She Says

Our baby, our number 4, our calm after the storm. Avayah!

It’s crazy to believe it’s been a year. It’s been a year she has been here with us, a year since all the craziness, a year since we were once again going into uncharted waters.

Thankfully, when it comes to pregnancy and birth, I’m pretty textbook. Nothing out of the ordinary, nothing alarming, pregnancy may have been a start to my Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), but that’s another story for another day. This pregnancy was the same, except life itself was throwing a bunch of “growing moments” at us.

A few months prior to Avayah’s birth we decided to move, to save money, to set us up better, except Ezekiel ended up with the worst case of Hand, Foot and Mouth (HFM) known to man, landing him in the garage of confinement for 3 weeks, whilst I packed a house, pregnant, with 3 kids, and RA hanging about with the added stress. We dealt with that, and then, before we knew it, baby was only days away; but things soon took another unexpected turn…

I remember it so clearly: Ezekiel coming up the driveway on the Friday afternoon after work, getting out of the car, eyes glassy, a fear over him, lifting his hands, and saying, “I’m pretty sure its back, I can’t stop itching and I just don’t want it back” and by it, he meant the dreaded HFM; HFM that last time ended him stuck alone in the garage for 3 weeks, itching like crazy, blisters everywhere, breath beyond something dying. At the time I remember welling up, but then saying “it’s okay, maybe this time will be shorter, let’s take precautions, and I’ll keep my legs shut; this baby can be 2 weeks late. I’m physically and mentally doing great, so what’s 2 weeks late, God’s got this”.

That weekend was hard – Ezekiel was just stressing about what was happening, and I was trying to calm him by letting him know that there was no way I was having the baby whilst he was sick and unable to be there. You could tell that he hadn’t thought about that because the moment he realised he couldn’t be there he completely shrunk, his voice went quiet, and his shoulders slumped. He had been trying his hardest to convince me (but really himself) that there was a way he could be there to meet his baby, to support me, like he had done so amazingly 3 times before.

Monday it was off to the doctor he went. Thankfully our doctor is amazing, and she was pretty certain it was yet again HFM, however, being super rare in adults to start with, and then being a recurring case so soon, she had a few things she wanted to explore if it wasn’t better by the end of the week – so a review was booked for Friday. I told Ezekiel I would do all I could to be as lazy as possible to keep that baby in until the weekend at the earliest.

Although, me being me, I started to think of “backup” options. I never thought I would have my mum with me in the labour room – not because of her, but because I had a husband who had been my support, my person, my everything since we were anything, I never thought I would need anyone else when it came to birth. However baby was already overdue, my husband was not able to be there, and I was in need of a support person.

Over Tuesday, Ezekiel was getting progressively worse and he was itching more than ever before. Often I would hear him moaning in pain, groaning in frustration that it just wouldn’t stop, with each pee a whimper (yes, the blisters were there too), and any time his lips got too dry hearing the squeamish anguish as he pried them apart. At the time we were kind of hopeful it meant he was hitting the worst of it, and that at any moment he would wake up less blister-like, less itchy, less gross.

Wednesday he woke up, I’m pretty sure in tears, and I went in to check on him – his hands were covered, every inch. I had my Doctor check-up; the one where I would get the final eviction date, and where I would triple check that Ezekiel couldn’t be there (he couldn’t; you know, highly contagious, with brand new babies). Yeah, it was as bad as we were thinking. The doctor then did a check, and for the first time, I knew I wasn’t going to last the week. The doctor wasn’t even sure I would last the day. He was almost right.

That arvo I rested at mum’s house in town until I had to pick up the kids from daycare. However, during this time, I lost my plug. Tears in my eyes, a tremble in my voice, I rang Ezekiel at home to let him know and just to say how sorry I was, and that I, and everyone else, wouldn’t stop praying that this HFM would be gone before baby was here.

I collected the kids from school, and started the 15min drive out of town to our place. It was a such an eerie night, the kids asleep from the trip home, Ezekiel completely helpless, like all hope had left him, and me not wanting to make even a sound in case it brought on baby. Our support system was ready to go, and even though I was still in denial, I was prepared.

