Saturday, July 9, 2016

Annalise Elizabeth

          In March 2014, I became overwhelmed with the urge to have another baby. I didn’t just experience a little tug at my heart but a true I-can’t-think-of-anything-else desire. While I was at work on March 10th, I texted Clay and told him that I was so overwhelmed with the yearning to have another baby that I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I clarified that I didn’t know if it was my crazy hormones, the Holy Spirit, or the Holy Spirit using my hormones to tell me that we should consider having a fifth child. He suggested that we pray about it and with his suggestion came complete peace for me about this idea that we had never seriously considered before.
          Later when we had a moment free from the general chaos of our home, we thanked God for blessing us with four healthy, happy children and prayed for His direction regarding any addition to our family. We knew that we had a houseful of great kids and that we didn’t need any more. However, Clay and I truly wanted to be in God’s will, and if His future for us included a fifth baby, then we were willing to welcome another little one into our madness.  While we did not actively begin trying to conceive, we prayerfully put away our birth control.
          During the middle of May, I began noticing a few pregnancy signs. Because I have been pregnant so many times, I think I am super sensitive to my body and everything it craves or feels. In the mornings, I would experience a little nausea. I caught myself eating fruit, which I don’t enjoy doing unless I have a bun in the oven. I became excited at the thought of sandwiches, which have always been my number one craving in all my pregnancies. However, I kept these symptoms to myself. It was so early, and I didn’t want to get my hopes up.
          When school was out, Clay and I packed up our herd and headed to Myrtle Beach with both sets of our parents. My pregnancy signs continued, but I still didn’t mention them to Clay. On one of our last nights at the beach, our parents sent us off on a date while they kept our kids. We ate dinner outside at a BBQ restaurant where I tried to figure out how to bring up the possibility of being pregnant. It was as if the words were stuck in my throat with super glue. I just couldn’t get them out. After we ate dinner, we went in search of an ice cream parlor. It took us and our GPS several attempts before we could locate one. As Clay pulled into a parking spot, I promptly burst into tears and told him my suspicion. He just hugged me and said, “If you are, it’s not like this is our first time. We know how to do this.” He handled the possibility of another baby much more calmly than I did.
          At the end of May, we received God’s clear answer that we would be blessed with another addition. While we weren’t shocked that we were pregnant (yes, we have figured out how this process works), Clay and I were still pretty stunned, stunned enough that we kept our secret from our family for another six weeks.  
          On the 4th of July, our families got together at my mom’s house for burgers, hotdogs, and dessert. Our second born made a very patriotic red, white, and blue cake. As our family sang “Happy Birthday” to America, I pulled a sign from my purse and stuck it in the middle of the cake. It read, “Welcome to Our 5th Little Firecracker, Popping Out February 2015!” To say we shocked our family with this news would be an understatement. However by the end of the evening, everyone was excited and claimed that they knew we weren’t finished having kids.  
            We still waited until the end of the month to go public with our news. Clay and I wanted to let our bosses know that we would need some time off in February before going public with our addition on social media. On July 28th, we posted,

“In March, Clay and I started praying for God’s discernment regarding having anymore children. We received His answer in May and will welcome our fifth blessing in February!
‘As for you, be fruitful and multiply; Populate the earth abundantly and multiply in it.’ Genesis 9:7
Yes, Lord!”
            Finding out we were pregnant again was a definitive moment in our marriage and in our walk with God. Either Clay and I truly believed that God would provide everything we needed for our family, including baby number five, or we didn’t. This pregnancy was our test of faith, and Clay and I were ready and willing to walk together in God’s will, scary and overwhelming though that was.
          At my second OB/GYN appointment, my midwife was annoyed on my behalf that the doctor who had completed my pregnancy confirmation exam had not scheduled a first trimester ultrasound. She asked me if I wanted one and shared that she could justify it with my insurance. Of course, I told her, “Yes!” I love seeing my babies, even when they are tiny. So at 14 weeks and 5 days, I went for an ultrasound with Clay, my mom, and my three youngest kids. We happily watched our number five wiggle and squirm. However, when the technician paused and asked if we wanted to know the gender of our baby, we were completely surprised, as we had assumed we couldn’t find out what our baby was until 20 weeks. I peered at the monitor looking for boy parts, but the ultrasound technician had other news: we were having a girl. Clay and I were shocked and completely ecstatic!
