Taavi's Birth Story

6/13/16

It may not come across in print, but those who know me best will tell you I have something of a stubborn streak.  I'm working on it.  But it often rears its ugly head in situations that actually do not matter at all, for example my own estimated due date differing from the midwife's by a few days.  In both my pregnancies it has happened and both times I have clung vehemently to my own calculations.  Because obviously four or five days really matters.  Eye roll.  Yet I can't let it go.

So in case you wondered, the following account of Taavi's birth happened two days after my own estimated due date and one day before the date on my medical records.  Not that you or anyone cares, except I simply don't know what to say when people ask if he was early or late.  "Well... both."


But when you're that cute, who really cares?

And now, without further ado:

After two weeks of cramps, back pain, Braxton Hicks, loss of mucus plug, and general crabbiness, I woke up at 4 a.m. on May 20th thinking, "hmm... but probably not".  I half-heartedly began timing anyway, my third early morning that week to do so.  Not much seemed different: no notable intervals and no real strength behind the sensations.

I noticed Eric's side of the bed was empty (a regular occurrence, insomnia be damned) so after awhile I shuffled my beluga body downstairs to deliver the non-report.  "I thought maybe labor was starting, but looks like it's nothing.  I'm filling you in anyway because I know how deeply it pains you to not be informed of every single discomfort I experience."

He said something appropriately sympathetic and I shuffled back to bed.  Almost immediately, my inner antennae perked up.  Now that was something.

When Eric came back to bed about 15 minutes later I let him lay down, unsuspecting, for a moment before I softly whispered the exciting news that this was indeed the real thing.  We reveled in the sweetness of it together and talked about names one last time.  At this point the other front runners were Toviel {'my God is goodness', Hebrew of Tobias- whose story is so beautiful!}, Nico {'victory of the people' + I've always loved saucy St. Nicholas}, and Theodore {'gracious gift'}.  But yes, we agreed once and for all, Taavi is his name because more than anything we want his identity to be "dearly loved".

As contractions started to ramp up Eric began making phone calls to our parents, who were both in hotels, and to the hospital.  By the time my parents arrived at our house to stay with the boys we were just gathering the last of our things and my contractions were about 4 minutes apart and increasing in strength.  Because I felt confident about the support at our hospital for intervention-free births, we decided to go ahead and head up there rather than labor longer at home.  It was about 5:30 a.m.


My dad snapped this photo before driving us the few blocks to the hospital, and what on earth is wrong with my eyes?  Am I in labor or did I get stung by a bee? I don't even know.

After the initial intake was said and done my midwife checked me at about 7 a.m. and declared me to be 6.5 cm dilated! Woo-hoo we were rollin'.  Still, I knew based on my extensive birthing experience (ahem. once.) that dilation would go slowly and we had hours ahead of us yet.  So in between contractions Eric and I settled in to feather our nest: setting up the lavender oil diffuser, unpacking heating pads, me dreaming about the point at which I would slither into the warm tub (with jets!) and reminding myself to request a birthing ball at some point.  

In recent months I had felt the need/desire to prepare for labor differently this time around, so I had had my nose in Ina May's Guide to Childbirth for the 6 weeks prior.  So during contractions I focused on relaxing my body and letting the contractions do their work rather than allow my tension to slow it down. In particular, I intentionally relaxed my jaw which in turn relaxes the other sphincters as well. I also found it super helpful to wrap my arms around Eric's neck and hang on him through contractions: it forced my body into a relaxed posture and made the sensations so much more bearable.  


Moses had been face-up, so his labor and been almost entirely in my back with none of the relief of the ebb and flow of uterine contractions.  It was pretty much just constant pain after a certain point.  So THIS! Pain for 1 minute and then a 3 minute break?! That felt like the greatest of luxuries in comparison.  

Not long after she had checked me, I vomited.  I was thrilled, not just because I felt much better, but because I knew it meant I was transitioning.  As the contractions picked up intensity, Eric pulled out the list of names I had tucked in to our hospital bag: women I love who are facing infertility, secondary infertility, miscarriage, and infant loss.  During times of pain, he stood by my side and quietly read their names out loud. I let my body be a prayer for these women I love, asked my Lord to let my suffering somehow alleviate their own.  

