room. My amazing doctor. The moment she steps foot in the door, she tells me, “we tried everything. We tried absolutely everything.” I know it’s true. I nod with tears in my eyes and thank her for being our hero. We recount the record-fast ECV and how on point she was during the emergency. More pieces in my paper-mache birth story. The three of us take a picture together, and although I look like pretty dreadful, I’ll treasure it forever. How do you express your gratefulness to the woman who saved your baby? How do you thank the person who stepped into the sacredness of your birth and finished the story in your stead?

//

Some people have said maybe it’s for the best that I was not fully present for such a crazy and, at times, scary birth. That I would have been traumatized. I can understand that rationale and I’ve even said it to myself. But the truth is, I’d take that trauma in a heartbeat if it meant I’d remember my daughter’s birth.

The scar that was left behind still catches me off guard sometimes; did that really happen? Lots of c-section mamas say their scar makes them feel like a warrior. Perhaps in a different context I would feel the same. But I don’t. What I do feel is surrendered.

I’ve never experienced a such a deep surrender in all my life. I am utterly dependent on the Lord always, it’s just that most days I’m able to trick myself into believing I have more control than I do. Her birth proved that dependence. It usurped everything including my love of control, my arrogant assumptions, my idolization of my preferences.
Surrendering to the plan God has for you is never a lesson wasted.

The Father never left my side, my only constant in this experience. He didn’t forget about me; he was attentive to the fullest. “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or lack compassion for the child of her womb? Even if these forget, yet I will not forget you.” (Isaiah 49:15)

This birth does not define me, but it does impact me. It has shaped me, in the way any pivotal experience does. In one hand I hold the reality that this is an important story with complex feelings. And in the other hand, I hold the truth that this story is not the entire story; God-willing it’s just the beginning. It’s possible to carry both at the same time. The bitter and the sweet.

Since I did not get to hold my daughter first, I will hold her now. Since I did not get to see her first, I will memorize her now:

her wispy hairline. 

the way she nuzzles in with her lips pursed while she sleeps. 

the way her soft cheek fits in the crook of my neck like a puzzle piece.

the way her profile mirrors her sister’s.

the way she looks at her brother.

the way she sucks in her bottom lip like a baby bird.

how she snorts more than she cries.

the way her toes are always full of fuzz.

the tiny white specks hidden in the blue of her eyes. 

the way she scrunches her nose.

the way she clings to her daddy like a baby koala when he carries her.

(c) 2019 D. Crowe Photography

I’m not even embarrassed at the fact that I hardly put her down for the first three-ish months of her life. It was such a balm to my soul to have her close.

Becoming a mom for the third time feels like I’m just beginning to scratch the surface of figuring some things out. I care less about having the perfect nursery or stressing about the curve on the growth chart. I’ve learned that my child has quite a lot to teach me if I take the time to watch and listen closely. One of the gifts this experience gave me was the reminder that attentiveness matters.

(c) 2019 D. Crowe Photography

So although this paper-mache story built from scraps of memories still feels fragile to me, I can clearly – SO CLEARLY – see it’s beauty. Beautiful things are not necessarily perfect things, without any blemish. It’s far deeper than that. The end result of the finished project reveals its beauty and value.

The work of piecing this story together so carefully has not taken away the hard parts, but has proven to me that it was all worth it. All of the good and the bad, the hard and the glorious — it was all worth it to have sweet Elowyn join our family.

(c) 2019 D. Crowe Photography

Elowyn Faire. A “lovely promised land”. I’ve loved you from the second I knew you existed. You brought such peace with you. My calm after the storm. Forever grateful for your life, little girl.

If you made it this far – thank you so much for reading! Compiling this story and putting this out into the world is a little scary but it has been healing for me, in a way. I hope you are able to see your own hard stories with a lens of redemption and light. Our Father makes all things new. And even when we feel most alone, we’re not. ❤

A Decoupage Birth Story, Part III

If you missed Part I, click here.
For Part II, click here.

The sleeping medicine takes effect quickly.

After some time, I wake up slightly – but only because I’m experiencing extremely intense contractions. It’s involuntary, but I can feel my body trying to escape, attempting to leave itself behind on the bed and get somewhere safe. 

As soon as the contraction ends, I’m completely knocked out again. 

