Friday, May 27, 2011

36 weeks and Some Ultrasound Pictures

As of yesterday I am 36 weeks pregnant.  My fluid levels have been completely normal the last two weeks, and I'm hopeful they will stay that way.  Beauty is nearly here, and I am getting so, so excited to meet her.  I can hardly wait until she's ready to make her entrance into the world.  Because my fluid is down, I am no longer expecting her to come in the next week, but I realize birth is unpredictable, and who knows what will happen.  I could make it all the way to June 23, my due date.  I suspect if I do, I will be pretty anxious for her arrival.  This belly of mine is large, and the recent ultrasounds predict she already weighs over 7 pounds.  I am not keen on a 9+ pound baby, but that's the least of my concerns!

Beauty at 31 weeks

Beauty at 32 weeks.  In this one, I think she looks a lot like an ultrasound picture of Samuel -- the one on the bulletin board of my perinatologists' office

This is Samuel at 31 weeks -- and the one I think looks like Beauty above.

Previously I mentioned a collage my friends, Tracy and Jennifer, made for me.  Since I can't have a picture of all my children together, they came up with this frame.  I love it! 

And possibly my final belly picture of this pregnancy, here I am at 36 weeks.  I am down to about 4 shirts that cover my belly, and now I get regular comments from strangers about how I must be due any minute.  They never seem to believe me when I tell them that I have four more weeks to go.  But I am so much smaller now than I was with Samuel, so I can't complain.
36 weeks pregnant
And just because I'm crazy about them, here are a couple of pictures of my precious boys taken with my new camera.  I am immensely relieved to have a working camera since we will soon have a baby to photograph!  :)
My goof.  Joel is a continual hoot and the source of much laughter in this house.

I love Caleb's brown eyes and dark, long lashes.  Truly, he is the world's kindest, most generous kid.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Caleb's Grief in Light of Beauty

It has been a true privilege to walk with our boys through their grief and to listen to their thoughts, questions, and hopes.  Samuel still comes up regularly in their conversation.  Just a few days ago while Bryan and I were on one of our regular walks, I paused our conversation to listen to what Caleb and Joel were saying in the wagon behind us.  Caleb was trying to give a relative term of size to each of our children.  He said, "I'm big, you're medium, Samuel is small, and Beauty is little."  When Joel asked how Mommy and Daddy factored in, Caleb adjusted his scale: "Daddy is big, Mommy is medium, I'm small, you're little, Samuel is littler, and Beauty is...."  He fumbled for a more diminutive title for his unborn baby sister.  I love that Samuel was part of their equation.

I see Caleb's grief and his experience with death play out in his thoughts about Beauty.  Back in December before we had had any scans of Beauty and knew anything about her heart, I was tucking Caleb in one night, and he prayed, "Dear God, please help Mommy not to be worried about the baby in her tummy."  When he finished praying, I asked him if he thought I was worried, and he nodded yes.  When I asked, "What about?", he replied, "that the baby won't be healthy."  It broke my heart that these things were even on his mind: that he was worried about an unhealthy baby and that he was concerned about me being worried.  We talked for some time that night about how we didn't know if the baby would be healthy, but we do know that we can trust God to take care of us either way.  I told him that God is big enough to heal our hearts even if we have another unhealthy baby; He can help us smile again and laugh and have joy.  I asked him if Daddy and I smile now and have fun and laugh with him and Joel, and he answered yes unhesitatingly.  I told him that God had done that in us and was healing our sad hearts and giving us joy even in the midst of sorrow, and He could do that again.  And I told him that we certainly hope for a healthy baby.  Either way, we can trust our good God to be with us.

Not long after that I found out that Caleb sometimes shut himself in Samuel's room.  One day when I asked why the curtains in Samuel's room were closed, Caleb told me he would go in there to "remember Samuel."  He would close the curtains to make the room dark, shut the door, and turn on the night light.  Sometimes I would hear him playing the lullaby music in the crib.  It was entirely his own idea to go there and remember, and in some way I felt so proud of him for choosing to grieve.

