Birth Story >> Wyler Doren Petersen

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On Wednesday, June 21, 2017, I awoke at 4:00 a.m. to a feeling familiar from two years past - a crampy contraction in my lower stomach. Having gone through early labor once before with my first son, Zanden, I knew this type of uterine surge was different than the practice “Braxton Hicks” I’d been having since my second trimester. I woke Benny to tell him that I thought I might have just felt my first contraction, so we started timing them. Sure enough, the cramps were coming at regular intervals, about every ten minutes. I was 37 weeks six days pregnant—the exact same gestational age I was when I began labor with Zanden (off by less than an hour)! 

With my first pregnancy, I was faced with a planned C-section because Zanden was breech (head-up in the womb). The recovery was terribly long and challenging, and I knew I wanted a different birth and postpartum experience for my second, especially since healing from abdominal surgery with a newborn and a toddler this time would be twice as hard. I decided to see a new OB-GYN, Dr. Capetanakis, who is known in the area for supporting gentle births and VBACs (vaginal birth after caesarian). Benny and I wanted to try everything possible to give us the best chance of having a natural, unmedicated delivery this time. We hired a doula, Ashley Stetson, and I started going to the chiropractor regularly to help get the baby in the optimal position for a head-down, vaginal exit. Throughout my pregnancy, we educated ourselves on the benefits of natural birth and began practicing relaxation techniques for labor from our Hypnobirthing class. I was excited about our plan to do most of the work at home, to go to the hospital when surges came about three minutes apart, and to breathe through every contraction without pressures to advance quickly or unnecessary medical interventions/medications. 

A couple hours after the cramps started, I let my mom know that I may be in early labor and asked if she could come to watch Zanden for the day. Since she lives almost two hours away, I wanted to make sure she arrived in time just in case we were faced with a hurry-up-and-get-to-the-hospital situation. I also texted Ashley, and she agreed that I was potentially going to go into active labor that day or night. The cramps were still mild (about seven minutes apart by 8:00 a.m.), so in the meantime I decided to carry on with my plans for the day. Benny went to work, and I took Zanden to a friend’s house to play with their new miniature horse and reveled in the thought that this could be my last one-on-one activity with Zanden before he becomes a big brother.

Once we got home from our play date, my mom arrived soon after, and we put Zanden down for his usual nap at 1:30 p.m. I tried to get some rest but was starting to feel more and more pressure with each surge and asked Benny come home a little early from work to start supporting me through them. They began to range from five to seven minutes apart, and by about 7:00 p.m., Benny texted Ashley that he thought she’d better head over. Contractions became more intense and closer together, and by 8:30 p.m., some of them were coming three minutes apart. Another hour or so went by, and Ashley thought the noises I was making started to sound like I was “pushing” somewhat and that we should get ready to drive to the hospital.

In all of our heads at that point, it was time. Ashley supported me through the next ten minutes while Benny loaded up the car and texted our sweet friend April who was planning to come take photos of the birth. He folded the seats down in our SUV so I could have room to lie down and get on my hands and knees during contractions. The car ride was intense since there was no one in the back seat to help me through the surges, but we made it! We arrived at the hospital around 10:00 p.m., slowly making our way to the labor and delivery check-in desk between me dropping to the floor to breathe through a contraction every three minutes.

Once we were in the triage room, the nurses hooked up my belly to the fetal monitors and insisted on a vaginal exam to check my cervical dilation. I was not a fan of the idea of routine checks since a low number could be discouraging and mess with my head, but they needed to see where I was to relay my dilation to Dr. Cap to see if I could stay and be admitted to a labor room. The results were heartbreaking—I was only one centimeter dilated. We had the charge nurse do an exam as well for a second opinion—same answer. With that number being so low, I was not considered to be in active labor yet and would need either to go home or labor in the triage room for a while and see how things progressed. We decided to drive home because I would have more options for comfortable body positions and wouldn’t have to be hooked up to the monitors on the bed.

