Every time I have tried to put this into words, it came out sounding messy. And then I realized that’s exactly the point. If I could sum up what I’ve experienced over the last 8 weeks it would be this: God breaks us down to build us back up again, new and closer to Him. I had a baby. I have a new [messy, chaotic, beautiful, fulfilling, heart-opening, exhausting] life. Becoming a mom (typing “mom” still blows my mind!) has been a genuine rebirth for me. I didn’t expect it and I’m so grateful for all of it. From a challenging labor and Grace entering the world to going through the baby blues and a short but trying period of postpartum depression, the sleep deprivation, stretch marks and the challenges – and enormous blessings – that being new parents can bring to marriage and so many tears and joys in between, this has been the hardest – yet most rewarding – journey I’ve taken so far. Grace is now 8 weeks old, happy and healthy as can be (thank you, sweet Lord!) and she brings us such incredible joy every day. Those first 5 weeks, I really didn’t think I’d ever feel like myself again. And I don’t. I feel – in many ways – better. This new life means I have no choice but to let. go. of. control. Let go of life being wrapped up in a pretty bow all the time. Let go of what I thought was real joy. Because, let me tell you… there is a greater joy. And it really has nothing to do with whether you are a mom or not. It has everything to do with your heart. God gave me Grace to change my heart. So much more on the first few weeks with her soon. I have so much to share with you. So very much. And it’s going to be honest and sometimes a complete mess (gone are the days of eight hours of sleep!) and absolutely completely full of passion. The old has gone, the new has come. I find it wildly appropriate that this new journey for me starts with telling you about the birth of Grace. Here goes…
Side note: As I wrote this post and went back through the photographs from that day, this thought would not escape me… There isn’t a single non-living item in the tangible world more valuable than a great photograph. While my short-term memory escaped me for much of this, the photographs brought me right back to it. Honest moments captured. I couldn’t relive or remember the same joy and emotion through mere words. Thank you, Nancy Ray, for these priceless memories. I’m so very grateful. Thank you all photographers out there for what you do!
4:20am. Ari had just come to bed a few hours before. He had been up late finishing the 2000 piece puzzle we got to pass the time. Grace was 9 days late. My parents only had two weeks to spend with us and there were a mere four days left in their visit. Hurry up, little one! We were all getting impatient and I was very very pregnant. I stopped believing Grace was ever going to come out. Well, at 4:20am on November 22, 2011, I woke with painful cramps. Like strong period cramps. Odd. “Babe. Babe,” I said to him gently in the dark. He knew what that “Babe” meant. “I’m having cramps. They feel different.” I got up and I just knew. They hurt. Different than anything before. The adrenaline started pumping. We both got up and started timing them. 10 minutes apart quickly grew to 7 minutes apart and then 6. I was still able to walk around and function at that point. I ran through the mental checklist I’d rehearsed for so long in my head. Text Nancy. Text Emily, Gina, Natalie. Text Marissa. Take a shower if I can. Try to eat something because I didn’t know when they would let me eat again at the hospital. Get the hospital bag. Ah! Where do I begin!? I’m going to have a BABY today!!! I paced in the bathroom as Ari so calmly gathered all of my things from the list I had tacked to the fridge for a month. Phone chargers, Bible, camera, computer, etc. He was so calm. Unusually calm. I suddenly got really flustered. This was really it. “I don’t know what to do with myself,” I stuttered to him, barely able to make a sentence from my excited anxiousness. I really didn’t know what to do even though I’d mentally rehearsed those moments a dozen times. I got myself in the shower. As the water washed over me, I realized this would be the last shower I would take before becoming a mom. Wow. Out of the shower, contractions getting stronger, I put on a pair of big comfy pj’s. I had gotten them in the men’s department at Target that week since none of my maternity clothes were fitting anymore! Then, I went into the room where my parents were