Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Henry Wayne - Our Birth Story

This is my birth story. A sacred journey. A hard and laborious journey. A joyous journey. Our story.

To start at the beginning, we had decided pretty early on in the pregnancy to use midwives and have the baby at the Princeton/Plainsboro hospital. Throughout the pregnancy and going to our prenatal visits and birthing classes, we fell in love with our midwife group. They were 4 wonderful women whose only goal was to care for you and empower you to do whatever you wanted to and to help educate you in those decisions. They were all so warm and caring and made us both feel so comfortable.

I was pretty flexible in what I wanted for the labor and delivery: I knew I wanted to try to have the baby unmedicated, but I was also not opposed to an epidural if I felt I needed one. For that reason, Wes and I discussed creating a code word, that only he and I knew, that meant "I'm not joking around, I want an epidural." and we asked in our written birth plan that no nurses offer it to me - I would let them know if I wanted one. Our code word was "Barry Bonds" cause…you know…he cheated by taking steroids… ;)

I went to sleep friday night Oct. 25th smiling at Wes. I said to him "Our baby is coming soon!" (as I had lost the mucus plug 2 days earlier) but I had no idea it would be early that next morning. A few nights before I went into labor I remember pondering the impending birth. I felt an incredible sense of peace and calmness about labor and delivery. "Maybe I'm just naive," I kept telling Wes "But I don't feel scared or nervous about this. I just feel so much peace around me."

At 3:00am I woke to my water breaking. I rushed to the bathroom and yelled "Wes! I'm pretty sure my water just broke!!" "It did?!" He said half asleep. I got our midwife group on the phone and Ursula was on call at that time. "Do you have contractions?" she asked. "Not yet." "Well, try to get a few hours of sleep and call back when your contractions start. You need your energy!"

I got about an hour of sleep before my contractions started at 4:00am. They were very mild at that point so I nudged Wes "Hey…my contractions started…but go back to sleep." (I knew I needed him to have energy to help me when they started getting difficult.) I rested but timed my contractions for 2 hours before waking Wes up. At that point the contractions were still very manageable but I needed help timing them. They were roughly 8 minutes a part lasting for 45 seconds and as the time went on became very inconsistent. 5 minutes a part, 8 minutes a part, 10 minutes a part, 6…ect. We were told by our midwives throughout the pregnancy to wait until the contractions were 5 minutes a part lasting for a minute for 2 hours before coming into the hospital - they are big advocates that you are most comfortable in your home so to stay there as long as possible if you want a natural birth.

Soon after my 6:00am contractions, I tried laboring in different rooms and in different positions but eventually found my sweet spot: I labored a good 8 hours in our master bathroom. I stacked all our pillows up and leaned over it with my arms crossed to lay my head on, and was on my knees. We called it my "birthing fort".

The Birthing Fort

At each contraction, I swayed back and forth and instinctually made tonal sounds to get through the contractions (Wes said later that he considered recording the sounds because he said "they sounded pretty" and later, after my boy was born, I whispered to him "I sang you out") with each contraction getting stronger I would tell myself that each one would bring me closer to my baby. It was actually quite amazing, because at times I could actually feel my baby wiggle and move into position. We were doing this together. It is such a beautiful miracle that my body and my baby know what to do. I just had to trust both.

Wes was a phenomenal partner for me during labor, and I have never felt closer to him. He would sweetly guide me through each contraction. At this point from about 10:30am - 12:00pm the contractions were 5 minutes a part lasting for a minute so he knew as he was keeping track of them what the time frame would be. He would gently tell me at the 30 second mark "Okay, you are half way done, you can do this," and as it neared the minute mark he would say "You are almost done. Do you feel it trailing off? It's fading away now…" Our rhythm and routine of getting through these contractions made it easy to cope, even though the pain was increasing. Around 12:00pm the contractions started to become inconsistent again ranging from 3 minutes a part to 8 minutes a part but mostly 5 minutes a part so I had Wes call our midwife (Carolyn was now the midwife on call) and told her the timing of the contractions and that we were thinking about heading to the hospital because the pain was increasing to where it was almost unbearable. "Well…" she said "If your goal is an unmedicated birth I'd really like her to stay there longer…until they are 3 minutes a part consistently. Why don't you try getting into your bath and see if that helps."

