motherhood

A Love Letter to My Daughter on Her First Valentine’s Day

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Sweet Emmanuella Joy,

I am constantly astonished that God would choose me to be your mama. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve brushed my finger against your cheek and whispered, “You’re perfect.” You’re the greatest gift I have ever been given. My most cherished blessing. I am so grateful to call you mine.

You don’t realize it yet, but your name is unusual. We named you Emmanuella, a spin-off of Emmanuel, meaning “God with us.” Your daddy and I chose this name for you because we believe that God is with us, no matter what struggles we may face in life. My precious daughter, when you reach out to God, you will find peace, comfort, and rest. Have faith in Him, sweetheart, for He will never leave you (Joshua 1:9).

Your middle name, of course, is Joy. My baby, please understand that the Joy in your name is not the same thing as happiness. Happiness is a temporary feeling. It can be brought about by a funny joke or a new toy, but it is joy that Daddy and I wish for you. Joy has something that happiness does not: Jesus. You see, joy is eternal; it’s a state of being, not an emotion. Joy is anchored in Christ. It is the knowledge that no matter what life throws at you, your hope remains in the Savior. This is my greatest wish for you, Emmanuella. It is through reliance on Him that you will constantly find a state of joy.

Emmanuella Joy, I look at you and cannot believe that you, a perfect angel, are my daughter. How did I ever get so lucky? Though you are only 3 and a half months old, I believe we already share an incredible bond. I prayed for you long before you were born, and here you are, so much more than I ever dreamed you’d be.

I love so many things about you, from the way that you instinctively curl your hand around my finger when I hold you, to your toothless grin that melts my heart. And as you grow, I am sure I will fall in love with you over and over again.

Mama will never be perfect, baby. I’ve already made more mistakes than I can count. But I can promise you this: I will never forget what a gift you are. God gave you to me, and it is now my blessed responsibility to care for you. This will sometimes mean making sacrifices. Other times it will mean you won’t like me very much, because I will have to give you limits and discipline. But even when those days come, you will still be my most cherished gift, a present that I could never deserve.

Words could never express how much I love you, baby girl. May you grow up knowing how deeply you are loved by me, by your daddy, and by God.

All the love in my heart,

Mama

family, motherhood

Our Birth Story

emmanuella-hospital-3I’ve been meaning to write this blog for awhile but have put it off for several reasons:

1. I have a newborn. Time is not on my side right now (I’ve take to blogging on my phone while nursing and pumping).

2. I was on a lot of drugs so the details are very fuzzy in my memory.

3. Emmanuella was a scheduled C-section. How much of a story can there really be when her birth was planned?

I think it’s that third point that made me hesitate to write this blog at all. But Emmanuella deserves to have her story documented, even if there were no midnight contractions, no rush to get to the hospital, and no pushing. One day I’ll share this blog with her and tell her how she came into this world, even if the story would not be considered exciting by most.

My Breech Baby

Emmanuella’s birth story actually begins a week and a half before her birthday. Dustin and I went to our 38 week appointment and discovered that our baby was breech. The hard lump that I felt in the middle of my stomach was not her butt as my OBGYN had suggested months earlier; it was her head. Dr. Pendlebury did a quick handheld ultrasound which confirmed her suspicions. This was going to complicate matters (before this news, I was just discouraged that after so much walking and raspberry leaf tea, I wasn’t dilated or effaced at all).

Our Options

1. Do nothing. Go home, hope that the baby flips on her own, and wait to go into labor. If I did go into labor with the baby still breech, an emergency C-section would be necessary. However, as Dr. Pendlebury pointed out, I am a small person and I was already 38 weeks along. My baby girl had ran out of space. It was highly unlikely that she was going to flip at this point.

2. Try an ECV (External Cephalic Version). This means my doctor would try to manipulate the baby to turn from the outside. This has about a 50 percent success rate. I would be induced immediately after the procedure if it was successful. But there were several risks involved that could have sent me into an emergency C-section and I was warned that it would hurt. A lot. That didn’t sound so appealing either.