When we got home, per Ashley's advice, Benny and I got in bed to try to get some sleep (yes it is possible to sleep during labor!). This is when our Hypnobirthing classes really paid off. Through Benny's light touch massage and our breathing techniques, I was able to fall asleep between each contraction! This actually slowed down the interval between each surge to eight minutes apart for about five hours. Being suddenly woken every few minutes by the peak of each surge (an incredible amount of pressure and pain) wasn't fun at all, but at that point my body really needed the rest to prepare for what ended up being another entire day of active labor.

The next day was one of the most physically and mentally exhausting of my life. Contractions picked up again in the morning and were becoming almost unbearable. Serious thoughts of going to the hospital to see if I could get an epidural began to run through my mind during every brutal surge, and I began to express that to Ashley and Benny. But being the incredible partner he is, Benny was firm on reminding me of my desire for an unmedicated birth and tried to shut down those conversations quickly. The whole day consisted of walking around the house and seeing what contractions felt like in different locations and positions: in the bath, in bed, hands and knees on the floor, standing up, squatting beneath the counter, straddling the toilet, and bouncing on the birth ball. The pressure and tightening in my abdomen and back were most manageable in the bathtub, but the problem with staying in there was that the relative relaxation between surges kept slowing my time intervals down, and we needed to be moving things along to get this baby out! It became a grueling, emotional mind game of wanting the comfort of the warm bath water and dreading the thought of purposefully setting my body up to endure longer, more frequent, more intense contractions.

By that afternoon, I was serious about needing some relief and was becoming more and more unstable emotionally. The thought of having to go through this level of pain for who knows how much longer was becoming debilitating. I finally told my coaching team that I needed to get to the hospital to re-check my dilation and to at least start the process for getting some pain relief. It took time for Benny to allow me to let go of my plan for an all-natural birth, but I knew in my heart that because of the abnormal length and intensity of my labor so far, my body and mind were no longer capable of enduring increasing amounts of pain without any form of rest. In theory, if I was progressed/dilated enough by the time we got to the hospital, I would be able to order the epidural and potentially get the break I knew my body needed to prepare for pushing the baby out. So, we packed up once again and got in the car.

We arrived at the hospital for the second time at 7:50 p.m., and for the first time all day, I felt some peace and hope that my labor may have an end in sight. The check-in desk was crazy busy, and every four minutes I was dropping to the floor, loudly moaning through each contraction in the middle of the lobby. All the labor rooms were filled up that night, and the nurses had to order a bed from another wing of the hospital to triage me in the operating room, where they do the emergency C-sections. The operating room—the last place I wanted to end up—the room where my womb was cut apart two years ago, where I could see my tiny Zanden being taken away from me the moment I first saw him while the surgeons and nurses gossiped over my open body. As I began to yell through the excruciating pain with an eye mask on to hide from the surgery flashbacks, I prayed that my labor this time would not end in that room again.

We had the sweetest nurses caring for me that night, but the report they brought after checking my cervix was not good: I had only dilated from one to two centimeters the last 24 hours. This was not enough to prove that my body would progress on its own if I were to get an epidural, since often pain medications can slow labor down, causing a “failure to progress.” Dr. Cap was concerned that an epidural this “early” in terms of dilation would likely end in more risky interventions that we didn’t want: induction methods and/or another C-section. He needed to see a three or four centimeter dilation to feel comfortable admitting me and ordering an epidural, so he suggested I walk around the lobby for two hours and then have the nurse examine my cervix again. We complied and did everything possible in those two hours to get my body to progress. I did not sit or lie down—I walked around, stood up for my contractions, did squats, and basically tried to make myself as uncomfortable as possible. It worked, and my contractions started coming three minutes apart and at a 9/10 pain level. The nurse let us know it was time to check my cervix again. We went back to the operating room and received the worst news of my life: no progression—still only two centimeters.

At 11:00 p.m., Benny got on the phone with Dr. Cap again and explained that we felt that without an epidural to rest my body from the overwhelming tension and pressure, I was not going to relax enough to dilate. This theory wasn't scientific, but after two days of labor, I really felt that my body was too exhausted to progress without help at that point. I started throwing up, and Benny let the doctor listen to me screaming through a surge over the phone, and that's when everyone agreed that I was in active labor and could go ahead and stay to order that epidural!

