Don’t Try to Anticipate

Have you been searching through pregnancy blogs for lists of “lifesaver products”? You’ve been reading up on the “must-haves” for newborns too? And don’t even get started on the lists of things to pack in your hospital bag.

Poll your mom friends on Facebook and they’ll each have a different product they absolutely couldn’t have done pregnancy without.

It’s only if they’re moms of many that you’ll start to be able to understand the truth – there’s no way you’ll be able to anticipate which product is going to be your life saver for this particular pregnancy/delivery/baby.

I couldn’t have done it without my lace-up tennies in my pregnancies with Tirzah Mae and Louis. My feet swelled so terribly and got so painful, I needed the extra support. I only wore tennis shoes while hiking during my pregnancy with Beth-Ellen (and I did a decent amount since we traveled to Yellowstone and to the Rockies with Daniel’s family and mine during our second trimester.) This pregnancy? I don’t think I’ve worn tennis shoes even once.

I developed carpal tunnel during my pregnancy with Louis and needed braces. Wearing them each night (and sometimes during the day) made the days bearable. Almost as soon as the pregnancy test was positive with the baby we lost, I needed braces again – and the pain went away as soon as we miscarried. I had no need for braces with Beth-Ellen, and haven’t needed them in this pregnancy either.

I got a ginormous pillow in my third trimester with Beth-Ellen, when my belly made sleep difficult. This time around, I pulled it out in the first trimester, because my hips were doing something weird and I just couldn’t get comfortable. I slept fine all the way through with both Tirzah Mae and Louis.

Support hose were lifesavers for pregnancies 1 through 3. This time around, despite a bit of swelling in my legs, the support hose don’t seem super necessary – but I’ve taken to wearing compression shorts religiously, even to bed.

My hymnal was a sanity-saver for hospitalization #1. I sang it through cover to cover during my eight days of bedrest and the subsequent 26 days with Tirzah Mae in the NICU. Remembering, I brought it along when I was hospitalized with Louis – and barely opened it. On bedrest with Louis and as I prepped for my second unplanned c-section, it was the robes I’d brought from home that kept me grounded. I’m not sure I used anything I’d packed in my hospital bag for Beth-Ellen – not the clothing or the essential oils or the tennis ball thingamajigger or the popsicles.

Newborn Tirzah Mae lived in mama’s Moby wrap. Newborn Louis actually (sometimes) slept in the bassinet insert for our Pack’n’Play. Newborn Beth-Ellen used a swaddle. The elastic binder they gave me after Louis made such a difference in my ability to walk post c-section. It didn’t help the terrible abdominal pain I had after Beth-Ellen. I could not for the life of me understand the mesh panties and peri bottle after the first two – but I totally got it after Beth-Ellen. I spent obscene amounts of time hooked to a hospital grade breast pump with Tirzah Mae and Louis – and never pumped once with Beth-Ellen. It took five years of nearly continuous breastfeeding for me to first need lanolin. I’ve never, despite a super-abundant supply, needed breast pads to deal with leaks. Pantyliners on the other hand? Definitely a sanity saver.

Which is why it’s no good trying to anticipate what you’ll need for your pregnancy, your delivery, or your new baby. You are different with each pregnancy, your delivery is different, your baby is different.

Anticipate that you won’t have everything you want, that you’ll experience surprises, that you’ll have to adapt on the fly. Anticipate that you’ll spend some money figuring out what the fix is for that unexpected problem. Anticipate that you’ll be searching Amazon or sending your husband to the store to find some elusive product you never would have imagined needing.

Most of all, anticipate that God’s grace will meet you when you find yourself back in the hospital after you thought you were all clear – or when your daughter jumps into your lap and now you can’t move without excruciating pain “down there” – or when all your dreams seem dashed – or when you simply don’t know how to soothe that fussy baby. You can’t anticipate what the problem will be or what product will be your “life-saver”, but you can trust that God will be there amidst the unexpected – and that he will carry you through.

Why We Waited

I’ve never been one to delay telling the world I’m pregnant.

A baby’s a baby no matter how small – and I’m no good at secrets after all.

