Sunday, May 25, 2014

How Agape Saved Our Lives or: Daniel's birth story

What are the chances that within less than 2 weeks, both Lobster Mamas would birth to their second babies? Pretty wild if you ask me. My lil man Daniel had a rather dramatic entry into the world that has left me in awe and wonder and more than a little bit compelled to share our story. Of course, the fact that any new life comes into the world is its own miracle, and so I am similarly anxious that Emily will share more with us about the coming of her own little one! For now, here's my story. Long time lobsters will know that I have a way of being quite wordy, so I'm posting two versions here, a short one for those who just want the quick facts, and a long one, for those curious about my own reflections and experience or just filling extra minutes. 

How Agape Saved our lives
Daniel Isaiah: Born April 27, 2014
~Zoë Faith Reyes

The Long and Short of it:

The Short Version:

        Daniel Isaiah was born out of rest, with the help of a loving and supportive community, and by the grace of God. On our Sabbath, while on a spiritual retreat weekend, Zoe woke up in pain in the 4 o'clock hour. In the 5 o'clock hour friends scrambled to get her to the hospital, she arrived at 6:50am. Daniel's heart rate was low. Manny arrived from home just as they wheeled Zoe out to the O.R. for an emergency C-section. Daniel was born at 7:35am, rescued from a placental abruption into health, wellness, and a groggy Mommy. Our second miracle baby [Sofia was also an emergency c-section due to placental abruption] makes our symmetrical family complete. We are all in love with our little Daniel. Praise be to God!

The Long Version:

            My son, Daniel’s, birth story really begins several years back, with my daughter, Sofia’s birth story. While my whole pregnancy with Sofia was filled with near certainty that at some point something would go horribly wrong, I simply never considered that needing a c-section would be one of those “somethings.” While I paid close attention to information about Pitocin or epidurals in our birth class, I just entirely tuned out when they talked about the reasons one might need a c-section or what that experience might be like. But sure enough, 2 days after Sofia’s due date, as we were trying to come up with the best plan for induction should it unfortunately be necessary, my doctor saw cloudy amniotic fluid and Sofia’s dropping heart rate with the contractions I didn’t realize I was having. We were sent directly to the hospital for monitoring. While my baby girl kicked labor into gear just when I needed her to, avoiding the need for induction, Sofia’s distress also escalated, leading to a very traumatic quasi-emergency c-section to get her out before a placentia abruptia robbed her of all life support. I didn’t get much information on her status or whereabouts for 2 hours after delivery, and started experiencing severely painful and emotionally weighty reactions to the epidural. Living the trauma of that pain and unknown was the worst 2 hours of my life. Once I finally held her in my arms and nursed her, I was in heaven from there on out, and that love and joy outweighed the incredible pain I continued to experience for the next week. Again, my baby girl came to my rescue right when I needed her. Nonetheless, the physical and emotional recovery from Sofia’s birth was still significant and slow.
            Coming home from the hospital with her filled me with such joy and infatuation, that I told Manny I was wanted to throw out our plan for two children and have approximately 8 million – traumatic birth and all. I was so in love. Manny on the other hand was carrying the weight of not only caring for a newborn, but also an incapacitated post-surgery wife, and he was not as sure that we could handle such an ambitious undertaking. Sofia’s life went on, and we fell more in love, as we also faced more challenges like teething, breast infections, moving across country, learning to discipline, and everything else that comes with parenting. Our lives continued to feel better and more full, and also beyond our capacities. But I also felt like there was a member of our family that we were leaving out of all the fun and family photos. We’d forgotten to invite him to the party and were selfishly hogging all the adventure and love. It took some time for Manny to feel like we could manage sending that invitation out, not unlike many of our entertaining adventures, that Manny is eventually grateful that we’ve embarked on. I tend to be more ambitious than my capacity, and am grateful for Manny’s mindfulness to our best, verses just our opportunities. But eventually the day came when we were ready to relinquish control on that question and let God tell us when it was right for us to welcome someone else into our family.
