Friday, September 30, 2011

"If I told you back in high school..."

There's this game we play.

"If I told you back in high school that we'd date all through college and get married, would you believe me?"

"If I told you back in high school that we'd get married and then have two beautiful, healthy girls, would you believe me?"

my Tridelta formal senior year of college
I won: "most likely to have three kids by the age of 30" for our senior class.  I think we're on our way. :)
 "If I told you on our prom date that I thought we were soul mates, would you believe me?"

"If I told you after I saw you in that play that I just knew you were the one for me, would you believe me?"

"If I told you that my dream home looks something like this(, would you believe me?"

"If I told you when we started dating that we'd be happy living in Oklahoma, that I'd fly airplanes, and you'd go get your Master's, but choose to stay home with our girls, would you believe me?"

on our Ireland honeymoon
"If I told you on our wedding day that five years later we'd have a redheaded newborn and move back to Texas before she's a year old, would you believe me?"

In the game, we giggle, say, "Absolutely not," and shake our heads at the idea of our once young selves, not quite high school sweethearts, but close. As technology has advanced since then, I reckon kids these days have to use cellphones to play the game. Therefore, these "seduction texting" guide from would come handy.

three pieces of my heart, walking the beach together.
The alarm clanged us into wakefulness this morning. 5:00 am and already a nursing baby at my breast.  Somehow she snuck her way back into our bed.  How DOES she keep doing that? :)  Kyle sighed, Friday, one last day in the work week. We aren't doing much to celebrate this year.  Maybe take-out after the girls go to bed; sleep is about the best gift we can give each other right now. Into the silence, punctuated by her gurgling, he whispered:

"Happy 5th Anniversary, Shan.  Our life sure is crazy right now (read: new baby, upcoming deployment, house on the market, big move in the next few months), but I wouldn't have it any other way.  I'd still choose you and this life together."

We may not have believed it back then, eighteen-years-old, eyes trained on independence, but I'm so glad, so happy, so awestruck that it's really true.  That all those things are real, are good, are ours together.

with our girls, our "little women."
Happy Anniversary, Kyle.  I love you.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jog

We're HOME!

Warning: This post is a teaser for more exciting ones to follow.  There's WAY too much to say for tonight, but I do plan to say it all over this next week.

OOOH, how I've been itching to show you pictures, send you words about our trip.  We traveled all the way from our home in OK to my family's beach place in Carolina Beach, NC - a little ways from Wilmington, seeing dear friends and family along the way.  The good parts of our trip were GREAT.  The bad parts of our trip were really, really, really down-in-the-dumps bad.  As in, making a pit stop in the ER after a night of no sleep in a Birmingham, AL hotel with Allie running a 101.5 + fever, projectile vomiting, stomach bug and both-of-us-catching-it-a-day-later kinda bad. 

I shall forge ahead with the good.  Here's a brief taste of my favorite moments:

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Wahoo! The van is packed, coffee is set to brew, kiddies are tucked into beds, and we are ready to SET OUT for our big, first family-of-four vacation. :)  We're hitting the road with a toddler, newborn, and rambunctious dog? Pray for us.

I've had several posts swirling in my head this week, but the flurry of activity preparing for our trip has left me emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted.  Never understood this "pooped-out" Mama phenomenon until I had girlies to pack for...anyway, I thought I would leave you with the pictures from this week - and hopefully I'll bring you some more from a sunny seaside.

Meggie giving her sister a drink.

She loves her cups.

We were dressed up for our first day of BSF.
Sickie Meggie

One of her favorite things right now is watching a "music bad-eo."
Precious girl.


Pleased as punch with each other.
Meggie had her first haircut this week.

She did fantastic...what a cutie!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Magic Markers

Shannon, Isaac, and Baby Sam stopped by today.  The best friends, Meggie and Isaac, were so excited to see each other that Shannon and I decided to feed the wee ones and let them play.  At first, there were lots of, "Meggie, Isaac is our guest today, let's share our toys.  No. No. NO. No, that's not how we talk to Mommy." and, "Hand that toy back please - es." 

