Yes, we chose to have three. We chose to be outnumbered by the bundles of energy, discovery, tears, laughter, determination, curiosity and love that children are. We entered into parenthood knowing as much as anyone can who has not yet had children can know. And with each sibling we have entered into parenting siblings as well prepared as one can when one has not yet had that many children. But in so doing I did not realise that I was also opening the door for the flow of comments when we dare raise our heads above the parapets and say how hard it is. The truth is I am finding it harder and harder to admit to others how hard it is, how exhausted we really are, how often the tears have flowed, how short my temper has become, how prickly I am now to live with.
There is the cross, there is mercy and there is grace. And as I look back over past four months to just before Ruth was born it could be very easy to think that God has been absent, that it has been a barren time in my journey of faith but as I reflect back I see how far God has brought me because I look back on it as a time and is continuing to be a time of sustained mercy and grace. It has not been a season for loud voices, for God calling for my attention, trying to get me to listen. It has been a season when He has faithfully got on with His work in our lives, in pouring out mercy and grace each day upon us, of providing for us, of sustaining and keeping us. He has not asked more from us than to keep trusting in Him by putting one foot in front of the other. It has not been a season for big decisions, for tackling areas of my character in a conscious manner. It has simply been a season when He and I have simply got on with our roles of His being the God of mercy and grace and me trusting Him with each step. My trusting has not been without its tumbles and bumps but in His mercy He has kept me.
I knew we were still tired and had still not really come to terms with everything surrounding Ruth’s arrival but with all the passing comments ‘ well she is fine now’, ‘ that is behind you now’ there seemed little room to explore and journey through those early days and come through them. Then two weeks ago I saw a beautiful photo of a friend who had just had her second daughter at home and she, her newborn daughter and older daughter were all on the bed. I was filled with so much joy for them as I knew what this meant for them but my heart broke. It reflected everything we had hoped for ourselves with Ruth’s birth but was not. Finally I realised I needed to grief. It may seem strange to say that I needed to grief when we have Ruth, Ruth did not die, she seems to have come through unscathed in one sense of the word. But there is still a journey of grief I need to walk through of what was not. Of what was lost in that day. Of what was broken.
They say each birth is so very different even for the same mum. And I will affirm that. With our first born it was not as the books or our NCT course had indicated. We did not have hours to pace up and down and get our heads around it. But we did not have any other children. Our house was still a grown ups place. It was ordered and tidy and laundry mountains were an unknown part of our landscape. It was Mark and myself and the help of two amazing midwives, Winnie and Joan, who welcomed our eldest Matthew into the world at home in the early hours of the 11th March 2009. It was a fast and intense labour mostly made up of 2 hours of pushing. After a brief visit to the hospital due to some damage done we came home as a family of three and settled down to a cooked breakfast and entered into a blissful two weeks of afternoon family naps and doable nights. He loved his food during the day and often a drive was necessary in the evening to give me a break but the house was still tidy and laundry though some undulating hills were appearing, they were always mastered. We also moved half way round the world when he was 3 months old. Our second son kindly gave us warning he was on his way so before bedtime we were able to take Matthew to our neighbours to spend the night with them. With the wonderful support of our midwives, Kate and Carol we welcomed Jonathan into the world early on the morning of the 19th November 2011 and we all celebrated with freshly baked brownies and raspberries. Due to low blood pressure I was encouraged to spend the next 48 hours in bed and delighted to do so getting to know our second son in the company of Mark and Matthew. The whole experience had been gentle and relaxed. Having completely missed the fact that my waters had broken with Matthew and having had them broken for Jonathan, I was slightly taken back when I woke on the morning of the 24th November 2013 to realise that my waters had broken. As contractions did not start I was invited to go to the birthing centre to get checked out and so our neighbour came to watch the boys for us. While there it was discovered that Ruth had disengaged and so we were sent across to the hospital to be assessed, where I had a scan. We were sent home assured that all was fine but if nothing had happened by the next morning we would have to return to the hospital to be induced. By this stage Mark’s parents had come across to be around as we knew Ruth was going to be arriving within a given time frame. Mark and I went for a walk and we all waited the day out waiting for that first contraction. After another rough night with Jonathan who had a hideous cold and croup which had ensured Mark had had minimal sleep that week I got up at 6am with not a single contraction to be had and accepted that this time round a homebirth was not to be. I got into the shower to get ready to head to the hospital and stood there praying and asking God for strength to let go of what I had hoped for and to release my fears of all that being induced would mean. And then labour started and as with Matthew within minutes it became apparent that there was not going to be hours of pacing the floor, quite simply there was going to be a baby coming now. Mark’s mum entertained the boys downstairs and while she would have like industrial earplugs the boys never seemed to bat an eyelid to what was happening upstairs. Within an hour and half our daughter Ruth was born with the help of the midwives Debbie and Val. As with her eldest brother it was hard and intense (both have top of the scale head circumferences) We were shattered, we had had no sleep and the tension and uncertainty of the previous 24hours gave way to relief and a longing to hibernate and curl up and get to know our daughter in quiet. But 40 minutes later our life was turned upside down when I looked down at Ruth who had been suckling but now felt limp in my arms to see she was grey/blue and non responsive. The midwives took her and got work with her on our desk while Mark had to call 999 and I was left mid-stitch in an eerie silence. Suddenly there were 5 paramedics, mums are no longer allowed to travel in the same ambulance as their new born children so we had to have two ambulances a long with the rapid response car, providing drama for the neighbours. It was at this point I now know I shut down. I stopped the bonding process. I dared not love. I lay there imaging raising our two boys and what that would look like, I told myself that we could be complete as a family of four even though I knew we had wanted Ruth because we always felt there was to be one more round our table. But I shut those thoughts out and imagined us as a family of four.