            Sofia came to us in the first month we tried, much like my own conception, not an accident, as it was intentional, but so unexpectedly fast that it almost caught us off guard. But the spark of her life filled me with ecstatic happiness and excited anticipation, only a bit muddled about with the nausea and discomfort of the first trimester. Our second pregnancy did not come so easily. Many couples try for years and suffer so many significant barriers to pregnancy, and I do not want for one second to compare ourselves to any of that, and yet, I did experience stress and frustration when my body was not as cooperative this second time around – after all – I’d been waiting on life circumstances to give us the go ahead for at least a year at that point, I didn’t understand why my body couldn’t finally seize the chance I’d been patiently waiting for. At the same time, I was often filled with plenty of doubt. I was parenting a toddler daily, a vibrant, expressive toddler who challenged me in many good and bad ways. I both doubted my ability to parent two, and wondered why I would mess with the very good thing I felt we had going with our one. Those negative pregnancy tests brought up many mixed emotions. When we finally did get a positive test, I already felt the overwhelm of the undertaking, a bit of the shock – having gotten accustomed to so much disappointment, happiness that a life was beginning within me, but perhaps more than anything else, relief that the trying was over and the new process of growing life could simply begin.
            It was an exhausting pregnancy from start to finish. While I didn’t feel nearly as sick, dizzy, or what have you as with Sofia, I felt pretty entirely incapacitated by exhaustion, nausea, and keeping up with Sofia in that state the entire time I was pregnant. Adding to the exhaustion of this season was my grandfather’s passing. While November saw me pulling out of the first trimester, it also saw me entering into the holiday chaos of family visiting, parties to host and attend, and presents to buy. And it was the Thanksgiving weekend when Grandpa’s health started to decline and we all waded through the confusing process of his rapidly declining health, that finally found closure on December 11, 2013. This meant a sudden family trip to Texas in the middle of the holidays and the end of Manny’s semester, not to mention significant emotional drain.
Things went more smoothly for our health though. This time around, there was no placentia previa [which might have been a factor in the abruption], I did not have a glucose sensitivity this time, and the perspective of having lived through a pregnancy before left me so much less anxious about each little symptom and change. Everything looked promising for a VBAC and no one saw any reason why I shouldn’t have a smooth and healthy delivery this time around. I was even looking forward to a long, natural labor [needing to avoid the consequences of that epidural this time if at all possible – this was perhaps my greatest hope], feeling like I would finally join the ranks of a great host of women throughout history who have known and endured the pains of childbirth to triumphantly hold their babies seconds after they emerged.
            Until pregnant with Sofia, boys had always been my desire, but I was relieved and elated to find out I would actually have someone to read Little Women to. But now that my need for a little girl was met, I was ready for that boy I’d always wanted and could not seem to shake the desire, hard as I tried for fear of inadvertently rejecting a second girl, should she be the life within me. I don’t think Grandpa’s passing was unrelated to my need for a new little man in my life either. But I think most of all, I simply knew my child. I knew in my heart that he was a he. When we went in for my 20-week ultrasound, we brought Sofia with us. She was pretty uncontrollable in that small, dark, boring-to-her room and poor Manny spent most of the hour corralling her. But that hour was one of the happiest of my pregnancy, as it contained the moment in which the technician pointed to a distinctive shape on the screen and indicated, “it’s a boy!” I just laughed out loud with happiness. I was high on that news for several weeks to come, as I got to prepare telling our families over our Christmas trip to California. That excitement fueled about the extent of the energy I can recall possessing for the entire duration of my pregnancy.
            While the baby and his environment seemed perfectly well this time around, I, on the other hand struggled more significantly overall. The overwhelm of the life we’re living now, compared to my previous unemployed status with no kids in a place where I could swim and walk outside everyday was a great contrast. My depression started going downhill in January and became too much of an interference to my caring properly for Sofia around March. I sought help from my doctor, who put me on meds [Lexapro – an antidepressant] and vitamins I tested low in [B12 and D]. She pushed me to call in the cavalry for help and try to find ways to cut back on commitments and get rest. Mom came for her spring break, I started saying no more often, handed off responsibilities, let go of ambitions, and I started therapy.
