Saturday, November 28, 2015

Thanksgiving 2015

 While it's a challenge having a newborn around the holidays (such as efforts to get enough sleep for both her and you, and thus missing out on some family things!) we are so so thankful that we were able to be home for Thanksgiving. As an added blessing, we got to spend Thanksgiving week with ALL of my (Anna's) 6 siblings and their families, as well as some friends, for a total of 28 people around the Thanksgiving table.

Especially neat? Our first neighbor from China was here too! He is spending a year in the states for his work, and he flew all the way from California to spend over a week with us in Alabama!
Thank You, Lord, for this friend from China, who we never thought we'd be with while in America!

 Mom, daughter-in-law, and her daughter - 3 generations working together on the delicious feast! Thank You, Lord, for all the family that has blessed us with meals so amazingly!

 My dad watched over an excellent turkey, as always!
Thank You, Lord, for my Dad and the fact that his cancer is gone and he came through surgeries so well last year.

 This year we're a family of four... so much to be thankful for!
Thank You, Lord, for my husband and daughters... Wow.

 There was lots of delicious food - and cute young Indians and pilgrims joining us! :)
Thank You, Lord, for Your bountiful goodness.

 This year we're especially thankful for our newest blessing, who slept through the whole meal (thus letting her mommy eat!).
Thank You, Lord, for the gift of new life.

 Only in the South do you get to eat your Thanksgiving feast OUTSIDE! What a beautiful day!
Thank You, Lord, for Alabama.

 Loved seeing my nieces hold their cousin. I remember when Lisa Beth was the baby in MY arms, and now she's holding my daughter!
Thank You, Lord, for the joy of extended family.

 You know it's good when the dessert takes up almost the same amount of room as the main meal! But when you're feeding 28 people... 
Thank You, Lord, for the delight of good food.

 Huge, tall trees against blue BLUE sky still haven't lost their fascination for me. :)
Thank You, Lord, for such beautiful weather and magnificent creation!

My parents, with their 13th grandchild. They have been wonderful hosts to us all this week too!
Thank You, Lord, for my parents and their legacy...

Monday, November 23, 2015

A passport for Ellie

Two weeks old and ready to travel!

It's not everyone that can say they had their passport in hand when they were two weeks old. ;) But with the expedited service available, and our definite need for it, we received Eliana's passport in the mail on Thursday!

It required a trip to Atlanta, at one week post-delivery. Pretty crazy, and never something on my list of things to do one week after giving birth! Especially when that night Ellie decided to be up every 2 hours AND Hadassah woke up twice (cold most likely, as the weather was changing) which she hardly ever does. Plus we had to leave by 6 AM. So we were definitely lacking sleep, but the 3 hour drive was relaxing for me as Ryan drove and Ellie slept. I even got some sleep, and just enjoyed time to talk with my husband, read the Bible to him, and just hold his hand. Things to cherish.

Ellie looked so cute all snuggled up in her blanket with the edging crocheted by her "Aunt" (my good friend) Miriam!

Though you had to make an appointment in order to go to this special rush-passport office, we still had to wait for two hours to actually get to our turn to apply. Both parents had to be there with the child, to make sure you were actually her legal parents and not abductors! So we sat and sat, enjoying time to snuggle Ellie. With all the waiting, we were very grateful we were getting our newborn's passport and not there with an active toddler, as some other parents were! It was such a blessing to be able to leave Hadassah with her grandparents and enjoy time with just Ellie and us both there to enjoy her together.

The blue sky here in America still never ceases to amaze us. So beautiful with the city skyline. But, after living in Shanghai, I'm not sure any big city in America will ever amaze me quite as much. Atlanta just seemed so small, with not nearly as many high-rise buildings or half as many people walking the sidewalks of downtown...

Since we had to eat out, it was a good excuse to eat at the best fast food place in America! I think almost every expat I know misses Chickfila when overseas...

We'll be sending an application off for Eliana's visa tomorrow, and when we get that, the paperwork will be complete. Good thing too, as we head back to China in just two weeks. But until then, we'll keep enjoying all the family that has come to visit for Thanksgiving! :)

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Newborn Photo shoot for Eliana Grace

On Friday, a dear friend gave us a newborn photo shoot! Things have really come full circle, as this friend took photos for all of my dance and theatre productions, then took our engagement photos, then did a fun photo booth at our wedding reception. Now, she photographed our second child! How time flies and life changes...

