Saturday, December 07, 2013

Ari Louis Church: An Account of Worry and Provision

(That really should probably be called a saga since it’s looooong.. This is what happens when I don't blog enough :)

We welcomed our latest addition to the family a little over one week ago, and as I have been thinking about and processing how that happened, I’ve been repeatedly convicted by the importance of writing it down. I want to remember the worry, fear, joy, and thankfulness that tucked themselves into my heart while we waited for and welcomed him.

My pregnancy with Ari overall was uneventful. That’s the way we like it. My main concerns were the facts that 1) my belly was HUGE and made it nearly impossible to move around like a normal human being, and 2) I started to get very puffy during the third trimester. Like really puffy. All over. My doctor’s main concern was my ever-fluctuating blood pressure – not something I’d ever experienced before. Close behind were concerns about me actually being at the hospital when this baby was born, given our experience with Asher, and some mysterious late-third-trimester weight loss (which obviously really affected Ari’s weight :).

This pregnancy was by far my most ‘symptomatic,’ with all the stuff I knew people experienced but hadn’t dealt with myself. I was very ready to stop dealing with those things several weeks before my due date, and would comfort myself with the knowledge that he was big and I was having tons of contractions, so he would probably be early. It was much more trying than my last two pregnancies and I often had to catch myself and remember how much there was to be thankful for rather than focusing on all the things there were to complain about.

Thinking this might be our last belly photo - nope!
The First False Alarm

Roughly two weeks before my due date, on a Friday, I had been having contractions for two days and noticed that they were picking up and were alarmingly regular. Knowing how quickly things had moved with Asher, and with my doctor’s concerns about that lingering in the back of my mind, we decided to go ahead to the hospital just to see what might be happening. I continued having contractions, but they didn’t seem to be amounting to much of anything.

The woman that attended us was such a gift. She was incredibly personable and caring, and decided while we were there that she would just go ahead and check to make sure baby was happy and my fluid levels were good. That meant a little ultrasound. She pressed the wand to my belly, let out a little gasp, and immediately pulled it away. She looked right at me and said, ‘This baby is head down, right?’ I told her I thought so, but it quickly became clear that he was breech.

She spent a good deal of time giving us explanations of various scenarios that could be our reality given this news, even going so far as to find out if there were any doctors at the hospital that would deliver a breech baby as opposed to going straight to a c-section. We ended our time that evening talking about things I could do to try to get him to turn and instructions to call the office first thing Monday morning to schedule another ultrasound to see if he was still breech, and then perhaps attempt a version to turn him from the outside.

As we left and drove home, I sorted through a confusing mix of emotions. I was upset that my doctor hadn’t caught that he was breech sooner given that I could go into labor at any time, and I could tell he had been in the same position for a while. I was afraid of the prospect of having a c-section, especially given that nothing was really ‘wrong’ with either of us, he was just facing the wrong direction. But I was also beyond thankful that I had had enough contractions to prompt us to go in, and that the doctor had decided to do an ultrasound to measure fluids, only to discover a breech baby. On top of that, despite feeling a little silly for having a ‘false alarm’ (my first ever!), I was so, so thankful that my contractions had died down to give us a little more time to see how things would turn out.

The boys loved 'helping' me with this position :)

A Spinning Baby

I spent the weekend fretting about all kinds of things.. Trying to imagine what a c-section was like and refocus my mental preparations to a healthy delivery regardless of how it came about, rather than just focusing on labor.. Worrying that since he was head up the many bumps and knocks from the outside might have done more damage somehow than if he had been head down all along.. Generally being frustrated and discontent with the whole situation.

I also spent the weekend trying all kinds of things to get him to turn over! From peppermint oil to various upside-down contortions, from what I could tell nothing had changed. Then, I did one smooth move (ha!) suggested by my cousin (thanks Sarah!) that had worked for her third baby, and I noticed a change! He certainly was not head down, but his head had moved down, which was progress.