The nurses wheeled me from the operating/triage room into a labor room to start the process of admission and anesthesia. Praise God! I was in agonizing pain but knew that within a couple hours there would be some relief. After two excruciatingly long hours and two attempts to get the epidural to work properly, I could no longer feel my contractions and was almost totally numb from waist to feet. The nurses lay me on my side, put a big inflatable pillow between my thighs to keep my pelvis open, and hooked me up to everything possible—fetal monitors on my belly, an oxygen mask on my face, an oxygen monitor on my finger, a blood pressure cuff on my arm, an IV in my hand, and a catheter. Now it was time to rest, wait and see if my cervix would open despite the anesthesia. Benny and Ashley caught some good sleep, while I dozed on and off between nurses checking my vitals. After about two hours, it was time for a vaginal exam. I had opened to four centimeters and lost my mucus plug! Two more hours went by...six centimeters and my water released. It was like magic. Another couple of restful hours passed, and voila! I was fully dilated and began to feel the urge to push. This was it!

Dr. Cap arrived and sat down below me, with our nurse and Ashley at my sides holding my legs and Benny by my right shoulder. I lay on my back, holding my knees up and began to bear down at the peak of each surge. We were told that the baby's heart rate was dropping, so I really needed to drive him down with all my might to get him out quickly. Within 45 minutes, I pushed for the last time and was holding my baby in my arms! He came out grunting, and after a few minutes of hugs on my chest, he had to be taken to the other side of the room for a little while to be put on a CPAP respiratory machine to assist his breathing. Meanwhile, I delivered the placenta, had an inner tear stitched up, and tried to recuperate from total fatigue and nausea.

The baby began to breathe properly after about 15 minutes and was placed back on my chest with a blanket. There is no way to express how happy I was that my baby was finally here and that I had achieved my VBAC! 

Wyler Doren Petersen was born at 8:02 a.m. on June 23, 2017, seven pounds six ounces and 20 inches long. His middle name was inherited from his 101-year-old Great-Great Grandma Van Doren and means gift in Hebrew. He is exactly two years, two months and two days younger than his big brother Zanden. I can’t wait to watch them grow up together and am so thankful to be a mom of two healthy boys!

I had such strong hopes of making it to the end unmedicated, but looking back, there is nothing in me that regrets the epidural. Maybe if my labor had lasted only 12, 24, even 36 hours (instead of 52), I could have dilated and pushed through, but with such a long span of time enduring surges with very little rest, my body had done all it could do alone and needed help. I believe the epidural relaxed my cervix so it could open; without it, my body was too tense and tight from the two days of contractions to progress. I didn't achieve the all-natural birth of my dreams, but I think I actually got something better—the assurance that I tried everything in my toolbox, listened to my body, voiced what it needed, and moved on instead of hanging on to desires rooted partially in pride. I see now that through my struggle the Lord was showing me that in order for my deepest longing of a life dependent on Him to be fulfilled, I needed to be deeply humbled, broken down, and ready to give up my plans to wholly surrender to His will and way. And through letting go and trusting that He is a good Father who looks down on me in love, I got to push out and receive a beautiful, healthy baby boy without needing surgery again. That is a gift worth celebrating.

Now that we are home and past the first week postpartum, my eyes are opening even more to the ways we have been divinely covered through every moment. Throughout labor and delivery I was blessed with the best husband, doula, nurses and doctor, who all listened to me and trusted my instincts. Our amazing community of friends has been so generous in signing up to bring dinners to ease the burden of meal prep. A different grandparent or auntie has come to help watch Zanden every day since Wyler's birth, allowing Benny and me the flexibility to go to breastfeeding-related consultations and to catch up on sleep when needed. The grief and guilt I've been feeling from missing quality time with my firstborn has given me such thankfulness for the two years I got to spend every day with him alone. Even with the sleep deprivation, the stress of an extremely challenging nursing experience so far, and a needy toddler at home, my and Benny's marriage has never been more loving and secure. I have fallen so fully in love with my husband again, and our commitment to each other has reached a new level of strength, emotional intimacy and resolve. And through some deep heart-unraveling, I am being freed of the structure and control that had been giving my flesh a superficial sense of comfort, and I'm learning again to lean on the only One who can bring lasting peace to my soul.  