They got Ruth stabilised and we were taken to hospital. Mark following in the car, scared and exhausted while my incredible mum (in law) stayed with the boys shell shocked. Mark had yet to hold his daughter, she to see her first granddaughter. That first day in hospital was a blur. We started on the delivery ward and then I was moved to the maternity ward while Ruth was in NICU. I did not get to hold her till later that afternoon or feed her till that evening. Mark journeyed between home and the hospital trying to be there for me and for the boys who were totally lost at sea. It was Tuesday before Mark got to hold his daughter, now out of NICU but still in the neonatal ward. Because the boys had colds they were not allowed in to see us which broke my heart and I felt torn between desperately wanting to be with them, to hold them and see them and listen to them and being in hospital with my daughter who I longed to love, to bond with, to feed with joy but was so scared of what any of that meant. There were too many ‘what if’ questions in my head to let me go there. What if I had not noticed soon enough? What if I had done something that had caused her to stop breathing? What if, what if what if. Amazingly newborns are created to survive without oxygen for up to 9 minutes in way we as adults could not do and the doctors were confident that they had got her breathing again within that time frame. I would not let myself hope. Blood sugar level issues kept us in for another day or so but finally we were allowed to come home. No one was able to tell us why she stopped breathing so while we were told there was no reason for it to happen again we could not relax. If it happened once then why not again. The most likely reason they put forward was because of her size (9lb 14oz) and the speed at which she came. That that can cause shock and the lungs did not get squeezed enough during labour to really get going.
We are almost 4 months down the road now and Ruth is doing well and as the most wonderful smile that lights up her whole face and draws everyone in. She is teaching me to bond, she is inviting me to love her and I am falling in love with her. But we are exhausted. It was as if we found ourselves forced into a world of NIC however briefly like a cork being pushed under water and then released and shot back to the surface and left to simply carry on as if none of that had happened. Our midwife Debbie was lovely and came back a week later to talk things through with us but I almost think that point it was too soon. It is only now I am willing to admit to how I responded, to my fears.
Nursing the boys while it had its moments was something I enjoyed. But not being able to feed Ruth for most of the first day and then my first proper feed was on a plastic chair behind a screen in NICU does not get the nursing hormones flowing. And because she had stopped breathing while nursing every time I latched on I had the image of her limp and grey and I dreaded feeding her. I wanted some else to be responsible, I did not want to be responsible and have it happen again.
While Ruth has come away unscathed in so many important physiological ways for which we are very thankful she has a deep fear in her and startles and scares easily which makes falling asleep for her a great battle and she has a high need for me to hold and nurse her. What she loves most is to be attached to me while stretched out on the bed in peace and quiet for an hour and half feeds at a time. This is not dissimilar to her eldest brother, which was fine when it was him as no one else was needing me but those undulating laundry hills are now snow-capped mountains, and others who get hungry and want books read, craft projects, school work to be fitted in, moments (sometimes many moments) of discipline to be carried out and some sleep for the parents would be nice.
Yes we chose three and I would not change that fact. But we are exhausted and I would love to be able to say that without the comments coming that we got ourselves into this, or what did we expect. I have responded in joking fashion to those comments and sometimes put them out there first to protect myself. We still have no rhythm to any given day, Mark has barely done a full day of study, the boys have been stretched and challenged. But this week the weather has enabled us to put our washing out and I look and it and smile as I see clothes for three little ones who stretch us to within an inch of our being and beyond. I am thankful for friends who have stepped into our lives and entered the chaos with us to help us. I look at the black stone ornament of two figures whose heads are bowed toward each other that Mark gave me and I am reminded of the incredible blessing I have in Mark as both my husband and father of our three children and of God who is holding us and keeping us each moment.