          On the following Sunday afternoon, my family gathered at our house for a gender reveal lunch. In our front yard, Clay and I untied a box decorated with the words “Tutus or ties?” As we opened the box, we released a bundle of pink balloons, sharing our girly news with our family.
          On October 1st at just over 21 weeks, I started experiencing mild contractions. With each pregnancy, my Braxton Hicks contractions began earlier and earlier, but none had begun before six months. I told Clay what I was feeling, and he got me a big cup of water to drink. I took a bath and then went to lay down. None of my usual tricks stopped the contractions. They weren’t strong or very long, but they continued throughout the night and the next day. I didn’t think I was in labor, but I also didn’t know what was going on with my body to produce these contractions.
The following morning I went to work, thinking the activity might stop the contractions, but when they didn’t, I called my OB/GYN’s office. The nurse I spoke with directed me to go to the Women’s Center, so I left work and headed there with my mother. After a cervical scan and several hours of contraction monitoring, the doctor determined that it was stress induced preterm labor and that I needed three days of bed rest with no more worries about work.
          Throughout the rest of my pregnancy, I had several more ultrasounds to make sure that our baby girl was healthy. The ultrasounds shared that baby girl was growing well and was very comfortable in a transverse position. After my third ultrasound at 32 weeks showed her still relaxing sideways, I started Googling safe ways to encourage my baby to shift her position. Many methods sounded crazy, including one that suggested doing handstands in a warm pool. I couldn’t even wrap my mind around how someone as pregnant as I was would begin to get in such a position.
At my next appointment, I asked my midwife for suggestions, and she said that it was time to play “Breech Games.” I was all in. She recommended drinking something highly caffeinated and then playing music in my lap. My midwife explained that the baby should turn and seek out the music that it would hear, especially if it was all sugared up and well caffeinated.
My midwife’s recommendations sounded so much better than pool headstands, and so when I got home, I eagerly drank one of Clay’s Mountain Dews. While selecting a song to play for my baby, I decided I didn’t want to play her something random. If she could only hear one song, I wanted her to listen to one that was meaningful and shared our faith with her, so I chose Newsboys’ “We Believe.” My baby listened to lyrics that painted the most important picture of our beliefs:

We believe in God the Father.
We believe in Jesus Christ.
We believe in the Holy Spirit
And He’s given us new Life.
We believe in the crucifixion.
We believe that He conquered death.
We believe in the resurrection
And He’s comin’ back again! We believe.

I played this song for my baby multiple times during the next two weeks. I would pull it up on my phone and set my phone in my lap whenever I was driving or lying in bed. When I went back for my next OB/GYN appointment, my midwife shared the good news that my sweet girl had turned and was head down. Hallelujah!
On December 23rd, I went in for my regular bi-weekly appointment, and my midwife said that I was measuring two weeks ahead. I was slightly hopeful that the baby would could come early, but I didn’t obsess over that possibility as I had to get through Christmas and its myriad of details first.
Two weeks flew by, and on January 7th, I saw a different midwife who said I was measuring four weeks ahead and that I was three centimeters dilated, 50 percent effaced, and the baby’s head was in an anterior position. This midwife said that I could go into labor at any moment and gave me multiple suggestions how to get my contractions started. True panic set in. My February 7th due date was a month away, and I still had not bought any diapers.
While waddling to my van, I called Clay and shared the update with him. I also told him that we would NOT be doing anything to prompt labor yet. Then, I called my mom as I drove to her house to pick up my other four kids and had a small melt down with her on the phone. When I arrived, I sat on my mom’s couch in the midst of all my kids’ chaos and texted my hairdresser to request an immediate hair appointment (I couldn’t chance labor pictures with dark roots!) and texted my team at work to keep them in my loop. It was a dramatic afternoon.
On January 12th, I was walking my kindergarten class down the hallway at dismissal, and as I turned a corner, I slipped in a puddle and fell. As I sat in the hallway with my students around me, I was equal parts livid that there was water in the hallway and scared that my fall could have hurt my baby. I pushed myself up, took my class to the buses, and then stomped to the nurse’s office. My school nurse took my blood pressure and checked my heart rate, which she said was high. That news wasn’t surprising as I was boiling mad. I left a voicemail at my OB/GYN’s office and headed to a Leadership Team meeting where I became aware that my typically active baby wasn’t moving and that I was having sporadic contractions.