sleeping and excitedly whispered, “Mom… mom…” She jolted out of bed. Sat straight up and my dad did too. “I think it’s time.” She squealed and off we all went to get ready as fast as possible. By the time we all were ready to go – which felt like an eternity but it was probably just 15 minutes – I was having to bend over the couch and breathe deeply to get through the contractions. I remember that first really bad contraction, leaning on the back of the couch and my dad walking by. What a crazy sight it must be to see your own child pregnant, about to have a baby. I got in the car and the pain started to intensify really fast. Just like my mom with my brother, Stephen, and I. She told me my whole pregnancy, “Oh, you’ll know when you’re in labor! If you’re anything like me, it will come fast and furious. Like nothing you’ve ever felt. I will take you over!” As usual, mom was right. On the way to the hospital, pitch black out with just a hint of light coming through over the hills, I put on my “going to the hospital playlist” and tried to hum through the contractions. Oh, Lord Prepare Me. I tried to eat a bite of oatmeal in the car, but I was too nervous and overcome with the new and insane sensation of the contractions to eat much. I held Ari’s hand and tried to relax. As promised, I texted the girls in my office to let them know it was time. Ari texted Nancy to tell her and thankfully she said she was on her way! I was so worried that, after Grace being so late and it being Thanksgiving week, that we wouldn’t get to have Nancy there to capture Grace’s birthday.
We pulled up to UNC Women’s Hospital and my parents walked me up to Labor and Delivery while Ari parked the car. It was an all-too-familiar out-of-a-movie type of scene as I made my way to the nurses desk to check in. Four nurses gazed at me, as if assessing whether or not I was “in labor enough” to be admitted. I smiled at the check in nurse and said something ridiculous like “Hi, I’m here to have a baby.” I prayed so much that I would glorify God in as many ways as possible through my birthing experience and I was determined to be as positive and grateful as possible to everyone I met. They checked me in and a nurse took me to triage.
My parents headed to the waiting room to pass some time until I was ready to deliver. Here’s where I start to not remember some things. But, what I do remember is intense and wonderful at the same time. They gave me a gown in triage and the nurse had me recline on a table as she hooked me up to all sorts of monitors. By this point, all I wanted to do was pace. Somehow pacing felt better. Reclining did not. Ari came in and held my hand as the contractions got more intense. Then, a young male doctor came in – red hair and freckles and a comforting smile. “Hi! I’m Doctor Casey.” No way. I suddenly felt the peace of God wash over me. “Doctor Casey? My dad – also Doctor Casey – is here too. I’m really glad to meet you,” I said as a contraction took me over. He spoke slowly and in such a comforting tone as he examined me to find me 5cm dilated. Yahooo! I was being admitted. “And since you can’t talk through your contractions, I would have known you were far enough along anyway,” he said kindly.
I don’t remember going to the labor room. I don’t remember anything except meeting Nurse Tori. Oh, Nurse Tori, you were our angel! Ari handed her my birth plan and explained it to her since I was beyond speaking by then. I just paced and breathed and tried not to moan. I didn’t think I’d be a moaner. Or a screamer.
So, my birth plan was to have an unmedicated birth (but I came in open to anything that was going to keep Grace and I healthy), no pitocin, no epidural, as natural as possible. I had spent months reading about the benefits of natural childbirth to the baby and I wanted to give that to Grace if I could. And I kept thinking that if my mom could do it, I could too.
But, again, I was open to anything. Any way you have a baby is remarkable! I’d be happy with whatever plan God had. Nurse Tori was so calm and giving. She smiled as Ari read her my birth plan. As if this was right up her alley. And it certainly was.
OK…. this next part is really hard for me to write. I haven’t written about Grace’s birth yet because I needed time to process it. I didn’t want to relive it so soon. And I didn’t want to sound like a complete mess. Birth for me was one of the most humbling experiences. By 9am, the contractions were so bad that I turned into amazon woman.