My therapist didn’t blow me away at first, but she was fine enough that I could stick with her to just see where things might go. In the fourth session, we finally started talking about what I felt was the heart of the issue: how to deal with my depression when the coping mechanisms I usually turn to cease to be available. She started using Narrative Therapy on me, which made me smile as I recognized her approach, as I so love the theory. We ended up talking about these two voices inside me, that felt like two children to me that I had to tend to. One child seemed to be begging for me to rest because I was so exhausted. The other child was so anxious to be productive, to get things done I love to do and have accomplished. The two children felt very at odds at each other, mutually exclusive. It seemed if I turned to accommodate one, the other would be neglected and create problems. As soon as I’d get the one who wanted rest at bay, I’d jump over to do all I could to respond to the one who wanted productivity. But I would overdo it, and the need for rest would overtake me and I would crash hard. As we talked through all of this, the therapist was helping me realize that the two need to work in balance for both to be healthy, for me to be functional. I believe that truth strongly, and yet it is one of the harder truths for me to live. In the later portion of that hour, I began to hear God speaking to me. “Zoë, how many times have we been over this? I am the God who designed Sabbath. I am the God of Shalom. I desire rest for you. Why do you look down on rest with such scorn? Rest and sloth are not the same thing. Nor is productivity equivalent to ultimate success. Rest is of Me.” I was overwhelmed by the love and concern I felt in those words. He has been teaching me about Sabbath, in the grandest sense of the word, for so many years now, and yet I still find it so hard to allow myself the rest that I need. Perhaps in part attending to that need for rest, I made that our last session for the time being, clearing at least one activity from my plate, though it was certainly the most helpful work my therapist and I did together.
            Fast forward to week 38 of this pregnancy. Two lovely baby showers had taken place, my body had begun the labor process. I was 1 cm dilated and almost entirely without sleep – waking hourly in the night and suffering constant stomach trouble as my little guy’s feet did a constant dance on my intestines. I’d only just begun my OB visits down in Portland that Monday, preparing for my VBAC delivery at Maine Med, which would continue for the last month until delivery. That Wednesday, it seemed to me that the Braxton Hicks I’d been experiencing since mid-February started to become increasingly regular and frequent. They picked up pace enough late at night, that Manny forced me to lie down while I forced him to ready the car seat and pack the go-bag. With a night’s rest, however, the contractions subsided and we proceeded about the next day. But again, contractions began to pick up with increased activity through preschool that morning, until around 4pm, while out on a walk to fly kites with Sofia, they were about 5 minutes apart. I sat down in the field while she ran around on a beautiful day with her kite, occasionally stopping to pet a dog enjoying the running space too, and I called Manny to see how he felt about my condition. He soon came home to pick us up so I wouldn’t have to walk back home, hurrying things along too quickly. I paged the on-call-doctor. She asked me several questions, I think she and I both felt skeptical that it was the real thing [me as much for the sake of denial as anything else] but she was concerned enough that she wanted me to go get checked at the hospital in Portland. We called my friend, Danielle Andrade, to come over and watch Sofia and went into a tizzy getting everything ready that we could. My brain was feeling thoroughly frazzled. We stopped for dinner – McDonalds – and chit chatted occasionally on the ride, exchanging details about our days. But largely we were quiet – a bit in shock I believe, and overwhelmed at the prospect that our baby could be coming so soon. But once at the hospital, lying down on the bed in the triage room with monitors strapped on, contractions died down to only about four per hour. The nurse processing my intake asked me, “are you on any medications?” I just looked at her like that was an absurd question and said, “uh, yeah!” and she just cracked up laughing. We then proceeded to spend a good hour plus trying to get my whole meds list entered in. I was still only 1 cm dilated, deeming my contractions “non-progressive.” And that was pretty much the gist of the visit. They offered that I could stay to wait and see if anything more picked up, but that if I wanted to go home, I could. I felt pretty embarrassed that my contractions weren’t really intense enough to dilate me further along, and to have come all that way for nothing, so I wanted to get home as soon as possible. I presumed, as Jessie warned me when I texted her on the way there, that it was one of maybe several false alarms I’d have in the weeks leading up to the actual delivery.