Growing up, my grandmother regularly told me the story of how her mother fell in the yard while she was pregnant. When my great grandmother later delivered her baby, it was stillborn, having broken its neck in the fall. The image of that baby was one that my grandmother spoke of often, and as I sat in my meeting, that story kept running through my mind.
Thirty long minutes passed before a nurse called from my OB/GYN’s office. She told me to immediately head to the Women’s Center at Cobb Hospital to have myself and the baby checked. In a hurry, I left work and drove myself there. Clay also left his job to meet me while my mom took care of our kids at her house. When I got to the hospital, a bed wasn’t available yet in triage, and I sat in the waiting room overanalyzing every twinge of my belly. Clay arrived shortly before I got a room, but we were called back before he even had time to plug his phone in a charger.
When I got back to my room, I changed into a gown and lay down on the bed. Straightaway, the nurse hooked me up to a fetal monitor, and much to my relief, the sound of my baby’s heartbeat flooded the room. I was monitored for the next five hours and taken for an ultrasound. While Clay and I watched our baby on the screen, the technician explained that my baby and placenta looked well but that my amniotic fluid level was low (a level 9). I was sent home with instructions to follow up with my OB/GYN and to rest.
Three days later, I went for my follow up ultrasound at my OB/GYN’s office. The ultrasound tech said that my amniotic fluid level was now normal (a level 17) and that it can replenish itself when resting appropriately. She also mentioned that the baby was measuring one week ahead of her due date. By this appointment, I was finished listening to my baby’s measurement’s concerning her arrival. I knew she would arrive exactly when God wanted her to and not a moment before!
Despite measuring weeks ahead according to multiple midwives and an ultrasound tech, my pregnancy continued and with it came its typical end-of-third-trimester discomfort. Having been pregnant five times, I realize God’s design in this misery. If He did not make women truly uncomfortable, we would never be eager to experience contractions and to push a human from our bodies. As with my last three pregnancies, I experienced severe heartburn and could not bear to be five minutes late taking my Zantac. My feet swelled, and I had hot flashes that necessitated my running the air conditioner in January no matter how much the rest of my family shivered. When the middle of the night leg cramps hit, I was a sobbing mess and ready to welcome labor.

A week after I fell, I went for my weekly checkup on January 23rd.  My midwife said I was still at 3 centimeters and that the baby and I both were doing well and looked healthy. That day my nesting instinct kicked in, and Clay found me scrubbing the walls of the kitchen late at night. I reminded him that he was supposed to clean the carpet as I had been requesting for a month and that I couldn’t very well bring a newborn home to a house with dirty carpets. While he was sweet and finished cleaning the kitchen walls for me, he still didn’t clean the carpets much to my aggravation.
          At 5:00 AM on January 27th, I started yelling like only a very pregnant (perhaps slightly irrational) woman can do. I kept screeching until Clay woke up and told him that he was uninvited to the birth of his fifth child until he cleaned my carpets. I told him that it would be all his fault that he missed it and that he could explain to his daughter how he missed her birth, because he chose not to clean my carpets.
I was completely furious and went to work and complained about my dirty carpets all day. My poor teammates and para pro listened without judgement as I vented and ranted about how long I had been asking for my carpets to be cleaned. They assured me that they would bail me out of jail if I ended up burying my husband in the backyard over dirty carpets.
          Sixteen hours after I began my carpet tirade, my contractions began. At that same moment, I heard the hum of our carpet cleaner. (God’s timing is everything!) I decided to keep my labor a temporary secret, because I wasn’t about to chance that Clay would stop cleaning my carpets that so desperately needed to be cleaned.
          My contractions continued through the complete cleaning of my carpet and multiple episodes of Call the Midwife, my favorite TV show during this pregnancy. Around midnight, our two year old woke up and walked in our bedroom. She tried to climb in bed with me, but Clay took her back to her bed to lie down with her. After he had been in there with her for half an hour, I texted him and told him that I thought I was in labor. After he managed to sneak out of our toddlers’ room, he crawled into our bed and asked for details.
