Thursday, September 29, 2016

Matthew Ajax: Our Gift from God

Normally it takes me a few days--or weeks--to write the birth stories of my children, but my heart is so full of joy and gratitude that this one cannot wait.

We have always wanted to have six children in our family--that was something we dreamed and planned about as an engaged couple talking about our family and our future. After Nathan's birth and the ensuing physical and emotional damage, it seemed for years that five children would be it for us. We gave away all of our baby things and moved on with plans for a family of five children under the assumption that my physical and mental health would not support the last child that we had dreamed and planned for so long. This was a period of intense mourning in so many ways, and I cried as each article of clothing or piece of baby furniture left our home.

What has become so clear to me over the past months and has been driven home with lightning-bolt force over the last 24 hours is that Matthew, our sixth child, is a very literal gift from God, sent to bring us joy that we could never have anticipated during the very dark years following Nathan's birth. I have been overwhelmed again and again by very clear impressions of God's love and tender care for our family. Last night as I was holding Matthew and praying I was literally in tears as I felt like the Savior was sitting there next to me in the dark of my hospital room, telling me that Matthew is the answer to so many prayers and so much wondering about whether we are doing the right thing with our lives, and a very clear confirmation that my choice to be a mother is the thing that God wants for me more than anything, and that this baby is a literal manifestation of God's love for us and His perfect plan for our happiness. I have felt so full of light and joy the past two days--all of my worries about adding a newborn at a very stressful stage in Neil's doctoral program and the potential for another bout with postpartum depression have literally been lifted from my mind and all that is left is peace, joy, and hope and an absolutely overwhelming knowledge of God's love that washes away all of the deepest doubts and worries I have been privately battling for several years--about our life choices, about our time in graduate school, and about my faith and relationship with God. I cannot even describe the enormous weight that has been lifted from my mind and my heart--I literally feel like I have been reborn with so much faith, courage, hope, and surety.

Matthew's name is derived directly from this knowledge--its Hebrew translation means "gift from God." As we were pondering what we should name him, none of the names we tried seemed to fit, but we kept coming back to Matthew as we listened to this John Denver song about a cherished son growing up in love and joy. Finally--after a lot of prayer and discussion--we reached out to some dear loved ones who had named their beloved son Matthew before his death in infancy. We shared with them that we felt that this name was one which would fit our son, but that we were hesitant to use it in memory of their son. They were so incredibly gracious and encouraged us to go ahead.

His middle name, Ajax, is derived from our love of skiing as our very favorite pastime as a couple and a family and our incredible time in Aspen skiing Ajax Mountain, which we have talked over and over and over about making a yearly family tradition as soon as we are able to do so.

My pregnancy with Matthew was so different from my past pregnancies. It has been--by far--the easiest of all of my pregnancies. I have been blessed with strength and resilience that does not match either my age, my medical history, or the reserves that one would expect from a woman going through pregnancy for the sixth time and who had been on periodic bedrest for my last 3 pregnancies. I was able to recover from a stress fracture just prior to his conception and continued running throughout the entire pregnancy--the first day I took off because I didn't feel up to working out was the day before his birth. The five miles I walked while I was in labor with him brought my total mileage to 931 miles for the pregnancy, including two half-marathons at 15 and 20 weeks. I kept my mileage at 30 miles per week right up to the very end--for comparison, with Luke and Nathan I was only running 12 mpw from about 14 weeks onwards!

My labor with Matthew is the first one where I felt fully in control, calm, and empowered throughout the entire process. There was never a time where I felt unsure or unable to process what was happening in that moment. This was an enormous blessing, especially after the trauma of Nathan's delivery, where things escalated very quickly to the point where I was literally voiceless due to a sudden blood pressure drop.

We chose to schedule an induction on my due date after a week of constant and unproductive contractions. (I have never gone into labor on my own, and after quite a bit of reading during the last week I think I may fall into the category of women who have prodromal labors, where an induction or C-section is the typical result after weeks of nonprogressive labor with consistent contractions.) Unlike my previous inductions where I really stressed and worried about whether we should continue to wait, I felt very assured and confident about the decision to go ahead with a scheduled induction.

In the past, I have tried lots of different methods of pain relief--epidurals, morphine, Lamaze, the Bradley method, hypnobirthing--and every single delivery has been marked by a lengthy and protracted labor, extreme pain, crying, and a feeling afterwards that if only I'd been more courageous, or more determined, I would have been better able to deal with the pain. I've felt ashamed of my physical and mental weakness, which really peaked during Nathan's birth when both the midwife and the nurse were very demeaning and ended with several months of treatment sessions with a birth trauma specialist.  

This time, I decided that I was going to get an epidural as soon as I started feeling uncomfortable. I wanted to be an active, calm, and reasoned participant in my final childbirth. My beloved OB, who delivered both Isaac and Luke, broke my water just before 8 am. Neil and I walked 4 miles up and down the halls (I wore my running shoes and my Garmin so that I would be able to time things effectively and wouldn't have the sore feet/ankles that have resulted from too much barefoot walking with other births!) and then spent about twenty minutes in the delivery room so that the nurse could get a better record of Matthew's heartbeat, since the wireless monitors were not working well. When we began walking again, my contractions increased dramatically in intensity. From my previous labors, I knew that the early stages of labor would go quite slowly and then very quickly once I passed 4 cm, so if I wanted to get an epidural, it needed to be very early on before most conventional wisdom would suggest its use. For a few minutes, I wondered whether I was making a mistake and would slow my labor down too much, but then I felt very clearly that I should trust my understanding of my body and my recollection of previous labors. During Nathan's labor there was a lot of conflict with the midwife, who did not believe my assessment of my labor's progression, and so it was so calming to me to feel much more in charge of this one, thanks to a wonderfully supportive OB who told me that I was in the lead and that she was working on my timeline and what I felt I needed at the time when I felt I needed it.

