This is the (much longer) Story of a Lovely Lady [The Unabridged Version]

The story of Shep#4 starts before my due date.  At my 38-week appointment, my doctor checked me and said, "You're making good progress!  I think this baby is going to come soon."  I was dilated 2-3cm, about 50% effaced, and about a +2 station.  Being that this is my fourth pregnancy and I've read about 4,000 books on pregnancy and childbirth, all of which warn against believing such proclamations by your OB/GYN, I couldn't not hear what she was said.  I tried so hard not to believe it, but she had planted the seed.  There was a hope that this baby was going to drop down and labor would start on its own.  Then Dr. Shirley casually mentioned that she was going out of town a couple of days after my due date.  So, hopefully I'd go into labor before then.  (No pressure.)  She mentioned the possibility of inducing the next week (week 39), meaning I could have a Leap Day baby by choice.  It was tempting, believe me.

For the next week, I didn't do anything "special" to get labor going.  I was optimistic and was going to let nature run its course.  I went in for my 39 week appointment on February 27th.  Because it's what I do, I prepared myself for the worst case scenario - my cervix had somehow closed back up, thickened, and the baby had crawled back up into my uterus.  What the doctor told me wasn't too far off from that.  There was essentially no change from the previous visit despite some serious contractions, and the baby was, in fact, higher up than the week prior (a subjective assessment, I realize).  Needless to say, the induction for that week was off the table.  They told me that they'd induce me the next week on my due date.  I made it to the parking lot before I cried.

I walked every night that week.  I ate an entire fresh pineapple.  I tried foot massage, accupressure, spicy foods, lunging, pulling weeds, vacuuming, pumping, you name it.  I tried it.  Having been dead set against induction in favor of a natural childbirth, I was really upset about the prospect of being induced...but I really, really wanted my OB to be the one to catch my baby.  My birth experience with Sarah had been a million times better than with my other two, and I owed it to my doctor.  My next appointment was March 5th.  That day we had my parents and mother-in-law in town, on the ready for the next days' induction.  The NP checked me - you guessed it - no change.  They would do the induction on Wednesday the 7th. I had the NP call my OB at the hospital to see if we could do it Tuesday the 6th instead.  Then I went out to the car and, once again, cried.  Sam took me to DD for an XL Decaf coffee.  I can't lie - it did help me feel better.  At 6pm, the phone rang.  I was to report to the hospital at 6am the next morning.  We were going to have a baby!

As much as I know in my heart that due dates are not expiration dates, I also knew in my heart that there was something keeping this baby up in my throat and preventing them from dropping and getting labor started.  I kept up hope that labor would start overnight, but it didn't.  At 5am the next morning, Sam and I got ready, ate a Donna's donut for breakfast, packed up our camera, overnight bags, and emergency toy kit for the kids, and got to the hospital around 6:10am.  I looked like this:

I had to get one more wear out of that navy blue shirt (thanks Julie!) and the red yoga pants.  Note how high I was still carrying (i.e. - straight out and in my ribs).

A nurse named Michelle got my paperwork filled out and started my IV.  She asked me if I was going to be getting an epidural and I told her it was my plan not to.  (I unknowingly made it to 10cm with Sarah before getting an epidural, only to decide I "couldn't" do it anymore and needed pain relief.  I had the epi for 10 minutes before she was born.  I was determined not to do that again.)  I had a lot of encouragement from my natural-child-birthing friends, and I felt better equipped to handle a drug-free birth this go round, especially knowing how close I was last time.  Michelle told me that I was in good hands.  The nurse who was taking over for her at 7am, Jessica, was studying to be a midwife.  In fact, she's doing her clinicals right now in Atlanta on her days off.  She practically is a midwife already.  This was an answer to prayer.

A little after 8am, Jessica got my Pitocin going.  We discussed my decision not to get an epidural, and she was so plain and encouraging, I knew I could do it with her by my side.  She told me that she's seen the most determined women decide that they cannot do it anymore, and it's at that point that it's time to have a baby.  (I believed her.)  At 8:30am, Dr. Shirley came in and broke my water.  At that point, the head was so high she could barely feel it.  (The baby really was climbing back up inside of me.)  It was also at this point that the doctor and I had a discussion about the bakery that was visible from my room window, and which items we enjoyed the most.  Leave it to me to bring up cookies and donuts at a time like that, right?  Mrs. Lisa and Ben came over first thing and waited all day, while my parents kept the girls at home and waited to hear from me as to when they should head to the hospital.