Finally Monday came and we got an appointment for that afternoon. I wasn’t overly hopeful, but I was hopeful, if that makes sense. I really wanted him to have turned, but I was so afraid of getting carried away with thinking he had turned, only to be told again that he was breech. The ultrasound technician we had is an absolute peach (you will notice a theme through all of this, that almost every person we interacted with was incredibly caring, thoughtful, and kind. The Lord knows I am fragile and need people to be nice to me or I cry), and she was surprised to discover that he was no longer breech, but was transverse. She was not happy about that because it means an automatic c-section, but I was hopeful that if he were transverse it would make a version easier.

We left the ultrasound room to wait to see a doctor to discuss a plan of action. This doctor (mine was sick that day) decided to just check on things once more while we were there, and at some point in the move from the ultrasound room to the exam room baby had turned all the way and was head down! Obviously, that was surprising and exciting, but I found myself again hesitating to be hopeful. I wasn’t in labor yet, and somehow he had room to move around in there, so there was no point in getting my hopes up that he would stay that way.

Waiting, Waiting, and Another False Alarm

I had another scheduled appointment the next day with my doctor, and she felt similarly. Given that he’d been in so many positions in such a short time, there was no way to be certain that he’d be head down whenever I went in to labor. She felt the best plan of action was to wait until I was 39 weeks, and then induce at a point when we knew he was head down. That would probably lessen my chances for a natural birth, but that was not a major issue for me, just a preference.

So we waited. And I had a million contractions. I’m pretty sure I had enough contractions for at least three babies while I was waiting for our one baby to arrive. The next Saturday, the day officially marking me at 39 weeks, I again was having contractions regularly. By dinnertime I decided we should go in again to be on the safe side as they were actually picking up in intensity. They checked me right in and took me to a room where we spent an hour waiting to see if these contractions were being productive. We also got confirmation that he was still head down (phew!) during that time (from a doctor who was ecstatic to learn we had lived in St Andrews and wanted to know all about the golf courses). This period was really confusing for me. Contractions were there, regular, and getting stronger, and yet nothing was happening. With the other two, once things were going, they were going! They ultimately decided to send us home, with all of us knowing that we might be back that night. I was certain we would be as they were already noticeably stronger on the drive home.

And then we went to bed. And I slept. And I woke up in the morning and nothing was happening and I was still pregnant and puffy. Every pregnancy is different! I will never believe anything my body tells me ever again! :) Anyway.

Surprise! You’re having a baby! Right now.

I had an appointment the following Wednesday, the 27th, in the afternoon with a different doctor. Interestingly (and providentially), she was the doctor I had originally wanted to see throughout my pregnancy, but for several reasons it didn’t work out. My doctor was out of the office the whole Thanksgiving week, so she was it! On this particular day, my blood pressure was high. Not ‘let’s freak out right this minute’ high, but high. Obviously, that is a reason for concern. She was afraid that if I continued being pregnant it would continue to rise, given that it had been high quite a few times, and I’d end up in a much worse situation. That, combined with the baby flip-flopping issue, a history of quick labors, and his ample size led her to suggest that I be induced that day.. as in, literally walk over to L&D from her office and have a baby. She left to let us discuss what we wanted to do, and we basically looked at each other and said, ‘Let’s do it.’ We both felt the reasons were good, and I had a sneaking suspicion I was really going into labor anyway based on the contractions I was having that day. Fortunately, with all the action we had seen, I had started bringing my hospital bag to every appointment ‘just in case.’

So, off we went! We got settled into our room and had lots of lessons in what is normal for an American birth! Again, the nurse that was working with us was incredibly helpful, took our birth plan hopes seriously, and was very straightforward in answering our questions and explaining what she was doing. The doctor came in after about 2 hours to see how things were going and to decide what our next step was. I really wanted to avoid Pitocin and give my body a chance to show us if it was ready to go, so I asked if we could just start with breaking my water and see how things progress. They were happy to oblige, and she found that I had progressed from 1cm to 4 just in the time since I had left her office. (Also during that time we had kept our tradition of watching Elf during labor.. and yes, I know my other two children were born in the summer, but it’s such a great movie!) That made us all happy, but I can’t explain the relief and peace I felt when she said that. I was nervous after we left her office that we had made a choice that could lead us down a path we were hoping to avoid, and that progress was wonderful encouragement that I was ready and baby was ready, so hopefully little intervention would be needed.