            With that philosophy in mind, I was determined to still go on our Agape retreat that weekend. I figured that our retreat location was closer to the hospital and I’d be surrounded by women, most of whom were fellow moms, and four others of which were also pregnant or with newborns in arms. I trusted this pregnant lady would be well taken care of, whatever happened. Mostly, I was sure nothing would happen. Manny was NOT so sure, and many of the gals on the retreat were shocked that I’d still come just one day after a false alarm. But I didn’t want to miss this last chance for rest!!
            I stopped tracking contractions, though I was still aware that they were coming. I focused on kicking back and relaxing. That Friday night, in a room with dear friends, facing the ocean, I listened to the peaceful, random rhythm of the crashing waves and slept through the night for the first [and last] time in months. Saturday, Sofia had a big sibling class at Maine Medical Center. I couldn’t miss that experience with her, or the chance to tour the hospital and try to squeeze in a few of my own questions that came up when we toured the Midcoast hospital during our birthing class. I borrowed Jenny’s car and felt very shnazzy driving a Prius that unlocks as you approach it and has a push button start! Sofia and I were so happy to see each other as we met outside of the parking garage. It was like she was three times as darling to me that day as normal. She was so serious and attentive throughout the class, very sincere in wanting to learn good sistering techniques. I was so glad that I’d come to witness that – the way she sat on the edge of her seat, the wide eyes with which she focused on the instructor, how carefully and earnestly she diapered and swaddled her Henry Arabella doll. She was so much more bashful than I usually experience her, not very eager to be in the center of attention, but excited to have her turn at pushing the elevator buttons and ask a question or two during the tour. I also got all of my questions answered and my mind put significantly at ease about the anticipation of the big day.
            But the class alone hadn’t given me enough of a fix of my family, so I asked if I could crash their lunch date, and we all went out to Chipotle together. Of course it wouldn’t have been my pick, but Manny had already set his heart on it, and I’m glad I complied, as my burrito was significantly better than I remember from over a decade ago, and we had SO much fun there – Sofia dolled up in a cute dress and her cowgirl boots. Afterwards, Manny sneakily suggested I head across the parking lot to Toys R Us to get Sofia a gift “from Daniel” for her to open at the hospital when she came to meet him. I went in for one thing but went crazy and walked out with 4 – one of which was a 4 in 1 combo box. [doll carrying accessories, a doll bath, a kids digital camera, and a hello kitty back pack stocked with watch and bracelets]. Once I got back to the retreat, I snatched up all the little girl clothes from the clothing exchange and crashed for a nap. When I finally came to hours later, people were just hanging out in anticipation of worship and then dinner. I ducked out though to seize the opportunity to call my dear friend and college roommate, Erin Crumly Patterson, after much delay after her own son’s [James Bennet] birth several weeks prior. I thought I might get to catch 5 minutes with her, but I walked along the beach and we spent a lovely leisurely hour-plus catching up on all things baby. She generously gave me space to process the trauma of my first birth and cleanse and prepare my heart for a positive second experience. Even when the agape gals started worship and then dinner, and even when it started to rain on me I couldn’t end it. I just huddled under not even a square foot of awning to try to stay dry, while my feet – in flip flops – started to freeze. But that call was well worth it. The rest of the evening was relaxed. A handful of us couldn’t help but stay up overly late chatting. Those last few hours into the night [nearly 1-2am] I was feeling increasingly uncomfortable, but just kept moving around my position and didn’t think much about it, though it caught the attention of more than one friend who started feeling increasingly concerned for my impending delivery.