My contractions intensified with each upping of the dosage of pitocin, which Jessica increased every hour or so.  I began to feel them very strongly in my lower back.  I voiced this to Jessica who felt my belly and determined based on the knees poking out in front that the baby was in the posterior position.  Just like Abby was.  She said it was fine - and that sometimes during labor they move into the "correct" (anterior) position.  She gave Sam instructions on how and where to apply pressure on my spine to help counter the pain in my back, and she had me labor standing up and bending over to try to encourage an anterior move.

For a while, the pain in my back seemed to subside.  I just assumed the baby had righted him/herself.  I was able to move around and change positions.  I laid down, stood up, bent over, rocked, and thanks to the fluids they were pumping into me, I wore out a trail between the bed and the bathroom.  Laboring makes no exceptions for the pregnant bladder.

As the contractions got more and more intense, I got more and more quiet.  I listened as Sam and Jessica had discussions about the intricacies of becoming a midwife, and I appreciated it when they would stop talking as I endured a contraction.  The quiet definitely helped.  They checked me periodically and I wasn't making as much progress as it felt like I was making.  By 1 o'clock, I was only at 5cm.  I maintained hope that things would move quickly like they did with Sarah when I went from 5cm to 10cm in the time span of about an hour.  And it hurt.  I called my parents and told them it would probably not be too much longer.  Jessica mentioned in passing that as my contractions intensified and I reached 10cm, I could possibly start to feel sleepy, and if I did that would mean I was likely ready to start pushing.  Unfortunately for me, I would never experience that feeling.

At this point, the pain in my back returned full force.  In fact, all of my pain was reaching full force.  If I had to refer to the super-lame pain scale on the dry erase board (which Sam had so popularly decorated with green colored-in hairstyles), I'd say I was approaching a 10.  Dr. Shirley called to check my status.  Jessica checked and I was about 8cm.  It was during a contraction while I was laboring on my hands and knees that I heard a voice say, "Are you going to need me?"  And Jessica automatically said, "No.  We don't need you."  That was the anesthesiologist.  Labor began to feel more like a dream than reality.  I was so focused in on the contractions that I wasn't truly aware of what was going on around me.  After a few more contractions that were becoming unbearable I remember mentioning, "I guess it's at this point when women decide they need the epi."  Jessica said, "It's too late now, even if you wanted one."  That was so encouraging.  Even though it wasn't over yet, I'd made it.  There was no turning back.  Dr. Shirley got there a little while later, and encouraged me to try pushing, but I just wasn't ready.  It was just a few minutes later, I started to feel nauseous (which has never happened to me before during labor).  Jessica handed me a "barf bag" and encouraged me to go ahead and throw up if I needed to because sometimes that was all it took to get the baby down and out.  I never did throw up, but I suddenly felt the irresistible urge to push.  Dr. Shirley came back in and said, "This is it!

Apparently, it was common knowledge to everyone in the room except for me that the baby was still OP (face-up).  I pushed for a while in the position I'd been laboring in, on my hands and knees.  That's when things got a little more interesting.  Dr. Shirley requested the squat bar.  They positioned the "trapeze-like" device on the bed, and in between contractions I moved to a sitting position, nearly hanging from this bar.  My little doctor climbed onto the bed with me against the tech's wishes ("Don't!  That's only made to hold 80 pounds!").  She assured the tech she was fine.  Something tells me she gets right up in there with all of her patients.  It's one thing I love about her.  She's a fearless little red-head, that woman.  As I pushed, I distinctly remember yelling.  And after the fact, I reminded myself that I would never scoff at tv actresses or those women on "A Baby Story" ever again for being overly-dramatic.  Natural childbirth was intense, and it was so primal that I just couldn't control the noises coming out of my mouth.  My apologies to Sam and anyone else who had to witness...all of that.  Between the encouragement of Dr. Shirley, Jessica, and Sam, I had quite a team of cheerleaders.  After about 20 minutes of pushing, my little sunny-side up baby finally arrived, and it was only after that final push that I realized I had birthed another OP baby.  I read somewhere that while half of babies are posterior at the onset of labor only 4-10% of them are still posterior at birth.  Somehow I managed to birth 2 out of 4 of mine in this position.  Maybe I should play the lottery.  (For those unfamiliar with the face-up phenomenon, here's a little more info on it.)