Then, Shannon and I got to talking, the babies got to nursing, and we noticed that all was quiet.  Too quiet.  Absolutely TOO quiet.

The culprit?  A box of brand new magic makers. 

So, naturally we packed up the kids and went out to lunch.  Magic markered-up and all. :)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Frousin Visit

Whew. It's been a day.  Meggie is still sick.  I can't seem to get that girl's fever down below 100 (on motrin and tylenol). And Allie V is not nursing, not sleeping, not happy.

My latest thought is that she's teething?

I know.  Ugh.

Meggie got her first two teeth before four months old, so it's within the realm of possibility.  

Between my two "sickies," we're all done in.

As I mentioned in my last post, Alice Virginia and I visited my frousin, Kaitlin, this weekend.  Our dads are brothers and when we were little, Kaitlin, our siblings, and I always got together at our grandmother's house in Washington, D.C.  I was always envious of Kaitlin.  She was a ballerina, beautiful, charming, courteous, ever patient with her brother, graceful, creative; I was gangly, awkward, frizzy-haired (the plight of an eldest curly-haired girl is that NO one exists before you to instruct you in the art of hair products), opinionated, tom-boyish with a strong, stubborn, independent streak.  I wanted to be like her - I wanted to BE her.

Then, life happened for about twelve years and we didn't see each other until Kaitlin's wedding weekend almost three years ago now.  Since that weekend, we've traded visits back and forth for football games, Halloween, blizzards, Meggie's birthday last year, just because, and most especially, our Thanksgiving "cousins" tradition.  I consider her not just my cousin, but my friend.  Hence, the endearment, "frousin."

One of the memories I treasure about Alice Virginia's pregnancy was the opportunity to be pregnant at the same time as Kaitlin (due October 2nd).  This weekend visit was all about squeezing in a last hurrah before adding another baby to our growing bunch, and to help Kaitlin and Adam prepare in whatever ways I could.  In the end, though, I don't think I offered much in the way of help except to teach my swaddling technique and provide Alice Virginia as the willing aid.  We spent the rest of our visit dreaming about who baby "OO1" will be, shopping for matching outfits for our girls, indulging in delicious food, and talking about labor, delivery, and bebes. 

And, selfishly, I loved spending time with my precious Allie V just on my own; as the second born, she doesn't get the undivided attention that Meggie did (and does still), and I relished the chance to grow our relationship on our overnight to Dallas.  Golly, but I do adore my sweet baby girl's smile.

Seeing her wide-mouthed grin always reminds me that there's another baby girl about to arrive in our family.  Little Miss O'Connell-Owens, you need to get here soon so that we can all take turns enjoying you! :)

The last time Kaitlin and I were together before this weekend was in April.
Kaitlin 14 weeks preggo and Me 30 weeks preggo with Allie V
 Now compare to this weekend in early September:
Kaitlin 36 weeks preggo and Me with a whopping 18 lb. Alice Virginia on the Outside

We CANNOT wait until a third picture's added to this trio and sweet baby OO1 is in her mama's arms.  Though she's due October 2nd, all of us have a hunch that she's on her way early.  We're waiting, Little Lady. :)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


These two precious ones love each other.

My dear girls, may you always be close friends. May you always cherish your exclusive bond as sisters.
Alice Virginia and I took a brief road trip down to DFW this weekend to visit with my frousin, Kaitlin, her husband, Adam, and their soon-to-be-born baby girl.  Meggie had some one-on-one daddy time while we were gone.  On Sunday night, I got home to a big girl running a big fever.  We've been sticking close to home since then, nursing a big girl back to health with the help of a special, big bah-bah (the extra soft couch blanket that she's been sleeping with to keep the chills at bay), and teaching a little girl how to nap in her crib.  We've also been giggling, tickling, dancing, and patting - learning how to love each other as sisters, best friends.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Alice Virginia's Birth Story

A dear friend took Meggie for a play date this morning.  Now I’m home with a sleeping baby on my chest.