//

Unbeknownst to me in Ambien-land, the following takes place: 

Within just a few hours, I go from hardly 3 cm dilated to a full 6 cm. They order my epidural and Brandon texts my mom to alert her that labor is picking up, and she heads back to the hospital. It’s my assumption that the medication caused my body to relax so much that labor was able to progress very fast.

I am so out of it from the sleeping medication that I am utterly unaware of getting my first epidural. (I hope that conveys my level of “unconsciousness”!) It takes a team to hold me in place: Brandon, my mom, and a nurse while the anesthesiologist works in between my wake ups and contractions. Contractions are only minutes apart at this time.

I’m getting no relief from the back-to-back contractions. It’s apparent the epidural has not been effective (something that also happened during my son’s birth…whhyyyy??) So, they quickly get me back in position, remove the original epidural, and place the second epidural between my wake-ups.

It’s now in the 2:00 am hour.

I finally relax and they can tell the epidural is working. A short time later, maybe half an hour, my OB comes in to check on me and begins to palpate my belly but is unable to locate the baby’s head. She grabs the ultrasound probe and searches. . . 

Breech

Baby girl is breech. Head is up under my chest, feet and bottom are at my cervix. Somehow, this baby has completely flipped upside down again during active labor.

She checks my cervix and finds I’m a full 10 cm – complete. 

It’s important to note here — most OB’s do not perform vaginal breech deliveries due to the risks involved. It’s either head-down or a c-section.

Quickly and expertly, my doctor makes an attempt at a second external cephalic version right then and there. It’s what I would have asked for had I been awake. Baby doesn’t budge, but my water breaks. She stops and checks my cervix again and the baby’s foot is presenting. This baby is coming.

//

I jolt awake enough to vividly recall my obstetrician looking deep into my eyes, nope – past my eyes and straight into my soul – her own eyes overflowing with concern and care, and I hear the words, “Shanna, we’ve done everything, you’re going to need a C-section.” 

I nod in agreement. I’m disappointed but trust her completely.

Lights out again. 

//

Unbeknownst to me: 
As my doctor begins giving the nursing staff instructions, the fetal heart rate monitor sounds an alarm. 

Everyone stops and checks the reading: 70 beats per minute. It should be between 120-160 bpm.

My OB grabs the monitor off of my belly, swiftly turns me on my left side, and begins searching for the heart rate herself. Nothing higher than 70-80 bpm is coming up. She tells the staff to get me to the OR right that minute, and controlled chaos ensues. She instructs Brandon to come hold me on my side and to not to let go of me until someone relieves him. 

Someone pushes the emergency alarm and nurses swarm the room, everyone working as quickly and efficiently as possible to get me and this baby to the operating room. Someone relieves Brandon and takes over holding me in place.

Brandon stands in shock watching the situation escalate. Someone tells him they aren’t sure yet if he will be able to come into the OR since I may need general anesthesia. My mom speaks up and tells the staff he should be in the room if at all possible. She says it’s what I would want, and she couldn’t be more right.

My eyes blink open. I’m in the operating room. 

I don’t remember being wheeled here, prepped, or moved onto the table. 

I’m confronted by a blue drape so close to my face it feels like I’m going to suffocate. My arms feel strange and when I look side to side I can see that they are tied down, restraining me. 

I can’t move. 

I look around and cannot find a single face. No one is within my field of view. Panic begins to build but then against my will I’m out again. 

Meanwhile, the chaos has calmed back in the delivery room, as most of the staff is with me in the OR. Brandon is finally tossed a set of scrubs to put on, which he does frantically and then follows the nurse quickly down the hall. 

As they approach the operating room, from the other side of the doors, they hear a sound. A beautiful, tiny cry. It’s our daughter’s first cry. Any parent will tell you it’s the most glorious sound in the world, no contest.

Mere seconds kept him from witnessing our baby’s birth. Even the nurses at the desk are shocked at how fast she was delivered.

//

I, too, hear the tiny cry. It sounds far away but it’s only on the other side of the obnoxious blue drape.

I can barely hear it in my head now but it’s there. Bless the Lord, it’s there. Gripping that memory with all I’ve got.

Then, lights out again. 

When I wake up again, I finally see Brandon’s face. I sob and sob. He says he’s never seen me cry so hard before. 

For Part IV (the final birth story post), CLICK HERE

A Decoupage Birth Story, Part II

If you missed Part I, click here.