But after we miscarried in April, life has been hard. We didn’t get pregnant for several cycles (okay, just three – but we’d always gotten pregnant on first try before). We’ve had uncertainties with our foster daughter. We’ve traveled a lot, which kept me off-kilter. And I’ve been depressed – debilitatingly so.

I spent the summer worried we wouldn’t be able to get pregnant again. Worried that Beth-Ellen would be our last biologically. Worried that we’d also lose our foster daughter and that it would tear me apart.

We found out we were pregnant the day Daniel left town to pick up our beef. I started bleeding the next day.

The bleeding stopped, but my worry didn’t. My basal body temperature has never been consistent (probably because I never sleep for 3-4 hours at a stretch), but it bounced up and down instead of staying high like it should for a pregnant woman. I stopped measuring it after a month. It wasn’t serving me – but the worry remained.

My depression deepened. I was grieving I wasn’t sure what. Grieving the baby, certainly. Grieving the closely-spaced family I’d dreamed of. Grieving the difficulties our foster daughter has faced and still may. Grieving saying goodbye to two foster children already. Grieving the things I used to be able to do but couldn’t now.

How could I share the joy of a new baby in the womb when joy wasn’t even half the emotion I was feeling? When I thought of saying something, I contemplated what I might say: “We’re pregnant again and I’m just hoping the baby’s alive. No, I haven’t had any morning sickness, really, I just can’t function after 11 in the morning because I’m too exhausted and everything is overwhelming and all I want to do is cry and scream and cry some more.”

When they offered me an appointment on Daniel’s birthday, I thought “Great. Daniel can get the news that this baby is dead on his birthday.” But I didn’t ask for a different day. I know that only means waiting longer, and I’d much rather know than keep worrying.

I’ve never had an early ultrasound before. I know exactly when I ovulate – no need for an ultrasound to check dates. But this time, I didn’t have any of my normal questions prepared. I had one main question: is our baby alive?

After I knew that, I had decided, I would tell the world. Then they could rejoice with me or grieve with me with some level of surety as to which I ought to be experiencing.

The baby is alive. Moving around enough my OB couldn’t really show us what was what in real time.

A weight off my heart.

But not the whole weight. No, this weight is much heavier than one baby or even two.

And that is why I, so unused to delay, waited so long (okay, nine weeks gestation) to tell you all that we were pregnant.

It was complicated. It still is.

Please pray.

According to Plan

I would have been pleased if we’d gotten pregnant soon after we were married. I’ve wanted a big family for as long as I can remember and was already feeling the time ticking.

But we’d decided that we would use my salary to pay off both our student loans so I could stay home with the kids without that extra financial stressor. We had a plan and I would stick to it.

We got pregnant on the first try, just according to plan.

I would have been thrilled if we’d have gotten pregnant soon after Tirzah Mae arrived. I love how close (in age and in relationship) I am to my siblings. And if I was going to have a large family, well, my time was ticking.

But we’d decided that we wanted to increase the chances that we could have a vaginal birth after c-section, so we were going to try to time the next baby’s due date 18 months plus 2 months fom Tirzah Mae’s birthday – to make sure we got 18 months between deliveries even if the next baby came as early as she did. We had a plan and I would stick to it.

We got pregnant on the first try, just according to plan.

Ditto our post-Tirzah Mae planning only this time post-Louis. I wanted that VBA2C and I’d wait to get pregnant to help it happen. We had a plan and I would stick to it (well, we almost did.)

And then after Beth-Ellen was born and my recovery was rough and the prolapse was horrible and we started fostering. I decided that two years would be better this time. I needed to recover, needed to get the prolapse under control. I had a plan and I would stick to it.

Just as planned, we got pregnant with a due date just a week before Beth-Ellen’s had been, three weeks before Beth-Ellen’s second birthday.

And then we miscarried.

And we haven’t gotten pregnant again.

And my plan of a big family closely spaced feels like it’s becoming less and less probable as I move closer and closer to that terrible 35 and its “geriatric pregnancy” or “elderly multigravida”. That’s where I’m at now – any baby conceived after this would be due after my 35th birthday.

This isn’t my plan and I’m floundering.

It’s so hard. So, so hard.

I want to trust God. I know that he’s sovereign. I know that he’s faithful. He’s proven himself to be so over and over and over again.