So, after a quick check to make sure he was still head down, my water was broken and off we went! This was my first time essentially experiencing labor start to finish at the hospital. It was harder in some ways because there were fewer distractions, but I didn’t miss the long drive to the hospital while in labor one bit!

A new nurse took over and I am so thankful she was with us through the whole thing. She was really supportive of my desire to have a natural birth, and also really honest about the likelihood that induction would make that less possible. I have an entirely new appreciation for L&D nurses after watching these incredible women work with and for us. I just happened to read this yesterday, and though of course our labor experience was not the same, it sounds like our nurse experience certainly was.

Anyway! So, basically I sat on a labor ball watching River Monsters (two other new experiences! I’m sure you can guess who chose our entertainment..) until things were getting rough and decided I wanted to get in the shower for some relief. As seems to be the case with me, almost as soon as I was in the water I started feeling tiny urges to push. I had direct instructions to cause a ruckus as soon as that happened so the doctor had time to get the hospital before the baby arrived, though the nurse assured us she had just caught a baby earlier that week so she would be ok if things didn’t go as planned :).

I have no concept of time from here on out, as I was in my ‘this really hurts’ zone (so was Ian.. he tells me I almost ripped his bicep off, ha!), but things moved really quickly. The doctor made it and our little team welcomed Ari Louis Church into this dark and bright world. I quickly made Ian promise to never let me do that again (double ha!) and marveled that we had another healthy boy who had thrown us for a loop right at the end, but everything worked out just fine. He was born at 11:42pm and weighed 9lbs, 1oz. Getting a 9lb baby out is a lot more work than the other two were :). He was totally perfect, with gigantic cheeks, and we were totally smitten.

I continued to marvel at our nurse’s care for us as she helped get us all ready to move to our recovery room (our private recovery room! Where Ian stayed with me the whole time!). When I thanked her for letting me hold her hand, knowing that my grip is rather deadly during labor, she looked me right in the eye and said she would have done anything to help me at that point. Amazing.

So there we were. The parents of three boys – one of us in particular enjoying American luxuries like ice packs and Tucks pads (which I will be implementing for any future babies regardless of where they are born!) – both marveling at our little bundle of sweetness. I found myself again and again giving thanks that everything had worked out as it did, knowing full well if my doctor had been around or if my blood pressure had been any higher or if my baby had not turned, things could have been entirely different.

Since his birth, Ari (which, I should note, is pronounced ‘R-E’ not ‘airy’) has been nothing short of delightful. He is already letting us sleep more than we could ever have imagined, hardly ever cries, and has captured all of our hearts with no trouble. His brothers think he is ‘just so cute!’ and love to hold him. He loves being warm and napping on Mama or Daddy, and hates being naked for any reason. Especially when Mama’s hands are cold.. which is always.

Since his birth, I have continued to reduce in size, finding my calves, ankles, feet, and hands again. Even my face is smaller :). It is a wonderful thing to bend over without feeling like my eyes are going to pop out, and be able to move around like a normal human being again. I am entirely looking forward to being back to 100% to properly mother my three sweet boys, and am entirely thankful for the wonderful help I’ve received from my family (especially my dear mother) and our community here that is providing us with meals and much support before and after Ari’s arrival. God is so good, and I am so thankful.

Ari Louis: What’s in a Name?

Since there’s really no reason to stop now :), I thought I’d include a little explanation of his name. Once it was confirmed that he was a boy, I decided to check out some boys’ names, as I wasn’t totally sold on the one we were tossing around. I really didn’t want another ‘A’ name, and I wasn’t overly concerned with how many letters it had either. I started out with Hebrew names (because, why not?) in the ‘A’s, obviously. I got a few rows in and saw ‘Ari’ and immediately I knew that I was going to have to admit to Ian that I liked this name. I was annoyed about it because it would make us an ‘A’ family and I didn’t really want to do another three letter name since Asher’s isn’t, but I also really felt like the Lord had put it under my nose for a reason. So I confessed to Ian, who loved it, and that was pretty much that.