The smell of milky babyness in my nostrils, her graceful fingers curled around the lip of my shirt, her whistling breath like a new anthem in our house. 

This baby, an undeserved gift.  This baby, one of my life’s proudest works.

She came at the beginning of the hottest summer we’ve ever lived through, her birth marking the start of over fifty straight days of temperatures exceeding 100 degrees.  She came with quickness and relative ease, this child whom we treasure, who reminds us of our grand-mothers and home.  Everyday, her willing smile endears her more to us, and it becomes a little harder to remember what life was like before we knew her.

I had been having contractions on and off for a couple weeks.  At my 39 week appointment, I requested my midwife check my cervix for any changes.  I reasoned that if there was no movement, I could settle in for the long haul, preparing myself to go 2 or 3 weeks overdue if necessary for a natural delivery, but if there was a change, I would be encouraged in patience.  Because at that point in pregnancy, it really does feel like you’re in danger of being pregnant for - ev - er.

After she determined that I was between a 1-2 with 50% effacement, I prepared myself for a wait.  That appointment rendered some intense, sporadic contractions over the rest of the day and part of the next.  I thought it was time, but when they petered out mid-afternoon of the following day, I accepted - with some bitterness - that it wasn’t, yet.

My next appointment was schedule for half-way between 40 and 41 weeks.  40 weeks and three days, exactly.  I had Meggie girl with me; heaven help us both.  We waited for my midwife in the tiny back room, where Meggie dumped all the books I brought to entertain her all over the floor.  And, where she zoomed cars off the edge of the examining table right onto the midwife’s foot.  I remember thinking that having two babies in under two years seemed like a crazy idea. But, with my gigantic baby girl like a cliff jutting out from my belly button, it was too late to turn around.  I imagined the midwife surveying my situation with more pity than empathy.  Still, I was excited. I was ready.

She asked me if I had thought about my options as far as inducing labor.  I told her that my ultimate request was to go into labor naturally and letting my water break on its own.  She presented me with the idea of “stripping my membranes,” saying that she could sweep around the cervix.  Doing so could naturally induce labor with 72 hours...if my body was ready.  If my body wasn’t ready, the stripping wouldn’t work. 

I let her try, not believing that the action would really work.  But, I willed it to do something, anything for natural progress.  Meggie and I went home from the appointment (where she declared me 2 centimeters dilated, 50-75% effaced, and with the baby’s head descending beyond the last check-up), and made a plan with Kyle.  We decided that JUST IN CASE the stripping worked, to do our final cleaning of the house, put our bags by the door, and go on a long walk after dinner.

Around 8:00, we loaded Meggie in the wagon and set off for a stroll around the neighborhood, which includes a mile’s worth of rolling hills.  I lumbered along, meeting the sympathetic gaze of many of our neighbors as we rounded the hills.  It took us about an hour to make it all the way around, stopping to talk to friends, and speaking in quiet voices to each other about “what if it really did happen tonight.”

We put Meggie to bed a little later than usual and then got ready for bed ourselves around 10:30.  Right before we fell asleep, Kyle got a call from the squadron CDO asking if he could take a flight out in the morning.  Kyle double-checked with me and I told him to go ahead, convinced that the baby wouldn’t come for another two weeks.  I fell asleep around 11:00 pm.

1:13 am.  I woke-up with a contraction.  Waking up with contractions had become a theme for me over the preceding weeks, so I didn’t really pay much attention.  I closed my eyes and tried to go back to sleep.  A few minutes later I felt another contraction.  Looking at the clock, I noted that three minutes had passed.  I decided to get up, walk around, grab a granola bar to see if they progressed or went away.  My guess was that they’d go away - that’s what they had been doing every early morning.  I got out my notebook to track the contractions just in case.