I had heard over and over again that for the first birth, you should expect to labor for 24 hours, and I had known several recent births that went 30+ hours. I kept thinking to myself "If I get to the hospital and I am only a few centimeters dilated, I really want an epidural" if only for endurance sake. I was coping well, but at that point I had only been in labor for 9 hours. I couldn't imagine twice or three times as long.

I wasn't particularly happy about hearing that she wanted me to stay home longer, as the pain was increasing, but Wes drew me a bath as I worked through a few more contractions. I got into the tub and after a few minutes the next contraction came…and I NEEDED TO PUSH. I actually had to stop my body from pushing because it instinctually starting bearing down. "Uhhh Wes…I think I have to push." Wide eyed he said "DON'T DO THAT!" I had another contraction with same feeling of needing to push. Wes called the midwife and told her about my urge to push. "Why don't you just come on down then." she said. As I started to get out of the bath I said our code word. "Wes, I'm Barry Bondsing it right now. If she checks me and I'm only 4 centimeters, I want an epidural." "Ok…" Wes said. Though he says now he didn't believe me. I had labored through contractions for 9 hours peacefully at home, and we were now headed off to the hospital.

Yeah…Barry Bonds….

At 1:00pm we arrived. After some difficulties getting registered in at the hospital, finally at 1:30pm my midwife arrived. She had me lay on the hospital bed to check my dilation. "Amanda..." she said, "You are fully dilated" My eyes got big. "I am?!" "Yep, you are 10cm, station 2 and I feel your baby. You don't have to breathe through your contractions anymore. You can push any time you want." I was able to push when I wanted, as many times as my body felt like it needed to, and hold it as long as my body wanted to. The midwife trusted my body, and so did I.

Carolyn, our midwife, was so wonderful! Her words were so encouraging, telling me that each push was moving my baby closer. She would shout "beautiful!" at my pushes, and it made me feel like I was so powerful!

My baby and I worked together, and I pushed for an hour before my sweet boy was born at 2:48pm. 11 hours after my contractions started. They put him immediately on me, skin to skin. I had my eyes closed as I pushed that last push, so for a minute after they laid him on me I still had them closed, just feeling him in my arms. I opened them and saw those sweet eyes looking up at me. "Hi, baby." I whispered to him over and over again. I also kept looking at Wes and saying "I did it!" it utter disbelief. Henry barely cried when he came out, he really just grunted and whimpered, which he still does now at 5 week old. I was able to have Henry on my chest for 45 minutes, and many of the newborn procedures were done while I held him.

My birth was such a beautiful experience. I knew I wanted to try to have him naturally, but in the back of my head I was never sure of myself. But I did it. We did it. All three of us. My birth has changed me in ways I still can't articulate. I felt empowered and confident. I was able to let go of the fear of child birth, and see that it is the best pain I could ever go through. It was perfect. And it was the best day of my life.

My sweet boy

Henry Wayne Ellis 7lbs 10oz 19.75in

The day we were released from the hospital

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

My Child

If you don't already know,. I am pregnant. And being pregnant, for me, is one of the best things I've ever been able to experience. As hard as pregnancy can be (and mine has had some rough patches so far) there is more joy and wonder than anything. And I would endure it forever for this baby.

I asked a friend of mine who was over due at the time, what it was like. "It's like waiting to see the face of your best friend." And being 25 weeks pregnant, I feel the same. This child has become a part of me. He is a friend I have yet to meet. I don't know anything about him, but I love him more than I have loved anything in this world. How can that even happen?! I have never seen him, and yet I would give my life for him.

