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11.09.2014

Becoming a Mother

You hear that the first couple of months are hard. They are often referred to as The Fourth Trimester because it is a time of adjustment (major) for both baby and parents, and the honest truth is, is that it's a hard adjustment, despite the romanticized version we play in our heads while our bellies are big and round. "Just get through the first several weeks, don't think too much, just do," I was told countless times by my midwives, my friends, the sweet women in my life who have experienced the shift, or launch rather, into motherhood. I'll never forget talking to my SIL (mother of 4) one Saturday morning while we were in her backyard, painting the baby's dresser my husband had built. She walked over in her robe, coffee in hand, and said, similarly, "The first few weeks are hard, but just power through them. It really is all you can do. So often, when I see friends embark on the beginning, especially with their first, I want to take the burden of those early weeks from them. But I can't, I really can't...because that's what makes you a mother."


And sure, I thought she, and others, were talking about the sleepless nights, the challenges (and suffering-yow!) of breastfeeding, the once quiet home filled with endless cries, the feelings of insufficiency, the struggle to learn your baby and what he or she needs in the moment, the recovery from birth (it's no joke), the newly defined marriage and relationship you have with your spouse, and, not least of them, being completely overwhelmed by the responsibility of tending to a tiny, wrinkly person. But honestly, I didn't expect the biggest source of suffering to amount from something else entirely. It's a little anomaly called A Mother's Heart. And it does not come to complete fruition until that sweet, safe little babe is out of the womb and kissed by the air of this world.

From the moment Darla was placed on my chest, warm and wet, my heart shifted in a painful way. There's no other way to describe it. It's a beautiful, welcome pain, but it is still pain. My heart began bleeding, seeping, holding it's breath for the miraculousness that was her, alive and coursing blood.  It was more than a strange, relentless love, it was an unyielding desire, no yearning, to care for her. There was something about that moment, where I realized for the first time, the gravity of the depth of how much she needed me and would need me, and I wanted to meet that need with every part of who I was, and I wanted to meet it with completion. I wanted to meet it with fullness.




The first couple of weeks proved themselves challenging, but they were also blissful. Hunter took time off of work and I hardly got out of bed or off the sofa to do much of anything, family was in from all parts of the country and our home was filled with visitors and excitement, Darla was a great eater and a natural nurser, she was also a great sleeper and was already giving me 5-6 hour stretches at night, and I really felt beautiful and strong and competent. It was an adjustment, but I really welcomed it. I remember thinking "I've got this! This is great." But by the 3rd and 4th week, a huge shift tore through my home. I'll never forget the night. I had just finished nursing Darla and it was late and dark and she was very restless. It seemed impossible to put her to sleep for some reason and so, exhausted and desperate, I strapped her into her swing, turned it on, and hoped she would doze off on her own. I collapsed into bed. I heard her wrestling around a bit, making those cute little newborn noises, and then I heard her cough. I opened my eyes to see a tiny, three-week-old baby SITTING FORWARD gasping for air. I rushed to her, began pounding on her back, and after a moment that felt like time had collapsed all together, she took in a breath and began wailing, wailing. It took a bit to calm her. I rocked her to sleep, shaken, but I knew that sometimes newborns choke on amniotic fluid they are still releasing from their system so I didn't panic. I put her in bed. I soon awoke to the same scene. "Hunter, I don't know what's happening."

Next ensued the longest week of my life (until we could get her in to see the doctor). Darla spent every waking moment on my chest where I could monitor her breathing. The nights were the hardest. I'd try to sleep when she slept, which was 10 minutes here, 20 minutes there, but usually I just sat in a reclined position on the couch, waiting for her next breath to catch and I'd do what I could to help her breathe again. My sister drove down from Atlanta and stayed for a weekend, taking some of those night shifts for me so I could sleep, everyone was offering prayers. Everything felt huge. And my inner being physically ached for my child. My mama heart had really just begun beating and it felt like it was about to stop all together.

Darla was diagnosed with a moderate case of silent acid reflux. It's termed silent because you don't usually see any spit-up like you normally would because babies with this form of reflux swallow it. Which causes twice the pain, twice the damage and often causes them to aspirate, hence the choking. Babies with a severe case will actually stop breathing long enough to turn blue. The doctor put her on a newborn dose of Zantac (which did help mildly), told me to keep her upright at all possible times, note what things comforted her and do the best I could to bring her that comfort and, finally, was assured that she would outgrow it by 3 months of age (which felt a lifetime away). They also instructed me to learn baby CPR.

Just. In. Case.