Yes, it happened really really fast. I sincerely never knew sounds like that could come out of me, but the pain was so intense – a completely new pain scale for me – that I couldn’t help it. You think that you will feel some sense of a need for privacy or some embarrassment having so many people see you in such pain, at your most vulnerable, with all your lady parts out there, but that flies out the window the second the contractions take over. Two minutes apart, moaning at the top of my lungs for what felt like an hour, grasping Ari’s hand so tightly, I just couldn’t do it anymore. I simply can’t explain that pain. And I had read every natural med-free birth story I could find in books and on the internet. I thought I was prepared. As a former yoga instructor back in the day, I had done a ton of meditation and study on visualization. I had studied every technique out there. I thought I had this pain thing in the bag.
And there I was… I felt completely helpless. I told Ari I wanted the epidural. He looked at me and, knowing how much I prepared not to have one, asked “Are you sure??” YES. I CAN’T DO THIS. GET THE DOCTOR. I NEED MEDICINE NOW. (From Ari: All caps are very appropriate in this circumstance.) People ask if I said anything crazy during labor. Just those words over and over and over. It was like my birth chant or something. I CAN’T DO THIS. GET THE DOCTOR. I NEED MEDICINE NOW. No one wanted to tell me that it was going to take 20 minutes for her to get there. So, Nurse Tori filled the bathtub and told me I would feel so much better if I got in it. I didn’t believe that ANYTHING could make me feel better. I thought I was beyond natural help. Wrong. The labor tub wins! I instantly felt relief when I was in the water. The contractions became more manageable, if I can call them that. Ari sat in the bathroom and just held my hand.
My husband… oh my word. I could write a book about how remarkable he was that day and how much closeness I felt to him. My love multiplied for him in those hours like never before. He never flinched. He coached me and loved on me and looked me deeply in the eyes when I just couldn’t talk. I’ve never felt so connected to someone. I digress.
The anesthesiologist finally was on her way, but by that point I didn’t want to leave the tub for fear that the time between tub and epidural would be excruciating. And being naked and wet in pain didn’t sound great to me at the time. But, I wanted that medicine! Badly. I wanted this baby to come out! Out of the tub I came and back into bed. Just as a contraction tapered off, Nancy’s sweet face appeared from behind the hospital curtain. Oh, joy!!! I was so happy to see her that I started to tear up. I think I smiled and said I was so glad to see her and then proceeded to scream in pain in the same sentence. Poor Nancy, I thought! Oh, but having her there finally was such relief. And friends, it’s not just that she takes priceless photographs. Her heart for God changed me during my pregnancy. She prayed over me and encouraged me and just was a wonderful friend. Having her there made me feel complete. The contraction subsided and Nancy came and put her hands on my face, smiled at me and kissed my forehead. I’m sure I looked like a hot mess but she was so encouraging and calm! My mom soon came in, too. When I got pregnant, the first thing my mom told me was, “You’re going to be a wonderful mother!” Having mom there made me feel like I could get through this. She did it, so I could too. She coached me gently the whole time and kept smiling at me to give me strength. Thank you, Mom. Words cannot express how grateful I am for you. Thank you for giving me the confidence that I CAN do anything if God wills. Another contraction peaked. I CAN’T DO THIS. I NEED MEDICINE NOW. NOW!!! I grabbed the side of the bed as my mom coached me through the pain.