I was concerned about how he would feel when we changed Samuel's room into Beauty's room, and it was a bit sad for him.  I warned him the last day it was still Samuel/Beauty's room that I was going to take down the decorations, and Bryan was going to paint it, and we weren't going to put it back the same way.  Later that day I found him in there alone, just standing and looking.  When I asked what he was thinking, he said, "I just wanted to come in here one more time to remember Samuel and to see it this way."

A couple of months ago at church, Caleb's kindergarten group was supposed to draw a picture of the people with whom they spend the most time.  Here is what Caleb drew:

It is a picture of our family with Beauty in my belly, and Samuel in the clouds in Heaven. (From left to right it's Bryan, Joel, me with Beauty, a tree, and Samuel in the top right hand corner.)  I LOVE that Caleb included Samuel in the picture.  This family picture is truly special to me!

Just last night as I was tucking Caleb into bed, I told him how excited I'm getting about Beauty's arrival.  He said, "I hope she gets to come home to our house."  I reassured him that I think she will, that the doctors all think Beauty is healthy.  His little face lit up, and he said, "We'll get to watch her grow up!"  I love that he's excited about his baby sister, and it saddens my heart to think he fears her death.  I am grateful for how grief has changed me and Bryan, for how it's grown us and deepened us, for how it's soldered our hearts to God, but it's harder to see that suffering in my children, though in truth I know the sorrow and hardships are life-giving for them as well.  I know their loss grows them, and I want that growth for them, but sometimes it is hard to watch my children suffer.

I so, so look forward to this baby girl's arrival.  (Yesterday I was 1 cm dilated --which is exactly where my OB would expect someone to be who is 35 1/2 weeks pregnant with her fourth.)  And I can hardly wait to see my boys with their baby sister -- to see them hold her in their arms, to give her kisses, to help me out with all that she needs.  I think it will be tremendously healing for their little hearts as it will be for mine.  Oh, Lord, may it come to be!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Mother's Day with Caleb, Joel, and Coming Beauty

Three-fourths of my clan on Mother's Day 2011.  

Bryan took this with his iphone.  I am sad that I will never have a picture of all of my children together, though my dear friends Tracy and Jennifer did make me the coolest frame with a picture of each of my four kids in it.  Once I have a working camera, I will take a picture of the frame and post it.  It is an extremely thoughtful gift, and of course I cried when they showed it to me.  Bryan loved it so much, he immediately said he wants something like it for his office.  I had a great Mother's Day with two of my three boys and with baby sister kicking me fiercely all the while!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

A New, Hopeful Perspective

In the last couple of weeks, I've been feeling a lot more peaceful about Beauty's quickly approaching labor and delivery.  I don't doubt I have prayer warriors to thank for that.  So, if that's you, thank you! 

Yesterday Bryan and I were on our walk together, and I was telling him how I have a new perspective on Beauty's arrival.  I had been trying to self-talk myself into being calmer and more peaceful and less afraid.  I kept thinking about how people experience pain all the time, but very rarely is it pain with a tangible blessing at the end, with a very intentional purpose to produce the best possible gift in all of life.  And sometimes people have dreadfully intense pain that lingers and lingers with little hope of something beautiful at the end.  Car accidents and sickness happen all the time; people are abused and mistreated. 

A good friend of ours had a cancer scare the last two weeks.  Everything suggested cancer -- from age, to life habits, to the way the mass manifested itself, to the specific symptoms he exhibited.  The doctors were confident it was cancer.  And he would have had to endure chemo, surgery,  and aggressive treatment all in the hope that eventually the pain and suffering would vanquish the cancer cells and grant him a long, healthy life yet to live.  But there are no promises in that scenario, and the hope of health would be something to cling to in the bad days but not something they could hang their hats on.  His road would have been suffering to fight against something, to try to defeat something malignant, attacking his body and health.  Miraculously, God granted him a good report with no cancer, and a regimen of antibiotics to fight off an infection.  But thinking about what he could have had to endure was challenging to me.