The name Ari means lion. This was another hang up for me. Every time I thought about it, the image I got was a scary, roaring lion, which I didn’t like. I often pondered how his name might have significance in his life after we settled on Ari, but I felt strongly that I wanted my boy(s) to be a steady, gentle force in this world, not a roaring, intimidating one. So I thought, and I wrestled, and one day hit a realization that brought me peace. The image of the lion laying with the lamb. The knowledge that the dark places in this world (including our own hearts) will be made bright again and even something as scary as a lion will become approachable and peaceful.

So, in his name, we hope that Ari will be courageous, compassionate, a seeker of peace and source of comfort and protection for the weak and hurting in this world. I know that is putting a lot of thought into a simple name, but to me it is significant. I have already seen our older boys manifesting aspects of their own names in their lives and with the people that cross their paths, and can only assume the same will be true with Ari.

Louis carries significance in that St Louis is where he was born. Aed and Asher’s middle names both relate directly to their being born in St Andrews, and we wanted to continue with that, knowing that we will likely not be in St Louis for very long. Not knowing what the future holds, we want our boys to feel some sense of connectedness to their beginnings, especially if we are nomads for longer than we expect.

You made it!

If you’ve made it to this point – kudos! You are a trooper and I am thankful for your willingness to share in Ari’s story despite its length. I make no promises about future blogging as life continues to grow in responsibility, so every post from here on out may make your eyes bleed :). Sorry!

Monday, July 01, 2013

The Looooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong Drive

I was a little nervous about our cross-country adventure, but mostly excited because there’s a big world to see! At a minimum our trip would be 33 hours, but throw a couple of kids in there and you’re going to be in the car 4-5 days depending on how things go (excuse me while I try to relieve the tightness in my chest from thinking about being in the car for four days..). I thought and I planned and I crafted and I tried to come up with everything I could think of to entertain our children. Turns out those mornings of entertaining themselves while I cleaned or worked or baked, or whatever I may have been doing that didn’t directly involve them, were good practice for entertaining themselves in the car!

We quickly realized that being the driver was actually the coveted position, as the passenger was faced with constantly contorting to meet the whims of the children in the back seat. And the whims were abundant. As you might guess, I am far more contortable than my inflexible husband, so he won the driver’s seat most of the time. And, I have to say, even for as long as it was, the drive was quite fun!

-  Driving on a two-lane road is astoundingly easy after living in LA for a year. I kind of felt like I didn’t even need to pay attention (but, never fear, I did!). I didn’t realize how stressful that driving really was until I felt the relief of something easier!

-  The landscape of the southern US is incredible and incredibly diverse, which I was not expecting. Sadly, it’s just not the same on a camera as it is to see it in person, so you’ll just have to trust me.

(This stuff was crazy.. there were thick black rocks and mounds all over the place. Looked like lava had bubbled up and hardened. I really wanted to touch it, but I refrained from requesting a pull-over :)

I think my favorite were the plateau formations. They were layered and colorful and so interesting to look at. It seems I didn’t bother photographing them after seeing how indistinct the previous photos turned out, despite how incredible the scenery was. My apologies!

-  We drove though a lot of minimally populated areas. The questions that kept coming up every time we passed another lone house were things like, 'So, what do you suppose you do when you live out here?' 'Do you think they have friends?' 'Where on earth do they get groceries?' It was very puzzling. But, also made me realize there are a lot of places in the US to make movies when you need a remote location.

-  The desert is stunningly dry. Obvious, you might think, but I felt like I might as well have been crawling through the sand for how constant my thirst was.

-  Turns out there are elk in Arizona. And we almost hit one. Now we know.