Sam caught her, cut the cord, and Jessica grabbed our camera and snapped some photos.  Dr. Shirley laid the baby on my chest, and after what felt like an eternity (I couldn't see past her cord stump!), we realized it was a girl.

At 3:29pm, she was finally here.  After a long, hard trip, her sweet forehead was bruised, but everything else was absolutely perfect.  My labor was seven hours long.  I endured a pitocin-induced labor without pain intervention, and delivered an 8 pound 2 ounce baby in the posterior position without so much as a tear.  I was physically tired, but at the same time strangely energized.  It was everything I'd hoped for and more, considering I didn't have to wait for my epi to wear off before I could go get a shower.  (Ha!)  That night, my tailbone hurt - likely from Leah's position, the blood vessels on my face had burst, my left eye had a bright red blood vessel showing right next to my iris, and my feet were incredibly swollen.  I woke up the next morning so sore, I'd have sworn I ran a marathon the day before (not far from it, I had been swinging from a trapeze).  In spite of all of that, I felt like a million bucks.  I got the best sleep I'd had in six months in the hospital that night.  And even more importantly, we got this -

Welcome to the world, Leah Caroline.  
We're so glad to be your parents.  We'll do our best.  I promise you that.  And even when we mess up, know that we love you so.

From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another.
~ John 1:16


Reasons NOT to Homeschool

Back when Sam proposed the possibility of homeschooling, my immediate answer was a resounding "No." 

I started researching/reading/praying about it, and while I could feel my heart changing, I opted to do what I learned way back in third grade when faced with a difficult decision.

I made a Decision Tree.  To the layperson, this is simply a Pro/Con list.  (Decision Tree sounds more intriguing and "fun" to an eight year old, and, apparently, to a twenty-eight year old.)

I'll confess upfront that these are my uncensored thoughts.  I know that many of these thoughts are irrational and/or based on gross generalizations and stereotypes, none of which are always (or ever) true.  (See - I can't write a post without a disclaimer.)  That said, take this list for what it is - a desperate attempt to get out of what God has clearly put on my heart.  (In other words, it's weak and feeble and utterly ridiculous.)

Reasons NOT to Homeschool
~Additional, voluntary stress on me (i.e.- creating lesson plans, no breaks from kids, etc.)
~All success and/or failure academically rests solely on me
~There are no guarantees
~ It's what weird people with 14 kids do
~ I've always been a champion and advocate for public schools so choosing to homeschool now makes me a hypocrite
~ What my family will think of me
~ It will be hard to accomplish anything with a newborn and three year old hanging around the house
~ Our house will be a worse mess than it already is
~ It's arrogant to think that I can do a better job than the public schools here (which are top notch) when I have no experience
~ No high-school sports, clubs, or extra-curriculars
~ I have little to no patience
~ Fear of ostracizing friends for the sake of being "one of those families"
~ It's not the "normal" thing to do
~ Can't go to Ladies Bible Study
~ Lose freedom to run errands "easily"
~ It feels like a surrender/sacrifice of all the time invested in my degree and Professional Engineer license
~ The burden is on me to be "social" for my kids
~ No high school yearbook
~ No backup option if I burn out
~ It's a huge unknown
~ I don't know how to make my own bread - don't I have to do that?
~ If I get sick, I have 4 kids at home with me instead of just the younger two
~ I don't want my public-schooling friends to feel defensive or insecure because of my decision
~ I don't even have time to get a haircut now

To be fair and balanced, and to prevent random people who might come on my blog in passing from thinking that I really believe that this is a "For Real" list of reasons against homeschooling, I'm going to post the other side of the list now.  It seems, at least to me, that this half contains far more compelling arguments.

Reasons TO Homeschool
~ No required morning start time
~ No fundraisers
~ No pressure on kids to have trendy clothes, toys, etc.
~ Would legitimize me giving up my career rather than losing it just to "sit around on FB all day"
~ The opportunity to tailor learning to each child's learning style & ability
~ The opportunity to learn things not available at public school (like Latin, foreign language in elementary school, Bible, etc.)
~ Can be entirely biblically-centered
~ I can't seem to justify leaving home to teach other people's kids so other people can teach mine for a paycheck that I don't really need
~ More field trips
~ Unlimited flexibility ( during day, throughout calendar year, etc.)
~ The kids can help me keep house ALL DAY LONG
~ No lunches to pack (Amen!)
~ No need to go "back to school" shopping
~ Because I'm even considering it when I've been so dead-set against it all of my life has got to mean something
~ We can choose who we spend time with versus being "stuck" in a classroom with people
~ It encourages and teaches independent learning
~ Ideally brings the family closer together
~ No need to "wait up" for fill in time gaps for slower classmates
~ Opportunities available only to homeschooled kids (like the local co-op)
~ Naptimes not reliant on having to pick siblings up from school
~ More hands-on learning (outside/in the kitchen)
~ Communication with the teacher will improve dramatically
~ Googling "Reasons Not to Homeschool" yields way less results than googling "Reasons to Homeschool"

