Sunday, July 27, 2014

Theodore Robert's birth story, part 1

Labor, delivery, and meeting our precious son

Theodore Robert Congdon, 9lbs 12oz, 20 inches long, was born straight into Jesus’ arms at 8:46pm on the 23rd of June, 2014. He was absolutely perfect from head to toe - so chubby and squishy and delightful. Oh, how I wish I could have heard him cry lustily as he was born. How I wish I could have laid there with him in my arms, listening to his newborn snuffles as he nursed and smelling his sweet newborn breath. How I wish I could have seen his eyes open and take the world in. I will forever wonder… what color were his eyes? Would he be even chubbier than his big brother was as a baby? What would he have been like at the boisterous age of two and a half like Judah is now? I was so looking forward to watching them grow up as brothers. And Judah was so excited about “baby brother in mama’s tummy”... I almost think he had the closest relationship with Theodore in the womb. He talked to him and kissed him and hugged him constantly throughout my pregnancy. I hurt for his loss. He misses his baby brother and cannot always express himself. He knows something is missing from our lives. We all feel the weight of it...

Theodore will always be a part of our family… I want to write about him and remember him, just like I’ve done with Judah on this blog. Writing is the best way I know to express myself and it helps me to process things. So, I’ll start with the story of his birth. It’s not a story with a happy ending in the worldly sense - our baby did not come home with us. But at the same time, it does have a happy ending - our precious son is in heaven and we will see him again. And even though we only met his earthly body, it was still a joyful meeting. I labored and worked hard to bring him into the world just like we had always planned. We got to marvel over his perfect little self. 

The whole day still seems almost like a dream to me - so surreal and yet also so very REAL. Sometimes it's too much and my mind just cannot comprehend what happened - did we really have a baby who now lives in heaven? Did this really happen to us? More often, though, my mind takes me back to that day vividly and it fills my whole being with sorrow and and with joy. We met our son, and our arms ache for him... sorrow. We met our son, and he is in HEAVEN... joy everlasting. The whole day and night at the birth center, we felt the incredibly tangible presence of God. He was there, in that room with us, carrying us. He provided compassionate, wonderful midwives and nurses to pray with us and grieve with us. He was there when we were broken into a million pieces at the reality of our son's death. He was there when I was laboring in agony. He was there when our beautiful baby boy was placed in our arms. He was there as we marveled over him. And He was there when we had to say goodbye. It was a sacred day.

{I gave a warning at the beginning of Judah’s birth story post, too… this is a birth story so if that kind of thing makes you squeamish, just be aware!}

I went into early labor on Sunday night, the 22nd of June. I had been having prodromal labor for weeks, so I was reluctant to believe I was actually in labor. The contractions never went away though, and I was awake breathing through them for most of the night. I wanted to put off going to the birth center until morning if I could, so that Judah could sleep through the night before we woke him. At 7am on Monday, we headed out to the birth center and our sweet friend Alicia met us there to pick up Judah. I was excited, but subdued at the same time - I wanted so desperately to be in labor and have a baby… but I was still not convinced this was true labor. I was taken back to the triage room and my midwife, Sarah, checked me. I was 4-5cm dilated. Then she looked for the baby’s heartbeat… and she couldn’t find it. After several minutes I was getting a little nervous. She heard cord sounds but never a heartbeat. She decided to move us to the ultrasound to look for his heartbeat. I think at that point, as much denial as I was in, I knew that my sweet baby was gone. His heartbeat had always been strong and easy to find. Thomas said he just knew then too. I started thinking about the last time I felt him move, and a horrible feeling spread through my body when I couldn’t remember exactly… sometime yesterday? During the night I had so many contractions and I thought he was just resting...