My child,
I love you.
Before you have done anything.
Before your ups and downs
and before mine.
I love you.
Nothing could ever take it away,
because it was here before you even began.
I love you,
My child. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Be Generous

Last year I followed Megan over at SortaCrunchy pick "one word" to guide her year instead of a traditional new years resolution. She is doing it again this year with the word "serve", and so is my friend Alyssa over at All Things Beautiful picking the word "seek".

If you haven't heard of picking a word for 2013  but want to, you still have time! It's actually something that quite a few people are doing. And by now you might have given up on those resolutions you made a month ago anyway, so join with me! It's a wonderful way to focus on one positive thing you want to be this year. Their website (oneword365.com) says it best:

"Forget New Year’s Resolutions. Scrap that long list of goals you won’t remember three weeks from now anyway. Choose just one word. One word that sums up who you want to be or how you want to live. One word that you can focus on every day, all year long.
It will take intentionality and commitment, but if you let it, your word will shape you and your year. It will guide your decisions and help you grow. Discover the big impact one word can make.
One word. 365 days. A changed life."

Now look, I know it's February, but I spent most of December and January thinking about what word I wanted to use and nothing felt right! Then all of the sudden it came like a gentle whisper:  "Be generous".

I desperately want to be more generous, but it's going to have to be a conscious decision each day. I know this is a problem area for me, as I hold so tightly to money. Money sucks, okay?! It comes with anxiety and depression. People often judge you on how you spend your money.  I KNOW it's hard for me, and I tend to beat myself up saying "Stop being so controlling." and "Stop being so consumed with money." But I think I need to stop telling myself what NOT to do, and start saying the positive:  "Be generous". It's so much more freeing to see the beauty of what can be, rather than the ugly of what has been done.

I just don't want money to rule me anymore. I want to see a need and feel freedom in faith that if I meet the need of someone else, I will still be taken care of too. I guess that's what it comes down to. I'm afraid I won't be taken care of. I've put my own well being over someone else, without faith that God won't let me fall.

What would my life look like if I just stopped being so afraid?

I'm not saying be frivolous with money. No, we still need to be responsible adults! But what would it look like if we started actually budgeting and allowed a "generous" fund? Putting aside a fraction a month and seeing where it takes us.

Now, when I say I want to be generous, I'm not just talking monetarily, but that's a big one for me. I want to be generous by being intentional. Being generous with my time when I notice my neighbor is having a bad day and just needs to talk. Generous with my food, by making a meal for a friend whose having a hard week. I just want to have a giving heart. An open heart. A seeking heart.

I use to pray a prayer almost every day in high school that went like this:

"Open my eyes, my ears and my heart to the needs of those around me, and may I meet those needs as best as I can. "

What if I started praying this again each day when I woke up? Would it change the way I saw the events of my day? Probably! I can't see how it would make it worse. When we center ourselves each day and point ourselves in a certain direction, it will subconsciously guide us. Our hearts will be more aware of the opportunities to carry out what we want to do and be.

Trust me, this is not easy! I've literally had to say to myself "Be more generous" in situations where I would normally clutch tightly to my wallet or my watch. But I want to try. I want to try to be generous this year. Will you join me in this journey?


Going Forward

1) Pray the "needs" prayer when I wake up in the morning. "Open my eyes, my ears and my heart to the needs of those around me, and may I meet those needs as best as I can. "

2) Write the word "generous" all over my house! As many reminders as possible (Mirror, fridge, door).

3) Start budgeting in envelopes, Dave Ramsey style, and have an envelope titled "be generous."

4) Listen to the prayer requests at church each Sunday and pick one that I feel drawn to and imagine how it would look to be generous in that situation.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Getting Involved With Church Ministry

We just starting attending a church here in New Jersey a couple of months ago. We had tried several churches since we moved here in August, but they just didn't feel right. We would leave each church saying "Eh...that was good, but something is missing." They weren't bad churches, in fact many were wonderful, thriving churches! But we just kept feeling like there was somewhere else we needed to try. That is until we set foot in Kingston United Methodist Church. The style of liturgy reminded us of home, and there was such a welcoming atmosphere. After the service we both looked at each other in the car and said "Alight. That was really great!" We decided that day to visit KUMC every other week and try a new church in between, but that didn't happen because the second time we visited I knew I didn't want to miss another Sunday.

