“God does not change, but He uses change – to change us. He sends us on journeys that bring us to the end of ourselves. We often feel out of control, yet if we embrace His leading, we may find ourselves on the ride of our lives.” – Jen Hatmaker
Just over six weeks ago, our family grew again with the birth of Caroline Elizabeth, so I am writing here in hopes of capturing the experience before time blurs the details. I am exhausted in every sense of the word, but I am also so deeply grateful for the sleepless nights and strong cries. They bring me to tears in all the right ways…a gift I could never have understood without my experience with Eliza and all its complications.
As I’ve said before, I was nervous going into Caroline’s birth and so hopeful it would happen on its own. When my water broke at 3am five days before her due date, I was thrilled. I felt like it was a sign it was all going to unfold without the medical interventions we had required before. And in the beginning, it did. But hours into the labor, two nurses came to tell me to move onto my side since the baby’s heart rate was dipping. Within minutes, another nurse arrived, along with the on-call OB from the hospital. I wanted so badly to remain calm, to trust that it was all going to be fine. Instead, I found myself unable to stop the tears from pooling into my oxygen mask. For the next several hours, it seemed as though my room was never empty of hospital staff.
Despite efforts to stop the contractions and give the baby a rest, I wasn’t responding as well as the doctors had hoped. I was given an early epidural and counseled on keeping an open mind to the safest options for me and baby. Suddenly, I was facing the very real possibility of surgery. And once again, I felt so desperately out of control, unable to protect this precious new life. This was the opposite of how I imagined this labor to go. Soon after, in a game-time decision between stopping my labor again or trying to deliver before her heart rate got too low, I was pushing. It was without my doctor, without my mom, and without any guarantee that it would all be okay. And then there she was. On my chest. Crying.
I still couldn’t trust it. I asked about her tone. I asked about her color. I asked about the strength of her cry. I wanted a guarantee I knew you can never really get. And then slowly, I let myself breathe again. And I let myself look at her…and look at Derrick. I felt the wave of relief wash over me until I was shaking in its wake, overwhelmed with gratitude and wonder.
The rest of our stay was like a dream (a good one this time). There were moments of pure joy, watching Derrick hold her for the first time or marveling at how quickly and eagerly she began to nurse. There were precious reunions with so many of the women who instrumentally carried us through our time in the NICU…the feeding specialist, the lactation consultant, the NICU nurses, the concierge, and even my labor and delivery recovery nurse. And of course, there was the chocolate cake I ate every day for more than five weeks that tasted exactly as good as I remembered.
But there was also the hallway…the one I stood in when Derrick and the nurse practitioner walked towards me without my baby Eliza. It was the strangest thing…making a coffee in the same exact machine I came to know so well and realizing where I stood. Remembering what happened there and feeling it so completely more than two years later. Every detail is still so painfully clear. Every. Single. One.
On our way out, the amazing nurse we had for both of our recovery days led us through the double doors and into the wing that was our home at the hospital. Our old room was occupied by a recovering family, and I was able to briefly glimpse inside as the new grandparents headed in. The entire wing that was so recently the back-up had been transformed into a spa-like retreat for parents fresh out of labor. But the fresh paint and marble countertops could not gloss over the vividness of my memories or the tears I shed there daily. It was a place of coming apart and coming together, and I will never forget it exactly as it was. My life changed there. I changed there.
And there I was in the same spot my world was rocked, standing on the precipice of yet another life-changing event. Our little unit had grown again, and we were embarking on a new journey as a family of five. We’re not far into it yet, but so far, it’s as crazy and exhausting and awe-inspiring as the last two. But the journey thus far is different because we are different. We are better at rolling with the punches, better at calling out all the good, and (I hope) wiser parents and kinder partners through the rollercoaster of this newborn stage. Eliza was the catalyst of that transformation, and I am so thankful for it. Because among all the lessons we’ve learned along the way, we know that this rollercoaster is just a part of what is without a doubt the ride of our lives.