The pain I will endure during labor and Beauty's delivery is the pain of life and hope.  It is pain designed to bring forth a child.  Pain with a very specific purpose.  Pain pregnant with hope.  And I think previously I have felt frightened of this pain because I was frightened to hope.  With Caleb and Joel, the moment those boys were in my arms, my memory of the pain vanished.  Who cared what I had just been through?  I had a beautiful, perfect, amazing baby in my arms.  Within seconds of delivery, I had forgotten all about what I had suffered.  My focus and attention were on the miracle in my arms, my son, begotten of my own body.  If anyone asked how labor was, my immediate answer was, "No big deal.  I'd do it again in a heartbeat."  That's because I was holding the gift that my pain produced.

With Samuel's birth, everything was different.  While in labor, I wondered what child was going to come from my womb.  Would his heart be ok for the first few months of life like the doctors expected?  Would he have Down Syndrome?  Would he be ok when he was suffering from SVT during labor, his heart rate skyrocketing every few minutes?  There was a good deal of fear mixed in with the pain, though hope was certainly present too.  But once I delivered Samuel, and he was whisked away into the corner with no one telling me how he was, with Bryan pretty much out of commission from wooziness, with no one telling me if he looked like he had Downs, and the doctor going to work stitching up my tears, I didn't have the euphoria of holding my baby, washing away what I had just endured.  Instead, I was shaking uncontrollably, my knees literally knocking each other and then falling two feet apart over and over again.  I was far more aware of the pain of being stitched up than I had been with Caleb or Joel.  I felt helpless, a little abandoned, and my arms felt incredibly empty.  It wasn't the way a birth was supposed to be.  Not at all.  And then the hours that followed with no news from the NICU, the days with no answers, and the weeks with rapidly diminishing hope all culminated in a fear of hoping for anything in this life.  I knew the joy of hoping in the eternal, of having a sure hope in Heaven and seeing Samuel again, but I think I robbed myself of hoping for the blessings in this life.

Bryan has repeatedly told me about his struggle to hope.  After losing both of his parents to cancer by the time he was 21, he found it very hard to hope Samuel could live.  I think I now understand his quandary.  After Samuel's death, I longed for another baby, for a healthy child, but I was too afraid to actually hope for one.  I prayed and beseeched God to grant me the desire of my heart, but my awareness of His ability to say "no" paralyzed my hope.  I could hope for something "not-yet and sure" as Bryan talked about at Samuel's funeral, but I couldn't bring myself to hope for something in this finite, limited life. 

I think this paralysis has probably been the root of my fears in delivering Beauty.  I have been (and still am to some extent) afraid that this birth will result in another heartbreak.  I am afraid of her being distressed in labor, of her not being in my arms after delivery, of her being in the NICU or whisked out of my arms moments after birth, of her lungs being inexplicably under-developed.  I am afraid of reliving any or all of Samuel's life.  Would we survive if it happened?  Of course.  Would God heal our hearts if another of our children goes to Heaven before us?  Absolutely.  Would we still find joy in this life and in our healthy boys?  Undoubtedly.  But I don't want to walk that road.  I want to bring home a healthy, thriving Beauty.  I want that to be the road God has for us, not more grief in an unhealthy child.

As I have thought about my fears and my reluctance to hope, I have come up with a new picture of Beauty's arrival.  I am praying and hoping (!) that her birth will be a major part of our healing, that her arrival into this world will be redemptive.  I am praying that we will look back on her birth as a beautiful, life-giving (both literally and figuratively) experience.  That somehow we will see God's redemption in Beauty's life, that we will be able to identify God's healing hand in granting her to us, that her entrance into life will be part of healing our Samuel wounds.  I think there is a good chance that delivering our daughter will be a truly miraculous (even more so than Caleb and Joel's birth because of having handed Samuel over to God) experience for us.  Bryan and I both wonder if it will be incredibly and deeply emotional for us to hold our own daughter in our arms, breathing on her own, pink because her heart is pumping blood exactly as it should, crying because her lungs are strong and sure.  And the picture of that, of a healthy baby cradled between us moments after pushing her out of womb, gives me a deep hope and eases my fears of what might be.  I can hope for these things.  I know they aren't promised, but I can hope for them.  And I can trust God with my hopes.  If He says "no" again, I can trust Him to be enough to carry us through whatever we must face.  He IS enough.  But I think hoping for Beauty to be whole and well is good and requires a genuine faith in my good God.  And I am praying that when labor starts, my mind and heart go to this picture of hope, of excitement in meeting our first baby girl, and to the anticipation of joy in her arrival as opposed to all the worst case scenarios that involve delivering in the car or the waiting room of the hospital or worst of all, a sick baby girl.   I am thankful for this new perspective on our daughter's birth.