There are just times where your kids know something is going on – that night, my amazing sleeper, my then 22-month-old Logan, didn’t believe in sleep; he knew something was going down. He woke at 9pm, right as I was heading to bed; he was crying, squirming, he was in that in-and-out sleep frustration, and those next 3 hours were horrible. On top of Logan, those niggles and nudges of pre-labour were starting and all I desperately wanted to do was sleep them off, but there was my child, constantly annoying me, not going to sleep but not awake enough to function properly.

Ezekiel was in bed already, but come 11pm I didn’t want to do it alone. So I woke Ezekiel, and that’s when my heart broke all over again. Before he could do anything, he had to go pry his lips open. He was just standing there, already defeated, already knowing he couldn’t do anything to help me but talk, which was one of the last things you could see he wanted to do. By this stage, I knew it was happening, labour had begun, but I wanted to do all I could to wait till morning. So there we stood, a grown man in pain and agony and a woman in labour, neither able to communicate exactly what they needed. It was just a whole bunch of emotions.

After I took a begrudging shower (because I was so afraid to use all our tank water), I knew we needed to make the call. 12am we rang the ward, and they believed it was time to come in, being a 20 minute drive and all. Until that moment, I was under the impression I was invincible and I could drive me and the kids to the hospital alone. Thankfully the midwife did not agree, and felt that Ezekiel putting gloves on and covering up to drive us in was safer. So after some more denial, it was almost 2am, and here I was, loading kids into the car whilst having contractions every 5 minutes. That drive was horrible; the most horrible drive ever. My contractions became constant, and Ezekiel was visibly in so much pain trying to hold on to the steering wheel, trying to be supportive in the moment but realising he was just about to miss witnessing his baby being born.

We finally arrive, and by this stage, I couldn’t walk. The pain was constant and the walk to maternity in Dubbo hospital is a long one. There was a quick hello and goodbye as my cousin jumped in our car to take Ezekiel to confinement at dad’s and the kids to hers. Mum ran in, found a wheelchair and up we went. If there is one person in my family that you want beside you in those hard hospital moments, it’s mum. The amount of hospital beds she’s sat beside has given her superpowers; she just knows what’s needed in those moments.

I had the best staff that night, my main midwife was all for the video call so Ezekiel could watch, and they had a training dr on that night too, so he was so keen to be apart of every moment. I had people massaging my back, fetching me water, letting me squeeze hands. And then that moment came – the moment I always feel like giving up. Mum had placed the phone near my head at that point, and I remember Ezekiel saying “it’s okay baby, you’ve got this, this is the point you always reach, just let them hold your legs open”.

Yep, I’m one of those ones. I wasn’t lying when I said I would do all I could to keep my legs shut – even in that moment my legs were still shut! So mum held one leg (something she never thought she would have to do), held the phone in the other hand, the midwife held the other leg, and the student doctor stood ready to catch his first baby solo. Pushing her out wasn’t too bad, the whole 4.6kg that she was. The phone was up and down at that point, I’m sure Ezekiel saw her before I did. They placed her on me and asked if I “would like to cut the cord, seeing as dad isn’t here to do it?” I had never even thought this would be a thing, but I’m so glad they gave me the option. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever done, and I got to experience a different part of birth that I hadn’t before. Dads really do have a cool job in cutting the cord.

There is just this buzz you get after birth that puts you on top of the world, and I was there, breathing in every moment of having my baby girl. I was proud of me; I did something I never thought I would have to do without my husband, something I didn’t think I could ever do alone. I was thankful mum was beside me, letting me embrace my moment, not rushing anything and making sure Ezekiel could be part of it as much as technology allows.

2 hours passed and it was time for a shower. Mum got her first cuddles whilst I got in. At first I was fine, but the longer I was standing the more blood I was losing, and it wasn’t a small amount. At the time, I thought nothing of it; I thought I was getting light-headed from the heat of the shower. The midwife kept coming in and asking if I had peed yet, something I didn’t realise was a thing, even though I had been through birth 3 times before. I struggled out of the shower, sat down, and made it halfway through getting dressed before that feeling of falling in and out of sleep came. Mum asked if I was fine, “yeah, the shower was just too hot,” I answered. She nodded, got up, walked out of the room, and then I heard her say “yeah, you need to get in here, she isn’t well at all”. I was thinking, man, I mustn’t look good if mum has said that, she isn’t one to worry over nothing. 

