A Story of Will

I was browsing in the granite aisle.  I was feeling the chill of an overly air-conditioned warehouse full of huge slabs of stone, when I stopped and closed my eyes to breathe through a contraction.  I looked at the contraction timer I’d downloaded earlier in the day, and sure enough…they were regular and about 6 minutes apart.  I looked over to Rick to relay that information.  After being induced with my first when I went two weeks late, and knowing my family history of going to 43 weeks or more, I was reluctant to believe this was really it.  We both pursed our lips and tried to play it cool, but it seemed more and more like this was labor.

We finished up our granite shopping and made our way home though late afternoon traffic on I-70.  The regular contractions were slightly uncomfortable, but not enough to  make me squirm in the car, so we talked through our plan if they continued.  My mom, who was ready and waiting at our house, would take over if we had to leave for the hospital in the night.  We had written out the information she needed to watch our older son, so we felt like we just needed to determine when the time was right.  Until I got a more sure sign that labor was imminent, I was operating under the impression that this was just a false alarm – as I’d experienced a few times with my first.

At about 11 pm that night, as my contractions worsened I went to the bathroom and found that I had bloody show.   This seemed like just the sign I’d been waiting for.  I texted my doula, told her my contraction pattern, and she decided to drive up and see us. When she arrived, Rick was pacing and antsy.  As the contractions worsened, he worried that we needed to go to the hospital.  When  Stacey arrived, however, she sat down to watch the contractions herself and after about 20 minutes of watching me as I sat on my birth ball she agreed that we should make our way to the University of Colorado Hospital, about 25 minutes away.  Rick had loaded our bags in his nervousness, so we hopped in the car and made our way there – which was a rough ride for me, as I clutched the door and console trying to ease the back labor I was experiencing in the car.

We arrived and checked in.  They took us to triage to determine whether I was ready to be checked in.  After a brief check of my cervix, my midwife said we’d need to wait a bit longer before they would check me in.  She welcomed us to pace the halls, or head home and come back later.  We were a bit confused as to why we couldn’t stay, but decided that our home, which was undergoing a kitchen renovation and housing our two-year old, would not be a restful place.  We booked a room at a hotel nearby and went there to rest and ride out the labor a bit further.  My husband laid down to sleep.  I, on the other hand, laid down to close my eyes, but every few minutes would leap up to ride out a contraction.  I couldn’t handle them lying down.   This continued for about 4 hours, until my water broke and we headed back to the hospital.

This time we were checked through with no issue.  We got into our labor room and hunkered down.  I was awfully tired because it was now morning and I’d not slept.   My doula wanted me to ride through several contraction while lunging with one leg on a chair.  I did that in an effort to bring the baby down in a non-asynclitic way.   But after a while, my tiredness was getting to me so we moved to the bath.  There, my laboring consisted of me dozing off between contractions.  It sounds insane that one could do that, but my body was in some sort of energy conserve mode.  I’d wake up as the contraction started, ride it though, and then lay my head back and sleep.  Apparently I was even snoring.  I did this for a bit in the tub and it was lovely and gave me some rest.  Then my doula suggested I start dancing.  Some people might think it a strange thing to do, but given the way my first birth went I was game for anything that would get me the VBAC I hoped for.  I had hired te best doula I could find and I wasn’t about to ignore her advice. So, we danced.  I did hula-like moves for what felt like several hours.  The hope, in all this, was to avoid what had happened with my first – a posterior and asynclitic babe, resulting in a cesarean.  My entire pregnancy had been targeted toward this goal. I’d been doing months of chiropractic, religiously sleeping on my side, taking probiotics, reading voraciously, exercising – and it felt like it might just work.