On this second Mother's Day without Samuel, as I sit at Starbucks while the boys nap/rest at home, I am continually drawn to thoughts of my Samuel.  This morning in church, we sang "Blessed Be Your Name," a song we sang at Samuel's funeral.  It made me miss my baby.  I wish I could spend Mother's Day with my three sons and one daughter on the way.  What would life be like?  I can see how much God has healed me since Mother's Day last year, and I am thankful for His faithfulness.  This morning  I spent a long time praying for the friends I've made since Samuel's death who have also had to hand children over to God.  I am praying for their healing, comfort, and hope.  And I have new compassion and sympathy for those who are struggling to conceive and find Mother's Day a painful reminder of what (whom) they don't have.  I am praying that they too know God's presence and healing and that they have the courage to hope.  For our God is enough, and we can rest in Him and trust Him. 

Happy Mother's Day to the many amazing moms I know and most especially to my mom who is a light in this dark world and an example of integrity, courage, unconditional love, and servanthood.  Mom, you are hands-down the best mom in the world, and I am so unbelievably fortunate to call you mine.  Happy Mother's Day!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Birthday and An Update

On Sunday, May 1, Joel turned four -- our little joy-bringer with his spunk, hilarity, overflowing affection, stubborn streak, contagious giggle, deep love of Star Wars, devotion to the color orange, and propensity to say the name of whomever he's talking to a dozen times before breathing or allowing them to respond.  There is something about Joel that is simply irresistible.  He worms his little way into your heart, and then even in the most disobedient or disrespectful of times, there is something in us that can't help smiling at Joel (though we're often trying to hide that smile).  He makes us laugh in a way no one can, and he can win anyone over.  He's gregarious, imaginative, fiesty, and sometimes a complete pill.  And we are totally, unabashedly crazy about him.  It's hard to believe he's four.  Just yesterday the grocery check-out lady asked him how old he is, and out of habit he answered, "three and a half" until he remembered his birthday and practically shouted, "No! FOUR!" with a huge grin on his face.  He is such a big boy and is becoming more and more grown-up and independent.  What a tremendous blessing our Joel is!

We celebrated his birthday with a little backyard party: hot dogs, hamburgers, the kiddie pool, a slip-n-slide, and the sprinkler.  It was Joel's request, and he loved every minute of it.  The Thiels, who all dressed in orange in honor of the birthday boy, joined us as did our good friends, the Elliotts (or 3/4 of the Elliotts, anyway).  The boys played hard and loved the slip-n-slide and chasing people with water blasters.  Even some of the adults enjoyed the slip-n-slide, though I wisely avoided sliding down on my watermelon belly.  :)  And of course we had a cake (orange, Joel's selection) decorated by the venerable Bryan Apinis.  Joel asked for the Millennium Falcon, Han Solo's ship in Star Wars.  Here are some pictures of our grand time celebrating Joel:

As for Beauty, my 32 week appointments revealed that my fluid is back up to borderline polyhydramnios.  Technically I am .6 within normal, but my levels are up quite a bit from last week.  My belly measurement grew two weeks in six days, so that mirrors increased fluid levels.  I suspect my amniotic fluid will simply be in flux, and that's ok.  I am happy it's not continually increasing and getting ever higher.  Probably I will continue to jump over and under the upper limit of what is considered "normal."  If my camera wasn't malfunctioning (or broken?), I would post the most recent 3D ultrasound pictures, but alas.
32 weeks, 2 days pregnant

I am feel extraordinarily blessed these days with a birthday Joel, a growing Beauty, the world's kindest child, Caleb, my amazing husband, the gift of spring, and the hope of Heaven.  And I am getting increasingly excited about meeting my fourth child.  :)