1:55 am.
2:00 am.
2:03 am.
2:06 am.
2:09 am.
2:11/2:12 am.
2:14 am.
2:17/2:18 am.

While they were a steady two - to -three minutes apart, I told myself that I wasn’t in real labor.  I was terrified of going into the hospital too early AND of calling our friends to watch Meggie AND of canceling Kyle’s flight if I wasn’t in real, I crawled back into bed and tried to go back to sleep.  The contractions were noticeable, but not that painful, so I assumed they were more braxten-hicks.

At 2:30, I had my first painful, extended contraction and woke Kyle up.

“I don’t think this is it, but it may be it, would you just time contractions with me?” I asked.

Reflecting now, I’m confused about how I did not really know what was going on - obviously it was the real thing...but hard to discern when you’re in the moment and scared of the hospital with all its interventions.

We timed contractions for about an hour.  They held consistent at two - to - three minutes about.  Around 3:30, we practiced a few of our natural labor positions.  After three contractions, I stood up feeling like I had to use the bathroom.  When I stood up, I felt sudden, intense pressure.

“Uh, Kyle, I think it’s really it.  I think we need to go.  I think we need to go. NOW.” 

Once we made the decision, Kyle called off his flight, called our babysitters, and time seemed to race.  Suddenly, we were worried about NOT making it to the hospital in time to have the baby.  I remember gathering the rest of our belongings - toiletry bag, video camera, computer - and gripping the back of the sofa every time a contraction swelled through my stomach.  We put Douglass in his crate by the door with his food/water dishes and texted our neighbor, Shauna, who was going to care for him while we were in the hospital, that the baby was coming.

At 4:00, our friend, Caleb, arrived to stay with Meggie.  We practically flew out the door, jumping into our brand-new minivan.  One of my fondest memories of this car will always be that early morning race to the hospital.  There was no one else on the road.  The lights of the highway flashed by, brightening my closed eyes with every contraction.  I remember glancing at the radio clock when I would feel another one coming.  On that car ride, they reached every two minutes.  In particular, the times 4:18 and 4:20 stand out. 

It’s going to sound silly, knowing the outcome of this story, but I was still concerned that I wasn’t in labor.  I felt FOR SURE that my contractions would stop as soon as we changed locations - whether in the car or at the hospital.  My labor with Meggie stalled as we were walking into the triage floor; my being still felt nervous about trusting my current experience with contractions.  Kyle kept repeating, “this is it, Shannon, we’re going to meet our baby girl today!”  And I kept replying, “Don’t say that, we don’t really know.  What if we’re not.  Please help me have the courage to go back home if she’s not coming.  What if we get there and they stop?”

We arrived at the hospital around 4:30 am, passed through the security check-point, and found our way to the triage floor.  On the way up, I had to stop and grip the rail along the walkway during a contraction.  I felt relieved that the contractions weren’t stopping, although I do think they slowed down some in triage.

At the triage station, the nurses greeted us with a “how can we help you?”


“I think I’m in labor.  I think I’m having a baby. I’m with the midwives.”  I breathed before having another contraction.  The nurses found my information and walked us into a holding room.  There, they had me change clothes into the hospital gown.  I remember trying to get as much done in between contractions as I could...she kept asking questions which were difficult to answer in the moment.  Finally, finally, she hooked me up to the contraction monitor and we heard her heartbeat, strong, quick, sure.  The triage nurse checked me.  Still, I was nervous that I would have remained at a 2 and be sent home.

“Well, I kept saying it was around that time for our 5:00 am, completely dilated mama to walk through the door.  You’re not quite complete, but you are at a good 6 - 7. You’re not going anywhere except to the labor and delivery room!”