I remember a whole bunch happening very quickly: the student doctor came in, my pulse was not coming to the party at all, they got me in bed, and the doctors were called as they needed to get fluids into me ASAP. I got a text from Ezekiel at that point asking if I was awake. My only response was “yeah, there are a few complications though”. The on-call doctor came over and explained that I was hemorrhaging and that I needed a catheter as it’s hard for the uterus to contract when your bladder is full. She let me know she was going to have to internally check my uterus (yes, internally!) for blood clots and to clear them out.

That whole experience was not fun. It was so painful that at times I asked them to wait and they threatened sending me to theatre to convince me of how important it was to get the clots out quickly. I cried. Theatre would mean Avayah going to the nursery and I wasn’t keen on not having my husband or my baby with me.

At that moment, I realised I hadn’t let Ezekiel know any details of the complications, and as far as he was concerned, my lack of response could mean anything. Thankful yet again for mum, she knew I was not all there and had updated him whilst it was all happening.

4 hours later and the drip had done its thing. I was now ready to show off the baby to the other kids. It is so hard feeling so proud and so much joy, yet so guilty you can’t share that moment with the person who had equally as much reasons to share and show off as me. My cousin recorded the moment and shared it with him. He then called and the kids got to share their first thoughts of their baby sister with him. He mostly just made noises of joy as talking wasn’t easy. I spent most of that first day sharing photos with Ezekiel of Avayah anytime she did something different, like sleep or move, or look cute. We talked on the phone when he could, but you could hear the pain in his voice as he spoke, so a lot of it was silence, but it was silence together, and that was okay with me. 

Hospital is lonely, and it sucks enough when your husband can visit but has to leave during the night, let alone my husband not even being able to visit at all. Even still, this time I was totally okay being there. Every other time I’ve had babies, I am desperate to go home, but this time I knew it was the safest place for us to be. Yeah, the loneliness was still there, and visitors were less this time around (an unintentional thing I think, just with the state Ezekiel was in, and people not wanting to see her before him) but I was okay, and so was Avayah. But then Friday morning happened, and we were not prepared for what was about to happen…

He Says

It’s hard to believe that it’s already been a whole year since our beautiful number four came into the world. A whole year since I experienced one of the most trialing yet amazing times of my life.

I had it all planned out perfectly: it was the last Friday at work before my tentative partner leave was going to start and Ana had been messaging me all day informing me of the little tightenings she was experiencing that for us usually signalled labour was not too far off. I was going to finish out my day, we were going to have the baby over the weekend, and I would begin my 2 weeks’ leave on time. Little did we know that this was the first of many moments that didn’t go according to plan…

During the day I couldn’t stop playing with a small lump on the inside of my top lip – you know when you have an ulcer in your mouth or cut on your finger and no matter how weird or painful it feels you keep playing with it? – and I had a growing fear that I knew what this lump was. A few months back I had fallen prey to the worst disease known to man: Hand, Foot and Mouth (HFM). I obviously mean that “worst” part sarcastically, but let’s just say it’s something that drove me so crazy that I wouldn’t even wish it on my enemies (the itching, the pain, the smell, the 2-minute noodles for every bloody meal). Over the course of the day, the lump grew a little bigger and more painful, and the fear kept growing, as that’s exactly how the HFM started a few months ago.

It wasn’t necessarily the memory of how horrid this disease can be, it wasn’t even the thought of having to isolate myself from the family (it’s crazy contagious); it was the single thought of “I won’t be allowed into the birthing suite with my wife to welcome our new baby into the world” that gripped me with fear. I dared not say anything to Ana – the last thing I wanted to do was to worry her with something that might not even be the truth – and prayed that it wasn’t HFM.

I remember turning off my computer at the end of the day, getting into the car, and upon placing my hand on the gear stick feeling the tiny, itchy lumps of what was soon to become big painful blisters. My worst fear over the last 8 or so hours was becoming a reality. I started driving home, and I remember getting from where I parked near the main street to the McDonald’s in West before losing it and before I had reached Minore Road I was sobbing and questioning God as to why this was happening; why now.