3. Schedule a C-section. We could simply opt for surgery on our own terms and on our own schedule. This was the only option that prevented the risk of going into an emergency C-section (something that we really wanted to avoid). It was also the safest delivery option, even if it meant a major abdominal surgery was imminent.

Our Decision

Dr. Pendlebury said we didn’t have to make a decision right away. After all, this was a big surprise and we both needed to digest the news and discuss the options that we had just heard. So we left the office and discussed our options in the car. By the time we got to work, we had made up our minds. Emmanuella would be born via scheduled C-section. We called my OBGYN and made the arrangements. October 24 would be the day.

Dealing with the Disappointment

At the time, finding out that a C-section was in my future was a major disappointment. It just wasn’t part of my plan. I had a birth plan written up; it was very simple (because I had heard that the more detailed plans are, the more likely it was that births don’t follow them): Go to hospital. Hang the purple Christmas lights I had bought solely for the hospital in delivery room. Labor in tub with my birth playlist for as long as possible without epidural. Get epidural when needed. Have baby. Was that so hard to follow? Apparently so.

I dealt with the news quietly at work that day. I told the necessary people (my boss, the HR mamager) that I had an official last day of work and went home. And broke down. This was NOT what I wanted.

The next day was a little better. I reached out and told several close friends that Emmanuella’s birthday would be October 24 (unless she decided to come on her own before then). I reached out to some friends who had delivered via C-section to hear about their experiences. And I began to mentally prepare myself for what was to come.

The next week and a half flew by in a blur of activity. With an exact end date in sight, I made sure the kitchen floor was mopped and laundry done. I packed my hospital bag, washed baby clothes, and set up a changing table downstairs. I even bought underwear that were two sizes too big so that the elastic wouldn’t hit my incision (in hindsight, one size up would have sufficed). I guess you could say I was ready.

The Day Arrives

My C-section was scheduled for 9:30. I was told to arrive at the hospital at 8:00. Before I left the house, I had to shower using special soap that smelled like straight up alcohol. I couldn’t wear contacts or makeup, and hair products weren’t permitted. We left the house in no rush at all. It was the strangest feeling ever. I felt like we SHOULD be in a rush; that’s what you see in all the movies. But then again, I’ve never seen a movie about a scheduled C-section (does one even exist?).

Arriving at the hospital was almost too relaxing to be real. We didn’t use the designated parking spots for delivering mamas. There was no need to; I could walk from the parking garage just fine. Dustin even stopped me outside the entrance to take one last “before” photo. It honestly felt like any other day at the hospital since we had recently been attending baby classes.

We used the labor and delivery phone to notify the staff our arrival and after several minutes (again with the theme of not hurrying), a nurse took us to a pre-op room. I put on a hospital gown and the fun began. It was time to get me hooked up to an IV.

I tell everyone that getting my IV was worse than the actual surgery because it honestly was. It took two medical professionals five tries to get my IV in. It wasn’t their fault really. They would hit the vein and a second later, it would collapse. On the fourth try, they actually tried to numb the area first using an additional needle. Although I didn’t feel any numbing sensation at all – just an extra stick. Ouch! On the fifth try, by some miracle it worked. The hardest part of the day was over (although multiple purple bruises would remain for weeks to remind me of that traumatic experience).

While still in the pre-op room, Jill, the anesthesiologist nurse went over the surgical procedure with me while nurses scurried about, preparing for the upcoming surgery. Dr. Pendlebury came in as well to do one last ultrasound, making sure my baby was still breech (she was). It was just about 9:30. Go time (although we wouldn’t go right away since we had to wait several minutes for the OR to be available).