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not;
As Thou hast been, Thou forever will be.

Great is Thy faithfulness,
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided,
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me. 

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

Great is Thy faithfulness,
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided,
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.

*All images in hospital of labor, baby on mom's chest, and baby on CPAP machine by April Ciervo.

Family Maternity Session 2017

I am in awe of the heaven-sent gift of family, a husband’s devotion, the joy from a tiny child, the miracle of a new life, the blessings overflown. Thank you for capturing our soon to be family of four Aubree Lynn! We will always cherish the memories of this sweet time when Zanden was two and Wyler was 31 weeks in the womb.

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San Diego Baby + Toddler Bucket List

I've been asked a lot about what I do with my time as a "stay-at-home" mom and how my son and I fill our days. I feel so blessed to get to spend this season of life showing my son the world, but I'll admit, at first it was tough to figure out what the heck to do with this little human after I had recovered from a c-section. I decided to create a baby and toddler bucket list to get all our options down in one place! I used these lists the first two years of Zanden's life to get us out of the house, make new friends and explore what San Diego / Southern California has to offer. As a new mom, getting out with a baby and forming a routine you enjoy can be a challenge. In the beginning, I literally would just check things off day by day. The items were as simple as going to the park or as exciting as our first trip to Disneyland. Over time, we've learned what activities are our favorites and what we may skip with baby #2, who will be joining our family this summer!

OUTDOOR FUN

Stroller/Carrier Walks. I joined a local Meetup group where I ended up meeting a bunch of great friends to walk with, since we are relatively new to the San Diego area and few of my current friends had kids. I also did Stroller Strides for a period of time before my son became more mobile. Here is a list of some great stroller walks to check out:
     -Batiquitos Lagoon (Carlsbad).
     -Discovery Lake (San Marcos).
     -Carlsbad Village boardwalk from Starbucks to Tamarack (Carlsbad).

Park Play Dates. Here are some of the parks we have checked out and enjoyed:
     -Hidden Canyon Community Park (Carlsbad).
     -Shadowridge Park (Vista).
     -Calavera Hills Community Park (Carlsbad). Sand and some nice shady spots.
     -Aviara Community Park (Carlsbad).
     -Poinsettia Community Park (Carlsbad).
     -Alga Norte Community Park (Carlsbad). Sand and modern playground. Fun to watch the skateboarders too!
     -Cottonwood Creek Park (Encinitas).
     -Glen Park (Cardiff). Sand and trains that go by!
     -Sunset Park (San Marcos). Awesome splash pad during the warmer months!

Beach Days. I like having my husband or a childless friend with me for these because the sand/lounge gear factor can be a little tough to manage by yourself while carrying a baby or wrangling a toddler! We love Moonlight and Beacon's Beach (Encinitas), Carlsbad State Beach and Ponto Beach (Carlsbad).

Leo Carrillo Ranch (Carlsbad). Free, cool/historic place to walk around, see peacocks and have a picnic.

Strawberry Picking (Carlsbad). Such a fun springtime activity! Prepare for a filthy-dirty toddler covered in strawberry juice and red dirt!

Apple Picking (Julian). A must-do for fall! We went in September with a big group of 18-month-olds to Peacefield Boutique Orchard and had the best time! Here's some photos from our trip.

 

 

Pumpkin Patch (various locations). Such a great fall tradition to get a photo of your babe with the pumpkins every year!

Bernardo Winery (Rancho Bernardo). 

Bike Rides. My husband loves taking Zanden on the back of his bike, in our neighborhood or at the Carlsbad beach boardwalk.

Babywearing Hike. My husband and I love hiking around Torrey Pines!

 

 

 

CLASSES / SPORTS / EDUCATIONAL

GroovaRoo Babywearing Dance (various locations). I did these classes every week with my son from four to 18 months old, until he no longer liked being in the Tula/Ergo carrier. It was such a special bonding time for us and a great community of first-time moms! You can drop in or buy a class punch card.

