So we had the baby.

Anderson Thomas Leyko made his debut at 4:39am on December 24, 2017, weighing in at 8lbs 5oz and measuring 20.5 inches long. This was the first time I’ve pulled an all nighter since the chorus class lock-in in 9th grade. It was a proud moment on many levels.

Birth stories are either of great interest to you, or they may seem like the same old boring tale on repeat, just with minor personalized plot twists that don’t really add much pizazz to the overall story. Baby was in womb. Baby is in world. The end.

But if you’re reading this, you’re about to read my “birth story.” Actually, is it my birth story, or Anders’ birth story? Unclear. Our birth story. Either way, it’s not a story for the sake of telling the story, but rather a very compelling anecdote to illustrate the importance of flexibility when it comes to things that are out of our control.

What I mean by flexibility is to not freak out if your masterful, well-researched plans can’t play out the way you’d hoped. You see, I had planned on going as long as I could without asking for an epidural, hopefully making it the whole way completely “natural.” I planned on only introducing a pacifier to him when he was month old or older. I planned on exclusively breastfeeding.

What I hadn’t planned on was having only 7 hours of labor that progressed so quickly and painfully that I needed an epidural just to breathe within the first 2 hours. I didn’t plan on Anders developing a urinary tract infection, which is just a painful disturbance to the average adult, but can have life-threatening repercussions on a newborn. I hadn’t planned on the UTI affecting his breathing so that he ended up in the NICU for a couple nights– where they bottle fed him milk I’d pumped and gave him a pacifier to sleep. I hadn’t planned on spending 10 nights sharing a one-person hospital bed with my husband until we finally got to take him home. And I certainly hadn’t planned on him losing weight at home after he’d already gained back his birth weight, resulting in so much conflicting advice about how to increase my supply that I nearly hyperventilated while trying to come up with a solution.

Plans and goals and priorities are good and well– especially when they revolve around the health of your child, but as with anything in life, certain variables are out of your control. When push came to shove (no pun intended), I had to look at the overall picture instead of the smaller details (and must continue to do so). The #1 question is this: What is going to make my baby grow and stay healthy? I can’t stay so attached to the ways I’d hoped to answer that question that I forget the task at hand: Doing what it takes to keep Anders alive and well. The “best practices” that seemed oh-so-important when I read blogs and baby books and received well-intended advice simply haven’t always applied to my little guy’s unique journey so far.

Good news: So far, a pacifier hasn’t killed him (or stopped him from being interested in breastfeeding), and neither has the small amount of formula I’ve had to supplement. Also, for the record, getting the epidural was maybe the best decision of my life.

With all of these challenges we’ve faced– paired with the standard debilitating exhaustion of handling a newborn– we’ve also had some of the most precious moments of our lives. Somehow, Aaron and I are more in love than ever. We’ve marveled at how this baby has brought us even closer, which is an extraordinary thing to recognize amidst the stress and fatigue. Staring at Anders as he sleeps is a level of adoration that I can’t put into words, and watching him pee and poop missile-style is probably one of the funniest things I’ve ever experienced. By “watching,” I mean “feeling,” since we’re always in the splash zone.

I am INSANELY grateful for our little bundle of joy, no matter the worry, fear, and sleep deprivation accompanying his existence. At the end of the day, I have to trust God’s plans with my son, and simply do the best I can to meet his needs as a caring mother.

But what about the actual story, Shannon??

Okay. I’ll make it short-ish. (Haha yeah right.)

I was beyond ready for Anders to relieve me of my very uncomfortable pregnant body, so Aaron and I were doing all we could to encourage his exit once I reached full term. When I was 38 weeks and 5 days, it was Christmas Eve Eve. I spent much of the day bouncing on an exercise ball and praying that God would make it clear when my water broke, because I was scared to be one of the 85% of women who don’t know their water has broken since it often slowly trickles out disguised as urine, or whose water doesn’t break until they’re in the hospital. I was so confused as to what a “real” contraction would feel like that I wanted my water breaking to serve as an obvious sign confirming the start of labor.