Since 9:00 PM, I had had continuous contractions but their timing wasn’t in a consistent pattern. While I was fairly sure I was in labor, I wasn’t completely certain and definitely not sure enough to go to the hospital. I knew that if I was in real labor that my contractions would continue no matter what, so I lay down to try to sleep, and Clay did the same.
          Around 4:00 AM, I woke up and decided to take a shower. My contractions continued but were still irregular. I texted my mom and let her know what was going on, and Clay put his parents on notice too. After I showered, did my hair and makeup, and got dressed, I noticed that the frequency of my contractions had decreased, so I lay back down to monitor them, and they picked up again in frequency. At 5:45, I was frustrated with my body and texted my supply teacher to be my sub. Then, I emailed my boss and secretary that I had been up all night and wasn’t coming in. Even if I had been in false labor, I would have been way too cranky to teach a room full of five year olds.
          I fell back asleep for an hour, and when I woke up, I was just emotionally ready to go the hospital. Clay and I got our kids dressed, and at that moment, I decided that we should split up. He took the oldest two boys to their schools and our other two kids to his mom’s. Without a second thought, I drove myself to the hospital after laboring at home for eleven hours. Looking back on that decision, I find it a little reckless that I drove myself, but when you have a lot of kids to transport, having a chauffeur for yourself is a luxury that you cannot always have. Plus, my hospital was only two miles from my house.
          At 8:00 AM, I arrived at the hospital. I grabbed my purse and one of my bags and walked through the hospital’s parking lot and construction zone in the cold. The 31 degree temperature was a welcome relief from all my hot flashes.
I headed upstairs to triage where I was the only patient. I was given a gown, hooked up to a monitor, and given a cervical exam. To my great frustration, I was measuring between three and three plus centimeters. My eleven hours of contractions had done little to change my cervix since my last appointment. At this time, I was 38 weeks and four days pregnant, and my OB/GYN’s policy is that the doctors and midwives will not strip your membranes, break your water, or do any procedure to induce labor until a patient is 39 weeks, unless she is in actively contracting on her own. I was completely frustrated and hungry.
I texted Clay the news as he sat in the parking lot eating Chick-Fil-A for breakfast, having finished dropping everyone off. He was kind enough not to eat in front of his wife who had not eaten since dinner the night before! When he was finished, he came to my triage room where we watched my irregular contractions on the monitor. While I was lying there, I texted my teammates to share where I was. One of them cautiously texted me back and asked, “Did Clay clean the carpet?” I was so happy to be able to text back “YES!”
At 9:40, the nurse checked me again, and I measured the same. My favorite midwife Linda consulted with my nurse and said that she suspected I was in early labor and that I had a choice: I could either go home and probably come back later when labor intensified, or I could walk the floor for the next hour and see if this caused me to dilate further. After all the trouble it took to distribute our four children to three different locations, we chose walking!
          Unfortunately, the shoes I had chosen to wear that morning to the hospital, my tan Sperrys, did not coordinate with my pastel pink gown. Even 38 plus weeks pregnant, I have my fashion standards while in public, so I decided to leave my shoes in my triage room and just walk in my pink socks. From 9:40-10:40, Clay and I walked dozens of laps around the Women’s Center third floor. I waddled with all the fierceness I could muster, because I wanted to meet my baby and was fearful of being sent back home. While we walked, I ate countless cups of ice (Thank goodness we kept walking past an ice machine!), babbled continuously to Clay, and texted with my supply teacher and parents who were on their way to the hospital.
          When the hour of walking was up, Clay and I headed back to my triage room where I removed my filthy socks (Gross!). I expected not to have made any progress, because while walking, my contractions had spaced to ten minutes apart. I hoped for the best but mentally prepared myself to receive discharge papers. When my midwife checked me a few minutes later, she paused and turned to my nurse. She told her to check me too and then tell her what she thought. My nurse obliged, and when she said that she measured me at 5 centimeters, my midwife broke into a huge smile and said she did too. I was deemed to be in active labor; I was staying!
            Immediately, we texted all our family to let them know we weren’t leaving the hospital until Brooks number five made her debut. Our baby girl was officially on her way! The moment was a little surreal, knowing that I’d meet my new daughter within hours.