But all I can think of is the plan, my plan – and each ticking day. Bleeding and ovulating and bleeding again. No baby. What is God’s plan in this all?

I may never know.

But, Lord, give me grace to stick to it.

A Dark Day

Yesterday afternoon, my doctor gave me the news I’d been dreading.

I am miscarrying.

Our baby is dead.

I expected that. I started spotting on Tuesday and the bleeding and cramping has intensified over the last couple of days. The ultrasound and first blood test were inconclusive. We needed a second blood test for a trend. But my doctor and I both suspected what we would find.

Our baby is dead.

I grieve the loss of our fourth child. I grieve my children’s loss of a sibling. I grieve for baby hands I will never hold, for baby smiles I will never see.

But I do not grieve as those who have no hope.

I need not question whether or not God is for me.

His Son died.

That is answer enough. He is for me.

His Son rose.

That is answer enough. I have hope.

Please pray for us as we grieve.

Rupture happens

Select at random from the massive group of women who’ve had c-sections in the past twenty years, and ask them about rupture.

Chances are they’ll tell you that uterine rupture is common and life-threatening for those who choose to VBAC (have a vaginal delivery after a c-section.)

They’ve gotten this impression from doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies who, after a ACOG (American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) position paper in 1998 decided that VBAC was too risky to support.

On the other hand, talk to a bona fide crunchy-granola homebirth mama and you might get the impression that uterine rupture doesn’t actually happen – at least, not with any frequency.

Neither are quite true.

Rupture happens.

Some degree of separation along a former uterine scar occurs in up to 3% of VBAC attempts. In less than 1% of VBAC attempts, a complete separation of the scar occurs, requiring an emergency c-section to avoid life-threatening complications (in other words, a TRUE emergency c-section, as opposed to the much more common “failure-to-wait” section.) In the remaining 1-2% of VBAC attempts that result in rupture, the separation is small and/or partial and requires no treatment other than monitoring hemoglobin levels. (Data from

Generally, these incomplete ruptures are caught by manual examination after a VBAC. The attending physician sticks his hand inside the newly delivered mother’s uterus and palpates the incision scar to see if there are any holes or weak spots. Yes, it really is as awful as it sounds (It was more painful for me than the previous 42 hours of unmedicated childbirth.)

My rupture wasn’t identified in that manual sweep. It was discovered by ultrasound a week later when I went back to the hospital with intense abdominal pain. That we know of, the pain wasn’t caused by the rupture – the pain resolved on its own before I left the ER.

My hemoglobin had dropped, but it had stabilized at the next check, a couple of days later at my doctor’s office.

I never required any treatment for it.

It won’t prevent me from getting pregnant again or having another VBAC, although it does mean that I would be wise to give my uterus plenty of time to heal before I subject it to more contractions (in other words, I should try to avoid labor until Beth-Ellen is at least 18 months old.)

Moral of the story?

Rupture happens. It can be life-threatening, but it isn’t necessarily so. Those considering a VBAC (or who have been talked out of a VBAC) deserve to hear the whole story – instead of only hearing worst-case scenarios or empty reassurances.

What did you do?

If I’ve been asked once, I’ve been asked a dozen times.

“What did you do differently this time around?”

What they’re really asking is, “Why didn’t you get preeclampsia this time?”

The answer to the question as asked is that I didn’t do anything I “should” have. I ate what sounded good (precious little) instead of eating careful balanced meals like I did with the other two. I barely exercised instead of exercising diligently like I did with the other two. I didn’t plan for or expect a normal birth. If preeclampsia were a matter of human control, I would have been more likely to have gotten it with Beth-Ellen than with the other two.

(Incidentally, the one preventative action with any good evidence behind it is taking a baby aspirin during pregnancy – and I did that with both Louis and Beth-Ellen, with vastly different outcomes.)

The answer to the real question is simple.

God willed it.

It was God’s grace that gave me preeclampsia with Tirzah Mae and Louis – and God’s grace that gave me a normal pregnancy with Beth-Ellen.

What did I do?


God did everything, in His inscrutable wisdom.

The Very Best Part (Beth-Ellen’s birth story, part 9)

A rush of water and blood, spilling onto the floor, soaking my socks. Did he really break my waters while I was leaning over the side of the bed? That’s how I remember it. The blood, the water, and absolutely overwhelming intensity.

