Abi Kate will be 9 months old tomorrow. "Time flies" is an understatement. In light of that, my mind has been on how God has used her in such a short time to bring me to a more steadfast love for Him....
A few months ago at Abi Kate's 4 month check up, her pediatrician very casually asked us a question. In the moment, I had no clue that this simple question would be a great "joy sucker" for me. If I had, I probably would've been on my knees much longer that morning. He asked us if she normally held her head tilted to the side. No big deal, right? I told him that she did sometimes, but not always. He very casually mentioned that she may have a tightening of the muscles in her neck, physical therapy would loosen it over time, and just to keep an eye on it and if we didn't see improvement within a few weeks to call him back. It was funny that he mentioned that because as soon as he drew attention to it, we noticed it. Often. Most of the time, in fact. I wasn't overly concerned about it. I'd looked it up online (this is a BAD idea friends. Do not follow this example). It seemed that he was suggesting that she had torticollis. Of course, my initial thought was, "Oh no. Something is wrong with my child." But her pediatrician was very calm about it (which I am ever grateful for), said it could just be developmental as she was learning to hold her head up completely, and so I told myself just to be at peace. I left his office feeling pretty confident and ok. We took her back about a month later, he said it was torticollis (though only a mild case), and he scheduled us to meet with a pediatric physical therapist. Nothing major. I asked him to please tell me what had caused it and he told me basically what I'd read about it-- often it's from positioning in utero (to which I said "Thanks a lot, uterus. Thanks a lot."), it could be just a preference that she developed over time, or it could be from birth trauma. Birth trauma was immediately ruled out. So we started considering the first option, her positioning inside of me. When she was born she had an asymmetrical nose (basically, it was smushed on one side.)
Almost as soon as she was born, I looked at our doula who is also an RN and said, "Her nose?!" and then repeated that same question when her pediatrician came to do a check on her the next morning. Cute as it was, as new parents we were mildly concerned. They both assured us it was simply from how she'd laid against the uterine wall and it would pop out over time. They were right. :)
* A few days later, more popped out but still a little smooshy. (Oh my soul, how was she this tiny?! Tears..)*
Long story short, the way her head would've been tilted inside me for her nose to be flat coincided with the way that her neck chose to stay tilted.
In general, I was grateful that this was the only "problem." There are so many parents with sick babies, difficult pregnancies, truly traumatic experiences. This was just a tightening of muscles, it wasn't preventable, and it simply required a bit of physical therapy and some stretching. Or at least this is how I felt at the beginning.
Abi Kate began therapy in July and went once a week. We adored her therapists. They loved on her like she was theirs. They snuggled her and kissed her and were so gentle. There's nothing better than to see someone else genuinely caring for your child. They taught us stretches to do at home; we did them religiously. We didn't broadcast it simply because people didn't seem to understand the diagnosis. That's ok-- I wouldn't have either I'm sure. A few times we got, "Oh I bet it's because she didn't do enough tummy time. Or she was in her swing a lot." Which those things can lead to a predisposition towards torticollis, but that just wasn't the case for her. She hated tummy time, which we now understood why. But we did it, and I wore her from the minute she was big enough to be worn (which is also a form of tummy time).
We also heard, "Oh, just turn her neck and make her look this way." Which is nice in theory. But it's kinda like telling a blind person to just open up their eyes so they can see. It's not that they don't want to, they just can't. Really, people were just trying to be helpful and understand. But I was already grappling with the idea that I had carried my child inside "incorrectly" and it resulted in needing therapy. So everything sounded like it was my fault, something that we could've avoided if we'd done things the "right way". It is funny to see how quickly the enemy snuck in and started turning something that I initially felt wasn't a big deal into something that was a *BIG* deal for me.
It started just like I said... I started thinking that I hadn't carried her "right". I went through a laundry list of things that I tried to do to protect her and offer her a great start. I took prenatal vitamins for a few months before trying to conceive to make sure my body had what it needed, I used natural remedies when I was sick during pregnancy, I took 1 Tylenol my entire pregnancy, I was regularly adjusted, and we'd chosen to birth her with no medication to keep her safe from the side effects of pitocin and anesthesia. But somehow, I kept those thoughts at bay for awhile. She was making quick progress in therapy, she loved playing while she was there, and so it was easy to put it out of my mind.