(As a side note let me just say this: I sound a bit giddy about this church, and I do have wonderful things to say about it, but look, no church is perfect and neither is this one. But the difference is that this is a church we want to struggle alongside with.)

We attended regularly for a couple of months and then quickly started getting involved. We both joined the Christmas Choir, read scripture and I was recruited to help with an alternative gift project for the holiday season. As soon as we began to volunteer, we started feeling more and more "at home". We started making connections with people - the same people we had been quietly sitting alongside during that one hour on Sunday morning. I started to know their names and their hearts. Getting involved helps foster community with people you wouldn't normally be around.

I want to write about this because it is deeply important for me to see people get involved with a church they like, ASAP. I'm pretty passionate about it. Once you've reached that point where you've gone several times and you KNOW that this is where you want to be - DO SOMETHING. I say this because I've personally been involved in ministry at every church I've been at. I see the difference it makes in my life and in the lives of those around me when we reach outside that comfort zone for just a moment, to find our place in the church, bringing God's kingdom close like a kiss.

Of course you can also do wonderful work outside a church community, but there is something so special about sharing life and passions with those you are sharing a space with every week. Becoming involved with the ministries of the church can keep us from being church "consumers". It can help us see that yes, going on Sunday can be nourishing to the soul...but what if it isn't all that nourishing one week. What if it's really boring!? What if the music sucks?! When you have allowed yourself to become a part of something bigger than yourself, you will begin to see the church less as something to obtain or to consume, but more as a place where you are challenged and encouraged to reach outward. It feels good to be a part of something bigger than yourself.

There are SO MANY ways to be a part of a church. Generally the "bigger" ministries are listed on a bulletin each week, or on the church website (usually these include children's, youth, young adult, adult and choir ministries). But these are not the only ways to get involved! Whatever your passion is, THERE IS A PLACE FOR YOU. Getting involved with a ministry can help you find and strengthen those passions. As I started to volunteer at KUMC, the pastor came up to me and thanked me, saying that the skills and talents I had were not his. I was able to bless the church in a unique way. Being a part of the church has made me feel good to be me - the me that I was created to be. It has made me feel confident and caring, loving and kind. You need to know this: you are valuable to the church. Whatever your passion is, however you are being intrinsically you, is needed. It's a place you can be exactly who you are and a place you SHOULD be exactly who you are.

That is the bottom line - this is why you should get involved: we need you. Not for free volunteer labor, but we need YOU. Everything you are. Your passions are unique, your talents, everything you are, good and bad, are exactly what is missing in our ministries. You are precious. You are valuable. You are beautiful. You are loved. Our lives are missing something valuable when you are not sharing life and love with us.


Going Forward:

- Talk to your pastor to see what ministries are available at your church. Take time to pray over them and see where you feel most lead.

- If you aren't sure of your passions, try taking a strengths test. If you enjoy personality tests as much as I do, this is just a fun way to see what your gifts might be! (Note that none of these will outright tell you that you should volunteer in youth ministry, or with the choir, or behind the scenes doing office work. It's just a guide to see your strengths from a different perspective)

  • This link here is for a general strengths aptitude test. For example, my results were "Optimism", "Faith" and "Focus".
  • This link here is for a spiritual gifts test. (It says "take our test for free" in the grey box in the left corner) For example, my results were "Mercy", "Faith" and "Discernment".
  • This link here is geared more towards teenagers and is very short and a bit more narrowed in the questions. My results were "Encouragement", "Giving" and "Hospitality".
-  Dream big! All passions can be used in the church, even if they seem small. Take a look at your passions for art, crafts, sewing, finance, cooking, board games, reading, writing, music, or dance - and dream about how they can by used to bring God's Kingdom to earth.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

A Look At 2012

12 highlights of 2012!