Before I had reached home (it was a 10 minute drive out of town), I had pulled myself together, cleared my eyes, and was doing my best not to notice how ridiculously itchy my hands were becoming as they touched the gear stick and steering wheel. I pulled up to the house as Ana and the kids came outside to say hello and whilst making every effort to not just burst out crying again I lifted my hands and said to Ana “I’m pretty sure it’s back.” I explained the itching, showed her the dots on my hands, and told her my fear and struggles over the course of the day.

Ana had some amazing moments of wisdom and strength during this whole experience that are worth noting, and this was the first of those such occasions: after 15 minutes of wallowing and sobbing in my car on the drive home, and after a whole day of battling fear and anxiety, it was a huge blessing and relief to hear Ana’s almost immediate, “bright side of life” response of “it’ll be okay, God’s got this”. There was definitely more that she said, but that is what resonated with me at the time, and for the first time that day, I saw a little light at the end of the dark tunnel.

That light, unfortunately, got a little fainter the next morning as I woke up to the familiar swollen lips and bigger, itchier lumps on my hands; and also the start of the ulcers in my mouth. I do recall noticing how different these blisters were forming, which is important to note for later on.

The following days were a blur of emotion, frustration, irritation, anxiety and overall sadness. Ana did her best to keep up morale, and as much as I tried to lift my spirits to match hers, it was ultimately fruitless, and I know Ana could see through the facade. I was spent; I was over itching everywhere all the time, wearing gloves to touch anything, putting oils all over my body every night in hopes it would quicken the healing process, prying my mouth apart anytime I needed to speak, the pain I felt each time I peed, waking up during the middle of the night in scratching fits, the stress and anxiety I had every time Ana felt any kind of contraction, and I was over feeling like a terrible parent because I couldn’t do anything with the kids like play with toys or kick a ball or do anything for them like clean or cook or tuck them into bed. I felt like a dead weight… a terribly itchy dead weight…

During this time I saw the doctor and her initial diagnosis was HFM again and booked a follow-up appointment for Friday that week in case things hadn’t started to clear up. She seemed hopeful that since I was showing more symptoms earlier on that this was going to be a quicker process, and again my spirits were lifted and I believed it would all be over and done with by the end of the week. This too didn’t go to plan, and over the following Tuesday and Wednesday, I got progressively worse.

Wednesday to Friday were easily some of the most difficult days of my life. I remember mid-afternoon on Wednesday, as I was hanging out a load of my sheets (I had moved into Myah’s room and she was bunking with the boys), I got the call I had been dreading since I came home on Friday: Ana had just been to her checkup and neither her or the doctor were certain she was going to last the week. Ana’s cervix had already started the prep work for birth, and the doctor wasn’t sure she was even going to last the day. Whilst she was still in town, before she had to pick up the kids, she called to tell me she had lost her “plug”, which for Ana is something that happens within 12-18 hours of giving birth.

That phone call – the one that I had received 3 times before with our other children, the one that had each of those 3 times filled me with such joy and excitement – broke me. I was speechless. I had no words, and I recall sitting there on the phone, silent, as tears filled my eyes, Ana on the other end, tears clearly in her eyes too, telling me she’s sorry. It was never her fault, it was never anyone’s fault, it was just a terribly unfortunate set of circumstances, but at that time I clearly remember asking God why. Why did this have to happen? Why are we going through this? Is there something I’m not doing right or at all that is lending itself to God not healing me?

After reassuring her it wasn’t her fault and that I’ll be fine, I got off the phone to Ana, sat on the bench outside in the sun, put on my headphones and blasted the song “Cry of the Broken” by Hillsong. It’s always been my go-to for a great emotive worship song, and now more than ever I felt like I needed God to hear the cry of this broken man. So I sat there on the bench, weeping as the song played on repeat, silently begging God to heal me so I could support my wife during birth and meet my newborn baby in the flesh. I remember this being the first time I ever really questioned whether God cared enough about me. Why would he allow me to go through this? Did He not understand how much this moment meant to us and how much Ana needed my support? It was never a question of whether God was real – I’ve experienced too much of God in my life to question that – but it was definitely a question of whether God was really there for me.

