18 November 2016

Stillness - Israel Blaine's Stillbirth Story

There are very few moments of stillness in my life. With 5 kids, a certain level of constant commotion is inevitable.  This past week, however, the idea of stillness has broken my heart, questioned my faith, and reminded me of the power of motherhood.

This forgotten little corner of the internet has been only my means of documenting the very most important moments in our family's life over the past few years: the births of babies and the adoption of our daughter.  We have been hit with a sorrow that I have found difficult to process, and in order to process, I need to write things out.  So here I am, writing a story I never imagined I would ever have to write, months earlier than the very opposite tale I had planned on telling will now never be told. This story won't be eloquent or beautiful, but it is real, and it needs to be told.

This summer we got pregnant with our 6th baby.  We were ecstatic.  However, with a history of early miscarriage, we were also cautious.  I've birthed 4 babies, and I've had a miscarriage before each successful pregnancy.  All 4 of those miscarriages happened before I reached 8 weeks pregnant though. So, when I hit 8 weeks, and I was still dry heaving into the toilet, I allowed myself to start planning for our March baby.  When we went in to see our midwife at 13 weeks, and heard our little one's heartbeat, I was certain we were in the clear. We had, for once, avoided a miscarriage, and we were going to have a baby without going through that heartbreak.

So we announced.  Facebook. Instagram. Even my professional pages got the message.

Yay! I continued to be sick until 16 weeks.  I got big, fast. I bought new maternity clothes. I bought new baby carriers.  I wondered where in the world was I going to fit another dresser in our tiny house for this new member of the family.  I took exactly 3 pictures of me pregnant.

Then the unthinkable happened.  Most miscarriages happen early on.  They usually happen behind the closed door of a private bathroom. My 5th miscarriage started out that way.  It ended with me in the hospital, having gone through labour, delivering my fifth baby boy, stillborn.

I didn't realize how important it was for me to tell this story until I got a text from a dear friend who has also had a stillborn baby. In her text she said, "Tell me about your sweet little boy."  I've been surrounded by love, lifted up in ways I have so desperately needed, but nobody else has asked me about my baby boy and I didn't realize how desperately I needed that question to be asked. If he had lived everyone would want to know about his birth, his weight, who he looked like, how we named him, and so on.  His death does not negate his existence, and neither does the fact that he was only 20 weeks gestation, because he did live, if only inside of me, and he was loved, and he was wanted, and he will always be missed.  His birth story is the only story I will ever have of his to share.

I woke up, 20 weeks pregnant, with severe cramps.  I'd been having surprisingly strong Braxton Hicks for the day before: strong enough that I had mentioned to my sister that they felt like period cramps, not Braxton Hicks, and complained to Jared that if I had to go through 5 months of them, I would not be a happy momma.  In the middle of the night I found myself lying in bed in such pain that I couldn't lay there any more.  If I had any inclination of what was to come, I would have recognized the signs of early labour. But, in ignorance, I figured a trip to the bathroom would solve it. And so I sat, and one cramp later, the unmistakable feeling of my water breaking, and the toilet filled with blood and mucus.

I walked out of the bathroom, and like I had 4 times before, informed Jared that I was miscarrying, again. The difference was, this time, that I was in labour, and I was 20 weeks along, and my baby was the size of a banana, and I knew I needed to go to the hospital.  We called my parents to come be with the kids while they slept, and drove to the hospital.

At about 3:15 am our midwife met us in triage, and tried to find the heartbeat. There was none.  A doctor came with an ancient ultrasound machine and tried to get a heartbeat. There was none.  I already knew that though. I had felt my water break.  I had seen the blood.  I knew that our baby was gone. All that was left for me to do was let my body do what it had already started doing, and wait until our baby came.  And so we waited.

My contractions got stronger, but not terrible. I asked if I could get an epidural, because, to be honest, I didn't want to feel.  I wanted it all to be over.  I didn't know how intense it would get, and I didn't want to find out.

The doctor checked me along the way, and when I was only 2 cm dilated she said that she could feel my baby's feet coming out.  It wouldn't be long.  I wasn't surprised, because the familiar "pushy" contractions were happening.  They said they would take me to a private room and I could get an epidural if I liked, but just moments later that was no longer necessary.  

At 7:52 am he came.  A sweet, perfect, tiny little boy.  And until that very moment I had no idea the pain I would feel, the sorrow that would rush through me, the heartache that would totally consume me.  I wailed.  I knew there were other moms in triage, preparing to give birth to healthy, beautiful babies, and I felt bad for them having to listen to me, but I couldn't stop myself.  As his lifeless body slid out of me, and the nurses placed him on my stomach, I realized exactly how much I loved him, and wanted him, and needed him.  But he was gone.

