Thursday, November 29, 2012

10 Years Today

Have you heard of these people who can remember every distinct day of their lives? They remember the date, what they did, what it was like in great detail. I can't do that, but I do have an excellent memory. It serves me well... most of the time. It's taken a dent thanks to my very dysfunctional thyroid and my constant state of distraction being a mother of 3 very young children. I can tell because I didn't call a best friend on her birthday! Of course, that was somewhat due to the fact that I rarely know what date it is. Generally, though, I like having an excellent memory. I can remember facts and figures and Scripture. I can remember all the details of great moments in my life like opening my first Summer Program acceptance letters. The first time a boy told me I was pretty. The first time I tasted ratatouille or a roasted green chile. The first word spoken by my baby sister. The day Brendan told me he loved me. The day we first had a positive pregnancy test. My first night sleeping next to a baby.

I'm sure you can see where this is going...

I remember painful things with much too much detail as well. First shots, first sprains, first rejections, first sour milk, etc.

Combine this trait with the fact that Special Occasions are basically my favorite thing ever, and you get someone who has a calender FULL of "holidays" that no one else knows about! Poor Brendan. I've finally learned that I am weird, and that I should never expect anyone else to remember these days! Most of the time, it's really fun that I'm like this. April 27th: Happy Tulip Day! Leap Day: Surprise Vacation Day! August 19th: First Time We Discussed Marriage Day! There are more... It's a little ridiculous, but I usually make things fun. My kids, of course, LOVE this about me.

There are sad days too, though, and I always struggle with how to commemorate them. I would like to not care about them. But, I just do. I just have to do something about them. January 25th: Due Date for Miscarried Baby. June 1st: Date of Miscarriage. June 12: Last Day I Danced Ballet on a Stage. March 30th: Ezra's Last Surgery. Again, there are more. Some of the days have more weight than others. Today is November 29th: Date of Injury.

November 29th, 2002. I wrote that down SO MANY TIMES. "Date of Injury?" Caseworker always asked. Receptionist at doctor after doctor always asked. 10 years ago during the dress rehearsal of Nutcracker at the Paramount Theater in downtown Seattle a stage crew made a mistake. My disc was blown, my vertebrae fractured, and my arabesque disappeared. My ability to stand up for more than 5 minutes at a time without pain disappeared. And my hopes of being a ballet dancer began to disappear.

I did cry about it this morning. I think about dancing all the time still. Ballet infects you to the very core when you give yourself over to it. I really figured that 10 years out I'd be over it. But, man, I am not. In 10 years, though, I've learned to stop hoping that I'll get over it. "Better to have loved and lost..." and all that. That day, too, was bizarrely one of the most spiritually in-tune days of my life. Maybe hindsight has made it so, but I felt so exposed to power greater than me that day. I felt that whole day (even before it happened) like I was being watched. During the overture, I fervently prayed that God would please not let me fall that night. I couldn't understand why I was being so paranoid. As the ground was literally pulled out from under me, everything was in such sharp focus, and I could sense the Holy Spirit say, "I'm letting you fall. I know what's happening."

I heard a piece on RadioLab that gave me some scientific explanation of my heightened awareness during those split seconds that felt like a minute. The gist was this: during what feels like a life-threatening event, your memory captures all the details that the brain usually filters out for you because, the theory is, some of those details may be crucial to saving yourself the next time should you survive the event. I was not afraid at all that the fall would kill me. But, I was keenly aware that it could change my life forever. And, indeed, it did. So looking back, it makes sense that I would be alert to spiritual details (REALITIES) that sometimes my brain filters out. Like the soft, constant reassurance of the Christ-sent Helper dwelling in my heart. I remember the smell of the air and of the marley floor, the weight of my gown and petticoat, the feeling of sticky lipstick, and the look on the faces of everyone off-stage-right really well too. Deep inside I knew things were changed- that my direction as a soul in God's kingdom was changed. It was such a strange sensation. My foot and leg hurt, though not enough to make me cry. And, yet, I went upstairs to the dressing room and wept like I'd broken a femur because my heart was broken. I began to feel over the next 6 months (and felt very sharply for a couple years after) that my favorite part of myself had been killed. That sounds SO dramatic. But, that is exactly what happened.