Our third baby, a girl, yet unnamed, had been in a transverse (sideways) position for much of my pregnancy. In response, I ventured out to chiropractic appointments multiple times a week, utilizing a specific type of chiropractic care called Webster’s technique. I was familiar with Webster’s because it had been successful with Finn, my second baby, who was breech for almost the entire pregnancy.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about this baby’s positioning; it was the main subject of so many of my prayers. I even recruited my close friends and family to make it a matter of their prayers, too. I felt mostly sure that she would end up head-down, allowing for a typical vaginal delivery just like I had with my other babies.

Our last photo as a family of four!

May 21, 2019. It’s the day of my induction, four days past my due date. Every last one of my babies have had to be evicted…they just get way too cozy in there. My doctor has been out of town but is now back, so it’s time to get this baby out! I sneak in a last minute chiropractic appointment (baby is head-down, best we can tell), then I rest for the remainder of the day in the living room chair I’ve claimed for the majority of this pregnancy. Soon we kiss our babies and make our way to the hospital. 

Third baby, yet it’s every bit as surreal as the first go around. 

We are delivering at a different hospital this time, much smaller than our previous births. It’s a hospital I actually worked at in the beginning of my ultrasound career, so the halls and rooms (and many faces!) are familiar which is comforting. We park and unload our bags and pillows – yep, it’s an absolute requirement of mine to bring my own pillow – and we head up to the labor and delivery floor.

We get settled in and then due to the baby’s fondness for changing positions so frequently, an ultrasound is ordered. The Sonographer puts the probe down on my belly and we’re all shocked to discover that her head is not down in my pelvis as we thought, but instead is located high in my right upper quadrant. They immediately halt all induction measures. We’ll see our doctor in the morning to discuss how to move forward, and we decide to remain at the hospital overnight to keep things simple.

May 22, 2019. 

Several conversations with doctors and ultrasounds later, we choose to attempt an external cephalic version (ECV), in which the doctor uses her hands on the outside of the mother’s belly to attempt to manually turn the baby into a head-down position. It has risks and complications so it’s not something we sign on for lightly. If you know my obstetrician you understand how we are able to trust her so implicitly for this type of procedure. Ultrasound suggests that I have low amniotic fluid, which is not ideal for an ECV. However, we know for sure that this baby is a gymnast and has been performing all manner of acrobatics in my womb, even in the last 24 hours. She doesn’t seem to have gotten the memo that she is overdue and shouldn’t have very much wiggle room. We ask our doctor to simply try coaxing her down, nothing forced, only encouraging her to move gently into position. If she resists, we will leave well enough alone and then make the next right decision. 

I’m given a shot of something to relax my uterus and they prep me for a c-section, just in case anything goes wrong and we need urgent surgical intervention. My OB dons her gloves, squirts gel liberally around my belly, and after seeing the baby’s position with ultrasound, she places her hands strategically on my abdomen. She gently but firmly moves her hands in a clockwise position and I feel a significant shift. The room is quiet and we all stop – it had only been seconds – was she already head-down? Sure enough, the ultrasound screen confirms it: head down. We all look at each other in amazement and breathe out a brief prayer, thanking God for this small miracle. Our nurse even says in awe, “Wow, we should have recorded that. It couldn’t have gone any better!” Truly, it had been so easy. Too easy?

A little while later, Brandon and I begin walking the halls together to settle the baby into position and encourage labor. We are beaming and in such high spirits, knowing we’re well on our way to meeting our daughter, and feeling so grateful for the successful ECV. 

My nurse keeps having to corral me back in the delivery room to hook me up to the monitor and check the baby’s heart rate since the portable monitor is not consistent. 

It’s proving difficult to get a good reading, and when she does obtain one, it’s high in the 180s, so our nurse has me lay down on the bed slightly on my left side. Immediately, I feel a shift in my belly. A sinking feeling sets in and I tell Brandon I’m pretty certain she has shifted again. When my doctor comes back to check on me, she’s able to feel that the baby is not perfectly engaged in my pelvis anymore, but she feels sure that once labor ramps up, the baby should shift back into position.

//

Next, my doctor places the Cervidil (medicine to soften the cervix) to officially start the induction. Whew. It’s already felt like such a long road and yet we’re just getting started. It doesn’t take long for me to begin experiencing decent contractions. But oddly, my cervix is only dilating partially – externally, not internally – so it seems we are only in the very early stages of labor with a long night and probably the day ahead to go. I was somewhat prepared for this news: my two previous labors had lasted around 30 hours and 14 hours

It’s about 9pm. My parents leave after joining us for dinner, and my nurse suggests that if I want anything to help me sleep (Ambien) I would need to get it on board soon, before it got too late. 