They proceeded as if everything were normal.  They clamped his cord. I got to cut it.  They shot me up with oxytocin so I would deliver the placenta (which apparently is often stubborn at such an early stage.)  They wheeled me off to another room where they would clean and weigh him, take his hand and foot prints, and wrap him up in a hand knit blanket and hat.  He was 3.6 oz.  Tiny.  So tiny that even if he had been born alive, he could not have survived.  So tiny that I couldn't tell you who he looked like.  He did have long feet though - just like Eli.

Jared and I spent a few hours with him.  The only few hours we will ever get to spend with him.  We named him quicker than any of our other children: Israel Blaine, and cried over the life he would not live.  We kissed him, and told him how much he was loved.

And then we left.  We gathered our things, and we left the hospital.  We left our baby there, and went home to continue on with our life without him.  We left, with empty arms, and the task of planning his burial on our minds.

Three days later we buried him. We had to pick out a casket, a burial plot, a grave marker.  We had to decide what he would be buried in, and if he should be embalmed.  These are things that I know many parents have had to do, but I never thought I would be one of them. We buried him right across from his cousin, Amelia, who died in 2010. Atticus insisted on helping us carry him from the hearse to the grave.  We let him.

I had no idea. I had no idea what it would feel like.  What it would feel like to go through labour and hold the body of a baby I would not know. I think that many believe that 20 weeks must hardly feel like a baby, no different than losing a pregnancy at 6 or 8 or 12 weeks, which for me were relatively easy. And for some, perhaps that would be true.  I think that many believe that because he never really lived, then he didn't really die, that he was "just" 20 weeks or "just" stillborn.  But the fact is, as I've learned, without experiencing it, without holding that little body, without grieving over the life that would not be lived, without carrying the casket with the baby that you delivered inside it, there is no way to know what that grief feels like.  Israel Blaine was as real to me as any of my other babies.  And he will be loved as long as I live.  And in some ways, I'm afraid to do that. To live. I am afraid to move on.  To not feel the pain that he left behind any more. To forget what his tiny body felt like in my hands.  To forget how much I loved him. I'm afraid that he will be forgotten.  I cry, wondering if his little life matters to anyone else. I wonder if God can love him as much as I would have. I wonder if my body can ever be trusted again. I'm left trying to figure out how to go on with the living without losing the part of me that was him. 

17 December 2015

My Girl Before

One of the strangest things that happens to me as a mom of an older adopted child is meeting people who knew her before I knew her.  It's happened a few times to me, where I've run into people who knew my little girl when she really was little, when she still lived with her birth family and her life and my life were not one, as they are now.

Today it was the tutor we've hired to teach us ASL.  She walked into my house, and while I was meeting her for the first time, she not only knew my daughter, but she also knew her story, and therefore part of my story.  

It's hard to know how to react to that. On some level I wanted to ask her things about my child that I don't know, that surely this stranger must: what was she like at 3 years old, did she have any pictures of her from the birthday parties she attended or the school gatherings she took part in.  I was also tempted to question her on the birth family that I don't know, but is forever entwined with my family.  
But, I can't ask any of those questions. How, as a mother, do I ask a stranger intimate details about my own child. My child, who has spent less than half her life in my arms. My child, who I feel like I know so well, but have known for so short a time. I just smile, say (or rather, attempt to sign) how strange it is, and carry on with the intention of our meeting.  

Yet, here I sit, hours later, still thinking about her, and about the relationships that my daughter had before she was mine.  How do I honor that past, when I know so little about it? How do I help her understand her path, when I've not been walking beside her all along?

Do you know what I do?  I try my hardest to keep a safe place in our home for those memories and years that we weren't together.  Despite not being together, the time before the adoption in both our families belong to all of us.  The memories I have of my past are collective memories that she gets to share, and the sweet, and increasingly fleeting, memories that she has of her life before foster care I hold sacredly for her, so that when she needs them, they will be around.

03 November 2015

Taking it back!

Today is the first really "wintery" day of winter.  It's cold, and dark, and oh so obviously winter.  I shouldn't complain. We've been really spoiled this year.  I mean, my kids went trick-or-treating in just their costumes, not in their snow suits with their costumes pulled tightly overtop. Still, it is with just a bit of trepidation that I sort through the winter gear, knowing that the beautiful days of fall are now, officially gone, and the months of winter are setting, firmly, in.