As I lay on the table in the ultrasound room, Sarah, Whitney, and then finally Cathy tried to find baby’s heartbeat. I begged God “Please, just let us hear a heartbeat” but the silence was deafening. Eventually Cathy pointed to the screen and said “I’m really sorry - this is your baby’s heart, and it is not beating”. At that moment it was like I left my body. I couldn’t feel anything. Thomas and someone else helped me sit up, and we moved to a triage room. The midwives left us alone for a few minutes, and we just sat there on the bed. I was still numb and in shock - I kept saying “I don’t know what to do”. It truly felt like I was in a dream - a nightmare, just watching this all happen to someone else. I thought to myself “This is not real. I need to wake up, right now. I need to wake up.” I think it was more real to Thomas at this point. I just could not believe that my sweet, lovingly anticipated baby who I had been carrying so close for nine months was actually gone.

Soon the midwives came back in and gently discussed our options with us. Since I was in labor and 4-5cm dilated, I could stay and have the baby at the birth center, or I could go to a hospital and give birth there or have a c-section. I could hardly even think, let alone make a decision, but I knew I wanted to give birth to my baby how I had planned to give birth for the whole pregnancy - a natural childbirth in a peaceful environment. So, we decided to stay at the birth center. We were officially checked in and taken to the birthing room that we had chosen, decorated in soft blues and golds. I don’t think I can even express how surreal these moments felt. It was when we walked into that room, the room in which we were supposed to welcome our baby boy into our lives, that I was hit with the reality of what was going to happen. Our sweet baby boy was not going to come home with us. We would welcome his little body into our arms and then say our goodbyes… my heart shattered and I just sobbed. The midwife, Sarah, sat and cried and prayed with us. We all clung to each other.

We had struggled with finding a name for our sweet baby the entire pregnancy. We were planning on waiting until we met him to decide for sure. As we sat there in the birthing room, devastated, we both immediately just knew what his name would be - Theodore Robert Congdon. It was perfect for him.

We knew the next step was to call our parents and let them know the terrible news - their grandson, our little Theodore Robert, would not live on this earth. Thomas’s mom was visiting family in Oregon so she was the easiest to reach, and she said she would try to get hold of Thomas’s father in South Sudan. We called my mom in Kenya on Skype, and she quickly went to find my dad and tell him. Every phone call we made, the situation became more real. I felt so heavy with sadness, tears just flowed freely. Our parents spread the news to family and friends, and we had people all over the world praying for us throughout the day… and in the weeks to come.

We decided to go outside and walk to help my labor progress, so we went out into the quiet back parking lot amongst the trees and walked… talked… cried… prayed. It was a beautifully cool day for the middle of summer, with hardly any humidity. As time went on and the fact that our sweet baby was gone became more real, we kept thinking of things like… we have to bury our child - who does that at the age of 25? Where will we bury him? All of his baby things at home… how will we face them? How are we going to tell our excited 2 and ½ year old that his little brother, who he already loved so much, was gone? Every morning Judah would climb into bed and snuggle with me and baby brother and say things like “Baby brother is so cute! I love him. He come out now? I want to play toys with him!” while patting my belly... and often during the day he would come up and give baby brother hugs and kisses and talk to him. How do we explain death and heaven to him? How are we supposed to face life now… a life that will always be missing our Theodore, until heaven? It was all so overwhelming and we prayed for grace and strength and wisdom to just take it one step at a time.

After walking for a while, we returned to the little back patio outside the birth center, surrounded by trees. My parents called again on Skype and cried and prayed with us. We all prayed for a fast and easy labor, as it seemed things were moving fairly slowly. God knew what he was doing, though. We went back inside and I kept walking around the room and rocking on the birth ball - my contractions stayed about 5 minutes apart and were very manageable. Time seemed to pass so quickly - every time I looked at the clock I was surprised, it was always later than I had thought. Around midday, Whitney checked me again and I was 5-6 cm dilated.

The birth center had arranged for a doula to come and be with us - Heidi Faith. She has been through her own loss and her whole ministry now helps women going through pregnancy and infant loss. She arrived around midday, and I (once again) burst into tears when she came in and gently took my hands and met me in my grief. Heidi was amazing - we could not have managed without her, and I mean that to the very core of my being. She was the hands and feet of Jesus to us that day. She prayed with us and helped us process what was going to happen as we labored and delivered our son, and helped prepare us for saying goodbye to him. As my labor progressed, she always knew exactly what to do to comfort me and alleviate some of the pain.