However, God loves every part of me. He has no favorite aspect of me as his creation because EVERYTHING he does, EVERYTHING he has made is wonderful. I'm convinced beyond any doubt that God made me to be a dancer, and that he really, really likes to watch me dance. I just do it in my head now, and he is my sole audience member. And I'm so glad to have my best talent reserved for him alone. It's a deeply personal sacrifice of praise that I can give to him. But, God is equally pleased with me as a cleaner, learner, prayer, cook, driver, friend, wife, doula, board member, church-goer, daughter, mother... I learned that God's plans are better than mine. I learned to BELIEVE that God's plan is better than mine even when it doesn't appear that way to my finite mind. That is my working definition of faith! I draw on these Ebenezer Days that I've set in my calender. Each of them can, should, and usually do remind me of the goodness of God to me and to the world, and his loving-kindness. Some of the days carry bitterness still, I realize. Every now and then, a day will lose it's bitterness as God draws me further along towards spiritual maturity.

I read a quote in my International Doula magazine that I really clicked with. A father, after telling his family's birth story, remarked how amazing the simultaneous sacredness and mundaneness of birth is. That's how I feel about all my Jesky Holidays. There is nothing new under the sun. Bad, good, scary, encouraging, hard, blessed, cursed, beautiful, ugly things happen to people every day. No one is unique or special in their suffering or their blessing no matter how badly we wish we were. Yet, because God made us and appoints our days, everything we do is so laden with significance that we would burst from the knowledge of it all if we could know it. So I will continue to pause on many, many days to remember that I am a special part of God's plans. He has chosen me to be in his family and paid my admittance with the blood of Jesus.

Tonight's commemoration time will be spent reflecting, enjoying my husband's affection, eating favorite snacks, and drinking a small glass of good whisky. Feel free to use my Jesky Holiday as an excuse to do something special yourself.

God made you to recognize him.

Do you have days that loom on your calendar that no one else knows about?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Good Thing There's a 4 Year Old

Last night, Brendan's brother and his wife came over for dinner, and as usual they got roped into all sorts of shenanigans by the children. During an exciting round of Hide and Seek, our ridiculous situation of the day presented itself. When it was (guess who...) Ivo's turn to count, he went into the bathroom to do so. On the bright side, this story does NOT involve poop, toothpaste, dental floss, or Maalox- all of which have recently figured prominently in our daily "situations." However, Ivo locked himself in the bathroom.

It's an easy lock to turn and use... from the inside, but of course in this spatched together rental we have no key to open it from the outside. The bathroom door does have a doorknob installed which is more than I can say for about 25% of the doors in the house. So, there he was. Furiously turning the knob, kicking, and trying to get out. At first, he was sure we didn't understand his dilemma, "Just open the door and let me out!" he would yell. He tried varying levels of volume and tone to deliver this request in case we were simply not getting the message. Meanwhile, Ezra who was waiting for Ivo to come out and find him and Uncle Jordan, also grew increasingly frustrated. The adult Ribera men immediately commenced a calm logical course of attempts to learn how the lock worked and get the door open. I. LOVE. THE. RIBERA. BOYS. for their calm, cool logic, and I have always cited this as one of the top ten reasons I married mine... along with extreme levels of compassion for me and sparkling blue eyes and... Wait. What is this post about?

Oh, yes: my child was trapped. After about 3 minutes it became clear to us all that there was no easy fix. Of course, we were trying to calmly coach Ivo as to how to unlock the door himself, and I gotta say: I'm surprised he didn't get it right away. He's usually so great at figuring out how things work. Apparently, that feature can only be activated when his wishes are in conflict with his mother's! If I didn't want him coming out of the bathroom, he'd have been out in 10 seconds. Hmmm, maybe we should have tried that...  Instead, he kept saying, "I can't! I can't! I don't know!" and getting very upset. I felt so bad for him. I put my fingers under the door, so he could hold my hand. He liked that at first, and it distracted him for long enough that the guys were able to try to a few things like binder clips and toothpicks. After a while, though, he thought it would be funny to try licking and biting my fingers. Our whole family was at this point standing outside the bathroom door. Ezra finally understood the situation and started his own dramatic response, "My brother! Oh no! He's trapped FOREVER!!!" You can imagine how this made Ivo feel.