-  The Grand Canyon might not be as fun as you expect. But it is gorgeous nonetheless.

Asher was really into photos

We gave up on the kids :)

I love Asher's facial expression with all my heart.
Some poor international person was in the wrong place at the wrong time and was asked to take our lovely family photos. The kids were really not happy about a family photo. I don’t know what got into them, but the Grand Canyon made them crazy! We were glad to get back in the car – ha!

I can also say, this was my last day wearing non-maternity jeans (for apparent reasons!). Sitting for that long in something that wasn’t stretchy was just unacceptable for Blueberry and I!

-  Long meals with ample opportunity to use the leg muscles are a treat when you’re living in a car. Somewhere is a really cute picture of the kids running around at dinner one day. Just imagine them inexplicably and repeatedly showing us their bellies as they run circles around a picnic table. That about sums it up!

-  It seems the movie ‘Cars’ was pretty accurate. Route 66 could use some love from Bessie. And Roadkill Café has a delicious salad bar. Asher tells us it’s a good spot to poop.

-  Oklahoma is beautiful after several days in the desert! We couldn’t get enough of the green. Though, it was sobering to drive past a bit of the devastation from recent tornadoes. And, it was an almost immediate relief to my unquenchable thirst when we left the desert behind us!

-  Our kids are total troopers. They were astoundingly (some might say shockingly) longsuffering and allowed us to make enough progress to arrive at Nena and Papaw’s house a day before we expected to! I could hardly believe it.

I cannot express enough how impressed I was with how they just took things in stride. If we rolled into the hotel after midnight (which we did almost every night), they were like ‘whatevs.. we’ll just sit here and drool over Nascar racing while you set up our beds.’ Everyday they were ready with excitement to get back in the car to head to our next stop. I just couldn’t (and can’t) get over it. I know there were so many praying for us, and it was so evident. Despite that, we were very grateful to roll into that Indiana driveway and know the trip behind us.

It took longer than I expected to get over the ‘car lag’ of the time changes we drove through, but within a few days we were good as new.

I’m not looking to do a crazy long drive again any time soon, but I can tell you that I wouldn’t be afraid if we needed to. Added bonus, the 5 hours it takes us to get from here to Indiana seems like nothing now! :)

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Ideal

I have been struggling. I am so far behind on this blog and it drives me crazy. I hate the thought of things being out of order, or missing out altogether on things that were special to us. Because I don't have time to sit down and resize photos and write about all of our adventures, I just keep doing nothing. And yet life goes on. And I miss out on opportunities to reflect on and think about what happened today. And I don't like that either. Because my kids are cute. And my life is changing. And my husband is excelling. And I want to mark all of that in this little diary, too.

Today it occurred to me that this is like a tiny version of being paralyzed because of the false hope of achieving perfection while life just passes by. I'm not sure I'll do it just right, so I do nothing. I don't want to fail, so I wait. Until the perfect moment, just the right day, just the right mindset. Trouble is, that kind of 'just right' doesn't really happen very often. So here I am. Everything is about to change.

We are expecting another baby, we are about to drive across the country, Ian is starting a new job, and we are all starting over again. We are tired and excited and sad and a little bit nervous. We have quickly learned that leaving is a lot harder when your kids are saying goodbye, too. I am stunned at the community we have found here in such a short time. They are leaving big and little people that have been consistent, that have been sweet, that have been treasured and talked about. And they know it. I am used to that feeling of loss. I know what it means, what it feels like, to move on again and lose what was gained. You remain touched and changed, but relationships cannot carry on in the same way without physical presence. It is a loss. It is new for them. And it is hard.

But, tomorrow has enough trouble of it's own. We will focus on today. It feels like there are a million things waiting to happen, fighting for attention. My mind is struggling to keep up. It will all happen. We will move on. We will lose. We will gain. We will live as fully as we can in each day, knowing that whatever may come tomorrow or two years from now will come just as it should. We will say we're sorry when the stress gets the better of us, and we will breathe thanks in moments of peace. We will lean on Jesus and know that he is good. In all things, he is good. We will pray for spirits unwavering.