What a C-Section is Actually Like 

The first thing to happen was my spinal (like an epidural except you can’t move at all from your chest down). Y’all, I HATE needles and had just been stuck FIVE TIMES (plus an extra to “numb” me) so I was not looking forward to this at all. And it didn’t help that Dustin wasn’t allowed in the room for this part. He is my go-to hand-holder in all needle situations. So it was surprising that getting the spinal didn’t really bother me. They numbed my back first and I felt a burning sensation. But when the big needle went in, I didn’t even know it. Thank you technological advances in medicine!

I was told that the spinal would make me feel “buttery.” Apparently that’s what other patients call the sensation. I STILL don’t know what that means. But in my experience, I’d liken a spinal to one of those nightmares in which something is chasing you and you have to run, but you can’t move. It was the most bizarre feeling ever. My body felt like it was superglued to the table I was lying on. I couldn’t move if I wanted to. (I guess that’s a lie. Once Dustin was allowed back in the room, I experimented with my abilities. I discovered that if I used ALL of my body’s energy, I could slightly wiggle my right big toe. A nurse confirmed I was doing it. I highly recommend playing around with that if you ever have the chance. It’s just cool.)

The surgery itself was FAST. My doctor made the initial incision, and Emmanuella was out about 10 minutes later. 10:15 to be exact. I didn’t expect to be able to see everything that was going on because the drape obstructed my view but it turns out I could see EVERYTHING reflected in the chrome light above the operating table. Let me just tell you that it is the weirdest feeling to watch someone cut into your stomach but not feel a thing. I went back and forth between watching the procedure because it was so exciting and looking at Dustin because it was so gross. I remember saying something like, “This is disgusting but I want to SEE!”

I was obviously on some hardcore drugs at this point, but one thing I recall in crisp detail is feeling terribly nauseous during the surgery (I was warned this could happen) and telling the anesthesiologist nurse. She gave me some drug that she said would go straight to my brain and BAM! All nausea was eliminated instantly. We repeated this process a few times during the procedure. WHERE was this miracle drug the first 20 weeks of my pregnancy when all I could do was throw up or lie down in agony?! I needed it then!

Emmanuella’s Arrival

emmanuella-hospital-7As I said, the delivery took no time at all. My doctor announced that she was coming, and Jill asked Dustin if he wanted to see. He said yes, and she grabbed him by the arm, and allowed him to stand up and look past the curtain. Dustin said later that Jill had a firm grip on him – we presume this was in case he passed out. Dr. Pendlebury pulled Emmanuella out (feet first, the silly goose) at 10:15 a.m., and passed her through the curtain to me. She didn’t even come out crying at first; I like to think that my sweet babe was as eager to meet the world as we were ready to meet her.

My baby being laid on my chest was an unforgettable experience, despite the drugs that caused me to forget other details about the day. My first words to my daughter were, “Hi baby,” and I was in complete awe seeing her perfect face for the first time. I reached out and touched her tiny hand, and she grasped my finger right away. Several people had told me that I would cry in that moment, but I didn’t. I just felt a sense of wonder. Finally, after months of waiting, my daughter was here. The moment was everything I ever dreamed it would be, even though it wasn’t exactly how I pictured it.

After taking a few minutes to bask in Emmanuella’s perfect arrival, a nurse asked if I was ready for her to be weighed. I said I was, and my tiny angel was lifted from my chest and placed on a scale. Seven pounds, 8.3 ounces, the nurse announced. Length 20.5 inches. Long and skinny. She didn’t get that from me.

Dustin was then allowed to trim Emmanuella’s umbilical cord. Dr. Pendlebury had to do the initial cut in surgery, but she promised Dustin she would leave it long, so he would be able to ceremoniously cut the cord afterward. From my place on the table, I couldn’t see, but a nurse filmed this for me to watch later. (Fun fact: There wasn’t much for Dustin to trim. It turns out that Emmanuella had an unusually short umbilical cord, which is most likely why she didn’t flip to the correct position in the first place.)