As the contractions began getting stronger, somewhere deep down, I knew that I was experiencing back labor.  With each contraction I’d squirm uncontrollably to take the pressure off.   I decided that something to take the edge off might be nice.  I asked if they had some laughing gas, and before long  had a mask that I could use to “make the contractions not bother me as much.”  The anesthesiologist (who I maintain was a Seth Rogan doppelgänger), was very honest about the fact that nitrous does not mask the pain, but helps you handle it better.  It did.  And, before long I had made my way to a point where I was very tired, wanting to push (well, that had been going on almost since I checked in because the baby was SO low), and wondering if I had the stamina for transition.  I was starting to consider an epidural, but I hadn’t had a cervical check in several hours so Rick suggested that before I go for medications, we should see where I was.  Well, it turns out that I had gone right on through transition without too much drama and was fully dilated!  This was fantastic news!

I started to push.  I was good at pushing!  My midwife was psyched seeing the progress my baby made with each push.  She said she saw the head move nearly two inches each time I gave it my all.  They were readying me to meet my baby any minute and I was thrilled.  There was a part of me that had assumed I’d never get this far, and here I was pushing and being told the baby would be out very soon.  I was elated.  I’d heard people say that pushing felt good.  It does, in the sense that you have some agency in what’s happening, unlike in the earlier contractions, but I can’t say that the sensation was enjoyable.  I was ready to see this baby and have it be done!

After about 45 minutes, the midwife voiced concern that the baby was moving back each time I pushed – more so than normal.  And, worse, the baby was having late heart rate deceleration.  This is language I’d heard before with Cody – not good news.  They called the OB team and a pediatrics team into the room where I was laboring.  Soon, it was just me, Rick, my doula and about 12 doctors, nurses, and other support staff.  About this time I began thinking how grateful I was for having grown up playing sports because without that, I doubt I’d have handled the chorus of 15 people around me yelling and urging me to bear down between contractions nearly as well.  I was also glad for my health and fitness, because it was a lot of work after already laboring for over 24 hours!

The OB introduced herself and told me that they were here to help me get the VBAC I wanted.  First, she felt for the baby’s position.  Posterior – again!  And, asynclitic – again.  She reached in and attempted to manually turn the baby but it was unsuccessful (and very uncomfortable because I was still unmedicated).  They offered two options then – forceps or a vacuum – to help move the baby into a better position.  Vacuum was their recommendation and so we went ahead with it.  A vacuum assisted delivery involves attaching a vacuum pump to the baby’s head to help pull and re-direct it during each push.  So, at the next push they attached the vacuum and I pushed with everything I had.  The OB was literally standing and pushing with one foot on the edge of my hospital bed to help her pull, but the vacuum popped off.  It was a VERY painful experience with no medications and the amount of pressure that she was exerting as she pulled down.  It felt altogether different from just the contractions and pushing alone. Apparently, many women who have a vacuum assisted delivery already have been given pain meds, but I was completely unmedicated and the nurses kept having to remind the OB team of that as they were pulling.  Though I handle pain well, it felt like they were going to rip me apart.  I can’t really even describe the feeling of being on a bed, with 15 people who I barely knew, surrounding me in a state of undress I would never otherwise be in, pushing as hard as possible, with the OB pulling as hard as she can – a sensation that feels like it will rip my insides out, akin to trying really hard to extract a cork from a wine bottle – and everyone yelling at me to push, and bear down, and curl around the baby.  It was insane. Like, definitely not the birth scenario I imagined even when readying myself for the challenge of VBAC.  A second attempt at the vacuum resulted in a pop off.  And finally, my third and last chance.  My midwife and doula both looked at me gravely before the contraction hit and said I needed to give it every ounce I had (as if I hadn’t already been doing this through the two previous attempts).  The contraction started, and I curled hard around the baby as I lay on my left side, giving over every fiber of muscle in my body to the pushing.  The contraction began to wane, and I kept pushing to keep the baby from sliding back, but as the OB pulled, the vacuum popped off for the third and final time.  The OB and my midwife slowly approached my head and said that the time had come to move to a cesarean, they asked my permission as I panted and collapsed onto the bed, exhausted, and I said yes.  In seconds I was being wheeled out of the room, too tired and overwhelmed to even realize that Rick wasn’t with me.  It wasn’t until they were prepping me for the spinal block that I realized he was nowhere to be found.