            I don’t think I slept well at all that night. I started feeling rather sharply in pain at some point, but just figured it wasn’t a great bed, it was my ligaments being pulled on by my huge belly, it was my pelvis just getting achy. It eventually got too uncomfortable to tolerate staying in bed, so I got up and headed to the bathroom, thinking I’d relieve some pressure. While there, I felt the top of my belly to see if these were actually contractions instead of just aches and pains, and sure enough they were. I headed back to my bed for my phone and started timing the contractions on my iPhone app. In less than 20 minutes, I had 7, and they were getting so much more intense that I was weeping uncontrollably and decided it was time to wake up Elsbeth [my ride if need be]. I felt awful waking her up as she has chronic pain, and it seems like the only time she really escapes from it is in sleep. The day before, she’d slept in comfortably until 9:30, and at that moment, it was only just after 5am. But everyone in the house was asleep, and I was starting to get really nervous. It took a minute, but she woke up, and quickly jumped into action, as did pretty much everyone else in the house in a matter of minutes. I was pretty bewildered and scared and confused. I remember those minutes as a pacing in sharp ovals between my bed and the bathroom, trying to pull my things together, call necessary people, relieve pressure on my belly, wash my face in the sink, wipe away tears. The pain was getting worse and more frequent. I called Manny and told him, “I think something’s happening.” He said, “ok, like what?” “like labor” I replied, as if there could be anything else? We fumbled a bit about how to proceed, and I planned to check with the doctor and then try to get in touch with our on-call folks. I called the doctor, and while last time there had been many questions, this time, he asked “what seems to be going on?” I replied, “I think I could be in labor?” choking and whimpering through tears. This time there were no further questions, he said to head to the hospital, he’d alert the staff and see me there. He sounded kind. I went on to try to call our babysitters for Sofia, one was already with me [Danielle], the other two didn’t pick up. So we had to wake up Danielle and get her to call her husband, John, to get to my house ASAP. Manny was stuck waiting for him as the poor guy had to fumble unexpectedly out of bed, prep a go bag for himself and his toddler, and get over to our house at the crack of dawn. I called my mom to let her know what was going on. When she groggily picked up, at 4am for her, again I said, “I think something’s happening.” Again, I was met with the reply, “Ok, like what?” Apparently the obviousness of my situation to me just wasn’t translating over the phone. I don’t remember being able to tell her much, but it was enough to get her on the last seat on the last available flight headed my way. Meanwhile, my girls had gotten me all packed and ready to go, they’d assembled breakfast for me to eat on the road, and Elsbeth and Danielle had gotten themselves packed so they could get there with me.
            The three of us hit the road, trying to figure out directions between the devices the three of us were carrying. I knew easily how to get directions, but the contractions were so strong at that point, that even a little thing like that seemed like a challenge to offer up. But I did and we managed, and thank God Elsbeth had an Easy Pass to let her fly calmly and steadily through the toll roads and cut some time off the trip. We reclined my seat all the way back. I had one hand on the back of Elsbeth’s chair, one foot on the glove compartment, and Danielle holding onto me, whispering breathing prompts and encouragement into my left ear. Elsbeth had worship music playing on the radio, and I asked her to turn it up, to distract and refocus my mind. In between contractions, I did my best to crack jokes. I recalled my wedding day and how there was a similar degree of intimacy as all my bridesmaids had to hold up my wedding gown for a last minute potty run. That morning felt similar, as all my Agape girls were in the bathroom with me – while I was often on the toilet and tears streamed down my face or we laughed at the craziness of the situation. A new depth of unique dependence and friendship was being forged that morning.
            When we arrived in the hospital, we realized my purse was in the car, with my ID, but the security guard could see we needed to move fast enough and my name was already given to the staff as a heads up that I was on my way, so Danielle was able to bring me to the triage area in a wheel chair. The man at that desk was trying to get me to re-sign all the same paperwork from the Thursday night before, I tried, a bit desperately to explain I’d filled it out, he persisted, all while I was in the middle of a contraction. As soon as it passed, I grabbed the papers aggressively and signed away [I was only getting about 30 second breaks in between contractions]. As I did so, a nurse rushed up, expecting me. She took one look at me and shushed the man at the desk away, saying, “We’re passing go on this one, we’re taking her right into delivery” I was a little startled, a little relieved, a bit annoyed I’d bothered with the papers at all.