We knew we wanted Judah to come back to spend a little time as a family before Theodore arrived, and to try and gently explain to him what was going to happen when his baby brother was born. Alicia brought him to the birth center around 2pm in the afternoon, while my contractions were still very manageable, and we took some family pictures with us all snuggled on the bed. We told Judah that mama was going to have baby brother today, and that he would only be with us for a little bit… and then he was going to go to heaven and live with Jesus. We knew he was already with Jesus, but this felt like the best way to explain it to a 2 year old. We told Judah that he would come back and meet baby Theodore when he was born and he could give him kisses. We snuggled and talked for a bit, and then Judah went back with Alicia. He was having a wonderful time with his little friend Laurel (Alicia’s daughter)... he was excited to go back and play with her. It was such a relief for us to know he was in good hands and that he was having a fun day - we could focus on giving birth to our precious second born son without worrying about our first born.

After Judah left, we tried to get my labor going by walking and rocking on the birth ball some more, but my contractions never gained intensity. I was feeling discouraged, thinking that maybe my body just was not cooperating because of the emotional turmoil we were going through. At 4pm the midwives suggested breaking my water and I agreed, knowing that was what caused my quick labor with Judah. After a quick prayer and some deep calming breathing (because I knew from experience things were about to get much more intense), Whitney broke my water. Instantly the contractions were much more painful - my “cushion” was gone. I labored hard for a couple of hours. I had a birthing ball up on the side of the bed and would stand and lean into it during contractions, with one leg up on the bed. I would do lunges like this through the contractions to manage the pain and to try and get Theodore to move down. Thomas and Heidi took turns doing the hip press - pushing into my hip bones through a contraction, which also helped me manage the pain.

Theodore was not moving down enough to push on my cervix and dilate it the whole way. A stillborn baby does not “help” you give birth like an alive baby does - they do not wiggle and turn or push with their legs, so my body was having to work a lot harder. Whitney had me push through a few contractions to move him down. She suggested we use Cytotec to dilate my cervix the rest of the way - but I was apprehensive. I knew I would have to lay down on my side for the medicine to work on my cervix, and I could barely manage the pain with standing and rocking. If I had to lay still it would be agony. Subconsciously, I think I just was not ready yet - I was not ready for my sweet baby boy to leave my body and for all that would transpire as we met him and said goodbye.

After another hour of extremely painful contractions, I agreed to the Cytotec. Whitney put it in and I laid on my side. Thomas sat behind me, and Heidi reached across the bed so I could pull on her arms through the contractions. There are no words to describe the pain at this point. It felt like my body was being torn in half. The midwives were starting to worry about exhaustion - I had been up most of Sunday night with contractions, and now I had been laboring all day as well. It was close to 8pm. It was all I could do to gasp through the contractions, trying desperately to suck air into my lungs. The contractions were on top of each other, and I remember crying out “Jesus, help me!”... the very next contraction my body started pushing. I recognized the overwhelming urge to push from Judah’s labor and gasped “I’m pushing!” Whitney hurried over and we rearranged the bed. I was scooted over to the side, leaning back on pillows. She had me reach down and grab my feet and pull back on them while I pushed through contractions. When I was in labor with Judah, pushing was such a relief - it hurt much less than working through the contractions before I had the urge to push. With Theodore, the relief was more minimal - there was still a lot of pain.

I think I pushed for half an hour to get Theodore’s head out. It was HARD work and I was exhausted. Judah was completely out in about 10 minutes, so this was a new experience for me. Once again, Theodore was not “helping” me so I was having to do more work. He was also bigger than Judah (who was 8lbs 4oz). Once his head was out, his shoulders became very stuck in my pelvis. Cathy and Whitney had me getting into all different positions - hands and knees, on my side, on my back again… trying to get him out. Cathy had to reach in and pull his shoulders out one by one (painful!). Miraculously I did not tear, not at all, with an almost 10lb baby and all the trouble in getting him out.