Back in the OR, I was too exhausted to be upset at the need for a c-section.  I was hanging on, sitting on the edge of the bed through the strong contractions waiting for my spinal to kick in, which took a few minutes.  Soon though, they had me on the table and pulled the curtain up blocking my view, explaining that they would move it down when things calmed as the baby was born – the hospital had a gentle cesarean option!  I was so thrilled.  But, that time never came for me…

Soon Rick was at my head, and I could tell something was happening on the other side of the curtain.  I assumed they’d tell me when they started th surgery, but they didn’t and it was underway.  It was going slowly.  Very slowly.  As I later learned, when they cut me open they found an abdomen cemented together with very bad scar tissue from my previous cesarean.  So much so that they were forced to do the internal incision higher on my uterus as the scar tissue had cemented other organs and tissue in place over my previous scar.  It was a lot of work to get in, and when they did, Will was in bad shape.  He was in the birth canal, so he had to be pushed out from below and pulled by his feet from the incision.  It was obviously not an easy birth, and it took a lot longer than my first surgery.  I was beginning to fade in and out of consciousness on the table by the time Will was finally removed.  He didn’t cry. The room was very quiet. They didn’t show him to me or Rick.  All I saw was a limp baby being rushed to the other side of the room where a table was set up for resuscitation.  It says something about my mental state that I was so sleepy and figured it would all be ok.  My recollection of this period was several people around Will working hard with a CPAP and doing CPR, Rick shaking above me and crying and sternly telling me not to fall asleep – though the drugs were saying the opposite.  I can’t give you a clear story about this piece, and whenever I ask Rick about it he gets so emotional he can’t really express how he felt.  It was very hard on him seeing Will and I in such precarious positions.

Finally, after several minutes they got Will breathing.  He had an APGAR score of 1 at birth, and 5 minutes out he was a 7, but he wasn’t totally out of the woods.  He spent a night in the NICU because breathing wasn’t coming easily for him.  Me, they stitched back up and wheeled into the recovery room.  The OBGYN took a moment to try to share with me that if I choose to have more children, I will need to have a c-section, because at this point between the new incision placement and the scar tissue it is too risky not to.

I certainly didn’t comprehend the gravity of the situation we faced during Will’s birth.  Each time a doctor visited me they asked in a low voice how I was doing because I’d had a traumatic birth.  To me, honestly, the birth had been a mixed bag.  I was incredibly happy and proud to have labored through what I did, unmedicated and without interventions.  When it came to having had the vacuum assist and eventually the c-section, it seemed to me that I had given the VBAC my all including months of chiropractic, herbs, probiotics, exercise, and working in advance with a team of exceptionally talented people.  I felt confident that under those circumstances, if a c-section was needed then it was truly a necessary intervention.  That said, it wasn’t until a follow-up with my doula that the gravity of the situation struck me.  She said “In situations like yours, we have to be glad for the option of c-section or you and Will wouldn’t be here.”

Wow.  I could have left my toddler without a mom, my husband without a wife, and died in childbirth along with my baby. Holy shit.

So, there has been much to process in the follow-up to this birth.  New life, an expanding family, potential mortality, and the higher risks of choosing to have another baby in the future.  Honestly, this has been much of the reason I haven’t written about Will’s birth. I vacillate between feeling scared, triumphant, bewildered, and this unshakable feeling that I am a let down.  That, in the evolutionary scheme of things, I’d be a dead-end if it weren’t for surgical intervention.  It is a feeling I wrestle with daily.  As I workout and try to get back to a place of fitness and health postpartum, I wonder if this is me recovering and healing after my final baby?   Would be best if I never have any more babies?  The risk is bigger than I’d like or than I anticipated, and I sort of feel that I should just let things lie as they are even though I’ve always wanted more kids.  I am really struggling to get my head around this.  And, I think that though I know now the experience of laboring and feel proud I was able to handle it – I also feel that it is more obvious than ever that something is amiss inside me that causes my babies to be poorly positioned and therefore makes vaginal birth a real challenge.  But what is it?  Why can nobody answer that question?  And now, two surgeries in, I’ve foreclosed any previously available options where I might have been able to correct the issues…