The anesthesiologist finally walked in. Oh, thank you sweet Lord! Paperwork, consent, more of Ari asking me if I really wanted this, me asking about whether or not I’d be able to push and if I’d be able to walk. Yes on pushing. No on walking. It was the price I had to pay. The contractions were 90 seconds apart by then. Now, to get an epidural, you have to stay completely still and hunch over to bend your back so they can insert the needle. Pretty much the opposite of what feels good. I felt like I was going to burst my belly hunching over like that. Every time a contraction hit I had to bury myself into Nurse Tori’s shoulder, as she was holding me up to support me from the front. Ari says he was supporting me at one point too, but I barely remember. The anesthesiology resident was having a hard time getting the needle in correctly. 16 tries. Seriously. That I remember. But she finally did it. I was so frustrated but again trying to be – even through all of this PAIN LIKE NEVER BEFORE – gracious. The Lord is my shepherd… I repeated the 23rd psalm over and over that day. It’s all I could do to stay focused on God being in control. I kept thinking, hurry up already medicine!!! Take ALL the pain away. And then, the craziest thing. I did not think it was possible, but the pain intensified. I was just desperate at that point and begged for someone to get the doctor again because it just. wasn’t. working. I could still feel EVERYTHING. I was so confused and just so desperate for relief. Trust me, I was working HARD to think positive thoughts, completely relax and trust God that He was in control. And He certainly was. I wanted a med-free birth and well… that’s exactly what I got. Either some other organ in my body was really relaxed that day or God is saving that pain medicine for a time when I need it more. But, God had a perfect plan and this was part of it. Looking back now, I know that He wanted me to be at my most vulnerable. He wanted to break me down to build me back up again. So, hopeless on the pain front, I started to cry. No one tells you that crying during labor just makes things worse. You instantly feel the contractions more, so you instantly stop crying. No tears for me.
I looked at Ari and saw tears welling up in his eyes. I was overcome with love – a great distraction from the pain at the time – as I saw him get overwhelmed with the thought of what was about to happen. Later, he told me he was really tearing up because he felt so bad for me and couldn’t help me. I’m not sure what happened next. All I know is I started to have a new pain. And I started to feel the urge to push. Urge meaning a no-control-I-don’t-want-to-give-in-because-it-will-hurt-so-much-more urge. It is the strangest feeling. Like a volcano in you is about to erupt! And then… the scariest moment for me… my water broke. There was no trickle or gush like they say in all the pregnancy books. It was just like a giant exploding water balloon. OK, no turning back now, I thought. That’s when I knew it was time to give in to the pushing. I knew this was going to be it. I asked Ari to pray.
“Dear God…” He started praying and mid-prayer I contracted again and moaned like never before. End of prayer. I tried to focus on the end goal. The pain of labor is one of the only pains that is – even though excruciating – positive. It’s good to feel it because there is an end – a goal. I just kept thinking that… the more I give in to this pain, the closer I am to meeting Grace. I tried to surrender and let is wash over me. I screamed at the top of my lungs and I guess that was an indication to the staff that is was just about time. I remember a lot of hustle and bustle as the doctor on call, Dr. Ivester, and all the nurses started getting things ready. I think someone told me to look at the baby warmer that they just turned on… OK, now I’m getting emotional thinking about it… so that I would know the end was really in sight.
I saw Tori on her phone calling other nurses and Dr. Ivester, too. He was so calm and just smiling the whole time. I heard him chuckle and mumble something to one of the nurses like “well, this won’t take long!”
The second I overheard that, I made the decision that it was definitely time to have this baby. I had been so so so afraid to push. I was afraid of the pain. I was afraid of tearing. I was afraid to meet her. I was afraid of my life completely changing. I knew with all of my being that pushing meant a new life. Completely new. And that is exciting and completely terrifying at the same time. The anesthesiologist rushed in and, with a worried look on her face (or maybe she was just scared from my Tarzan moaning), injected something into my IV.
I didn’t ask questions. (She was definitely concerned by the screaming. It wasn’t good PR for the anesthesiology department to have a patient with an epidural screaming that loudly.) Seconds later, at 10 cm dilated, birth was upon me. I had a tiny moment during the fall of a contraction where overwhelming gratitude filled me. I looked at Ari and said, “God is good.” Next thing I knew, eight people were suddenly hovering over me. I heard Nurse Tori ask Nancy, “Are you two sisters?”
Nancy: “Close friends.”
Tori: “How close of friends are you?”