Eventually Theodore’s shoulders were out and the rest of him just slid out in one last push - he was immediately laid on my chest… 8:46 pm. The umbilical cord was cut and I delivered the placenta while I stared at my precious baby boy. I was flooded with post-birth hormones and endorphins and I was just so relieved and happy that he was in my arms. He looked so very alive right when he was born, even though he was already with Jesus. I was so happy to hold his little body and love him. He was absolutely perfect and so chubby at 9lbs 12oz. His head had no molding from his passage through the birth canal - it was perfectly round. He was such a big boy - he looked like he was already several weeks old! His toes looked just like Thomas’s, along with his inescapable Congdon nose. His ears were exactly like mine. He had dimpled hands with long and chubby fingers. He had dark hair, just like Judah did when he was born… I think Theodore had more of it, though. I just wanted to hold him and examine every inch of him, memorize all the little rolls and dimples. And that’s just what we did, sometimes through tears, but also with laughter and smiles when we noticed something particularly adorable or reminiscent of Judah or ourselves. We just had a baby, and it was something to rejoice about! And he was so, so perfect. Perfectly formed here on earth, and made perfect in heaven with Jesus.

[To be continued.]

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Dear Theodore {1 month}

Dear Theodore,

Tomorrow will be one month since I went into labor and we went to the birth center, only to discover that your heart had stopped beating. One month since I labored all day to bring your perfect, chubby little body into this world. One month since we held you and loved you with enough love for a lifetime. One month since we said our heart-wrenching goodbyes to you. Tomorrow, instead of celebrating your one-month birthday, we will be laying your ashes to rest in a little family graveside service. Our hearts are broken.

You will always be a part of our family - we will talk about you and love you forever. Your big brother Judah was so excited to meet you. He came and gave you hugs and kisses when you were born, and marveled over your little hands and feet. We told him that you were going to live in heaven with Jesus, and he said "Baby brother come home? Play with toys?"... he had been waiting so long to share them with you. Sometimes he will ask "go in the car to heaven? see baby Theodore?"... and our hearts break to tell him that we can't. We are so thankful that Judah is joyful little two-year-old - he is sad and he misses you, too, but he brings such light and hope to our world that has been darkened by the grief of losing you.

This past month without you has been been a blur of sorrow. We have joy because we know you are safely at home with Jesus - and there is no better place you could possibly be. But oh... how we long for you in our arms, to be here with us as a family of four. The things I had dreamed of - Judah tickling your toes and giving you endless kisses and making you giggle. Your Papa holding your tiny snuggly body in his big strong arms. The little newborn snuffles and grunts. Nursing you and gazing into your little eyes. All the little and big milestones... seeing you smile, roll over, sit up, crawl, walk. Taking a million pictures of you, just like I did with your big brother. Our hearts just ache with the broken dreams.

We don't understand why God chose to take you home before you were born, but we cling to the hope we have in our Jesus. He promises that he works all things together for the good of those who love him. He promises us mercy and grace sufficient. His love and compassions never fail. He promises to be with us and hold us in our grief, even as he is holding you in heaven. He promises to turn our mourning into dancing one day. "Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy" - John 16:22.

We are beyond thankful that you will never suffer on this earth, little Theodore Robert Congdon. You were loved and carried inside me for nine months, and then you fell asleep and woke up in glory. I can only imagine your perfect little face gazing on Jesus. One day we will be there with you again, we will understand God's purposes, and we will sing His praises for eternity.

"When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart!
Then I shall bow in humble adoration,
And there proclaim, My God, how great thou art!"

Until then, we will cherish your memory and hold you in our hearts.

Happy one-month-in-heaven, my sweet baby boy.

We love you and miss you more than words will ever be able to express.

- Momma, Papa, and your big brother Judah


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