She had been in therapy for about a month when she turned 6 months old. If you know anything about child development, you know that this particular month is a really rich month of growth-- both physical and cognitive. She was sitting up, trying to move from sitting to prone, grabbing toys out of her reach. And the stretches we had to do became hard. She hated them and would scream and cry while we did them. It broke my heart. I've never been one to cry when she cries. I didn't cry when she had her blood drawn, when she had a shot, etc. I know that babies just cry-- it's how they communicate. But this was different. She struggled against me and I knew the stretches were uncomfortable. They didn't hurt, but they were working those tightened muscles. I remember one afternoon just crying with her and telling her I was sorry because I felt like it was my fault. She wouldn't have to do the stretches if I hadn't done something wrong. I knew logistically that this was incorrect. But I couldn't stop that tidal wave of emotion, and my thoughts just started spinning. I didn't identify it.1 Peter 5:8 should've bolted into my mind. "Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." But it didn't.
Abi Kate's pregnancy and birth were times of heavy spiritual growth for me. They were refining for my faith and the Father used them to draw me to Himself. On the morning of January 27, I needed the physical presence of Christ in a way that I'd never needed Him before. And just like He promised, even when I doubted, He showed up and sustained me. He delivered me, He comforted me, He quieted me with His love. He offered peace in the pain and calm in the chaos. He answered every tiny thing that we prayed, and I was overcome. I still struggle to explain adequately what her birth meant for me on a spiritual level. I will never forget the hours of intimacy with Christ in our home while I labored. Nine months later and I still can't talk about it without tears. God used those hours to magnificently display his faithfulness to me, His sovereignty, and to show me, a lover of control, how beautiful surrender truly is. In 5 hours He showed me things about Himself that I hadn't learned in 17 years of following Him. It only makes sense that this is where the enemy would begin his "devouring." And on that afternoon while Abi Kate cried and I cried for her, I shamefully started to doubt. I doubted our decisions. I forgot what He had showed me not so long ago, and I started to look for control.
I began to doubt the birth choices Tommy and I had made. Decisions we'd labored over. Prayed over. But I questioned them just the same. We'd considered home birth with her early in my second trimester, but things didn't pan out and we didn't feel peace about it. I started thinking that if I'd had her at home, I could've delivered her as soon as I needed. I wouldn't have fought against pushing in order to make it to Vanderbilt. Maybe if I'd gone to a nearer hospital.... There were so many if's.... Maybe she was too big for my body to carry and maybe this would happen to all of our children. Maybe I hadn't paid enough attention. Looking back at her pictures from her first week on, it was SO easy to spot it. Things that I had originally looked at and thought, "She doesn't hold her head up completely yet." I even emailed our doula asking if something had happened during her birth that I'd done ( to which she patiently told me that home birth couldn't have prevented it, going to another hospital wouldn't have fixed it, and nothing had happened in her delivery-- all hands were off her when she arrived. No pulling or guiding. She was simply caught by the midwife.) But there was still this incessant need to know what I had done. And what I didn't recognize in the moment was that at the center of all that, there was a huge crowning and loving of self. What had I done? Not what He had done. Why did I decide that? Not what He had led us to. Graciously, Christ used His people to point me back to His wisdom and to point out my position. Tommy pointed me to scripture, and I remember the words of one particular friend verbatim. "God's hands were all over her birth. Don't forget that."
Through this process, I realized that even though I'd acknowledged His strength and utter holiness, I had somehow managed to keep myself elevated to a position of control. I had allowed the enemy to suck the joy from one of the greatest cornerstone moments of my life. And how easily he'd been able to because of my great love for myself. My great need for control. The same things that Christ had broken me of 6 months before, on my knees in my living room at 4 am while the rest of the world went on with their day. I ignored what Christ had prevented, the health that He had given my child, and had made it about my actions-- this one small thing that I couldn't control. In the ease of my everyday life, in my lack of attention to the spiritual war that is always raging around me, I didn't give credence to "the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might.." (Eph 1:19). It was a humbling moment from a merciful God. Walking in humility is something that I continue to struggle with, and I imagine I always will (parenting is a good help with that! haha). It is still amazing to me the amount of ignorance I foster about my love for myself and how I easily go from day to day without recognizing how incapable I am and how sovereign He is. I am grateful for His unending kindness that leads me to repentance.
God showed His faithfulness even in my shallowness...Something that never ceases to touch my soul. Abi Kate was released from therapy in September. And in that time God reminded me to make much of Him and to make little of myself. Much to the surprise of her therapists, she never presented with or developed any physical delays as children with torticollis often do. We weren't surprised. :) He is good.
One of the scriptures that resonated with me from the moment I read "pregnant" on the at-home test to the present moments of our lives with Abi Kate.... The scripture painted in her room because I identify it as hers. It spoke perfectly to this experience. "The Lord has done GREAT things for us, and we are filled with JOY." Psalm 126:3