So, what have I done today to mark the occasion? I've sat curled up in front of my computer reading old blog posts.  Every. Single. One.  Don't worry, I did it after the kids finished their school work, and went to piano lessons. I'm not really sure what they are doing now, but they've not come upstairs in at least two hours, which is, incidentally, enough time to scroll through 6 years of blog posts.

I like this blog. It makes me happy.  Reminders of Eli and how little he once was; videos of little Silas saying his first words; pictures of the first nights that Evy ever spent with us; and, the birth stories of both Atticus and Machen. Oh, how I do love this blog.

But, it's painfully obvious how much I've missed in the past 3 years.  Since the adoption process began, I have found it so hard to share what is going on.  The emotions have been too real, and too raw.  But, with finalization now behind us, I feel a need for normalcy, and record keeping is one of those things that feels normal to me.  The things I have shared have been vague and generic, and I don't like being either of those things.

Also, although I never planned on it, my knitting patterns have taken over a bit. I love knitting, and I love designing, but this has become a dumping place for my new patterns, and that's about it.

So, I'm taking this here blog of mine back.  And, I'm giving my knits a home of their own.  If you want to keep up to date about my yarny adventures, head on over to VANGY Knits. And, if you want to stay connected with the Wiebe family and what we're up to, stick around here at {hands full of happiness}.  I look forward to keeping better records, and I hope you do too!

16 July 2015

Orleans - A Knitting Pattern

While I don't have little girls to knit for, I can't help myself sometimes.  This little dress was stuck in my head, and too perfect not to knit, even if I don't have a 2 year old girl to put in it!

Orleans is now available on Ravelry for $5.50. Go ahead and check it out, along with all the projects made by other fabulous knitters:   and then go ahead and   !!!

Orleans is a simple dress with puffed sleeves and a gathered skirt.  It is knit in two pieces to add stability and create a seam. The bodice is knit first, from the top down. The live sts are then put on hold while the skirt is worked from the bottom up. The pieces are joined using a 3 needle bind off, making it entirely seamless!
There are four options outlined for the skirt: Full Skirt or Narrower Skirt in either dress or tunic length. The sample is the full skirt dress in size 2 years.
The pattern is written for girls aged 3 months to 10 years and knit with fingering/sock weight yarn. 

24 March 2015

The Birth Story of Machen Thomas Wiebe

            While Machen’s pregnancy was very much wanted, it also came during one of the most stressful years of our lives. It was the same year that we were waiting to have our sweet Evelyn home with us and was filled with Social Service visits, adoption training, and endless waiting. We got pregnant in July 2013, and lost that baby in September, on the same day that we were told that Evy had to move back to her foster home after living with us for 4 months, to await official approval. When we got pregnant again in November, we couldn’t have been more thrilled. We were still dealing with the work involved with bringing Evy home, but the prospect of another addition to our family was such a joy.
            The pregnancy was hard: both physically and emotionally. I was sick for the first part, and my hips and pelvis hurt terribly through the latter part. I felt that with everything else going on, I didn’t have time to prepare for the actual birth, and hoped that all the previous experiences I had would get me through.
            Then, when I was 38 weeks pregnant, I got into an accident. I went out for a horseback ride, and my horse, who normally didn’t give me any trouble, bucked me off. I landed on my bum, and so the baby was fine, but I broke my tailbone and was in severe pain. While before the accident I had been hoping that the baby would come sooner than later, after the fall I started praying that he would just stay put for a few more weeks, so that I could heal. I couldn’t lie on my back or sit up at all, in fact, I could barely walk, and I didn’t want to go into labour while I was so immobile.
            On July 27, a Sunday evening, just 10 days after the accident, I knew labour would be starting soon. My water hadn’t “broke,” but I was leaking a little, and I just knew that my body was ready. While we were sitting outside with the kids in the evening enjoying the warm summer night, I told Jared I thought that that night would be the night.
            We went to bed early, and slept well. I woke up at 5 am, before Jared woke up to go to work, with mild contractions. They were very gentle, but they were consistently about 10 minutes apart, so I knew I had been right and that I would soon meet my baby. When Jared woke up I told him that I didn’t want him to go into work, and that we should probably get the birth stuff ready.
            Because I was leaking amniotic fluid, but was not actually in labour, I did have a fear that it would be a replay of Eli’s birth – days of waiting, followed by a caesarean. Thankfully, after Atticus’s birth I knew my body could do it, and so I hoped things would move along quickly. I was very apprehensive though because of the pain I was still in due to my fall.
            By 10 am I was confident that labour had begun, and I called the appropriate people to let them know. Chloe and Joan, who were going to come over to take pictures and help with the big kids, and the midwives. I told them all that I was doing fine and would let them know when I need them.
            I spent most of the morning and early afternoon in bed. I napped with Atticus, cuddling with my “baby” one last time. I listened to my hypnobabies tracks. At 2:30 things still hadn’t really picked up, but were remaining consistent. I was definitely in labour, just not very strong labour. At this point the whole family gathered together for a family prayer – just the kind of strength and support that I needed at the time.
            After Tuck’s nap I decided to go downstairs to knit and watch TV. Jared continued to watch the kids upstairs and in the backyard. I finished two little hats, and began another while I was in labour. About ½ way through the third hat I’d had enough of the TV show I was watching (Downton Abby, for those who are interested), and was finally having contractions that I couldn’t just sit through. I think things were more painful than they otherwise would have been because my movement was so limited due to my broken tailbone.