Musical Sing and Sign (Encinitas). A woman named Laura Greer teaches musical sign language classes at the Encinitas Library and a drop-in class at her home for crawlers - early walkers. Great for teaching your baby some signs to jump start communication!

Library Story Times (Dove Library, Cole Library, Encinitas Library). Check out your local library's kids calendar for a list of FREE drop-in story times for kids of all ages! My toddler likes the Movers and Shakers class at Cole Library the best.

Gymnastics Classes. We did First Step Gymnastics at Calavera Hills Community Park when Zanden was about 18 months. He conquered some fears through the course of the class (climbing up the bouncy slide, balance beam, trusting his teacher) and worked on some self-control skills during circle time. It is a six-week structured program through the city of Carlsbad. We are now trying out JW Tumbles in Encinitas. 

Mommy and Me Preschool. Encinitas Country Day School has a FREE Mommy and Me Preschool program. They have indoor and outdoor free play time, music time and snack time twice a week from 9:30 - 11:00 a.m. Best of all, it's drop-in...no commitment! 

 


Join a Moms Group. We do MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers), which is a Christian organization that has local chapters all over the country. Their meetings are a great way to meet other moms in the same stage of life and learn from experienced mentor moms as well. We also have a moms group through my church that is wonderful!

Off to the Farmhouse Mommy and Me (San Marcos). This small family farm has baby goats, mama goats, chickens, bunnies and a pig! My guy loved holding and feeding the animals all morning! Must reserve a spot in advance via their Facebook page. Best for toddlers close to age two and up.

 


Swim Lessons. A must for any baby/toddler in Southern California to learn pool safety and get comfortable in the water! My husband takes our son to Waterworks on weekday nights as a fun father-son activity.

Babywearing Barre. Not my cup of tea, but some people love it. We tried a class at The Daily Method in Carlsbad. 

Little Rascalz Soccer. The parent participation league for 18 months - three years old is the cutest thing ever!

Play Gyms. We've tried out Gymboree and Lil Busy Bodies. My two-year-old loved the Level 5 class at Gymboree! 

INDOOR PLAY

Get Air Trampoline Gym (Vista). $8 per hour or two hours for the price of one on Tuesdays. My little guy loved bouncing around and running into the foam pits. Make sure to go during the week when it's not busy - you don't want your toddler getting trampled by older kids / adults. They do have a "little air" area which is supposed to be for smaller tots. Best for toddlers close to age two and up.

Kidsville (Carlsbad). Not our favorite spot (germs and crazy older kids not being well-supervised), but worth checking out for the sake of variety. Best for toddlers close to age two and up.

YMCA Open Gym (Carlsbad). The Magdalena Ecke YMCA has open gym Monday-Saturday for ages six months - five years. Check their website for cost and times. My son loves the foam pit, balance beams, slides and trampoline! You can pay at the door; no need to reserve a spot.

 

THEME PARKS / ATTRACTIONS

San Diego Zoo Safari Park / San Diego Zoo (Escondido, San Diego). An annual pass to the Safari Park / SD Zoo is a perfect first birthday gift! We have gone about twice a month since getting our pass and my son loves it more and more each time we go! Great for babies between one and two years old especially.

 

San Diego Botanic Garden (Encinitas). They have free admission ($2 parking) for San Diego residents the first Tuesday of every month. Babies will be happy cruising around in a stroller and older toddlers will enjoy the sand pit, water fountain, train area and a treehouse play structure.

Legoland and Sea Life Aquarium (Carlsbad). We decided to get annual passes when my son was a little over a year old since it's a short drive away. We go to the aquarium 2-3 times a month for just an hour or two and will be heading to the water park splash pad in the warmer months. My two-year-old can only go on a handful of the theme park rides, but they do have some fun playground areas, a carousel and a boat ride that he loves.

Birch Aquarium (La Jolla). Small aquarium, but worth checking out. Pretty outdoor area overlooking the ocean.