The next time she checked me (around 8 a.m.) she declared me to be over 9.5 cm.  One more contraction should do it, she said, and after that I could just push when I felt ready.

Eric and I looked at each other and -scout's honor!- laughed. After the long and agonizing labor two years ago (when I'm pretty sure Eric had begun to wonder if he had accidentally married Gollum), we had fervently hoped that this one would be different. And I had felt optimistic about that because not only did I now have a notch in my birthing belt, but I felt better about the way I had prepared for it. But still.  It's childbirth.  How often are you really surprised by the mildness of it?


My water had still not broken, so my midwife broke it right before I began pushing.  It took me awhile to really feel a groove with the pushing, but once things ramped up I was hoping against hope that it would be one of those "just two pushes and he was out!" stories.  The pushing stage of Moses' birth was by far the most discouraging part for me (sunny side up + oddly angled resulting in 3.5 hours of effort and ending in an episiotomy), and I soon came to realize that I had some major mental hang-ups from it.

One thing I knew I wanted to do differently in this birth was to try different positions for pushing. I briefly thought about trying a squat as I had planned but instinctively knew that didn't feel right.  I got on my hands and knees for a bit but that position created a pain in my hips that was unbearable.  I had Eric push on my hips with all his strength during contractions, which helped a lot, and baby did lower during that time, but the midwife suggested that a back position would alleviate the pain.  She was right, so I ended up delivering him in a sit/lay angle with my knees pulled up.

And I have now lost the two males who were attempting to read this.

Anyway, after over an hour I started in on a quasi-panic.  I can't do it. I can't push him out on my own, I need an episiotomy.  It wasn't true, of course, but how much of childbirth is a battle against our minds?  He was actually in a great position and was making progress downward with every push.  But the pain and the passing time were trying to convince me otherwise.  Eric remembered that I had wanted a mirror to see our baby enter the world, so the nurse quickly found one in the room and he held it up for me.  My wonderful midwife gently asked if I would like to feel his head, which I did.  I still think being able to see and feel how very close I was to holding my child was what gave me the strength to get him out.

But I'm ahead of myself.  First I touched the brink of despair, my body burning for what seemed like half an hour as his head stubbornly refused to emerge and I stubbornly refused to let it retreat.  I put words to my fears, said them out loud to the midwife, to the (precious) nurse, to my husband, to myself.  I'm afraid I can't do it on my own. He's stuck, he's stuck just like Moses, I know it.  They wouldn't hear of it, wouldn't let me believe it for a second.  The midwife explained that the scar tissue was simply not as stretchy as normal skin would be, but that progress was constantly being made with every push.  Just get him out! I begged at one point.  My midwife laughed, "you get him out!".

So finally, I did.


9:52 a.m., about 5.5 hours after contractions began.  Not bad, little buddy.

They put him on me immediately and let us snuggle for as long as our hearts desired.  When they finally weighed him: 9 pounds, 6 ounces.  Holy smokes, I've never felt so validated.

Taavi Ross Evans, you are so very very loved. Thanks for coming out.
And P.S. - I'm so glad you're a boy.  You are exactly what was missing.

//

If you like this kind of thing, you can read Moses' birth story here and Alyosha's adoption story here.

The Weight of Mercy (A Guest Post by Colleen C. Mitchell)

6/8/16

(Shannon here!) You guys are in for a treat today.  Colleen Mitchell is a fiery Jesus-lover and justice-seeker, and basically the Christian I want to be when I grow up.  She and her family are missionaries in Costa Rica, providing safe birthing, medical care, and health education to indigenous mothers in their St. Francis Emmaus Center.  Look for Colleen's book, Who Does He Say You Are?, being released this August.  Today's post brought tears to my eyes, and I'm honored that she would share these words here.  Please welcome Colleen Mitchell!


//

I have a confession to make.

When I first heard that Pope Francis had announced a Jubilee Year of Mercy, I was less than enthused.

Actually, I was a little irritated.

My internal (and occasionally external) dialogue went something like this, “I mean it’s lovely and all. But do Christians really need a Jubilee year to remind them that mercy is the thing. I mean, c’mon. This is exactly the problem with the Church today and no Jubilee Year is going to fix willful ignorance.”