6 to 7? 6 to 7!  Several things flitted through my mind when she made this declaration.  I was, indeed, in real labor; I had not imagined the whole business.  We were, indeed, going to meet our baby girl that day.  Kyle and I were, indeed, going to be admitted for delivery.  I was already at an almost 7, with contractions that were, though close together and strong, not necessarily painful.  I felt an internal peace that having made it so far relatively pain-free, I could, I really could go all the way without an epidural.

I remember feeling a rush of giddiness and adrenaline at this point.  Kyle and I clasped hands and couldn’t stop smiling.  I’d say: “Kyle, it’s really it.  It’s really happening.  She’s coming.  I wonder who she’ll be?”

And he’d say, “I know, I know, I know.  You can do it, babe!”

Then, the nurse put my IV in (we’d decided on having IV access just in the event of a true emergency) and wheeled me to our room.  We arrived there around 5:00 am.

When we got to the room, our nurse already had the tub of warm water running.  I decided to get in the tub for a while to help with pain management.  I had been so certain that I wasn’t in labor that I didn’t have Kyle bring in any of our stuff from the car.  We didn’t have our bags, gear, or clothes.  He helped me into the tub and then ran quickly back to the car to retrieve our belongings.  On the way, he texted our families.  Because everything was progressing so quickly, we didn’t have time to alert anybody else - though that had been our plan early on.

I stayed in the tub for about 2 hours, letting the hot water soak over my body.  Kyle brought in our “labor and delivery” play list on the computer, but I found myself oddly self-conscious and distracted by the music, so I asked him to shut it off.  I remembered from my birthing classes with Meggie our instructor commenting that your senses are heightened in labor - touch, hearing, smell, etc.  She said that you may not be able to predict how you react to certain stimuli.  For me, certain sounds and smells were offensive.  Strangely, I did not want to hear the music that I had previously chosen to labor with - I wanted silence.  For Meggie’s labor, I could not stand the smell of Kyle’s apple jolly ranchers - this time around, I requested that he not breathe coffee breath around me.  Funny, how great these little things affect you in the labor room.

At 7:00 am, I got uncomfortable in the tub.  I was hot, sweaty, and felt like I wanted to walk around.  With the nurse’s help, Kyle and I got up, put the gown back on, and started walking around our room.  I had our nurse check me because I was curious to see how much progress my body made while in the tub.  She told me that I was a “solid 7” and 90% effaced.  I was somewhat discouraged by these results - thinking that I should have progressed more in two hours, and determined not to get back into the bath tub. 

The next few hours, the transition stage of labor, are blurry to me.  My contractions continued to be strong.  Again, they weren’t painful so much as they took intense concentration to get through.  They began to cluster where I would have three right in a row and then a few minutes break.  The only labor position that worked to alleviate the pressure was performing squats.  I would squat through each contraction, gripping the bed - I never wanted to hang on Kyle or sway or lay down...all things that I would have thought to do before labor.  For five hours I did squats.  When the breaks would come, I would sit straight up in this rocking chair, just to take some pressure off of my legs from squatting.  Other times I would pace the floor of our hospital room. 

During this time, several people came in to talk to me about a finding from our only ultrasound at 20 weeks.  Nobody caught it in my chart, but at 20 weeks I had a low-lying placenta.  Normally, someone with a low-lying placenta is given another ultrasound around 30 weeks to determine whether or not the placenta has moved up - as a low-lying placenta could pose a bleeding risk in the birthing process.  I was never told I had a low-lying placenta and never rechecked.  My midwife said that the anesthesiologist would come by to talk to me about the possibility of needing an emergency c-section should I start bleeding out from the position of my placenta.  Thankfully, I never had any complications through the rest of the labor.

I do remember thinking that the room was blazing hot.  Everyone assured me that the thermostat was on the lowest setting, but I doubted them.  Sweat dripped from every part of my body and I kept trying to tear the gown off.  Kyle, bless his heart, would follow me around, attempting to preserve my modesty by holding the flaps of the gown together.  But, I felt better naked.  Again, I would never have guessed that one of my reactions to natural labor would be to strip down to nothing.  Or, that I would actually feel comfortable making the “deep moo-ing sounds” that keep your pelvic area open.  In those moments, though, I remember not caring how ridiculous I looked or sounded - my mind was focused.