Although I had just spent the last 60 minutes lapping the third floor of the Women’s Center, I was required to be transported to a labor and delivery room via wheelchair. My triage nurse pushed me to my new room while Clay carried my purse and bag. Even after I crawled in the big bed of my L&D room with the empty baby bassinet nearby, I was still a little nervous that some medical personnel would notice that my contractions were still irregular and far apart and would send me home. But once my new nurse, Dayna, introduced herself, hooked me up to a fetal monitor, and gave me an IV, I knew that I wasn’t going anywhere until my baby arrived. At that time, my nurse also assured me that my epidural had been ordered, and I was incredibly relieved to know that I wasn’t going to have another accidental natural delivery, like I had had with baby number two.
            As I settled into my new room, my contractions continued, still fairly mild and inconsistent. Clay went downstairs to get the rest of my bags, and my parents arrived, both thrilled that they would have five grandchildren by nighttime. Shortly after their arrival and Clay’s return, the anesthesiologist entered my room at 12:20 with a large rolling tray of equipment. Because I could only have one support person with me during my epidural placement, my parents went to the waiting room to get coffee and to update our family on the baby.
          Anyone who has ever discussed childbirth with me knows I am completely team epidural, especially after having delivered a baby without any medication. However, the more epidurals that I receive, the more I dread the five minutes that it takes to have one inserted in my spine. With baby number five, I feared those few moments more than any other part of my pregnancy and had been anxious about it since I first discovered I was pregnant. 
          As was our routine, I sat up on the edge of my hospital bed and curled my big belly as best I could over a pillow, holding Clay’s hands with a white knuckle grip. I was trying not to panic as I knew the brief pain of an epidural is nothing compared to hours of unmedicated contractions and a natural delivery. Before he began, the anesthesiologist asked me what procedure I was about to have done, and I told him, “You are about to electrocute me and give me an epidural.” He found my answer funny, as well as an accurate description.
          As the anesthesiologist worked quietly behind me to numb the lower half of my body, I clutched Clay’s hands and cursed at him, swearing that he was not going to put me in this position again. The very idea of having another epidural instilled enough fear in me that I fiercely vowed that we would never have any more children. Observing that my heartrate had increased to 124, my nurse asked me if I was ok. Even my body knew that this epidural was rapidly unnerving me and so was the vision of ever having to repeat this process.
          After two attempts, the anesthesiologist successfully placed my epidural, and he and Clay lay me down to rest and allow the medication to take effect. At this time, my parents returned, concerned that the epidural had taken longer than usual. They stood bedside my bed, suspecting that something was wrong. Initially, I felt normal, but within minutes, I was overwhelmed by the familiar sensation of my blood pressure plummeting. Experiencing sudden weakness, I voiced my concern to my nurse, who verified that my blood pressure had dropped to 60/30. I had warned her earlier that my blood pressure had severely declined when I got my epidurals with babies three and four, so she had prepared for that possibility.
Conferring with the anesthesiologist, my nurse administered a bolus of ephedrine and watched my monitors closely. My blood pressure continued to fall and the shakes settled in, but despite those effects, I craved ice and demanded cups of it. Somehow eating the ice grounded me in the midst of the well-controlled panic in the room. While I continued to feed myself ice with shaky hands, my anesthesiologist and nurse determined a second bolus of ephedrine was necessary, as my blood pressure was not improving. With the second bolus, my blood pressure finally stabilized, and I soon felt well enough to request a hair brush, mirror, and chapstick.
            After my epidural drama had dwindled down, I settled into bed to relax and enjoy the rest of my labor. Clay and I took pictures and posted labor updates on social media. At 1:40, my nurse checked my progress and determined me to be dilated to six centimeters and 60% effaced. My midwife Linda suggested breaking my water to speed along my labor, and I agreed, since my epidural was working well. I couldn’t feel any pain, but I was still able to move my legs with only minimal support.
With what looked like a knitting needle, she broke my bag of waters, and amniotic fluid spilled off the bed and puddled in the floor. My waters also drenched my midwife, who laughed that she was going to have to change her scrubs before my baby’s delivery. Midwifery is not for the faint of heart.
            At 2:40, I was assessed again and informed that I was between six and seven centimeters and 70% effaced. I requested a pillow to apply a technique that I learned during labor with baby number four. With help from Clay, I rolled to my left side and placed a pillow between my knees, allowing lots of room for the baby to descend.