After lots of bouncing, Aaron and I took Noma on an evening walk around the neighborhood. I also chugged a few cups of raspberry leaf tea, which is supposed to help induce labor. We’d been implementing all of these labor tactics for a few days at this point, so I was starting to wonder if I needed to surrender to the likely scenario that Anders would arrive on his due date (New Year’s Day) or later. With my hope of a 2017 baby dwindling, you can imagine my surprise when I stood up from the couch to go pee at 9:15pm, and all of a sudden it was like someone was pouring a large pitcher of water down my legs.

“Ahhh! It’s happening!!” I squealed, tearing Aaron’s attention away from the television, on which we’d been watching very mature and thought-provoking programming. Or maybe it was Vanderpump Rules. Whatever.

“What’s happening??” He responded, casually watching me drop trou in the middle of our living room.

By the time he found me sitting on the toilet shaking with nerves and adrenaline (he’d spent time carefully wiping up a tremendous amount of liquid from our floors as he followed my trail), I think he figured it out. In the moment, I was a bit confused by his concern about water damage to our floor boards during such a monumental event, but looking back, it was a good move. Already such a dad.

We didn’t leave for the hospital for about 30 minutes because a) we figured I’d be in labor for a long time, like most first-time mothers, so there was no rush, b) my contractions only began after my water broke, so it’s not like they’d been building up, and c) my husband is the most thorough packer you may ever meet, so even though we were 80% prepared, that last 20% took for-ev-ver.

Common practice is that you should go to the hospital only when your contractions are 5 minutes apart for at least an hour straight, even if your water broke hours before you reach that point, but our hospital wants patients to come in as soon as their water breaks. Thank goodness they have that policy, because I only started timing my contractions once we were in the car, and they were already 1:45-2:30 mins apart. Uh, yikes.

By the time we arrived at the hospital (a 30 minute drive from our house), my contractions were so painful that I couldn’t even keep my eyes open. They checked my cervix, and I was only 2 centimeters dilated. I looked at the nurse and said, “Am I a wuss?? I need an epidural. Right. Now. And this is only the very beginning of labor! What’s wrong with me?? I’ve always thought I had a pretty average pain tolerance, but there’s no way I can survive if these are just going to get worse and worse over the next 24 hours.” She assured me that I was not a wuss, and explained that contraction pain gets significantly worse after your water breaks, so the fact that I didn’t even start contractions until after it broke meant that my contractions started out more painful than most, meaning the pain threshold I’d deal with was more severe than average. FUN!

She also reminded me the very real truth that you don’t get a gold star just for going through labor in immense pain. An epidural is not failure. It’s a freaking gift.

Once I got the epidural– which took an hour or two to order and receive upon asking for it– I was a NEW WOMAN. I could actually open my eyes and see the doctors for the first time. I could breathe again, and my blood pressure returned to normal. Yes, I’d been in so much pain that it actually affected my blood pressure. Woof. In fact, once that magical drug hit my system, I was downright chatty.

The doctor checked me again right after I got the epidural, and wowza– I was already 5 cm dilated! That escalated quickly. An hour later, I was 6cm. Two hours later, I called the nurse in and said that even though I didn’t feel pain, I felt…something. She brought in the doctor, who did another check, and much to everyone’s surprise (except my husband, who was sound asleep in the recliner– at my prompting, don’t worry), announced that the pressure I felt was the head…UM WHAT. My cervix was basically ready to go, and the head was getting ready to come on through. He said he’d give it another hour to get rid of one tiny fraction of a centimeter, and then it’d be time to push.

Less than an hour later, the doc walked back in, and I hastily pressed the little button that allows you to administer yourself an extra dose of the epidural. Let’s do this.

The whole thing was super calm and virtually painless. When he said, “Yep, you’re ready, so let’s go ahead and push!” I was a bit confused because it felt so laidback that it was almost anticlimactic. I pushed through maybe 5 contractions, and voila! There was a crying baby on my chest.