            Once we got down there, I was just dying to use the bathroom after being on the road all that time sustaining so much pressure, but the nurse explained that my VBAC status meant they had to get monitors on me first to check baby’s heart rate. I had to lay back uncomfortably while she strapped things to me and checked me out. When she checked my dilation, I was still only 1cm. I felt my heart drop with devastation. I couldn’t believe all that pain hadn’t already lead to some progress. It certainly seemed to me that the intensity had picked up plenty. At least she was convinced labor had started, but I absolutely couldn’t see how I could survive 13 hours of this as my body opened up more. I was already nearing the limit of my pain tolerance and just couldn’t seem to manage employing any relaxation techniques to much efficacy. But being sufficiently evaluated, she finally let me go to the bathroom. I tried to make my run for it between contractions again and found a bit of a relief, until the nurse yelled to me from the room, “baby doesn’t like that! You need to get back in here!” Well, I wasn’t quite done, and I felt like I’d sure waited long enough to get there, not to mention I was mid-contraction again and couldn’t see how I could clean myself up and walk back to the bed right that moment, but she kept yelling my way, so I hustled as best I could. I couldn’t make it far before I doubled over, hands to my knees, in pain. Apparently, Daniel’s heart rate, which had dropped while on the toilet, picked back up a bit that moment, so we attempted a similar position on the bed, but his heart rate dropped again and stayed low, and within minutes, maybe seconds, the room was flooded with bodies.
            Everything started to move in flurries and so my memory gets less clear, but they got me on my back and immediately started trying to get IV hook ups into my left hand – they tried a time or two to no avail, only to give up and prick at me again on the other hand. I could barely see the doctor leaning towards me through a handful of nurses as he explained, “Baby’s heart rate has dropped and is staying low, so we’re going to need to go to C-section fast, and as you may know, there will be no time for an epidural so I’m afraid you’ll have to be completely under with general anesthesia.” Thank goodness my doctor had barely just mentioned this to me that Monday before, so I could just nod, relieved that in the end at least I was avoiding the epidural, and I would be unconscious of all of that pain soon. But that relief couldn’t come fast enough. I’m not sure what all went down in those quick minutes, but the next thing I remember is Danielle and Elsbeth shouting to me, “Manny’s here! Manny’s here!” I got glimpses of him between nurses, and finally he was able to make his way to me, kiss me on the head, tell me it was going to be ok, as the doctor explained to him that since I was going under general anesthesia he wouldn’t be able to be with me in the Operating Room. He said he understood, we locked eyes as best we could, and they wheeled me away, bumping into door jams as we went as I screamed through my contractions as we headed into the elevator and eventually the O.R. Being strapped down flat did nothing helpful for my pain and I was overwhelmed with urgency for them to put me out of my misery. I kept hearing a female voice shouting about needing to get my consent. I just wished they would hurry, or take my screams as consent enough. A woman leaned towards me with nothing but her hand under a piece of paper, handing me a pen trying to spell out exactly all I was consenting too. I scribbled the scratchiest mess of lines of my life, furious at this point that they had to have me sign things in that state. As soon as my hand released that pen, a group of other hands grabbed it, I wasn’t looking that way, but the next thing I knew, without warning that I was aware of, it felt like a freight train had collided into my hand and up my arm. It was hands down the worst pain of my life and elicited from me the most primal Celtic full body scream that my person has ever released, back arched and all.  No explanation surrounded that moment, I was just instructed by a man holding a mask over my face to breath slow and steady to get the oxygen I needed. This task seemed so impossible to manage, but somehow, I did well enough for long enough, I’m sure it was a matter of seconds, but felt like a marathon. Eventually, I was out.