After a few more contractions, I know I won’t be able to sleep — I’m running on fumes, having been in the hospital for 24 hours already. I want to be as rested and ready as possible for the big day ahead, and since I had followed this same protocol with my first birth, I don’t hesitate. Sleeping meds: sign me up!

CLICK HERE to read Part III

A Decoupage Birth Story, Part I

To jump to a different part of this story, just click these links:
PART II
PART III
PART IV

My last baby’s birth story. Big, deep breath. 

It’s not the story I wanted to write. In fact, I’ve basically avoided it for a full year. 

On May 23, she turns one (!!!), and it’s finally time I share the story of how she got here. It’s a wild one, a total whirlwind, and unlike any of my other birth experiences. 

First, some caveats

  • I’m acutely aware that this is not a worse-case scenario. Things could have gone way better; things could have gone way worse.
  • The medical staff is not to blame. Everyone did their best work and honored my wishes every step of the way. (My obstetrician is truly phenomenal and I’m so thankful the Lord allowed her to be the one caring for us that day.) In fact, they all went above and beyond and had they not been so attentive, the ending of this story could have been tragically different. 
  • I have experienced two relatively straight-forward vaginal deliveries. That is what I know and that is my comfort zone. Having a c-section has always been the least desirable option for me personally. And thus, the stark contrast of this birth from my others is palpable.
  • Not all C-sections are urgent or emergent.
  • We are BEYOND grateful everything turned out well. We are healthy, and we got to leave the hospital with our baby. All of that is a grace. I would go through this or anything else for any of my kids. They are worth every struggle or pain or difficulty. 
  • Brushing past a mother’s hard birth story because “at least the baby is okay” might be well-meaning, but it does not honor the mother’s experience at all. It does not give her the space to wrap her head around what actually happened, or deal with the full spectrum of her feelings about her birth. 
  • If you’re pregnant or have had a traumatic delivery yourself, some of this might be unsettling to read. 
  • If this story mirrors your own in any way, please know that I am so sorry your experience was not ideal. I’m sorry that the memory of your baby’s birth – a beautiful moment regardless – may be tainted or difficult to face because of the circumstances surrounding it. I don’t think we are alone. I just think we’re scared to say it out loud. 

Part I

(c) 2019 D Crowe Photography

Mamas, write your birth stories. 

Write them. Even if you’re not a writer, even if you’re not the type to bother with writing down your grocery list. Record. That. Birth. Story. 

I’ve preached this since I first became a mom in 2014. 

Pen it on paper, list it in timeline form in the baby book, save a digital note in your phone, blog about it, create a voice memo….the method doesn’t matter but the documentation itself does. 

Leading up to having my first daughter, I became easily wrapped up in birth stories. It didn’t matter if I knew the mom or not – it could be a woman in my real life sharing her story or a stranger on a podcast revealing the details of hers – hearing the first-person account of how any given birth went down was always intriguing to me. I hung on every word, amazed at how the details of each story were never repeated and were unique to each woman at that particular point in time. Tons (and tons) of stories later, I learned this valuable truth: the only predictable element of birth is its unpredictability.

Oh how true that would prove for me.

I think what fascinates me the most about birth is not only it’s unpredictability but also it’s sacredness. It’s a set apart event that in many ways shapes you as the mother. Birth is a sacred space that mothers may initially enter with a whole team of supporters — her husband, a doula, a best friend, her mom, a top-notch nurse, a beloved doctor or midwife — but ultimately, she endures the weight of it aided only by God. Her surrender is required. And through her surrender, the mother’s body is the chosen tool, the vessel, that God partners with to bring life forth. What an honor.

So you can imagine my shock when, after having baby #3, I couldn’t write our birth story

I could start it, but I definitely couldn’t finish it. The memories of my daughter’s actual delivery (and much of my labor) simply do not exist for me. 

That will always break my heart.