When it came down to making the decision, I'll be honest, the lists didn't have a whole lot to do with it.  It was about my heart.  It was about accepting my calling.  God has qualified my heart.  That's my credential.

Next year, my third grader and my kindergartner will embarks on this adventure with me.  You know what helps?  Their excitement about it. 

I've been truly blessed by friends and family who have been supportive, encouraging, and understanding despite what I just knew everyone would say in opposition.  I'm not naive enough to think that there won't be people who think I've gone crazy.  But I'm judging myself against this standard:  Was I called?  Yes.  That's enough for me.


My Deep Dark Secret

Back in January I wrote a post about eating crow, and how I'm good at it.  It comes with lots of practice.  "I'll never do this.  I'll never do that."  (Moral of the story:  Don't say "never", folks.) 

Which brings me rapidly to the thesis statement of the blog post.  (I feel like there should be a drum roll...)

Sam and I have decided to homeschool next year.

This may not be earth-shattering news to you.  Or, it may make the hair on your neck stand on end.  If you'd have mentioned it to me in December, I personally would have fallen into the latter category.

We moved here in 2006 because of the public schools.  They're top-notch.  Our experience has confirmed the reputation.  I have nothing but praise for the school that Ben and Abby attend.  Abby's pre-k teacher is phenomenal.  Ben just got accepted into the FOCUS program.  These kids are rockin' and rollin'...so why the heck would I pull them out?

It's kind of a long story.

Right after New Year's, Sam and I were talking about something, I don't even know what - when the conversation shifted to homeschooling.  Naturally, I scoffed, as I always have.  "I could never homeschool."  Sam looked at me and said as seriously as I've ever seen him say something, "I think you should consider it."

I was confused, resistant, and steadfast.  But I humored him.  I checked out a copy of the book The Well-Trained Mind, and I read it.  In two days.  All 864 pages.  It opened my mind.  A teeny, tiny bit.  I went back to the library and checked out every book about homeschooling I could find.  Turns out, even Blair from the Facts of Life has written a biographical homeschooling book.  I read that one too. 

As I chipped away at the wall I had built against homeschooling, I started considering how my life has taken some unexpected turns in the past couple of years.  It seems as if things have been lining up just so that I can take this next leap of faith.  I got laid off from my job as a civil engineer nearly 18 months ago.  Shortly after that, I found out that I had earned my professional license.  It's been sitting in a drawer since then.  I searched for a year, but there are *no* civil/environmental engineering jobs available around here right now.  A friend suggested I look into the possibility of teaching.  I laughed and said, "Never!"  Then I became certified to teach middle & high school math and science.  At this point, if I went back to work it would be as a teacher - and given the fact that my income is not critical, I have a hard time wrapping my brain and heart around leaving my kids so I can teach other children and so other people can teach mine.  Just a personal issue of mine.

So, next, I did what I do best.  I made a pair of side-by-side lists -

Reasons TO Homeschool and Reasons NOT to Homeschool

The smarter part of me thinks I should keep these to myself.  The other part of me (the part that asks for trouble and demands full-disclosure) wants to share them, if for no other reason so you can see my bias against homeschooling and what I had to overcome to get the point where I am today.  

I will share them...just not on this post.  It's already 420,000 words and I'm sure you quit reading a long time ago.  To make an already long story shorter, let's just say the reasons on the "TO" side were far more compelling than the arguments against. 

I'll wrap it up here.  My answer for "Why are you doing this?" is this:  I feel called to homeschool.  Whether you believe in God or not, I suspect you can understand the deep nagging feeling in your soul.  I tried and tried to get away from it.  And since I couldn't, now I'm saying, "Okay.  Let's do it."  I believe this is God's will for us.  More than anything, I'm afraid of offending someone, anyone - my public school teacher friends, my public school attending friends, my family, my family members who teach public school.  This is not about them.  This is not about the experience we've had in school here.  This is about me and my family and doing what we feel is right...for us. 