Free Flight Bird Sanctuary (Del Mar). Cute little place with lots of exotic birds to meet and greet. Some are friendly enough to hold on your arm! Small entry fee.

The Flower Fields (Carlsbad). Not good for active crawlers (muddy red dirt), but fun for babies in the stroller/carrier or steady walkers. Great for pictures in the spring!

 

 

San Diego Children's Discovery Museum (Escondido). My 18-month-old had a blast here! They have lots to do indoors and outdoors - a pirate ship, interactive science exhibits, a bubble station, a water station, a sand pit, a chicken coop, etc.

Train Ride / Zoomars Petting Zoo (San Juan Capistrano). One of my favorite things I've done with my almost two-year-old was when we took the Pacific Surfliner train up North to San Juan Capistrano! It was a short 40-minute ride from Oceanside Transit Center. The SJC train stop is a block away from Zoomars - a fun petting zoo with guinea pigs, goats, horses, llamas, pigs, pony rides, a train and a playground.

 

Agua Hedionda Lagoon Foundation (Carlsbad). Donation-based place to see/hold some small pets and reptiles. You can also grab a bite to eat in their parking lot cafe. 

San Diego County Fair (Del Mar). This event runs through most of June and into early July. Parking was a little crazy but they had so many fun rides for my two-year-old! He absolutely loved getting to go all by himself in race cars, boats, flying elephants...you name it! He also loved getting to see all the farm animals and climb on tractors. Will definitely be going again next year!

EVENTS

Petco Park (San Diego). Petco Park is a great venue to check off your bucket list. We've taken Zanden to a Padre Game here when he was a baby and Monster Jam as a toddler. He is obsessed with monster trucks, so the show was a hit!

GRAB A BITE

Choice Juicery (Carlsbad). Great spot to meet up for a healthy lunch or smoothie while toddlers run around the artificial grass area or babies play on a blanket.

Crack Shack (Encinitas). Long lines as you approach lunch time, but if you get there before 11:00 a.m., they have quick service and a great sand pit for toddlers to play in while you eat your gourmet chicken sandwich.

Out of TowN

Catalina Island. We had an awesome weekend on Catalina with our 18-month-old and in-laws. We stayed in a beautiful condo at Hamilton Cove, cruised around Avalon in the golf cart and had a fun beach day at Descanso Beach Club. Note: bring your carseat - you still have to use one on a golf cart! Here's some photos from our trip.

Disneyland. We took Zanden for the first time when he was 22 months and I couldn't have asked for a more fun time! I grew up going to Disneyland with my family, and it was so special to see it through a child's eyes again. He loves all the characters and rides so much!

 

Palm Springs. An easy weekend getaway with plenty of kid-friendly hotels and rental homes to choose from.

Balboa Island. My family and I had the best time staying four nights on Balboa Island this year! We rented a house walking distance from the bay and the main street with all the shops and restaurants. Zanden had a blast digging in the sand at the bay (so much easier than the beach), watching the boats, and taking the ferry over to the fun zone. Such an easy family vacay!

STILL TO-DO

New Children's Museum
Reuben H. Fleet Science Center
Cabrillo Tide Pools
Music Class
Seaport Village
La Jolla Cove
San Elijo Lagoon
Keys Creek Lavender Farm

 

Zanden Turns Two

My Zanden Guy,

Today you are 2! You are my bubbly ball of spunky sweetness…headstrong and vocal and expressive with every part of your being. You are just so very alive and I love your zesty little soul. You like 'getting cozy' and now prefer us to 'do rainbows' on your back instead of rocking before bed...which broke my heart a little as I laid you down to rub your back from the other side of the crib rail last night. Your favorite things are trucks and books about them, cowboy boots, 'tun-guls' [tunnels], horses, Lion King, strawberries, soccer, play dough, farm animals, and of course, your new bestie Daniel Tiger.

Thank you to all our friends who came to play with Daniel and Zanden today! These are the days I never want to forget.

My Story of Adoption

I grew up always knowing I came from another mommy's tummy. I was told that I was my parents' special gift, and there was a lady named Catherine out there somewhere, who kissed me goodbye the day I was born. 