Nancy looked at her as if she knew exactly what she was going to ask and Tori handed her my left leg to hold. There was a nurse at my left ear, Ari beside her giving me his one hand to squeeze with two of mine, Nurse Tori coaching me gently but strongly, Nancy holding my left leg (we are now much closer friends! Ha!), Dr. Ivester below waiting for Grace and working hard to adjust me as I pushed, my mom holding my right leg and then… an angel of a nurse in my right ear. She was literally there just as Grace was making her way into the world, like a fleeting vapor, but perhaps the most important person that helped me in those moments. It all happened so fast, I don’t even remember her face. She was just in my ear, telling me exactly what to do. I wish I could remember all that she said. The only thing I remember her saying is, “Lara, look down! Look down! Her head is right there!” I can’t! I didn’t want to look down, I just wanted to PUSH! (From Ari: I saw her head and it was crazy!) They call labor labor for a reason. It’s WORK. I pushed so hard and harder than I thought I could ever push and then even harder still. Everyone in the room was telling me what to do, when to stop pushing so I wouldn’t tear and how to breathe. Pushing actually felt “good”. Good because I knew I was almost there. With a loud cacophony of voices coaching me on, with 6 I’m-gonna-move-a-mac-truck-with-my-bare-hands pushes, Grace slid perfectly into the world. Oh, Lord. I praise your name! Thank you, Jesus, for my life and for your amazing grace that got me there! Grace Austin Isaacson arrived at 10.24 am after 6 hours of life-changing labor.
Finally, the grateful tears could pour out! I heard her first cry as they placed her immediately on my chest – warm and perfect. I just looked at her and looked at Ari and was in compete awe at this little beautiful living being that God had created in me.
I kept thinking, “We made a person!!!” 8 lbs 9 oz, 21 inches long with a thick head of dark hair. She looked just like her daddy.
Seeing so much of Ari in her made me feel an intense love like no other. The three of us were a family.
The hush of new life filled the room. I started to shake uncontrollably right away thanks to the changes in hormone levels after birth. Ari cut the cord and Dr. Ivester gave me three tiny stitches while they weighed her, did all the necessary quick tests and cleaned her up. I kept apologizing to Dr. Ivester for shaking so much! I could barely talk from the shakes. But, I was so happy and grateful and in complete awe of what had just occurred.
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound.
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I’m found.
Was blind, but now I see!
After all the hustle and bustle of recovery, there was a stillness that I will never forget. The doctors and nurses left and it was just this beautiful silence as my mom, Ari, Nancy and I watched Grace in awe.
Seeing Ari hold her for the first time was … I just don’t have words.
He held her and slowly drank her in with his eyes.
You could see Grace fill him from top to bottom.
Nancy’s photograph captured it perfectly. He was overcome with love. Then, my mom held her and spoke sweetly to her and told me what a great job I had done in labor.
After all of that, her encouragement was like honey to my soul. Shortly after, my dad walked in. I didn’t know this, but Ari had gone to the waiting room to get my dad and said, “Would you like to meet your granddaughter?” Be still my heart! Some girls imagine their weddings their whole life; I imagined this moment.
When dad got to hold my baby for the first time.
It had been a trying year with my family and having my dad there, healthy and happy, was the greatest gift. I think my dad got the first smile out of Grace : )
I’ll never forget the look on his face when he saw Grace for the first time and the peace that came over him when he held her. Our perfect circle of life was complete in my heart.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God. - Ephesians 2:8 Oh, what a blessed gift to have all of us there to bring her into the world!
Sweet Nancy pulled out a bottle of sparkling pink lemonade and we all toasted to Grace. A new beginning. A new life began in that moment.
More on our first moments with our hilarious and sweet daughter and the adventures of the first few weeks next. Oh, I have so much to tell you! In one billion ways, the best is yet to come, friends…
I am on maternity leave until March 2012. If you need anything till then, feel free to email Marissa!