Believe me, there is plenty more where this is coming from.  

God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful. 
-1 Thessalonians 5:24


Incremental Living

Such is life with a newborn.  With the first three kids, it felt like the newborn stage was a series of 2-3 hour increments.  I lived from feeding to feeding.  Sometimes I was able to finish a task in between, but usually not.  It's amazing how much longer things take to accomplish in this stage of life.  Loading and unloading the dishwasher?  At least a couple of hours.  Washing a load of clothes?  After you consider having to re-wash them because you forgot about them sitting in there, well, it's a minimum of double the time it would have been.  Taking a shower?  Though it remains at the top of your priority list (even a quick 5-minute rinse off would suffice), it seems to be one of the last tasks that gets checked off, and even then, you usually have a two-year-old stripping their clothes off moments after you jump in because they "want a shower too."  

It sounds like I'm complaining.  I'm not.  This is just how life goes with a newborn.

I wrote several weeks ago now (man, time flies) about how I wasn't nervous about the changes that #4 would bring.  I'm still not.  She's just...a part of the family.  We know how this newborn thing goes.  But the thing that I didn't expect is that instead of 2-3 hour increments, life is a series of 5-10 minute increments.  It's the amount of time Leah sleeps consecutively without being poked or prodded or bumped by a big sibling.  It's the amount of time she goes before she thinks she's hungry again.  It's the amount of time Sarah takes to find something mischievous to get into while I'm changing a stinky diaper.  It's the length of time before a deafening crash comes from another room while I'm nursing.  It's the amount of time Leah is in her swing, sleeping soundly, before one of her big sisters thinks they need to turn the music on with it at an ear-piercing decibel level (seriously - why does it even go that loud?). 

I'm not one to tip-toe around a newborn.  This is life at our house.  But it would be nice to up life to 30-minute increments.  Shoot, even this very short blog post is going to take hours.  I can feel it. 

In the interest of brevity (and accommodating my own spurts of living), here are some photos from the past couple of weeks.  Just so you know we're all still out here...being crazy, loving on each other, and trying against all odds to get some sleep while we can.

Because she wasn't sleeping peacefully enough, someone (cough, Abby) decided Leah needed a little decoration whilst she was swinging.  

Since Daddy's off work, Sarah got to take a nap one day in our bed.  Look at that little foot up in the air.  She was konked out!

Wide awake and looking for food, no doubt.

Apparently, Leah doesn't like being amongst the animals in Abby's bed.

Playing on the new bunk beds...I owe you a whole post on these things, for sure!

Our sleeping princess.  (Even if she has a little bit of a furrowed brow in her sleep.  She gets her facial expressions from her mother.  True story.)

For now, I'm off to find another 5-10 minute task - which may or may not include parking it in front of the television with a cup of coffee.  

I'll never tell... 

P.S. - The irony of it all is that now that I have "no time" to blog, I have all sorts of ideas of things about which to write.  I'll just start a list.  Wouldn't want to deprive anyone of these compelling blog posts.  Until then, have fun on the edge of your seat.  (wink, wink)


This is the Story of a Lovely Lady...

You may have presumed from my silence over the course of the last week and a half that there has been an addition to the family.

You would be correct.

I'll give you the short version - but rest assured when the chaos subsides (or at least becomes my new normal), I will be back to give you all of the gory details.  (Maybe some will be excluded - especially the parts I, myself, prefer to forget!  Some parts of the birth experience are just too graphic for this family blog.)

The short version is this -

On March 6th, my due date, I was induced.  They started the pitocin around 8am.  At 3:29pm, after 7.5 hours of increasingly intense labor during which I passed the point of no return for an epidural (by choice - I did it!), the mysterious Shep #4 came into this world.  Arriving in the posterior position just like big sister, Abby, our newest baby girl, Leah Caroline, weighed 8 pounds 2 ounces and measured 21 inches long.  Something about these feisty little Sheppard women - they come into this world wanting to see it all - sunny side up from the beginning.  Her position made for a more difficult labor and the most intense pushing I've experienced.  I had the burst blood vessels all over my face to prove it.  (Not a pretty sight, my friends.  Apologies to Aneesa & Co. for having to witness it first hand that night!) 

No matter, what we held in our arms was a perfect round, rosy, healthy baby girl with a tiny bit of blondish fuzz on top. 

And despite what I said a few days ago to my very own sister before Leah was born, maybe some newborns are pretty after all.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father.  James 1:17

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