There would be no laboring down, no rest for me.

Are you feeling lost? Maybe you’d like to read part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, and part 8 of Beth-Ellen’s birth story

Two, maybe three contractions and I was pushing.

The room buzzed full of people, not that I was paying any attention.

Someone was frantic. “She’s pushing. Somebody get Dr. Jensen in here.”

Another person remarked that my OB slept in his office (or something like that) when he had a woman in labor – so he should be able to get here soon. Even so, they were convinced that delivery was imminent.

And it was.

I don’t know how long I pushed, but it wasn’t terribly long.

I pooped. I know because I did not at all like the dry washcloth they used to wipe it away.

Baby was crowning and someone encouraged me to feel the head. I reached down and found that it was not at all what I expected – it felt like the rough edge of an almond. In the rare moments between contractions, I contemplated that what I had felt must have been the edge of her head’s plates.

A giant push. Her head was out.

And then she was out.

A girl. Beth-Ellen Irene, I announced.

Someone helped me into bed so I could place Beth-Ellen on my chest. They covered us with a blanket – necessary since I’d shed all my clothing somewhere along the line. All my clothing except those now-bloody socks. Someone took them off now, asked if I wanted to keep them or just toss them. My brain wasn’t working just then, so I delayed the decision. Keep them. (Once we were home from the hospital, I threw them away, still sealed in the biohazard bag they’d been placed in.)

Beth-Ellen lay between my breasts. I was just so delighted to have her. To have her vaginally. To have her naturally. To have defied the odds.

I was also exhausted and unprepared for the “clean up.”

People talk of how the hormones flood a woman’s system, making her barely notice the third stage. And maybe they’re right. I have no memory of expelling the placenta. I barely took note when Doctor Jensen said the cord was no longer needed (In retrospect, why? Was it because it had stopped pulsating? Was it because the placenta had been delivered by then?) Someone asked Daniel if he wanted to cut the cord. He’d always been ambivalent when we’d discussed it, so I was a little surprised when he assented and did it.

But even if hormones blunted my experience of the third stage, they did little to save me from what was to come.

Beth-Ellen on my chest meant I needed to stay on the bed, couldn’t jump out of it at the extreme discomfort that was a manual inspection of my uterine scars. It was necessary to check that I hadn’t ruptured. It’s better to find out about that sort of thing sooner rather than later. But boy, that was not fun.

And then came the stitches. I had lidocaine for them, but that doesn’t mean it was pleasant. I only had superficial tears, but there were several, so the stitching took a long time.

I handed Beth-Ellen over to be bathed and weighed. I put on a clean hospital gown. The nurse returned Beth-Ellen to me and we went to our postpartum room together.

And here’s the very best part – we’ve been together ever since.

Keeping Things Moving (Beth-Ellen’s birth story, part 8)

How long did we labor like that? I don’t know. I lived from contraction to contraction. Mary offered sips of water in between, reminded me to switch positions every half hour or so.

Whatever position we tried, I ended up the same. On all fours on the bed, facing the foot of the bed. On my knees on the bed with my upper body draped over the elevated head of the bed. Standing or kneeling on the floor with my upper body over the side of the bed. Always with my legs and back at right angles to one another. Always with Daniel providing counterpressure. Liv tried the double hip squeeze at some point in there and found it effective, so Daniel switched to that.

Are you feeling lost? Maybe you’d like to read part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, and part 7 of Beth-Ellen’s birth story

On and on. Contraction after contraction. I started to feel desperate, but all I could articulate beyond my moos was “Oh, God, help me.” Mary picked up where I left off, praying a prayer I don’t remember now but that was exactly the trust-filled prayer I wanted to say if I could have spoken.

It must have been about then that someone wondered if I wouldn’t like to be checked. I acquiesced. I’d been wondering, but was afraid to ask lest I discover I wasn’t progressing and end up deeply discouraged. But now that someone else had suggested it, I gave myself permission to want to know.

9 centimeters. 90% effaced. With a bulging bag of waters.

Relief. I had been making progress. I would be able to deliver this baby. I started dreaming of “laboring down”, of the plateau some women experience when they’re fully dilated and before they feel like pushing. Some describe it as restful after the work of transition.