Jordan and Brendan finally were working on another option for opening the door, and I began coaching on how to unlock the door again. I didn't see any progress. Then, Ezra pulled it together and decided to take over the project. "You just have to turn the knob!" he said. He then turned the knob, the door opened, and Ivo walked out. The people rejoiced! Obviously, Ivo had managed to unlock the door, but we missed it. Ezra had another interpretation: "I guess grown-ups just don't know what to do, but I figured it out! Good thing there was a 4 year old here." Great. Just the lesson I want him to learn.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

For Bethany

Today's silly story...

We went to a neighborhood/church game night at the Scott's house with the kids. It was a fun time, and the kids did mostly great. Ivo had a few growling-at-people incidents (which we are working on), but they were lovely other than that. Eventually Ivo and Ezra wound up without shirts or shoes, but it was the Scott's house; so I wasn't bothered. I do think I scandalized one neighbor by allowing Ivo to eat a chip that had (gasp!) JUST DROPPED on the floor, and there was a moment when I heard "Ivo let's not look at that..." and something about chemicals. Hazel was a great baby. All par for the course...

We stayed, as we always do, about an hour longer than people with three young children ought to (really, lady! think of the bedtime!), but I was still in a good mood by the time we were getting out the door despite an overtired baby and a a 4 year old with a stomach ache. That's saying something! It wasn't really registering on my scale of things to worry about, but Ivo was making some weird monsteresque, coughing/growling sounds as we were saying our goodbyes and getting out the door. I figured he was just losing all self-control in the growling department as we inched further past his bedtime. Once everyone was buckled in the van, though, and Hazel started throwing a fit, I realized that he was actually making a gagging sound and grimacing. Hmm. "Do I choose to investigate this?.. Yeah, I think I have to... [out loud] Ivo why are you doing that?" "Because I eat that yucky soap" *shudder* "What yucky soap? at church today?" We had a soap mess episode in the nursery bathroom, so I figured maybe he still had soap on his shirt that made it into his mouth somehow. "No, in Auntie Bahbwa's" "THE CHEMICALS!?" "I don't know... GAG.... COUGH"

I then started to panic a bit, and Brendan took Ivo back in to see if they could identify what he had eaten. I sat in the van with a screaming Hazel while Ezra prayed, "Please God help them find the chemical that might make Ivo die, so he won't die." It took a while, so I was picturing them finding some terrible caustic chemical and forcing milk, or ipecac down his throat right away. Eventually they came out with this report: Gary had caught Ivo with the Bitter Apple spray for the dog. We assured Ezra that Ivo would not die, and I tried to suppress my laughter over the fact that my naughty child who has been told a THOUSAND times not to touch things that are not for him got Bitter Apple in his mouth which serves him right! (Although, I did still feel so sad for him and asked many follow-up questions to ensure his safety)

On the drive home, about half-way as Ezra was fading and Hazel was half-asleep, Ivo reports from the back of the van, "Ulllchhh.... still having the tasties..." I bet you are, son. I bet you are.

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Birth of Hazel Belle Marie Ribera

Hazel Belle Marie!

Giving birth to Hazel was an exercise in thought control, my own thought, that is. Her birth felt like a mind game (and like giving birth!). I had to surf so many feelings of confusion and fear. It also was a wonderful experience of putting what I know and believe about healthy labor into practice, aka being nice and thankful.

Hazel is my first baby to be born before my due date; she was due on Christmas Day. I had hoped she would come early, but I was, of course, expecting her to be “late” like her brothers. The only thing that went similarly to my first two births was the fact that I had lots and lots of prelabor. I knew I was dilated for a long time leading up to the day she was actually born. After a few nights of pretty intense prelabor and a lot of feeling like she was so low she was just going to fall out, I did start wondering if maybe, just maybe, this baby may come before Christmas.

Each night I'd have contractions that would organize and seem real for about 2 or 3 hours, and I'd think about whether I wanted to get up and lean into the labor or go to sleep. Tempting as getting up to run around the block would seem, I always decided to choose sleep. On baby #3, you're no dummy! ALWAYS CHOOSE SLEEP! One night, things felt more serious than usual as we sat in our Christmasy living room and read about Bilbo Baggins in the tunnels of the goblins with a mysterious, phlegmy creature, and I figured that if there was any semblance of continued contractions in the morning I'd see if maybe we could do something about it. In the morning, I was still having pretty consistent contractions even though they weren't very painful, so I decided to check in with Cindie. I had the sense that if I could just get ideal conditions going, like having my children in a safe, happy place, getting everything ready for the homebirth, and spending some relaxed time with Brendan, that maybe the labor would finally pick up.