            When I came too, things felt just about as chaotic as when I’d been put under. The room was full of people rushing around. I was in excruciating pain, though instead of contractions this time, it was the incision they’d just cut that agonized me. With the epidural, that pain remained numbed for days even, but with the general anesthesia, as soon as I was awake, I could feel everything. The pain was all consuming. I couldn’t think of anything else. I was really groggy too. I know that Manny tried to get Daniel to me right away, because there are pictures that document the attempt, but I hardly remember that moment at all, the moment of meeting my son. I felt like I was still screaming, as before the surgery, but Manny later told me the only way he knew I was in pain was because my words said so, I wasn’t screaming or even barely whispering. The nurses tried one drug after another until they got the pain at bay. Beyond the nurses attending to my IV, I could see Manny, Elsbeth, and Danielle taking turns holding Daniel, taking pictures or video, or tending to me. A pediatrician, an older woman with white hair, came in and kindly explained she was going to check on Daniel, I nodded, as if I could do anything to stop or help her. As soon as they made my pain tolerable, I got to hold my baby boy. I know I loved him instantly by the smile on my face in the photos, I know he nursed easily right away, but again, the memory is very hazy. I really can’t recall how we got from the delivery room to the recovery room, but somehow the transition took place.
            Once in the room, I got to hold Daniel more and gradually perked up and became more aware of the miracle in my arms and fell deeper, or at least more lucidly in love with him. As my haze faded, my heart filled. I wasn’t overcome by the sadness or the feeling of trauma, as I was immediately after Sofia’s birth. I was just happy and excited. Elsbeth and Danielle hung out with us the whole day. We just launched into logistics, of Sofia coming to the hospital, my mom arriving, getting my friend Denise to come take photos, ordering food for me after I hadn’t eaten anything all day [the contractions were too painful to tolerate any food on the way to the hospital]. Once the flurry of activity was done, we just hung out and decompressed. But I remember in my mind, I kept watching the clock, anxiously wondering when my mom would arrive. It wasn’t that I was worried or needed her in any tangible way, as Sofia wouldn’t get there for some time, I think I just needed my mother there on a day like that. She arrived while the nurses were taking me for my first trip to the bathroom [something I don’t remember doing for a couple days with Sofia]. While in there, I felt quite brave in allowing them to remove the catheter on my first day, and even pushed myself to stand long enough to freshen up a bit [I hadn’t showered that Saturday on the retreat, feeling like being lazy on vacation as there wasn’t much need to shower – I regretted that then!]. I could tell the nurses were a bit annoyed having to support me to put on mascara, but I preferred to look somewhat presentable when Denise arrived with her camera, and in the long run, I’m glad I did it! While in the bathroom, my mom and Denise both showed up. I missed Mom’s introduction to Daniel, but was mostly just grateful to have her presence, as if now everything could really be ok. Denise got shots of Daniel with Mom, Manny, and me and even Sofia’s arrival and meeting her little brother. She kindly waited over an hour as John Andrade was a bit delayed getting there, to capture that special moment. She was with us for over 2  of the most precious hours in the history of our family.