So--I asked for an epidural based on how I was feeling and my predicted estimation of how I would be feeling in an hour when the epidural was complete, and my OB approved the order without ever checking my dilation. This was the first epidural I had received early enough in labor to not be shaking and contracting miserably while it was installed, and it made all the difference in the world to be able to breathe quietly through contractions that were 3 minutes apart rather than shaking violently through contractions every 60 seconds! I was so grateful to feel like myself in terms of being able to remember the name of each of the medical staff who came in the room, talk clearly with them about my care, and thank them for their efforts--one of the things that has distressed me most about previous labors is feeling like I lose the ability to be patient, courteous, and grateful for what the medical staff are doing. In my daily life, I really value being able to talk with people, use their names, and thank them for their help, and it was SO important to me to preserve that during this labor.

Once the epidural was in just after 12:30 I was able to rest quietly for about twenty minutes before my doctor came in, checked dilation, and told me I was at a 4, which was exactly where I was hoping to be. Based on previous labors, I knew that getting to a 4 was the hardest and lengthiest part for me, and that getting the epidural before 4 cm was integral to managing the pain before things accelerated to the point where any pain relief efforts would never catch up before delivery. We agreed to start a Pitocin drip to regularize my contractions, which had slowed after all of the fluid administered just prior to the epidural. This was something that I had expected and anticipated, so it wasn't at all distressing. I asked the anesthesiologist to adjust the epidural dosage, as I began feeling quite a bit of pain again with the Pitocin, and he brought things to a point where I could feel each contraction, breathe quietly through it, and still feel like I was aware of and controlling the process without being overwhelmed by pain. When I began to feel shaky and cold after another hour, with increasing pain from the contractions, I knew that delivery was close. My nurse agreed, reminded me that all of the running I had done had resulted in a very strong pelvic floor that would minimize the pushing stage, and told me that I would be meeting my baby in a matter of moments. She called in my doctor, who came in quickly and within minutes everything was set up for Matthew's birth. The doctor told me that they were ready whenever I was ready, and that we were working on my timeline. I waited just a moment longer for a clearly-defined contraction before I began pushing, and Matthew was born before the contraction finished. Everything was peaceful, calm, and I felt totally in control of the process and utterly in harmony with my body and the messages it was giving me. I was so grateful for the quiet joy that was a constant presence throughout the labor and delivery in such marked contrast to all of my other deliveries.

And then they handed me my beautiful son and I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude and peace. I know I'm saying this over and over, but it was the most calm birth environment I could possibly have imagined or hoped for. Everyone was quiet, unhurried, and completely supportive of proceeding at my pace on my timeline. I held Matthew while Neil cut the cord--something which he's never done for any of the other babies, but I asked him to do it for this last one and he obliged.

After Matthew was born, there were some complications with the placenta, and it ended up taking about 45 minutes to complete the last stages of delivery. Even with this, I was still calm and trusting that everything would be fine--I somehow managed to carry on a conversation with the medical team for the next 45 minutes even while they were forcibly extracting the placenta (I was SO GLAD I had an epidural at that point). While I knew all of the things that could go wrong and all of the complications that could result, I was so at peace and able to just relax and trust that everything would be fine. If you know me at all, this is not characteristic of my personality! 

After the delivery concluded, we spent the next few hours very quietly in our room with Matthew--he weighed in at 8 lbs, 3 oz, measured 21.5 inches long, and was born at 3:37 PM on September 27.

It has been a beautiful, calm, wonderful recovery with him ever since. He is bright-eyed, alert, and such a happy and beautiful baby. We are so grateful for the light and joy that he has brought with him from heaven to our family. 


Meghan said...

I love this. I'm so grateful that you had such a beautiful experience and for the peace that comes from God.

Michelle and Andy said...

Beautiful! I teared up just reading it. Congratulations, I'm so happy for you! What a beautiful family you have!

Ron and Maggie said...

You should be a guest blogger on birth without fear. This was incredible!

Maria Fransson said...

Beautifully written! So glad for you and your joy. Lovely pictures! /Maria

Malinda Crow said...

what a beautiful story! I'm so glad you finally got the birth you wanted. You really are an inspiration to me.

Lindsey said...

Thank you for sharing, Rachael. Congratulations!

Tia said...

Congratulations! What a beautiful story, and it gave me goosebumps hearing how you finally got your peaceful birth!

Sarah and Daniel said...

Rachael, this made me tear up in a happy way. I am So happy for you and Neil!!! Thank you so much for sharing this, and for sharing your faith. You are an amazing lady and I love you!

Laura said...

I teared up, too! I am just bursting with joy for you. I am so, so glad you had such restorative birth. Welcome to precious Matthew and warmest congratulations to your whole family!

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