But maybe, just maybe, it can cure a bit of pride? Because clearly, ahem, someone needed some curing.

Surprisingly, I happened to find myself in Rome for the opening of the Jubilee Year and in one of the first groups of pilgrims to walk through the Holy Doors of St. Peter’s. My husband and I were accompanied by our spiritual director, who reminded us this was a time to beg to recognize our own need for mercy more deeply and the grace to dispose our hearts even more fully to that mercy so that we could then offer that mercy to others more effectively.


The experience opened my heart to the key message of this Jubilee Year, which is not, as many have reduced it, to feeding the hungry or being more generous to the poor, but recognizing the desperate need each and every one of us has for God and his goodness. 

Then we returned to our home on the mission field, and a crazy thing happened to me in the first few months of 2016. I was daily bombarded by overwhelming need, injustice, and my own inadequacies in our ministry to indigenous mothers. 

I attended the births of babies whose mothers had barely turned 14 years old, then sent them off to the mountains, babies with babies in their arms. I helped a mom through the end of pregnancy who explained that she had had a C-section for her first baby because her husband beat her in the stomach regularly to try to make her lose the baby he did not want.


A mom with 4 littles 5 and under who lives in the most extreme poverty arrived to stay with us while her husband underwent surgery after surgery from injuries sustained from being bucked by a horse. He survived, but will be permanently disabled and unable to work.

God, there were days I could barely breathe for the weight of it all. I nearly succumbed to exhaustion and despair. About a month ago, I reached the point where I did not want to get out of bed.

People kept trying to remind me how important the work we did for these women was, but all I could see was what it could never fix, never do or undo. And I was tired from carrying the weight of that.

Tired from carrying the weight of mercy.

And in my exhaustion, the lesson of this year became all too clear. See, I was looking to the mercy I could give as never enough and despairing, while I had forgotten to look to the mercy I receive, to God’s mercy which pours out and says “my grace is enough for you”. 

I forgot that the saving wasn’t my job, and faithfulness was. I nearly gave up on mercy because I mistakenly let myself believe that the important part was what I had to give when the truth is, there is only one thing, and it is what I have been given.


If I am not constantly immersing myself over and over again in his mercy and love for me, then I spend my days bearing a burden that is too heavy for me, and I will fall or give up or give in to despair eventually.

I began to understand that this may be why so many Christians seem to have turned off the “mercy switch” in their hearts. It is not that they are unaware of the need. It is not that they are cold-hearted, selfish, or uncompassionate.

It is that they have counted the cost, felt the weight of mercy on their hearts, and declared themselves incapable.

It is that they, like me, have mistakenly measured themselves rather than throwing their weakness into the unending sea of God’s goodness and letting the waves carry them.

They have extended their hands and found them emptied too fast, while forgetting that Jesus’ scarred hands stand open with wounds of mercy from which flow unending grace.


The Jubilee Year can serve as a reminder to each of us that the weight of mercy is in fact too heavy if we try to carry it in spite of our own desperate need for God. 

But if instead, we take that need, march it through the doorway of God’s heart and hand it over to him, where he freely offers his mercy in return, we might just find ourselves overflowing a bit.

And in that overflow, mercy runs freely to us, through us and from us to the people we desire to love. 

Mercy becomes a river rather than a weight. And the strength of the flow is what carries it.

I have been humbled by the truth about mercy this year. I nearly buckled under its weight, and then have found my way back to his goodness riding the current of that same mercy. 


And I am beginning to feel like just maybe I finally understand. 

The weight of mercy is heavy, but the love of God can carry it, if only we let him carry us first.

Is mercy hard for you? Are you turning away because you feel too tired, too poor, too busy, or not enough to offer mercy? Where do you need to recognize the worthiness of your own need first and let God fill you so his grace carries the weight of mercy for you?

Let him, friend.

Then celebrate with joy the Jubilee.


//

(Follow Colleen's journey ministering in Costa Rica at her blog or on Facebook.)
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Someday, the light will shine like a sun through my skin & they will say, 'what have you done with your life?' & though there are many moments I think I'll remember, in the end, I will be proud to say, I was one of us.

(Brian Andreas, Storypeople)

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