Wednesday, April 24, 2013

We Cry Before We Smile

Today, at exactly three weeks old, Avinly smiled, her right cheek revealing a dimple previously hidden. After oohing and aahing over her beauty -- the burst of love from a once expressionless face -- I pulled out her baby book and turned to the milestones page.

There it was, listed right on top, just like always. "First smile," the entry read. I jotted down the date and returned the book to the closet shelf, savoring the seconds-long taste of dessert amidst days of repetitive meat and potatoes.

Just a few minutes later, I got a message from Reece's Rainbow that I never wanted. Colt, the boy I've been praying over for a year, was denied the chance to find a family in January by his own president. As the weeks passed, we held out hope that Russia would allow exceptions for special-needs children like Colt to be adopted.

Today, that slim chance was formally shot down. All the money raised to help Colt's family bring him home was taken away, given instead to a boy from a country who lets Americans adopt. Meet Ezra, an 18-month-old from Eastern Europe with hydrocephalus, anemia and a protein-energy deficiency.

I truly hope Colt's $2200 helps Ezra find a home with a loving mom and dad. But seeing Colt's fund wind back to zero, his shot at health and a future stripped off like an unwanted hangnail, dug into me. Fresh off the high of my sweet girl's first smile, I had farther to fall upon discovering the key to Colt's freedom tossed into the pawn-stuffed swamp of politics.

In every baby book, the first smile is always the first entry. The logical part of me realizes why, yet the heart knows further still that smiling is not what we do first. From the moment we enter this world, confused with fists clenched, we cry.

We cry.

The mothers and fathers, watching from above with the advantage of years, smile and laugh with joy at the sound of their child's distress, for they know the cry is beautiful. The cry -- the deep, guttural wail that something is wrong here -- signifies life, the opportunity for growth and future happiness.

Avinly has cried hundreds of times already in her 21 days. Her cries don't scare me, because I am her mom and I know those sounds are temporary. I know her smile, given me today as a gift for the first time, will multiply as the days pass, and the cries will lessen.

Physically, anyways.

Even as my heart soars for Avinly, it cracks for Colt. And I don't know which emotion to embrace.

Until I read and re-read this quote from Ann Voskamp:

Rejecting joy to stand in solidarity with the suffering doesn't rescue the suffering. The converse does. The brave who focus on all things good and all things beautiful and all things true, even in the small, who give thanks for it and discover joy even in the here and now, they are the change agents who bring fullest Light to all the world. ~From "One Thousand Gifts"

So today, I am focusing on all things good and beautiful and true: my daughter's first smile, the giggles of the boys over the season's first run through the sprinkler, my husband's wink across the dinner table.

I give thanks, whispering a promise to Colt to never stop bringing the Light.

For God, as our heavenly father, knows that we cry before we smile. And he is unafraid, for he knows these sounds -- these quiet, soul-loud wails of anguish -- are temporary.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Postnatal Lobster Love

My dad has worked at the same family-owned sawmill for years. The owner and his wife are some of the best people I've ever met. The wife especially has always been incredibly generous, her eyes constantly sweeping the room at parties and events just to see if there's something she can do for someone.

I've been the recipient of this woman's kindness many times. She has such a big heart. If she discovers that you like something, she often goes out of her way to make sure you get it.

You'd think I would know that by now.

 A few months ago, I was at an event with Nick, my parents and my dad's boss' wife. We chatted amiably about her upcoming trip to Maine to visit her family and how excited she was to see the New England coast again.

"I've always wanted to go there," I mentioned, "and see how they catch lobster."

She visibly brightened. "You like lobster?" she asked. When I said yes, she said she would make sure that Nick and I had a nice lobster dinner once the baby arrived.

How nice, I thought to myself.
She's going to give us a gift card to Red Lobster or something.

Think again, Crystal. And aim higher.

When Avinly was about 9 days old, I was in the shower after a run. Nick sauntered in. "A package came in the mail for you," he announced, and lowered the box over the side of the shower door for me to see.

PERISHABLE, the box read. My first thought: ooooo, maybe it's some fresh pineapple from Hawaii! Or chocolates from Spain!


Nick smiled very mischievously. "Can you hear them?"

Um, come again?

Suddenly, my hearing went supersonic, and I could hear something. 4 somethings.