She brought her three daughters along to enjoy the baby (and they were great playmates for Hadassah!) so we had to get a picture of her Ellie with our Ellie. :) Different full names, but same nickname!

 Hadassah was great for her pictures with Ellie - she still has her toddler moments, but is overall very gentle with her little sister!

 I am a blessed Mama!

 There are four pairs of feet in our family now!

 All of the family pictures taken since Ellie was born has one or both children crying. But they're still cute :)

 Daddy and his girls! Seriously... my husband is an amazing father of daughters!

 Mommy and her sweeties... While it is definitely challenging when both girls are needing me at the same time, I love being mommy to two!

 Then we went into the more "newborn" portraits... Which Eliana was determinedly awake for! She didn't want to give us any sleepy baby poses, but had to keep an eye on the camera. ;)

We managed to get her to close her eyes for quick camera clicks some though! Our little gift from above...

Precious... New life is so amazing.

We are so thankful for our newest little blessing...

...from her kissable head to her adorable toes...

Robyn was amazing and patient, spending 2 hours with us to get some great shots, and giving me time to nurse Ellie and try to calm her to sleep for some more relaxed photos. It finally worked!

So peaceful...

Our Eliana Grace

Little feet... can't get enough of them!

We had seen this pose on Pinterest and it was one Ryan really wanted to do, but it definitely did NOT work when Ellie was wide awake for the beginning pictures. So at the end, we finally got one. :)

Welcome to our world, little girl!

Special thanks to Robyn Clement for these amazing photos!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Eliana's Birth Story

If birth details are not your thing, feel free to skip this post! But I wanted to record the memories while they were still fresh, as birth is a beautiful, painful, and faith-building process. God's grace in birth is amazing! And yes, the story is long... It's hard for me to be brief, and for things like this I want to remember every detail.

40 weeks pregnant and very "due!"

The Birth Story of Eliana Grace
November 4th came. After all the “what-if’s” of going into labor early with all the traveling we did in the 3rd trimester, we had made it to the due date. Well, technically the “due date” could have been calculated for a week before (as I was measuring early), but I wouldn’t let myself think it until this later date. Much as I know that it’s just an arbitrary date, I get antsy when it rolls around with no baby!

The day was like many before it. I played with Hadassah outside in the morning, and went on a fast walk to the mailbox (30 minutes round trip) by myself, in hopes that maybe that would start something. Braxton Hicks contractions had been going on pretty regularly for the past few weeks, and while it seemed like I was having more on this particular day, I didn’t let myself read too much into them. I sewed that afternoon, working on little Ellie’s Easter dress, thankful that with her delay in arriving I at least had more time to get things done!

By evening, I was definitely more uncomfortable. Just making supper and getting Hadassah to bed left me exhausted. And these seemed to be more regular contractions, and more “feely” ones too. Could it be? Ryan told me “not tonight – let’s wait ‘til morning!” which mirrored what he’d said the night I’d gone into labor the first time around, so I laughed, wondering if this really was for real. Not wanting to leave the house a mess, I took extra time to straighten up that night, and even put away my sewing supplies. A pretty big step in thinking this was it!

But, I decided to lay down, just in case they’d stop. Even if they didn’t, I knew I’d probably be in labor for a long time, and knew how much I needed rest. I was smarter this time around, or maybe just more tired with a toddler too! So we went to bed early, and I actually slept for about two hours. Pain in my back woke me around 11:15 PM though. This was definitely it.

We ate breakfast around midnight, as I was a little hungry and knew I’d probably need some fuel for all that was to come…

Ryan knew he needed to conserve his strength and rest while he can, as the pain wasn’t too intense yet, and the contractions were just 6-8 minutes apart. Having gone through always every-3-minutes-or-less contractions with Hadassah’s birth, I was thankful for the longer break between the pain, but also almost a bit bored waiting for things to progress! ;) I sat on the exercise ball quite a bit, pulling out the verses I’d written on index cards. Once again, the Word of God proved such a comfort and encouraging during the increasing pain. In my back, yet again. As much as I’d tried to encourage this baby to be in the ideal, anterior position through exercises for that purpose, it seemed I was birthing a posterior baby again. While I was disappointed, I knew God would get me through, as He faithfully did before.

Ryan checked in with me periodically during the night, as I labored and tried to rest as I could. Laying down again proved fruitless and way too painful, so I walked some and stayed on the ball mostly. A heating pad on my back helped some as the pain grew, but by 4 AM I needed pressure to be applied most of all. Ryan got up then, to give stronger pressure, and we discussed calling the midwife. Remembering that she’d told me before she had a 4:30 AM alarm, we decided to call around 5 AM.