She was 19, fragile in the wake of her parents’ divorce and the unreciprocated love of the man she felt deeply for, who left town to study abroad. When another came along and pressured her to sleep with him, she thought he could give the affection she craved. She traded her virginity for the hope of genuine love, but what she got in return was the news she was pregnant.

Like most teenagers, Catherine was unready and unable to raise a child. She was still in school and had no committed partner to share the responsibility of providing for a baby. The only financial support she received was my biological father’s offer to pay for the abortion.

With no one to turn to, Catherine sought guidance from a crisis pregnancy center, where her counselors educated her about fetal development. She began to see a new story that God was writing for her if she chose to read it. As she turned each page one day at a time, she felt convicted that there was a new soul growing inside her and decided to carry the pregnancy to term.

Week after week, people poured into Catherine’s life who showed her the everlasting love and care she lacked belief in. Friends became like family. The man she loved and thought was uninterested returned from Europe and pursued a relationship with her despite the pregnancy. She found a couple struggling to add a second child to their family, and she committed to bless them with her baby.

While I grew up in a home of privilege and stability, Catherine was left to piece together the remains from leaving the delivery room with an empty womb and empty arms. She slept with my unwashed hospital blankets and tiny hat for a year after I was born and would leak milk for weeks at the sound of an infant's cry. There was no regret in her heart, but there was certainly pain all over for a long time.

When I turned eight years old, I asked my parents if my birth mom had left anything for me. That day I received a small Bible covered in white lace, with my name, "Lisa Marie," embroidered on the front. They also gave me a poem that had been written on a red paper heart wreath, like a Valentine. These gifts were from the woman who allowed me a life, and they became my precious treasures.

From then on, Catherine and I began to write letters. She would send me a birthday card each year, and I would write a thank you note in reply, updating her on my hobbies and interests. I learned that she was happily married to the man she loved, and they had four beautiful children of their own. I loved it when she would send me their family photos; I would study each of their faces to find any resemblance between us. We stayed in communication like this until the summer I turned eighteen, when I met her in person for the first time.

I would say our first time meeting was surreal, but really, it was just like catching up with a close friend I hadn't seen in a while. Catherine was always so intentional and transparent with me; I never doubted her love. Simply knowing that she sacrificed her body and emotions for my sake is one of the greatest ways I have ever been loved. 

If there is any area of my past that revealed my life has value and purpose, it is the way the Lord placed me into the family He knew was best for me all along. Jesus’ evident hand in bringing me home has led me to want His fingerprints to continue to saturate my life forever. He knew I needed the late-night "meaning of life" discussions I would have with my dad, the professor of theology. He knew that with my predisposition to fall into anxiety, I needed the grounded wisdom of my mom, a woman who never lets fear overtake her. He knew I needed the relationship and example of an older sister who has taught me what it looks like to be loyal, sincere and perseverant. He knew I needed to witness the radical generosity displayed by my grandparents, who invested in people and gave so freely. And He knew they all needed me too.

If I wasn't adopted, I wouldn't have had the opportunity to go to college in San Diego, where I met my husband, whose devotion and friendship are the greatest gifts I’ve ever received. We wouldn’t have our son, who is the most tangible joy in our lives. There is nothing about being adopted that is sad or less than perfect in my eyes. This wasn’t the backup plan or a lucky turn of events; this was the way my story was written from the beginning. The redeeming path the Lord paved for Catherine was not easy, it was not painless, it was not understood or condoned by most of the people around her at the time. But she followed it, and for this I am eternally grateful.

There is the bond of flesh and blood, and then there is something deeper that makes a mother. What being an adopted daughter has shown me is that a mother’s face is not a reflection of hereditary likeness to her children, but of God’s love, sacrifice, mercy, and faithfulness. Romans 8:12 says, “You have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’” Knowing our identities as heirs with Christ has freed my husband and I from the idea that our family should be filled with exclusively biological children. It gives us the peace that God will paint a beautiful picture over our mistakes if we allow Him to use our lives as a canvas. We are free because we can be still and trust. We are free because we've been adopted.

This article was featured on The Village Magazine blog on 12/06/16.