1. New Years Resolution:
This isn't a highlight of 2012, but I feel the need to get this out in writing! One of my goals this year is to blog more regularly, but more importantly, blog about substantial subjects! I really want to be intentional about my topics. I don't want to write just to have something on my blog. It has to mean something to me! (I have one brewing at the moment so keep an eye out!)

2. Netflix fun:
Fringe!!! Breaking Bad!!! We had a lot of fun with Fringe and Breaking Bad this year. I particularly enjoyed Fringe, and partly because I'm not always a sci-fi girl, but the character development and relationships are outstanding, and the way they tie in each episode is so interesting! So worth watching!

3. Most fun with currently running TV:
"Once Upon A time". OMG I love it. Best show on TV right now! The reason I know it's so good is because I can't even remember the last show I cared about enough to watch it as it airs. The character development of this show is phenomenal and it's just plain FUN to follow some of my beloved fairy tale characters.

4. Skincare love:
My current skincare routine, and my favorite one of the year, is using Alba's organic Acnedote facial wash followed by a home made toner of apple cider vinegar, water and green tea. Oh my word. It has done wonders!

5. Favorite Quote:
"It's hard to let go anything we love. We live in a world which teaches us to clutch. But when we clutch we're left with a fistful of ashes." - Madeleine L'Engle

Ugh, I was absolutely obsessed with this quote earlier in the year. I even wrote it out and hung it on my mirror for a time. So, so poignant and such a strong symbol for me personally. Love her. So much.

6. Favorite album:
My favorite album as a whole this year has to be a tie between "The Lumineers" and "The Head and the Heart" These are fantastic, and I love each and every song! I really enjoy the authentic and raw sound of these bands, and they just make me feel good! Some of my favorite songs are "Ho Hey", "Stubborn Love" (Lumineers) and "Ghosts" and "Winter Song" (Head and the Heart). So amazing.

7. Favorite Music Discoveries:
This year has been wonderful for my music loving soul! Some of these are not new to the music scene, but were new to me this year and I am in love!! Sia, Shovels and Rope, Of Monsters of Men, Noah Gunderson, Young the Giant, Dawes, The Civil Wars, Gregory Alan Isakov, Holly Pulliam, and Lost in the Trees. Seriously. Listen to all of them. I'm not kidding. Go. Now.

8. Biggest Surprise:
Honestly, the biggest surprise is that I'm not freezing in New Jersey anymore! I guess I just got use to it, and I actually like it! It's very weird for me to say this, but I'm looking forward to our first real snow storm! I know, I know, I say that NOW before it has happened, but I'm hoping I still love it as much as I love the idea of it.

9. Most enjoyable travel:
Our road tip/move out to Princeton was quite an adventure! Though sad to leave our family, this phase of our lives has turned out to be just what we needed, and the trip out marked the beginning of that new plunge into the unknown. Although it was a tiresome and trying 4 day road trip with our cats in the car, it was something I will always cherish - being able to see this diverse country we live in with the one I love most.

10. Favorite Community Moment:
The hurricane brought our neighbors together in such a powerful and meaningful way. We were forced to be around one another, talk to one another, meet people we wouldn't otherwise meet, feed each other, pray with one another. That week without power, at least for Wes and I, is a cherished moment where we cared for one another and made deep valuable connections with the people around us. 

11. Best use of our home: 
 It's only been 5 or so months since we've moved in, but some highlights for me were: card games with Emily and Jesse the night of the hurricane. Obviously the devastation it left was awful and heartbreaking, but from where we were, it was mild and a fun night filled with laughter. The others I'd say are dinners and game nights too, with new friends Ben and Becca, and Kendra and Travis. Oh! And enchiladas with Brandy, Fransisco and Dolores! I need to invite more people over for dinner, cause apparently I enjoy it! I answered this question in last years high light post, and I just love it. So good to remind ourselves to open our doors to be generous and loving people.

12. Favorite snapshots:
My absolute all time favorite picture of Wes with our niece Emma.

SUCH a great memory: Painting with my grandpa - his original design.

This is where I live!!!! I can't get over how gorgeous it is.