Of course, cell phone service down in the valley is pretty terrible, so after the phone cutting in and out, Ryan went down to my parents’ house to make the call. When trying to look up my parents’ home phone number to tell the midwife, he accidentally called their home phone. My mom picked up right away – “Is Anna in labor?” I think she was even more excited than we were. J
The midwife wanted to talk to me, to assess if she should come or not. By that point I definitely couldn’t easily talk through the peak of the contractions, but we didn’t feel like we needed her right then, so she said she’d be on call.

Ryan ran around between pressing on my back, blowing up the birthing pool and getting things for it situated with my dad’s help. Soon Dad left for the airport to pick up my sister Lydia, Hadassah woke up, and I was able to hug her quickly before Ryan took her to my parent’s house. It was so nice having them just down the hill from us! I told Hadassah that this was the day baby Eliana was going to come out, and she seemed to understand… I’d talked to her before a few times about how when baby Ellie came, Mama would be sick for a while, as it hurt a little bit for a baby to come out. She made no protest as she left for Grandma’s.

A bit later, mom sent up some scrambled eggs and bagels. Grateful that Ryan had some food for him as the contractions were closer together now, I could only stomach one bite of each. Well, I was definitely in the “can’t think of eating now!” stage of labor, which was a good sign, as it meant things were progressing!

Finally around 7 AM, we told the midwife she might want to start heading this way, as it was a 45 minute drive. I was getting some contractions that double-peaked, and the pain was less and less bearable. I moved downstairs as Ryan started filling the pool. It took a while to get the hose set up right, and where it was screwed in outside there happened to be a huge bed of fire ants! So each trip to adjust something ended with him running in and pulling off his socks as fast as he could before getting bit by ants. Comical looking back on, but not fun to experience! Those contractions where he wasn’t there to press on my back were definitely hard, but I had hot water in the pool to look forward to!

Unfortunately, once everything was in place and the midwife had arrived and checked baby’s heartbeat (“good and strong!”), we checked the water filling the pool and discovered we had too quickly run out of the hot water. The pool was 1/3 full of cold water. So our amazing midwife went to work, boiling water on the stove, over and over and over again, pouring it in and hoping for the water to warm up. I appreciated her staying in the background, and not checking me other than for the baby’s heartbeat periodically. She gave me the time I needed without any pressure.

By this point, even sitting on the ball was painful. I stood mostly, my arms around my amazingly strong husband’s neck, leaning into him and almost hanging on him as the pain radiated, mostly in my back but also in front. I started groaning, prayed a lot, and was so thankful for the music playing in the background. Making a playlist of well-known relaxing, encouraging, and uplifting worship music had been so worth it. And Ryan was my rock. I was amazed at his strength in supporting me, and couldn’t imagine laboring without him.

As the pain grew and contractions came closer together, I could feel baby moving down. Were we getting closer? At least I knew that by standing up I was giving gravity opportunity to work, but I also really really really wanted to get in the water, knowing what a relief the warmth and weightlessness would be. But the water still wasn’t quite warm enough… I started bearing down a little, wondering if this baby would just drop out on the floor while I stood up! But I also tried not to push too much, not wanting to push too soon like last time, knowing I’d need to save strength. Finally the midwife declared, probably around 10 AM, that the pool was okay. I didn’t waste a minute in getting in.

And what a relief… The contractions were still very painful, but being able to squat and sit without having to put much weight on my legs was so helpful. I was given more juice to keep my blood sugar up, and started pushing more in earnest, accompanied by sounds I never knew I was capable of making outside of giving birth!

Feeling more and more like pushing, I also told the midwife she could call my mom to come up. While I’m not one to want extra people around – even the midwife hung out on the porch most of the morning to give us privacy – I knew my mom would be so blessed to be at the birth of a grandchild. Especially when it had been her dream since my dad built this guest house to have a baby born in it one day… A dream I’d laughed at before, wondering how that would ever happen, only to come to this point and be the one birthing here. I wanted to give her this gift too, since she had been the one to set the example and give the encouragement to try home birth in the first place.

When the tension in my back eased a bit (while still quite painful!), I knew baby had worked her way down past that point and that delivery was closer. I pushed even more, dreading the feel of the head crowning, but knowing what to work for. Having given birth once before, I knew what to push for (and also how painful it would be!), and just wanted to hold my baby and have these labor pains be over! With one big push I felt a gush and realized my water had broken. Progress!!