The rest of the time in the OR is kind of a blur. I remember holding Emmanuella again as I was being sewn up, and still feeling the sense of amazement that she was really here. I also remember feeling an overwhelming sense of nausea, and passing Emmanuella to Dustin while I got another dose of that miracle nausea cure. I reached out to touch her in Dustin’s arms, and soaked in the perfect moment. We were finally parents.

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family, motherhood

4 Parenting Lessons I’ve Learned from a Pavlik Harness

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Today my baby girl graduates from a Pavlik harness to Rhino brace. For the past 6 weeks, my little love bug has been confined by straps of felt and Velcro, a sight that wasn’t always easy for me to see. The new Rhino brace will still be confining, but we’ll at least be able to take it on and off for diaper changes, baths, car rides, and to steal unhindered snuggles every once in awhile. We’ll be able to give Emmanuella baths again. We’ll be able to see her feet again! These seem like such little things, but as we mark the halfway point of her treatment for hip dysplasia, these are things that can (and should!) be celebrated.

While the Pavlik harness and its challenges are not something that I would wish for other parents, I have to admit that our time with this device came with many lessons, some of which were incredibly valuable to me as a parent.

Lesson 1. It’s okay to grieve over what you’ve lost. 

We never expected to have a child with hip dysplasia. Neither of us had even heard of the condition or understood what it meant at first. But we soon found out that our newborn wouldn’t be exactly as we pictured her. All of those precious newborn clothes in her closet wouldn’t get worn. We were being sentenced to six weeks of snap sleepers one size up (and leaving a few snaps undone at the bottom). And we could forget about bath time for awhile. And seeing her precious, tiny feet. We wouldn’t be able to hold her certain ways (Dustin’s favorite janguar-on-a-limb hold was out). The news of Emmanuella’s hip dysplasia meant that the ideas we had of the newborn state would be altered slightly. It is natural to grieve over a loss, including a loss of your expectations. So take that time. Let it out. Cry. I did one day while looking at those adorable clothes with the tags still on. It’s okay to be disappointed that things did not go according to plan. What’s not okay is when the grieving lasts forever. Because…

Lesson 2. You will adjust to the circumstances you’re given.

Really. You will. I feared that cuddling and breastfeeding would be awkward and diaper changes frustrating when working around the harness. It turned out that my fears were unwarranted because we adjusted to life in the harness just fine. When my sweet baby snuggled against my chest, I forgot that the harness was even there. And sure diaper changes are an extra challenge when you have to get a diaper under two sets of straps on each side. But you get used to it when that is the way life is. Now if you timed me changing Emmamuella against another new mom who didn’t have to work around a harness, I’d probably be just as fast. Because I’ve learned my way around it. Obstacles sometimes aren’t nearly as threatening as they seem at first.

Lesson 3. Parents of children with special needs are superheroes. 

For a short period, we have a child with a special need. And it has given me so much respect for the parents who take care of special needs children for a lifetime. It takes a lot of time and energy to ensure you baby is receiving the proper treatment, even for something as minor as hip dysplasia. Emmanuella won’t remember her time in the Pavlik harness, but we will. We will remember the constant specialist visits and ultrasounds (and the extra bills that came with them). We will remember getting home from one orthopedic pediatrician visit across town, just to get a phone call that said come back to the hospital right now for an ultrasound or you’re not getting in for another two weeks. Most of the time it wasn’t that bad. But there were moments. And those who devote their lives to making sure their children are receiving the medical care they need deserve an award.

Lesson 4. Health is a gift. 

In 6 more weeks, Emmanuella will hopefully be finished with her treatment. If her ultrasound is clear at that time, there is a 99% chance that her hip will be healed for life. This is the outcome we’ve been praying for since her birth, and right now everything is on track. There will still be follow ups for a couple years to make sure that her hip is growing correctly, but our months of a harness and a brace will be over. Having gone through all this, though, I will not be taking our child’s health for granted. A healthy baby is a gift. Our own health is a gift as well. And this experience will serve as a reminder to take care of our bodies and treat them like the temples God intended them to be.

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought for a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)