//

Do you remember those paper-mache crafts you proudly assembled in elementary school? You know the ones – first, you cut out various shapes, pictures, and letters from newspapers or magazines. Then you meticulously glue the pieces together to create something entirely new. All gluey gobs and messy paper clippings, piled on top of each other, covering some unrecognizable surface. At first it’s completely gooey and seemingly disastrous, but before long it dries and everything is cemented in place. That’s when the art is revealed. Once it’s completely finished, you can appreciate the beauty of how it was built. Piece by piece. Scrap by scrap. 

That’s what this birth story is – a decoupage creation, crafted by overlapping, stuck together scraps of memories. Some of mine, but also my husband, my family, the hospital records, and the hospital staff. In fact, the first thing my husband did after we were discharged from the hospital was pull out his tablet and set his fingers to the keys to document his account of this adventure. All of the scraps and pieces come together on these pages to build something beautiful. (Because no matter how hard a birth is, I do believe it is always, always beautiful.)

Something you might remember about paper-mache in the early stages is that it’s fragile. It can easily fall apart. Until everything dries and “sets,” it’s vulnerable. 

As am I. 

(c) 2019 D Crowe Photography

A year later and this story still feels delicate and tender. When I tell it out loud, will I fall apart? I’ll be honest…my heart hasn’t completely “set” yet. But the good news is, I’m getting there. The more I talk about it, the more it solidifies somewhere deep that this is my story. It’s our story. I’ve got to find the beauty in it wherever possible. So I’ll cherish it and carry it carefully and close always.

Now, on to the story…

Click here to read Part II

Lost Things Found

Hello, again. 

:: dust, dust, dust ::
:: sweep, sweep, sweep ::

Picture me swaying sentimentally to the “Welcome Back” song of the ’70s as I write this to you.

Somehow nearly three years have passed since I’ve entered this space. I hardly remembered how to log in and navigate the interface, fumbling around like a grandma with the latest iPhone. Bless my heart.

Life has not slowed down since my last published post here – in fact, the opposite is true. My family and I moved, I quit my job in healthcare, began writing more freelance, and had another baby – a girl – who is well on her way to her first birthday! 

Well, I say life has not slowed down, but in recent weeks it actually has. And drastically so. Our whole world came to screeching halt in the wake of a global pandemic that we’re still in the messy middle of. Does it seem like a dream to anyone else? It just doesn’t seem real. 

And maybe it’s not quite fair to say life came to a halt – certainly some things did, most things, but not everything. Maybe it’s more accurate to say that our pace is what has slowed so dramatically. Nowhere to rush to. No bustling social life. No complicated calendars. 

I can say that even as a mom with a house full of loud little kids, things are eerily quiet. Things are still. Slow. 

Slow enough to reclaim some things that have been lost.

Like, say, a blog perhaps? 

I think when this is over everyone will have a different story of the beautiful thing they reclaimed in the midst of crisis. What will yours be?

Talk soon, friends!

5am.

It’s 5am.

We see this hour together often, and I know: it could be worse. Much worse. I whisper a quiet “thank you” to you for letting me catch up on some sleep. I think sleep might be my love language.

Finn-32You’re wide awake. I’m half-asleep. I go through the motions: I nurse you and burp you, then swaddle you back up tightly, because you are without a doubt the busiest-bodied baby with the strongest startle reflex I’ve ever seen. (God? Please bless the inventor of the swaddle, especially the Velcro ones. Amen.)

You stop squirming for a second and lay completely still. With my lamp glowing in the dark, I see you look right at me. We lock eyes, and in that instant, my mechanical mommy autopilot is switched off and I’m human again. I smile silently at you, because I can’t not, and you grin back. Baby gums, dimples, squinty eyes and all.

My eyes are still tired, but now they’re alive. Bright.

I dogear that moment purposefully.

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Finn’s Nursery

Despite the fact that Finn has yet to sleep a single wink in his nursery, it’s one of my favorite spaces in our entire house.

When we found out we were having a boy, it didn’t take long for me to start daydreaming about decorating a boy’s nursery. Since Aven’s room is so girly and whimsical (post coming soon), I was looking forward to going in a totally different direction.

Brandon and I knew we wanted a feature wall where the crib was, so that was our starting point. And then after seeing this amazing nursery on Pinterest, we decided on a rustic woodsy theme, using mostly neutral colors. (I purposely steered clear from elements that make the room look too baby-ish so we can keep most of it for a big boy room later on down the road.)

I am SO happy with how it turned out! And props to my husband for building that awesome wall.

*All sources listed at the bottom. Some links are affiliate links. 

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