As my vocalization increased, my midwife helpfully instructed me that I was pushing too much out of my mouth and not enough down below. She told me to stop making noise, and instead focus on pushing more down. It was hard to do, but so helpful! As “Rock of Ages” played in the background, I heard the words “through the water and the blood” and knew the pain would be worth it. I pushed with all I could, and felt the sensation – the head had crowned!

Ryan had gotten in the pool with me to be ready to catch the baby, and he was able to see the head be delivered. But, just as had happened with my first baby, the next pushes, hard as I gave them, didn’t produce the body. Suddenly the midwife jumped in the pool, giving no thought to her clothes. She instructed me to lean back and reached down to grab the baby. A shoulder was stuck. It seemed like an eternity of “tug of war” as she yelled for me to push with all I had (which, in my exhausted state felt like I had nothing… but God gave strength I didn’t know I had!). She twisted and pulled (“like a cork off of a bottle” she later said) and I pushed, praying with all my might, and hearing Ryan pray, “Lord, please save Eliana.” The thought occurred – what if something’s wrong? – but I didn’t let myself dwell on it, instead focusing on trying to push, though I felt I had nothing left. I was also thankful to know my mom was praying in the background too. I knew that God was in control.

And God delivered, through the hands of an amazing, knowledgeable midwife. This amazing woman had delivered my younger sister 20 years ago, so she’s seen a lot of babies. My baby was a little blue, and didn’t cry right away as I snuggled her to my chest, thanking God and telling her to breathe. Ryan asked if everything was okay, and the midwife told us not to worry as she suctioned her throat a bit. And seconds later, she coughed and cried a little, and began to pink up. She was okay! And she was perfect. I noticed her hands right away – long fingers! :)

My mom noted the time on that November 5th day: 11:20 AM. All in all, my painful labor had been about 12 hours. Not the “lots shorter” labor so many said they had for their second birth, but still 5 hours less than labor with Hadassah, so I was thankful. And she did look to be about 41 weeks gestation. But I was still glad I’d had that later due date in my head! ;)

When the midwife said “he” for the second time, I asked if we really had a girl. Turns out the midwife hadn’t looked, so we checked, and we were really holding a girl, our second daughter! Our Eliana Grace. Our God had truly answered with grace, as her name implies.

We bonded for quite a while in the pool, before the midwife said I should move to the bed as she preferred to deliver the placenta out of the water. So I reclined and nursed Ellie for the first time. It’s amazing how babies are born knowing what to do! The placenta still hadn’t come, so Ryan got some skin-to-skin bonding with Ellie while I moved to the toilet to try and get the placenta to come. The midwife prepared a shot of Pitocin, but I pushed and prayed for the placenta… I was in enough pain with the contractions there were that I really didn’t want any stronger contractions! Finally, the placenta dropped out without Pitocin. And I was amazed at its size -  how it and my baby fit inside me I do not know!

Especially when we weighed Eliana… As the midwife got her ready to be put in the sling, she said, “Any guesses?” I had gained a little less weight this pregnancy, but I guessed she was still over 8 lbs. The midwife said, “I think 8.2” and then gasped: 10.1 lbs!! I was amazed. Guess all the dire predictions the doctor in Shanghai had given me about having a big baby had come to pass. But, other than the shoulder dystocia (which I had with Hadassah as well, though she was just 8.8 lbs), Ellie was born without complication, and I didn’t even tear this time around, despite her largeness! That has made healing so so SO much faster and everything just less painful!

And I was so grateful God had allowed us to come back for this birth. I know the pressure from the doctor in China would have been strong to induce and/or go for a c-section when they saw how big baby was looking on the ultrasound. When pushing took a while, that could have also called for a c-section. And I just couldn’t imagine laboring in a hospital room… I really enjoy the peaceful environment of home and the freedom it allowed me to move around and do whatever I wanted without pressure or too much monitoring. Add to that the birthing pool; I really don’t know if I could have lasted and made it through without it. So God knew what He was doing to allow things to work out for us to come home for the birth.

In addition to her 10.1 lbs, Eliana Grace measured 21 inches long and was strong and healthy. She took to nursing right away, too. She somewhat concerned me that first day though, after nursing twice fairly close together, she slept for 7 hours straight, despite my best efforts to get her to wake up and nurse. I needn’t have worried… That night she woke every 2 hours on the dot!