And we will bid farewell to this crazy place that has brought us so much that was unexpected. We will remember the way the Lord has provided and we will trust that he will do it again.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

A-pickin’ we will go!

One of the many things that made me uncomfortable after we moved here was this insatiable desire I had for the seasons to change. No matter how angsty I felt about it, the temperature refused to lessen and the leaves refused to change. I’ve never lived in such a stubborn location. Therefore, I rebelled. I decided I couldn’t handle it, and that Fall was a necessity. If Pasadena couldn't provide, then we’d just have to go find it somewhere else! Hmpf! We gave it a good chance and waited until October, but Fall never showed. So, off we went!

I scouted out a farm about 1.5 hours east of us that had apple picking, pumpkin picking, carriage rides, hiking, a petting zoo, a cider press, hay bales to climb on, fresh pies to eat.. everything you need to remind yourself that in some parts of the country, it really is Fall. We picked a Saturday and went to find some Fall. And oh, was it wonderful.

Just the drive to the farm got me all worked up simply because there were trees that were a different color!

See the clouds? We were high and they were low - beautiful!

This farm also had grove of Redwood trees (or possibly Sequoias, because who can really remember these things? Oh.. maybe the kind of people that don’t try to write things down 6 months after they happened? Well.) and we got to walk right on through it.

It was just as magical as these things should be, for everyone involved.

We didn't even tell him to.. a natural-born tree-hugger!

We found a cute little bench, so we took some cute little pictures..

And even a family photo for the memory books!

We continued walking and found a lake! A lake of the beautiful and picturesque sort, all too tempting for the Short-Leggeds among us.

Our hike was stunning. Stunning and wonderful and naturey and not-sweltering. Everything I’d hoped for.

Well, we ran into a bit of trouble on our beautiful hike when we got a flat tire. Turns out there are lots of little burrs to be had in the woods that are not-little enough to poke holes right on through the inner tubes. So we re-routed our hike out to the road and plodded along, steadily uphill, wishing our children weren’t quite so heavy.

In an amazing turn of events, we discovered the local fire station (that the road we were walking along ran right passed) was having a bake sale! We didn’t buy anything, knowing that many good things awaited us back at the farm, but the bake sale meant there was a fire truck out and open for us to see! Aed was speechless with happiness. He loved it so much.

He was too excited to bother looking at the camera, so all the pictures look like this.

Then it was time for… apple picking! Joy of joys!

Did I mention it was a beautiful day?

We got to pick from any tree, and found that many trees had some amazing-looking apples way up high and out of reach. Ian then patented a new picking technique, pictured below.

Needless to say, the Picker loved it. The Non-Picker had quite a good time as well. (The mysterious arm there belongs to Ian's coworker, Peter. He came along with us and made the trip that-much-more enjoyable!)

Unfortunately, the apple orchard was full of those pesky burrs, so we flattened another tire, and by the time we got home, all three were flat! I spent the next days picking burs and prickers out of the tires and trying to fix up that buggy so we wouldn’t lose more inner tubes. Worth every prick.

Then the petting zoo..


And the hay bales..

And the occasional nap..

Which all led to enjoying the spoils of a proper Fall in our very own home where Fall refused to come.

I also supplemented with a spicy-sweet candle to give us the right aroma. It was a beautiful thing.

One last picture that I think is adorable.. the munchkin acting like he knows what to do with one of those.

He, of course, didn’t and got bored with it after about 5 seconds, but it made for a cute memory.

The day was absolutely wonderful, definitely one of my favorite memories of our time here in CA. Ian and I reminded each other many times of what a gift that day was, how thankful we were to have had it. It honestly was sweet refreshment to our souls. I have learned that changes of season are so important to me, figuratively and literally. I grow when challenged with something new, and this stage of life brings mostly new things. Change is good, welcomed or not, and I’m thankful that we had a time to revel in the beauty of a changing season. Just remembering that special day brings a sigh of relief and satisfaction. A good day.