            I lost track of time through here, but at some point Chloe and Joan showed up. My mom brought dinner for everyone, and I was mildly aware that while I was labouring downstairs, my entire family was having a party in my backyard. My dad, two brother-in-laws and my nephews were even out back!  

I finally got into the tub. I did not want to slow contractions down by getting in to the water, but I knew how good it would feel to be in there. I laboured for a while in the tub. At some point each of the kids came down to check on me. Silas was especially interested. I didn’t mind them there, and looking back feel that I managed contractions better when they were there because I had to not scream.

            Things started to get to a point where I felt I couldn’t manage contractions any more. At 7:37 pm I told Jared to call the midwives, hoping that they could help. In the pool things were so much better, but I could really only be in two positions: on my knees with my arms over the side, or kind of propped on one side, not on my bum, but up on one knee. On both knees seemed to work best.

            I’m not sure when the midwives got there. It must have been shortly after 8. Carol, Wendy, and the student, Janelle, all came. I was not thrilled to see Janelle there, but was so consumed that I didn’t really care. They worked me through a few contractions, and then I felt the baby descend. I told them I wanted my kids down, and so someone ran upstairs to get them. Once they got down there I actually didn’t want them right there, so I sent them back to one of the bedrooms. I didn’t want them to see me like that; I was really not dealing very well, and didn’t want the kids to see that part of it.   Later Jared said that I was being pretty funny, but I felt dead serious as I demanded to go to the hospital, an epidural, to adopt next time. I yelled at Janelle to not talk, because every time she opened her mouth I was annoyed. (The funny thing is, I really like Janelle. She was at all of my prenatal appointments and was really nice. I just didn’t want her to tell me what to do!)

            Right after the kids went back to the room, my water actually broke with a POP!  Immediately after that my body started to push. It was the same as with Atticus’s birth where I didn’t really push, my body just did it. I pushed once and his head was out, and another and his body was out. The kids came out immediately and met their new brother.

            Although we didn’t know if we were having a boy or a girl, when I looked to find he was another boy, I was not at all surprised. It was as if I had known all along. He was so sweet. When he first came out the midwives said, “Jenny, here’s your baby, reach down and get your baby.” And I just stayed there on my hands and knees and ignored them for a minute. Even though if felt like it went on forever, I had gone from totally manageable pain, through transition, to baby out, it one hour. Machen was born at 8:37 pm, exactly an hour after we called the midwives.

            We waited for the cord to stop pulsing and then Evy got to cut it. I waited for my placenta to deliver, but ended up having to stand up and squat in order to push it out. The midwives were very hands off for that part – they didn’t try to pull on the cord, but told me how to, and just told me different things to try to get the placenta out.

            Looking back on the events of the labour I see that it really wasn’t that bad, and that it actually was very similar to Tuck’s birth, except that early labour was longer. But, it really felt so much worse. I was a little shell shocked after the fact. I think it was partly because of the accident, and me not ready to go into labour, but it was also because I went into it emotionally unprepared. I had spent all of my energy on Evy’s adoption throughout the pregnancy, and had little left for the intensity of the labour. Also, I think with Tuck I had something to prove – I had to know if my body could deliver a baby or not. This time I had nothing to prove, and I really just wanted it to be over. I feel bad that I felt that way, but that’s how it went.

            Machen’s Apgar scores were 9 and 9. He was exactly 8 lbs at 19 ½ inches long. When he first came out of the water he just snuggled into my chest. After a bit he let out a little wail but really didn’t cry that much. He nursed on my left breast like champ, while we were still in the pool, and lying down in the bed (because I couldn’t sit up) when we got up to my bedroom.  Right from the start he was a star nurser. Heavenly Father blessed me with a good nurser, because he must have known that with my injury I wouldn’t have been able to handle it otherwise. 
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