During our call, Cindie agreed that December 20th would be a great day to have a baby (for all our schedules!), and that maybe doing some walking would be a good idea and that consideration of stripping the membranes could be ok too. We shipped the boys off to their grandparents and decided to go walk around U.Village. Being 5 days before Christmas, it was crispy-cold and glittering with lights and holiday cheer. My contractions stayed consistent and started to intensify a bit. Brendan kept track and was encouraging. After a while, we called Cindie who was very positive that this could be the day. She suggested we eat, and we set up a time to meet Amanda at the office for some checking and cervical massage. After lunch, Brendan and I headed to The Herbalist to buy some last minute supplies like herbs for post-partum baths and witch hazel :). The woman at the cash register asked when I'd be having my baby, and we said “probably today!” She expressed doubt because, of course, I wasn't showing enough, and people who are not you or your midwife know a lot more about your due date than you do.

As we headed over to Midwife Seattle to get checked, I talked with Brendan about my anxiety that it was all going to be rocket-fast and scary or much harder than Ivo's sweet birth and that I wasn't going to handle it well. He reassured me that I might indeed lose it, and that would be just fine. He, Brenna, Cindie, and Amanda would all be there to help me, so I didn't need to keep it together for anyone if I just couldn't. We also reminded each other again and again that day that God is good all the time. Amanda allayed my other fear that I wasn't actually in labor and was being impatient and jumping the gun when she checked me and declared me 6 or 7 centimeters dilated. Hooray! She joked that she was worried I'd just have the baby right there on the table! My contractions did pick up a bit on the way home, and we made excited phone calls to my mom, Bethany, and Brenna, and asked Brenna to come right over.

When we got home, we got right to work setting things up, and Brenna had us call Cindie. I sat down to labor with Brendan and rest, and everyone gathered in my bedroom. Things slowed WAY down, and Cindie checked me. She could easily push me to 8 centimeters, but declared that she didn't think I was in active labor yet. I agreed. It just didn't feel serious enough. I was discouraged and confused, and I worried that maybe I wasn't going to have my baby that day. I also felt like one of my fears was coming true: everyone was there and waiting, and I wasn't performing. I realize, of course, and even realized then, that they didn't mind and that I wasn't required to perform to any specifications, but it still felt frustrating. Brenna and I went on a quick, very cold walk around some blocks to see if we could kick things up. It worked! Still, though, the rest of the afternoon and evening unfolded slowly.

Though very stop and start, my contractions were consistent and escalating in intensity. I finally stopped worrying that I wasn't really in labor and tried to enjoy myself. Brendan and I continued the hug technique that we developed during Ivo's birth, and I enjoyed the snuggling and sitting in front of our wood-burning stove next to my beautifully lit Christmas tree. (Side note: I wondered if I was crazy for setting up a Christmas tree when I knew I'd have a newborn baby when it was time to take it down. I'M SO GLAD WE DID IT. It was such a lovely scene for having a baby.) I ate jelly toast and drank coconut milk and basked in the warm conversation of my friends. Amanda Richards came too :).

When things got more serious, Brendan and I retreated to the bathroom where I labored the rest of the time. If my contractions slowed or I started getting scared (because of the pain or fear that it was going to keep stopping/starting and take FOREVER) we'd come out to get the encouragement of our friends. I was very active throughout the labor and kept making myself change positions. My rest between contractions was somewhat relieving but Hazel was VERY active. I could feel her twisting and turning. I'm no expert, but I'm almost certain that she was in a face-up position (meaning her head was down but her nose was towards my pubic bone instead of my tail bone). I think she was spiraling around to get out in the best direction. Her twisting and turning was pretty uncomfortable, but it did keep me thinking about the prize at the end of the trial!

Now for a little interjection about Brendan. He was awesome. Warm, consistent, encouraging, prayerful, and wearing the same shirt he had on when Ivo was born. He's a man of little variation (at least when it comes to fashion). Naturally, he was hungry, and he ate smelly (delicious smelling, but still... smelling) lentils that our lovely friend had brought over. I felt like a saint to put up with it, but it felt good to do something nice for someone else. I'm ALL about gratitude, appreciation, kindness, optimism, and hugging during labor. They help a lot. It's scientifically proven! As it is said in Dune: “fear is the mind-killer.” In other words, fear and anxiety cause the release of adrenaline which makes labor more difficult. Happy, lovey feelings, though, promote the release of oxytocin, a “feel good” hormone which causes uterine contractions. But I digress...