Ana and the kids arrived home, and as she struggled to carry in each kid, I just sat there, helpless, defeated, feeling horrible that I couldn’t be of any help. I don’t remember what I did between then and going to bed, but I do remember feeling bad that all I wanted to do was go lie down when Ana was clearly struggling with pre-labour pains and discomfort. I eventually made it to bed, only to be woken by Ana a few hours later. The time had come.

I was still a little drowsy from waking up, but there was clearly a sense of defeat and gloom over me that Ana could see, her teary and apologetic eyes telling all. She wanted to shower, and I needed to go to the toilet, so we made our way to the bathroom. And as I sat there on the toilet I had one of the most irritatingly itchy moments since it started and I rubbed my hands together so ferociously in an attempt to satisfy the itch that immediately after I could see and feel blood blisters forming under the existing blisters. My hands looked and felt like bubble wrap, and the itch was still there.

Meanwhile, Ana was really starting to struggle, and as much as she wanted to just go to sleep to alleviate the labour pains I made her ring the hospital to ask their thoughts, especially with us living out of town. They told us that it was best to go in, but Ana was in no position to drive, so I gloved up, rugged up, masked up, and once the kids were loaded we began the painful journey into town. I thought Ana was going to have the baby in the car with how intense the contractions were getting, but we made it to the hospital where Ana’s mum and her cousin met us. We did a little swap over – Ana and her mum went into the hospital and her cousin dropped me to Ana’s dad’s house and took the other 3 kids back to her house to put them back to sleep.

Once I had settled myself into the room I waited anxiously for the video call from Ana, which came through soon enough, as they were already being placed into a birthing suite. The doctors and midwives were all completely fine with the video call going on, and they didn’t seem too phased by the ugly, blistered, swollen face staring back at them from the phone.

My heart was racing, and despite how crappy the whole situation was, I did feel some excitement rising as I knew we were getting closer to meeting our little baby. I’ve definitely had moments of helplessness in my life, but nothing came close to this, as I sat on the other end of a phone, watching everyone run around Ana, supporting her in the ways that I always had previously. We were blessed to have such amazing people there that night, especially Ana’s mum, but I felt at a loss and utterly helpless. The only thing I could do was talk to Ana, tell her things were going great, that she was doing amazingly, and when the time came, to pull herself together and listen to the midwives. I so clearly remember the moment Avayah was out, she was on Ana and we were waiting to see what she was, and when they said “a girl” I almost split my lips again with how wide my crying smile went. I was lost for words; I had my second girl, completing our double pigeon pair, exactly what I had hoped for. I felt so conflicted during this time – loving the site of our precious little girl and struggling so much that I couldn’t hold her.

After chatting for a while with Ana, I decided it was time to sleep whilst she cleaned up and rested herself. I woke up a few hours later and sent a message to Ana asking if she was awake. The only response I got was “Yeah, there are a few complications though.” I immediately went into panic mode, every possible scenario of what could be happening to either Ana or Avayah or both flashing through my mind, even more so after I didn’t receive a response to my follow up questions. However, soon enough I received some updates from Ana’s mum telling me what was going on, and although it was comforting knowing Ana was doing well, it was again another slap in the face from the stupid HFM that I couldn’t be there to support them.

The rest of Thursday was a blur of random and trialing moments, speckled with cute photos of our baby girl. I recall showing off my gross hands and mouth to Ana’s dad and brother before leaving their house to be dropped home; I recall “helping” Ana’s cousin grab some extra clothes for the kids before they left; I recall getting super frustrated that the video chat wouldn’t work when our older 3 kids were going to meet Avayah and having to settle for a video of it all; I recall crying a few times, just wanting to be at the hospital with my wife and baby; and I recall selecting 2 fairly average movies to watch that night.

Although the day was a blur, I clearly remember getting progressively worse over that Thursday, and by night time whilst watching the movies I knew the ulcers and lumps in my mouth were growing and making their way to the back of my mouth and throat. I clearly remember feeling something weird on my tongue, and when I inspected it in the mirror I was utterly freaked out by the little, fluid-filled bubbles growing there. I was completely grossed out and I felt sick; I knew by now that this disease had progressed beyond HFM, and I remember going to bed that night with a solemn dread hanging over me: the feeling that I might possibly not wake up…