I also remember looking at the passing clock - each minute seeming an eternity - and wondering if both my girls would be born at the same time (8:58 am), but that milestone came and passed without birth.  I never asked for the epidural, but I did have the thought (several times over) that an epidural would bring relief for my legs.  While doing squats with each contraction, I had the overwhelming desire just to sit down - wondering if I could make it all the way with the energy and strength I had left.

At about 9:00, I was checked again and found to be at 9 centimeters dilated.  I asked if I could start pushing, and my midwife agreed that I could try and push my way to a ten.  She suggested kneeling over the headboard and pushing with each contraction, but that position was uncomfortable for me.  Instead, they next suggested a kneeling bar which positions over the bed.  I agreed to try it and the midwife and my nurse brought it out of the closet and snapped it into place.  They described how someone would use the bar, and I did what I thought they were instructing.  Kyle later told me I had it all wrong, but no one corrected me; I love the midwife philosophy of allowing the mother’s body to do what it needs to do to deliver the baby.

What I heard was to stand on top of the bed and crouch over the bar, sort of in a skiing position.  I clung to Kyle’s hands over the bar and held his gaze during each contraction.  I asked him to remind me of our reasons for delivering naturally, which included a better bonding experience with the baby.

Here, standing on top of the bed, pushing with all of my strength, I felt that incredible moment where my body took over.  My mind, I guess as a coping mechanism from the pain, sort of detached from the physical act of pushing.  My midwife checked me, said there was just a lip of cervix left around the baby’s head, and moved the cervix out of the way.  Of any part of my labor, that was the single most excruciating.  I remember crying out and then feeling the baby drop suddenly.  I heard the “plop plop plop” of blood dripping on the bed beneath my feet. 

In one great whoosh, she fell out of me and into the arms of the midwife.  My midwife scooped her up under my gown - which was covering my view of the delivery - and into my arms.  Someone helped me finally sit down.  I took in the beauty of our new daughter, so slender in my hands. 

I whispered to Kyle, “Oh, she’s different than our Meggie.”  When I spoke, Allie V turned her great blue eyes and trained them on me.  She knew me.  We recognized each other in that moment of awe, of shared pain, of holding onto each other for the first time in ten months. 

Nurses were fluttering around the room, clamping cords, taking care of the afterbirth.  I heard one exclaim, “Oh, honey, she’s a chubby one!  I think she has red hair, no, I know she has red hair.  It’s just like yours.” 

They took her to be weighed and Kyle exclaimed, “Shanny!  She’s TEN POUNDS!” You just pushed out a ten pound baby! You did it!” 

Truthfully, I still can’t believe it.  I felt courageous in that moment of feeling her exit my body, I felt empowered, alive.  I felt that with the help of my husband and the life of our daughter, we had accomplished greatness.  We had lived life as it was intended for us; we crossed over together into the next part of our story.  We were overcome with thankfulness, weeping with disbelief and love.

I never remembered my water breaking, so I asked our nurse.  She told me that my water broke all over the bed just as Allie was being born.  Not only did my most important request come to pass, but my water broke at the last possible moment - cushioning me from more pain throughout the labor.

And, then, the naming dilemma.  As my midwife cleaned us up, Kyle and I looked and looked at our baby girl, trying to find in her a fit of one of the two names we had picked out.  Neither one seemed completely her; her features miniature, delicate, her skin milky-white, lips in a perfect kiss.  Finally, Kyle wondered aloud: “Do you think she could be our Alice Virginia (a name we’ve always loved)?”

And she was.  Our Alice Virginia.

The Triumphant Arrival...Alice Virginia Van Heest, 10:26 am, 6.16.11