            Less than hour later at 3:30, my progress was checked and my nurse shared that I was between eight and nine centimeters. Clearly, the pillow trick was working, and I told Clay that he better call his mama and tell her to get to the hospital fast. I didn’t want her to miss the birth of the grandbaby we were naming in her honor, and I was predicting that she would make her debut by 6:00.
          While Clay was talking to his mother, I started feeling a contraction, not around my stomach but in my birth canal. After all the trouble of getting my epidural, it suddenly stopped working when I dilated to eight, just like it had with my last two labors. I told my mom what was happening and to call the nurse. I am not a wimp; I have survived a natural delivery. But when I already have an epidural in place, I expect it to work, and another pain-filled delivery was not an acceptable option for this veteran mama.
            My nurse rushed in my room and questioned what I was feeling. She prompted me to use my personal epidural button for an extra dose of medication. I told her that I could fill the medicine flush down my spine but that it was only numbing my abdomen. I could feel my baby’s head descending in the birth canal, as well as painful contractions there. She placed a call to the anesthesiologist, and while she did, I assured her that I know how to push a baby out when completely numb.
          While we waited for the doctor, my contractions intensified, and Clay’s mother arrived. She entered my room as I was in the midst of a contraction, holding on to my bed’s railing with a death grip and trying not to curse at anyone. Her quick arrival was impressive, and I was grateful that she would see the birth of her granddaughter.
          At 4:30, I was checked again by my nurse who deemed me to be ten centimeters. At the same time, the new on-call anesthesiologist entered my crowded room, and I convinced her and my midwife that I needed a bolus of pain medication in my epidural. Again, I promised and assured everyone that I could push, no matter how numb my body was. Thankfully, the anesthesiologist and my midwife believed me and more pain medication was administered. Within five minutes, my pain disappeared, and I felt back in control of my delivery.
          After giving me a few private minutes to allow the pain medication to take effect, my midwife told me that she was ready whenever I was. She said that she was playing “Trivia Crack” with the other nurses who were waiting on me. I told her that I wanted ten more minutes. I believe she thought I was fearful of the pain recurring, but I really just wanted to touch up my concealer and lip gloss before pushing. I know how those birthing pictures are around forever!
          When my midwife came back to check on me, I told her that I could really feel the baby far down in my birth canal, not in a painful way but as in a sensation of feeling full. Immediately, she had the nurses set up my room for delivery. My dad headed to the waiting room to sit with my brother and oldest son who had just arrived. Clay’s mother got my camera ready to take pictures, while my mother turned on and set up her video camera at the top of my bed. As with my previous four deliveries, Clay took his usual position on my left side.
          My midwife broke down my bed and set up the stirrups. At this point, my shaking was terrible, and she instructed me to take slow, deep breaths to help it stop. As she prepared, she commented, “You were determined not to feel a thing!” to which I replied, “I really wanted my money’s worth out of the epidural.” After placing my completely numb legs in the stirrups, my midwife positioned herself between them and shared that my baby had a lot of dark hair. I couldn’t believe that my baby was already so far down that her hair could be seen without my pushing at all.
At 5:13, I started pushing as my midwife directed, with Clay and his mother on my left and my mother on my right. When my contraction was over, the nurse covered my belly with a pink and blue receiving blanket, and my midwife quickly put on her paper scrubs. I’m no rookie; I knew that meant the baby would be here soon. With the next contraction, I pushed again and my life forever changed. At 5:17 PM after 20 hours of labor, Annalise Elizabeth was born into our family, just as God planned. She weighed 8 pounds 1 ounce and was 19 inches long.
My midwife caught Annalise as she made her entrance into our world and gently placed her on my chest. As I cried and stared at my baby’s face, I couldn’t believe she was finally here. What a blessing I now held in my arms after nine months of anticipation.
Jeremiah 1:5 reveals, “I knew you before I formed you in your mother's womb.” I’m so grateful that God picked this sweet baby for our family, knowing long before we did that Annalise would be a perfect fit. Through her birth, Clay and I have an amazing testimony of our faith to share. We know that God will give us everything we need to train up this child that we did not plan to have and are eager to see how He uses our daughter to tell His story and bring others to Him.

~Shared by Ashley B 

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