"Your lobsters are here!" Nick chirped.

All at once, I became intensely aware of my nakedness. "As in, they're still ALIVE?!?!" I screamed. "I don't want lobsters anywhere near me when I'm naked! Get them out of here!"

Yes, my dad's boss' wife had 4 LIVE LOBSTERS next-day-aired from Portland, Maine just for me.

Terrified, I realized I would have to kill them before eating (yes, I know how absurdly stupid that sentence sounds, but hey, I'm sleep-deprived at the moment!). My maternal instincts went wild. Now, I have gutted my own fish, helped my brothers skin their elk and sent a grown 4H sheep that I raised from a lamb off to slaughter without batting an eyelash.

But back then, I wasn't nursing!

Call the Alaskans.

When you need something killed and you don't have the testosterone to do it yourself, it's handy to have some Alaskan natives on speed dial (and there's your mafia tip-of-the-day, folks.). Jason and Bekah were more than happy to help us out. And since we had FOUR lobsters, we were more than happy to pay them for loaning us their giant cooking pot -- those suckers were WAY larger than anticipated -- with a lobster feast.

Side story: as Bekah was pulling out lobster meat, she became puzzled over these little black balls inside one. We gradually deduced the lobster was female and those slimy things were her eggs; it's considered a delicacy in many cultures. Of course, I would get an ovulating if I wasn't already hormonal enough.

But the Youngs weren't the only helpers. Since I not only refused to dunk those puppies in boiling water but wouldn't even go near the refrigerator where they were being stored (now THAT'S a handy diet trick), Nick started watching tutorial videos on YouTube. With Jack.

Yes, my 5-year-old has now not only helped a laboring woman, but has also killed his own lobster. Next lesson: opening a freshly-picked coconut with his own machete. Monogrammed, of course. We're classy people.

Needless to say, the evening was memorable. Especially after my aunt informed me that lobsters "scream" while you're cooking them. Thankfully, that turned out to be false. Although I wouldn't know for sure, as I talked my poor neighbor's ear off during the cooking time -- completely on purpose. Sorry about that, Kevin.

So what did I learn? Nick would say I should be careful what I wish for -- either that, or talk about Hawaiian vacations more frequently. But really?

I saw again how wonderful this world can be.

I remembered you can treat people, even those you don't know very well, like royalty, just because it brings joy.

I learned the best memories are unexpected and slightly ridiculous.

I experienced a baby celebration like no other.

I remembered that Jesus, too, likes to give good gifts, just because that's his nature.

I learned that blessings come in strange packages...with "perishable" marked on the side.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Joy Came in the Morning: Avinly's Birth Story

I knew Jack was going to be early, and he was. I knew Jude was going to be late, and he was. Yet as my due date approached, I wasn't sure which brother Avinly would take after.

She did neither. It sounds silly, but it had never occurred to me that, joining only 10% of babies, she might arrive on her due date. I dig punctual people.

Anyone who knows me well is well-aware of my to-do list. Mock me if you will, but I've had a running Word document going since the 7th grade detailing exactly what needs done next in my life, and by what time.

Avinly was so considerate. For the first time EVER, I got everything done on my to-do list less than 12 hours before she made her arrival.

Floors mopped, bathrooms cleaned (not anymore...), hospital bag packed, et cetera and so on.

The night of April 2, I knew she was going to come the next day. But I didn't want to worry Nick, so I didn't say anything. Plus, I was really hoping to get one last night of solid sleep.

We went to bed around 10, and I woke up at 1:20 a.m. with my first contractions. I tried to go back to sleep, but they wouldn't let me. So I started pacing around the bed, knowing I could be a T-Rex jumping next to Nick's head and still wouldn't wake him up.

At 2:40, I got bored and wanted to go outside. I almost went walking by myself, then figured Nick would probably be pretty ticked if I was in nocturnal labor in the streets on my own. So I woke him up. "Today's the day," I whispered. He didn't even open his eyes. "Are you sure?" he asked.

Yep, I definitely was.

We bundled up, leashed Klaus and set off. The sky was clear and full of stars -- a marked contrast to my labor with Jude, where it rained gentle buckets as Klaus and I stepped through puddles in between contractions.