At one point, they had to put an oxygen mask on me because Anders’ heart rate dropped as he was coming through the birth canal, but that was the only issue during delivery. His heart rate went back to normal pretty quickly, so no one was panicking.

The next 10 days were not as fast and painless, as you’ve probably gathered from the beginning of this post. About 36 hours after his birth, a nurse discovered that his respiratory rate was faster than it should be. One thing led to another, and they determined that he had a UTI. During pregnancy, we’d seen some fluid around his kidneys in ultrasounds, which could’ve been related to this postpartum development.

I’ll spare you all the details, but he was treated with antibiotics via an IV, meaning he was attached to a 3 foot tube for 10 days, two of those in the NICU. For one of those nights, Aaron and I were sent home. That was probably the worst moment of this whole ordeal. Getting in the car to leave the hospital with an empty car seat in the back was among the deepest feelings of heartache I’ve ever felt.

After the NICU, they put us in a shared room in the pediatric ward where Aaron and I could resume primary care of Anders 24/7, and by “room”, I mean section of a room with a partition that was so small you actually had to turn sideways to get into the space. I’d go into detail about how crammed it was, but a description wouldn’t do it justice. Thank goodness our roommates on the other side of the partition were quiet and nice. The biggest downer was that Anders would cry in the middle of the night, and we felt extra pressure to quiet him so not to disturb our roommates, but as soon as we’d get him to sleep, our roommates’ baby would begin to cry. It was a bit of a circus.

Finally, we were moved into our own room, where we spent the remaining 5 nights. A night or two before our discharge, we received the news that Anders had fractured his clavicle during delivery, which was discovered in an x-ray they’d taken to look at something completely different. Just one more challenge!

We finally left he hospital, having made a wonderful little circle of friends with the incredible nurses and doctors that took care of us during our extended stay. Excited to cozy up, we braced ourselves for a snow storm that began on our drive home. The one snow storm that Virginia Beach gets every other year. Naturally, we lost power at 4am during our first night home, meaning the house immediately became an igloo. With no heat, we bundled up Anders and waited until it was light out to slowly make our way to my parents’ house, where they had power and heat. Thank goodness for our new 4 Runner with 4 wheel drive! Yay!

We finally got into a routine at home two nights after we left the hospital, only to find out at our first check up that Anders had begun losing weight. He had already lost the initial weight all babies lose, and gained it back before we’d left the hospital. So this new weight loss was no bueno. Currently, we’re trying to figure out the root of the weight loss, and are going back in for a check up this Tuesday to see if things have turned around. If not, we’ll have to come up with a new feeding plan to make sure Anders is growing sufficiently.

WHEW. It certainly feels like we face a new bump in the road every other day (I didn’t even mention the 24 hour period at home during which he only slept 4 hours total…while infants are supposed to sleep 16-18 hours a day), but we have faith that things will calm down eventually. For now, we remain grateful for our adorable little baby, who makes the most amazing little old man faces and has the biggest blue eyes in the whole wide world.

Prayers for health are very much appreciated! Thank you SO much to all of you who’ve prayed along the way and to everyone who has reached out to offer love and support and gifts…and food. YES to the food. I lost 30 pounds in the first 2 1/2 weeks, so I’ve been trying to remember to eat more regularly, and having pre-made meals has been abundantly helpful. THANK YOU.

Once we have a little more energy, we look forward to welcoming more visitors to meet Anders! Apologies for not mustering the strength to see many people yet, given all of the obstacles we’ve continued to face (as many new parents do!). But we promise to share his cuteness in person as soon as possible!

Final note for those wondering: Anderson is a family name, being my maternal grandmother’s maiden name. And Thomas was chosen because of its biblical origin, and because, come on– it sounds great!

Anyway, much love to everyone– and remember, flexibility is the only way to remain sane when you face unexpected challenges in life. Otherwise you’ll feel like a failure, stress yourself into oblivion, or forget the ultimate goal at hand. I’ll keep reminding myself of this, too, because I have a feeling it’ll remain a useful parenting perspective long after Anders is a newborn. 🙂