At 8 weeks I cried the most desperate prayer of my life. Darla was sitting in her boppy on the sofa while I was doing dishes, steps away. She was so, so restless. She was always miserable at this point, always in pain and overall uncomfortable. But this was different. I felt an unexplainable urge to touch her and pray for her, just pray for her to have a break from her suffering. I remember my hands were still wet from the warm kitchen water and I was gazing at her compassionately when the worst moment of my life ensued. I heard her usual cough, her choke, her gag, and then I saw her fear as oxygen escaped her. I'll never forget the look in her eyes, her mouth gaped open, desperate to breathe. Her entire body went straight, stiff and small twitches came from her feet and hands. She was looking at me dead in the eyes, hers round and searching. I was pounding her back, shifting her tongue looking for anything I could remove, but mostly I was praying, "Lord, let my child breathe." And I remember thinking, What will I do if she doesn't? She'd finally take in air and then loads of fluid and vomit would eject. Then we'd begin again. And again. And again. And I couldn't effectively type the number of "agains" because they felt unending. But I know I prayed the prayer more times than the number of fingers and toes I possess before the calm set in. By the end of it, I had collapsed from a standing position to a broken one on the floor, Darla was nothing but a shaking, whimpering child, desperate for comfort. My shirt was steeped in an absurd amount of vomit. Darla was covered in her own fluids, her diaper soaked through as her body had expelled everything, her clothes drenched in sweat and stomach acid and her hair was stuck together by discharged milk, placed there by her searching hands. And I was unable to offer her anything but a breast. And this seemed enough. And I stayed on the carpet, nursing, and I just sobbed until I could sob no longer. And I really thought my mama heart would implode.

Or dry up and wither away, like drought or famine had sunk it.



By 3 months, her reflux hadn't improved much at all, though during her third month a beautiful milestone was reached where the choking had stopped. We have tried all sorts of things to help it, to cure it, to reduce it and we've seen some great spurts of relief for her. We've seen some horrendous flare-ups too. She is 4 months now and still suffers from it daily on a varying scale. The doctors are now telling us that by 6 months she should outgrow it. I'm crossing every part of my body in hopes that this is true. But mostly I'm just praying. Praying that my heart can withstand it because this is how the Lord chose to make me a mother, through a desperate state. Some moms have much sweeter, easier journeys into this being-change and others have a much sadder, difficult, gut-wrenching reality. And I share in their joys, their blissful love and I yearn in sorrow for their grief. Becoming a mother is not easy.

But it's true, it's the "not easy" that makes you a mother.

I'm trying my darndest to let it sanctify me as a believer and a woman, to let it rectify my oozing heart into a direction of faith instead of fear, to create humility within my desire to be prideful, to wipe out judgment when it comes to watching others parent, and to learn to offer other mothers, above anything else, compassion wholly and an encouraging word. I tell ya, a simple text of hope is often all it took for me to make it through a difficult day. But most of all, I'm learning to worship a God who is always good, even when my circumstances try to convince me that He is not. How ironic that Darla's name deals with the lack of suffering. And it's true, when she came, I did forget a chapter of suffering in my life, but a whole new book opened up on the topic after she was here. And it's changed me. And it's sent me into a perpetual, unending state of becoming. And, I'm afraid, I'll never stop becoming a mother. Never, ever.

7.31.2014

Our Baby Story

It had been an unbelievably hard year. Every area of my life had seemed to crumble around me, no part of it seemed to be left untouched by the hand of sorrow, and I had almost given up the idea of ever being happy again. The most notable, and painful, part of my life that had suffered was my marriage. After 7 years of near bliss, our 8th took a nose-dive into the toilet.

After months of tears and lots of marriage counseling, I knew that we were going to survive. Not because we were doing anything special to "fix" it, but because we had both finally surrendered our whole lives to the author of our souls. It took a royal screw up to make us realize that we needed help, not just to alter the fate of our relationship, but to fully heal our broken, needy parts inside of us. Only Christ could satisfy our deepest, most secret needs. As spouses, we could not have those met within each other and we had been trying to do just that for years. And we were found wanting.



And although we were finally free from the burden of trying to perfectly love one another, when all we were doing was loving weakly on our best days, we still mourned the death of a marriage we once had and struggled to embrace the reality of the marriage we did have: a broken one in need of a lot of fixing. So I began praying for redemption. Spiritually speaking, whenever there is death in the Christian faith, there is hope of a resurrection. So, I prayed God would redeem my marriage and resurrect it to a new life.

I prayed this for months in the bottom of my bath tub, my ears filled with water to drown out the noise of the world. And I just mourned and prayed.




August came and with it the heat of the south. But I spent my days inside, praying out the heart ache. One special day, I shot up my usual prayer. I asked the Lord to redeem it all, to redeem it so much that I would actually be able to forget all of my suffering.

He spoke to me, to my heart. It wasn't an audible voice, it was just like my heart filled up with words that I didn't place there myself and they were "loud" enough, or I should say pressing enough, to make me stop and listen. I heard Him say to me, "How would you like me to redeem it all?" I froze, literally afraid to answer. And without saying an single word, I just replied in my heart, "Send me a baby."