Brendan and I are at our best when I'm in labor. I have to trust him and be thankful, and he has to pay careful attention to me and use his calm, cool logic to encourage me. And I do love the hugging.

My favorite part of the whole thing, though, was at the end of my active labor stage and the start of my pushing phase. The ladies had all been enjoying their night off together in my living room and providing a lovely, warm, camaraderic background to my birth. BUT, just I was thinking these contractions had to be getting close to their peak, I made a very different kind of sound, and suddenly all the ladies were at the bathroom door asking how I was doing. It was so cool. They are so well-educated and experienced. Just hearing my noise change told them instantly that I was ready to push. I think I said something about it feeling different when they asked how I was, and Cindie asked if I was pushing. “Oh yeah!” I thought, “that's what that is!” MIND GAME OVER! It wasn't going to take forever! That was around 10 PM; it had been about 8 hours since everyone got to my house (but still felt to me like about 4).

I hobbled to my bed and did side-lying, gentle pushing only when I had the urge to do so. I had to pull really hard on Brendan's shoulders to get through the contractions, and once I almost sprained his neck; but, he forgave me! Things got very burny/sting-y, and I should have know that I was crowning; but no one really said anything of the sort, so I thought I still had a way to go. On one very strong contraction and with the feeling of fire and brimstone I cried out to God to help me, and I remember Brenna's voice telling me to keep control. It was a good reminder! There was the worst feeling I had ever known down there (remember: 2 prior natural births!), and I was feeling afraid of what was to come. Unbeknown to me, however, I was through the hard part. My baby was sitting on my perineum up to her shoulders because, when I was crying to God for help, Hazel was pushing her head out into the cool air of my bedroom. Cindie said something like, “Jessica, can you lift your leg up, and we'll help get her up to you?” What!? She's out?! I had no idea! Sure, I can lift my leg! So, I did, and she twisted out the rest of the way and was put on my chest. And for all that drama, no tear :).

I was wildly happy and suddenly felt very tired. I love the afterward of birth, especially at a homebirth. Everything is so calm and comfortable (well, except for that you-just-had-a-baby feeling) and fun and relaxed! We had so much fun checking out Hazel's beautiful face, calling parents, and chatting about theology and the amazing grace of God late into the night.

Things got very hard over the next couple of weeks with illness, burst eardrums (mine), two rounds of mastitis, horrible allergic reactions (Ivo's), and a frenotomy (Hazel was tongue-tied, which was not a big deal AT ALL, but I stressed about it). Still, though, we believed and believed and believed that God is good all the time. All the initial difficulty, made everything seem lovely by the time she was 3 weeks old, and I was suddenly on my own each day with my THREE children. I'd say it was the easiest transition yet. I still have trouble sometimes, when I have a rough day, with feeling like I'm just not up for the job. But, that's mostly because I expect myself to be nothing but grateful and thrilled with my blessings from God every day of their lives, and that's VERY UNREALISTIC. Having three (under 3.5!) can be quite a challenge, but believing that God is good and that they are gifts does make a huge difference in my ability to cope.

Now, almost 6 months, later, I'm already sad that Hazie Belle is growing up so, so fast. I keep thinking back to the early, early days of her life when the boys were just getting to know her, and it's almost more than I can bear that those days are already past. I love each day. I may not like the specifics of each day, like the tantrums of my newly minted two-year-old over his not being allowed to play with his poop, the umpteenth talk with my almost-4-year-old about how, even if he IS playing superhero we CANNOT pose in a threatening way at said 2-year-old, the baby who slept 8 solid hours a night at age 4 weeks but only does 2-3 hour chunks now, the dead rats in my hot water heater closet, and the constant, CONSTANT presence of clutter in my everywhere, but with an eternal perspective, I love the company of souls that I keep.

In case you're wondering:
Yes. We think we will have more. We definitely want to foster, adopt, or both, but I also can't shake the feeling that I'd like to have another birth. Lord willing, though, I'll be doing my doula certification over the next year, so maybe I'll get it out of my system by going to other people's births... but I doubt it!