            When John Andrade arrived with Sofia, she tentatively entered the room. We said, “Sofia, look who’s here?” meaning, Daniel had been born. But all Sofia could see, Daniel being so tiny and wrapped up in my arms, was that Big Mama was across the room. She ran around the bed, bypassing Daniel altogether, and gave Big Mama a huge hug. Again, we prompted her, and got more specific, “Sofia, Daniel is here!” She turned around towards him and I think, took a few minutes to try to process the newness before her. The first thing she said was, “I can touch Daniel because I washed my hands with hand sanitizer,” which cracks me up, the precision and responsibility with which she expressed her eagerness to smother Daniel with affection. I believe she pretty instantly fell in love. She “can’t stop kissing him” and she told him, “I love you little Daniel! My love for you will never change!” She had been contemplating and rehearsing that message for weeks. One of my favorite moments was when she was with Manny admiring Daniel sprawled out on the bed, and she told him, kicking her foot high up into his theoretical line of sight and said, “Look, Daniel! These are my feet!” Holding Daniel in my arms with Sofia climbed up on my bed nuzzling us, my heart had never felt so full. But I think the climactic emotional moment for me of Sofia’s first visit was when I instructed her to put her finger within Daniel’s little fist, and he clasped onto her, and I saw her eyes just widen with amazement, and as I spoke the words to her, “Sofia! He loves you!” I was overcome by the new life and the new love potential sitting just inches before me. That was a healing moment for me. Both of my children, sitting right before me.  Both born through scary placential abruptions and emergency c-sections, and yet both healthy, well. No matter how they’d entered the world, they both sat in front of me, a testament to God’s grace and provision and a demonstration that trauma could not begin to get in the way of His love flowing between the four members of my little family. Sofia’s life began in fear, but with the first breath’s of Daniel’s life, brought about through similar if not sharper fears, that original fear was resolved and our life together as a family could begin in peace. Sending her home with Big Mama was like ripping Sofia’s heart out, leaving her little brother was the last thing she ever wanted to do. And I could not wait for their relationship to be reunited to grow ever more fully.
            With Sofia’s departure, everyone else gradually cleared out too. Manny and I were left alone with our boy to revel in the excitement of the whirlwind day. Daniel embodied and embodies for me a taste of Shalom. By the generosity of community, through the grace of God, my son was produced out of rest, despite how exhausting or unproductive my pregnancy with him was.
I realize how much he was born out of the grace of community. All my Agape girls pulling together to get me to the hospital just in time, Mom flying in, John and little Asher stepping up unexpectedly to care for Sofia, Denise managing to get to us to capture those singular moments, my Tree Group girls coming to meet at the hospital to bless us with prayers and scripture, our community coming together to provide diapers, meals, entertainment for Sofia, etc. etc. etc. None of these gifts were earned by me. 
And yet all of these moments miraculously came together to provide above and beyond what we needed in that time. The Agape retreat took place on the only weekend available for that house (thank you, Joy Guliani, for organizing!). During my operation they found "port wine colored blood," which I was later told indicated that I had been already bleeding for some time. In other words, we'd had no time to spare. If I hadn't been in Saco at that retreat, I wouldn't have made it in time. If I hadn't been planning a VBAC at Maine Med, and had planned a regular c-section at Midcoast, I would have headed to a hospital that morning that would not have had an anesthesiologist available in time for the emergency surgery required to save my son's life. My mom caught the last seat on the only flight available that day. None of the planned babysitters answered the phone, but John was able to step in to our rescue, in just the right timing, within seconds, to get Manny there in time to see and comfort me before heading into surgery. Denise wasn’t anticipating a shoot for over two weeks, but she was able to arrive even before Sofia at the hospital so she could capture Daniel and Sofia’s very first moments together. My Tree Group was scheduled to meet the night after Daniel’s birthday, and they were all able to come to the hospital instead to pray over and bless us in that particular space and time. This is miraculous grace.
And Daniel was born at just the right time. Not only was the timing uniquely orchestrated, as mentioned above, but also Daniel came on the Sabbath day, out of the middle of the night, while on a retreat designed for spiritual rest. It is hard to look back over these events and deny that God was showing me through Daniel’s life events the same thing He was speaking to me in that last therapy session. He desires what is best for me, especially rest. Through Daniel’s birth, He has illustrated something of how His Shalom works. His peace is His own work. It is not something born of my own sweat and labor and productivity, but rather out of my rest. And His peace comes through community, not out of me alone being a heroine, but of being a member of a body of people who come together to bring forth life. Because His peace isn’t just sleep, but life to the full, as He has always intended the best life to be. I think I can see a hint of that when I am overcome with joy at the sight of my baby boy’s face. That is a most beautiful picture of peace. How very sweet is His peace. How lavish is His unconditional (agape), unmerited love.
To God be the glory. Amen.

"For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, 
"In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength."
Isaiah 30:15