My sister Lydia arrived home with my dad from the airport, having flown in from Eastern Europe, 20 minutes before Eliana was born. So it was quite the exciting morning! After getting cleaned up and Ellie dressed, we had our first visitors. My sis-in-law Megan had come over that morning to help watch Hadassah, who had a blast with her and told me all about it later! My brother Elijah had joined everyone for lunch, so he and Megan came up to meet Ellie, followed by Lydia. My mom came up for some Grandma snuggles soon after, and dad came once he returned from a meeting. They brought Hadassah up to us after she woke up from her nap, and we enjoyed some bonding time as a family of four. I’d thought months ago about how I wanted to introduce Hadassah to her sister. I didn’t want her to show up after a day of not seeing mommy and suddenly see a new baby in my arms. So we put Eliana in her cradle, and I got to snuggle my first baby with a big hug. Then, I took her over to meet her sister, and she was instantly enthralled. She wanted to hold her and we kept pointing out her cute little fingers and nose. We now had TWO girls!

God is good. He gives grace upon grace, and we are so thankful for His blessing of new life!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Grandparents are amazing!

 The title says it all. Grandparents are amazing. They are making the transition of one child to two children so much easier!

My parents have been such gracious hosts, providing so many meals, helping clean everything up and do laundry after the birth, taking Hadassah for an hour (or hours!) here and there when she just needs to play and we need to sleep or do chores, and of course being happy holders of baby Ellie during meals to allow me to eat. :)

My dad built the guest house Eliana was born in - researching and doing everything himself, with my sibling's help, except for pouring the foundation and spackling the ceilings. It definitely took years, but now it is such a blessing when any of us comes to visit, and really is what made coming back for the birth possible.

 I am so thankful for the opportunity our girls have to get to know my parents more! Being really close by for these two months helps make up for being SO far away the rest of the year.

Ryan's parents have been so understanding as we haven't been able to be at their place as much this time, and made the drive down to Alabama the weekend after Eliana was born. So they got to meet her and enjoy her newborn-ness as she was just 2 days old!

 Grammy Wolfe bought these matching outfits too, which are so cute and fun!

 And they didn't forget about Hadassah with gifts either. She is so delighted with the puzzles they've given her, and it has helped us immensely as she'll do the puzzles over and over again throughout the day. ;)

While they came to meet Eliana, much of their weekend was spent showering Hadassah with extra love and attention, as mommy was pretty out of it, needing to stay upstairs to heal and sleep as she could, and Daddy was tired too with all the extra "Mommy" chores on him. They spent many hours outside playing, going for walks, and just entertaining her inside too. It made the first weekend after birth extra special for Hadassah, with "all the grandparents!" around, so it hasn't seemed too much of a shock to her to suddenly have a little baby around taking more of mommy's time.

We are so thankful for the grandparents our girls have been given, and the times we have with them!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Eliana's First Outing

Hadassah loves having company in the back seat!
 The first outing. Usually it's to the grandparents' house, or to church, or perhaps baby's first visit to the pediatrician. But for our cross-cultural baby?

 To the pharmacy to get her passport picture taken!

Not many 5-day old babies can claim that as their first outing! But we are extremely blessed to already have Eliana's birth certificate in hand (thanks to my dad's doctor signature and connections in the office that does birth certificates!) so, with our return tickets to China less than a month away, we need to get started on the passport application process. Prayers that it will go quickly and smoothly with no complications with it or Ellie's visa are appreciated!

Since we were already out and Hadassah hadn't been out in over a week, we stopped at the park for 20 minutes. I love seeing her discover playgrounds I enjoyed as a child!

 I sat on the bench and watched the play with this sleeping cutie. The fresh air was a bit cool, but so refreshing!

 While I don't like the bags under my eyes, it keeps things real... The first four nights, Ellie woke every 2 hours on the dot. Every 2 hours from when she last woke, so with at least 30 minutes spent nursing and changing diapers and getting her settled back down, there hasn't been much sleep for this momma. But last night she gave me a few stretches where she woke every 2 1/2 hours, so it's amazing what a bit more sleep does! And I have hopes she'll keep stretching things out... But also cherishing these times, as the newborn stage passes so fast.

After all that sleep (she didn't wake even though being put in and out of her car seat multiple times) she had some nice wake time with Daddy. He always thinks of the most creative things, like the black, white and red scarf she loves looking at as he moves it around.

Happy first outing, little girl!