But hey, I know that wading into these questions only causes me to go in circles wondering about things I’ll probably never have answers to.  I have two beautiful, healthy kids.  I am healthy and healing. These are the truly real, concrete, and important things.   But, man, birth really brings out a lot of dark, weird stuff – exposing your insecurities and challenging your self-confidence while also bringing these wonderful beings into your life.  What a crazy thing life is.

I wish I could say more.  As I said, I’m still dong a lot of processing internally and wondering what it all means for me and my family.  I will do my best to report of this more regularly here.  I feel it is important to share this information, though I’ve found it incredibly hard to talk about.

 

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What they don’t tell you about.

What they don’t tell you about is the feeling of waking up in the morning eight days past your due date to nothing happening.  What they don’t tell you is about 11 hours of reliable contractions that just stop for unexplained reasons.  What they don’t tell you about is the bittersweet agony of an appointment with your doctor where you learn that despite your best efforts, the baby you expected about a week ago seems happily content and healthy in your womb, and that very little has changed on the dilation or effacement front.  What they don’t tell you is how despite their best intentions, friends and family will give you the impression that your desire for a natural childbirth is really inconveniencing their travel plans.  What they don’t say is that you might get emotionally exhausted by waiting, false starts, and the knowledge that you derive from a line of women who regularly incubate babies for something more akin to ten months, but that doctors won’t let you do that nowadays – so you may be induced despite all efforts to prevent that outcome.

I know my focus here should truly be on the happy little man swimming around in the abundant amniotic fluid still in my uterus.  My womb appears to be extremely healthy. My baby has no desire to leave.  This, in many respects, is a good thing.  Were it not for my own expectations, and a sense of responsibility to provide a baby to our family who has flown in from as far away as London to see us, perhaps I would be feeling pretty great that I could provide such a comfortable home for the little guy.  He has been pleasant and wonderful for the entirety of my pregnancy.  I have absolutely nothing to complain about.

But yet, this morning, after 11 hours of contractions yesterday that really got our hopes up, when I awoke to NOTHING happening, I cried. When I went to the doctor and she told me that nothing had progressed despite a rollicking game of Apples to Apples with my family that I was SURE had dilated my cervix at least a centimeter or two – I felt morose.  I have more or less outgrown all but a handful of my maternity clothes.  I made it to 40 weeks without stretch marks, and then boom – I got like three.  My entire body is swollen and I cannot stop itching.  I am so ready to be done with being pregnant.  All I want to do is roll over in bed without it having to be a monumental effort.  All I want is the ability to tie my shoes gracefully without falling over.  All I want is for my baby to be born.

According to my terms, that is.

I guess that’s the issue.

I suppose tomorrow I could call my doctor and induce and this all could end.  But I don’t want it to happen like that. I want to know the feeling of going into labor.  I want to not have drugs in my body when I birth my child.  I want to know that I could do it naturally the way mothers have done it for centuries.  It’s important to me.  I want to maximize the chances of that happening, and inducing seems counterproductive to ALL of my goals – besides that one about having the baby.

I worry that I’m overly attached to this goal of a natural childbirth.  After all, detaching oneself from outcomes and living in the moment is supposedly the way to avoid suffering – according to buddhism.  But then I wonder if suffering (in this case) is really so bad?  I mean, if I suffer a bit for a goal that is worthwhile and meaningful to me, why is that harmful?  Is being attached to that outcome truly a bad thing?  I know everyone says that as long as the baby is healthy all is good.  But, to me the health of the baby is one part of a larger set of goals and I’d really like to achieve them all.  I want to have an empowering birth experience.  I want to take ownership of my body and experience the monumental achievement of bringing life into the world on my own.  I want to feel the joy of having my contractions get stronger and more powerful, and to ride the hormonal and emotional waves that accompany this process.  I want to feel the “wall” that I’ve read about so many times, and to push past it.  I want a birthing experience that I emerge from as a stronger, more self-confident, and capable woman.  And, this delay is heightening my sense of concern that perhaps this will not go as I’d planned.