This time, we heard crickets and frogs as our pace slowed and quickened every few minutes. Nick, iPhone in hand to track my times, joked that I must really be in labor if he was walking faster than me. We held hands and talked about our upcoming day. What would she look like? Would my labor be my quickest? And more importantly, what the heck is that guy across the street doing in his underwear? (Just fetching the newspaper, as it turns out. Once he saw us, he scuttled back inside pretty quickly.).



We eventually came back, and I tried to rest between contractions, which were now coming every 3 to 5 minutes. Next came our giant bathtub. After just a couple of minutes in the hot water, my contractions slowed. I wasn't sure if it was because I was able to handle the pain better, or if my body truly was applying the brakes. Just in case, I got out -- there was no way I wanted to slow this train down!

Around 3:30, we called my
doula Cara. She offered to come over, but I declined. Between Nick's support and my pain management techniques, I was doing fine.

Soon, it was time to wake Jack up to get ready for school. When Nick told him that Avinly was going to be born that day, he got so excited, immediately dashing over to the neighbors on both sides to let them know. A mom from his class at school later told me that upon entering his room, he loudly announced, "My mom is in LABOR!"

Before we left, Jack gently patted my arm. "Mommy, I'm so sorry your tummy is hurting," he said, brown eyes full of sympathy. "Can I come with you to the hospital and help?" I told him no, but he could help me through the next contraction. So he did, holding my hand as I walked around the living room and hummed through my breathing exercises. "Did that scare you?" I asked. "Nope," he answered. Of course not. This kid is so fascinated by the human body that nothing phases him!

I kissed my boys goodbye, trying to memorize each detail in that moment (minus the pain, of course). Jack, the oldest of 2. And Jude, my baby for the last time. Sniff. And ouch!

Our friend Kori came by to get the boys, and soon we were off to the hospital. We arrived a little after 8:15 a.m. Cara met us in the parking lot. Later she told me she didn't think I could be that far along, because I "seemed too happy." An orderly came out with a wheelchair, but I told him no. The thought of sitting down sounded unbearably painful to me. I just wanted to walk!

So I did, only stopping when the triage nurse needed to see how far along I was. "You're already at a 7," she announced. Seriously?!?! Cara chirped, "You're a rockstar! You can totally finish this naturally!" And I knew at that moment that I could.

About 20 minutes later, after some more walking, the midwife arrived and wanted to check me again. "Well, the cervix is gone," she said. I was confused. Did she mean that I had regressed to a zero? That she couldn't find this critical part of me? So I asked, and she laughed.

"As in, you're at a 10," she said. "Once your water breaks, you can push anytime you'd like."

Cara said she wishes like crazy someone would have taken a photo of my facial expression at that exact moment. How on earth could I be almost done?!?! I was still walking around the room!

I know everybody's birth experiences and pain levels are different, but I truly believe that athletes have an edge. When I'm in labor, I try (and often succeed, though not always) to mentally check out. I pretend I'm at mile 20 and want to quit...and then I don't. I run to the next telephone pole, the next water station, the next tree. And then I start all over and do it again.

And may I say that running a marathon is A MILLION TIMES EASIER than giving birth?


Just a minute or 2 later, my water did break. And this is the part where my pain management techniques that work so well for me in the beginning (and even in transition) leave me and I make Monica Seles look and sound like a staid librarian.


Thankfully, I have a very high level of pain tolerance. But when I hit the wall, I lose it. As in, screaming-for-Jesus lose it. (Example A: I asked for an epidural with Jude. "I don't think so, Crystal," they told me. "He's crowning." I ordered them to get me one anyways.).

About 10 minutes before Avinly made her entrance, my mom arrived. I didn't see her, but as soon as she touched me, I knew it was her. It became apparent her job was to remind me that Jesus was, in fact, present and hadn't abandoned me.

A few pushes later, and my daughter was born. She was clean and crying. I loved her instantly and told everyone in the room. I loved her even more once I saw her hair and long fingers.

She was born at 9:14 a.m. -- less than an hour after we first arrived at the hospital.

And since then, my life has been an explosion of pink, kisses and hugs from big brothers, well wishes from everyone I know, long hours spent staring at her beauty and 4 live lobsters....but that last item is for another blog post.

In the words of David, the great poet, "There may be pain in the night, but joy comes in the morning." (Psalm 30:5).

Yes, it does.