And I heard nothing back. Shaken, I toweled off and probably managed to dress myself before sleeping most of the day away. That is what I did then to tally the weeks, to make time pass more quickly. And I nearly forgot about my request.



One month and 10 days later, on September 29th of 2013, I started another day. But I started it differently. Instead of sinking to the bottom of my tub, I woke in a panic from a dream. In my dream, I was urged to take a pregnancy test. So, when I opened my eyes, I just knew I needed to take one, even though I didn't want to get my hopes up. However, I didn't have one! Now, in my dream, there was a vision of my bathroom drawer and in the very back, one was buried. This might all seem supernatural to you, and to me, it definitely was! So, skeptically, I walked into my bathroom and opened my drawer. I dug around...just to see. Maybe I had stuck one in there a long time ago and forgot about it? My hand curled around something that felt a lot like a thermometer. And honestly, when I pulled my hand out of that drawer, I was incredibly surprised to see a pregnancy test resting in my grip.

I had no choice to but take the darn thing at that point!



Within seconds, seconds, there were 2 pink lines peering at me through that little pregnancy test window and I couldn't believe it. I just couldn't believe it. I had been taking pregnancy tests for 8 years, each time a nervous wreck that it would proclaim my jump into parenthood, and I was always relieved when it read negative. I had never tried to get pregnant a day in my life, and in an instant, God gave me a baby. What kind of God is this?

I dropped to the floor and wept. I probably cried the words "Thank You" a hundred times before I could pull myself together enough to breathe. I didn't think about a single thing in that moment, not a sole other thing, except for that baby and my God who gave it to me. My deepest need, my need of knowing that I am fully, to the depthiest part of my soul, loved, was satisfied in that moment on an olive green bathroom rug. And I've been forever changed by the fullness of how Christ chose to win me, and humbled that He'd distract Himself from the glory of Himself for a moment to meet me where I was, just an inch above linoleum.





I sat there forever. Not needing to be anywhere else. Not wanting to leave that place of joy. And I knew that it was a little girl. And I knew I wanted to name her Manassah, meaning, "The Lord has made me forget my suffering." (Blog post on her name here.) And I knew it all in just mere minutes of knowing I was with child.

And then, I had to figure out how to tell Hunter about all that had happened. He didn't even know that I had prayed for a baby or that I was wanting to be a mommy or that I already decided the baby's name and gender, for that matter! And, in a funny turn of events, he called me on his way home and cancelled our dinner plans (where I had planned to tell him all about it) and told me to meet him at his sister's house. We visited with her family long enough to not be alone until midnight. By that time, I was such a ball of emotions, that when we got home, I sat on the edge of our bed and blurted out the news. Tears exploded out of my eyeballs.




After the shock coursed through his body, and across his face, he came and bowed a knee. And he prayed for our family. And he thanked God for the baby, too.

And now, after a 41 week and 4 day pregnancy, and after the birth of a healthy little girl, we are trying to live there: in a place with our knees bowed.

***Photo Credit: Greyside Photography by Greyson Johnston***


7.22.2014

Introducing Baby Darla


Two weeks ago, on 7-7-14 our sweet little girl FINALLY entered the world, 11 days late and full of light. She has been such a source of hope and joy in our lives. After a long labor and a day bathed in happiness at her safe arrival, we named her the next morning.

It took us a long time, a lot of list making, a lot of praying and some quality time with her to finally name this sweet bundle. We wanted her name to mean something and we wanted it to fit her.

DARLA MANASSAH

Darla means "Darling One"
Manassah means "The Lord has made me forget my suffering"

The day I found out I was pregnant, the Lord gave me the name Manassah. Manasseh (Biblical Spelling) was the name of Joseph's first son, born after a lifetime of affliction. When he entered the world, the Lord had brought Joseph into a life of abundance and redemption and the blessing poured out on his life had made him forget all the hardship. How great of a God do we have that He can redeem us that much? I changed the spelling a hair, to make it more feminine :)

Darla came to us during a time in our life where there seemed to be little hope. Things had gotten hard and we had entered into a long stream of events that caused a lot of pain. When I found out she was to come to us, I wept tears of hope. She is our beacon.

We had several first names picked out that we really liked, but when we saw her face, none of them suited her. I had written down the name Darla months before she was born, just as an option, but Hunter never really liked it. It was thrown out almost immediately. The morning after she was born, I watched him bounce her around the living room, the sunlight flooding in. I had already read through the list of our favorites and we discarded them all. Hunter asked me to read some of the "outliers". I read off the name Darla and he said, "That's it! That's her name."

Then he looked down at her and said, "Hey Darla."

Welcome her with us!




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