But even as my mind was dreaming of a break, my labor companions were urging action.

Could I squat during some contractions? Even push if I had any desire whatsoever to do so? Once the waters broke, surely the process would go quickly.

I squatted through one excruciating contraction and wouldn’t do it again.

They started talking artificial rupture of membranes. “I know you didn’t want this,” Mary said, “but I think you should consider it. I’m worried that you might wear out with these contractions. AROM could speed things along.”

Our team left the room so Daniel and I could talk about it. We did so in the bathroom, where I tried to pee. But I thought maybe I was starting to feel pushy and it terrified me. I pulled the call light and the staff rushed back in.

I resisted the mild urge to push (likely to the chagrin of my birth team!) Liv and the resident asked if I had come to a conclusion about AROM. We hadn’t, but I was worried about starting a timer, about ending up with another operative delivery. The resident felt that I was far enough along and the “timer” long enough that my risk wouldn’t be increased. He described the risks and benefits of delivering en caul, with the amniotic sac still intact.

We consented to AROM.

Careful to follow my birth plan, which had detailed that I did NOT give blanket consent for any procedure and that I expected to give individual assent for any and all procedures, Liv asked me to affirm that I was indeed consenting to AROM. The resident did the same, asking for consent and then, right before performing the rupture confirming: “So I’m going to rupture your membranes right now. Is that what you want?”

I agreed.

I’m not waiting until New Year’s! (Beth-Ellen’s birth story, part 7)

The receptionist in the Emergency Department took one look at me, recognizing me from the previous night and called for OB admittance before she took my information.

Back behind the doors, an emergency room nurse exclaimed that she thought I was going to have this baby on the way upstairs. Another nurse told her that’s what she’d thought LAST NIGHT. I interjected: “This time it’s for real. Babies in my family are born on significant days – and I’m not waiting until the new year!”

Are you feeling lost? Maybe you’d like to read part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, and part 6 of Beth-Ellen’s birth story

Like the night before, I elected to walk to labor and delivery. Unlike the night before, this time we had to stop for contractions. I leaned over the rail in the elevator, Daniel providing counterpressure with his fists while I mooed my way through a contraction. The nurse held the door for the contraction to end. This time was definitely different.

The triage nurse was quick and efficient. Get the important information. Pause while I contract, this time on hands and knees on the exam table. Somehow, between contractions, she got me checked (5 cm dilated, 70% effaced), got a hep lock in, and monitored baby.

The resident arrived, read my birth plan, said he was on board with it. He clarified that I didn’t want routine pitocin after birth. Would I be okay if they hung a bag in my room in case there was an emergency, only using it if I did start to hemorrhage? I affirmed that, yes, that would be okay.

My nurse introduced herself, reminded me that she’d taken care of me when I was hospitalized with Louis. Of course, I remembered Liv – and I was thrilled that she would be my nurse. She, too, clarified about the pitocin.

The anesthesiologist came in to do his education. He informed me that since I’d already had two c-sections, I was going to end up with another one. He’d do a spinal, just like with the other sections. I was so glad when the next contraction hit and I could moo right over the sound of his voice, so confidently informing me that everything I’d worked for would be for naught.

He told me that, from here on out, I was not to eat or drink anything. My contraction over, I informed that I was going to drink what I wanted to. I muttered out the phrase I’d been practicing: “Feel free to document noncompliance.” The anesthesiologist grimaced as he admitted that, yes, my doctor let his laboring women have Gatorade. It was obvious that the anesthesiologist did not agree with this course of action.

The anesthesiologist left and Mary, Liv, and the resident all rushed to reassure me. “Pay no attention to him,” they said. “He does this to everyone. You’re going to rock this labor and have this baby normally.”

And then we labored, much like we’d been laboring at home – except with Mary holding my hands and reminding me to keep my vocalizations low and Liv unobtrusively monitoring baby with a Doppler.

We tried using the rebozo around my hips. I waved it away and gestured that I needed the counterpressure again. We tried Mary’s massage tool. Nope, that wouldn’t do. Mary tried to give Daniel a break, but she was a hundred pounds too light to provide the pressure I needed. Daniel would only get a break when I did.