The stress of the situation is palpable.  I want to talk to nobody. I want time to myself.  Rick is equally exhausted from the emotional roller coaster.  Addie doesn’t know what to do – so she binged on chocolate truffles and took the world’s biggest poop under the baby crib.  Clearly we are all at our wit’s end.  It is negative 6 degrees, which makes escaping to a park to walk the baby out a bit more challenging.  I am trying to remember that these pieces don’t define the situation, they shape my perception of it.  I am trying to remind myself that this inconvenience is merely one of attitude. In fact, a recent study shows that women can vary by as much as 37 days in their gestation times, regardless of date of conception.  I REALLY shouldn’t be stressed by my baby’s perceived “lateness.”  But, yet, I have allowed myself to get emotionally exhausted by this process.

My grandma made it through 3 pregnancies that went nearly a month overdue.  So, yet again, I’m attempting to channel her strength to help me manage my emotions as I navigate my way through the vicissitudes of being late.  Wish me (and all who must deal with me) luck in the process.

Smelly Feet and other Love Symbols

I’m sitting in a coffee shop in Calgary reflecting on an email I got this morning from my husband.  It was titled “Come Home.”  As I read the email I laughed aloud as he recounted how our puppy ate my Birkenstocks while he was in the shower this morning.  Yesterday, it was one of my pairs of Danskos.  She’s not typically a shoe-destroyer, so one can only assume she misses the smell of my feet, and me, by extension.  He says that he, too, misses me.  Thankfully he doesn’t show it by eating my shoes.

Being away from home for a week by myself is a good reminder of the blessings I have in my life.  There are so many – and prep yourself because I am going to talk about them.

For one thing, my job, which brought me to Calgary is a blessing.  I work in the exact intersection of things that I love – communications, writing, media, working with people, and environmental issues.  It is not always a fun job, thankless at times, but it is rewarding and full of opportunities to learn and grow.  I love it.  The past week in Calgary for the International Pipelines Conference has re-shaped my perception of pipeline folks entirely. There were amazing sessions on working through environmental challenges, improving safety, learning about ways that pipeline infrastructure actually changes ecosystems to cause certain animals to thrive – and so many more!  The ones that appealed to me most directly dealt with utilizing social media and the internet to include the public in routing decisions and educate them on issues that they care about.  I also LOVED learning about the ways that companies work with First Nations communities to share ownership of infrastructure, accommodate cultural and lifestyle differences, and achieve social license to operate.  This is cool stuff, people.  And for those who might question how a self-described environmentalist can work in this space, I will remind you again that THIS is where change happens and that our voices are often strongest on the inside of an organization as we strive to achieve best practices.  Moreover, unless you can say you don’t use metals, electricity, gasoline, and the myriad other fuels and materials derived from natural resource development – then you are a silent accomplice to the means that brings your iPad to your lap while you watch Hulu.  So, in my opinion it’s best to be a part of the conversation.

After a rough few weeks in the office, that at times made me questions how I would be able to continue to work effectively once Baby Frankie is born, I feel refreshed and renewed by my week here.  I was dreading it, but instead I came away inspired.

In other blessings, it now occurs to me that in just over a week my sisters and another friend will be hosting my BABY SHOWER! My sister has been calling it the Frank and Beans baby shower, since we are doing it outdoors, with a fire, barbecue,  lawn games, and warm fall drinks – and we are referring to the baby using the moniker, Baby Frankie.

It has taken many months for my coming role as a mother to really settle in for me.  Perhaps it is the constant kicking in my belly, or the fact that the shower we plotted out months ago is finally here, or the fact that my maternity clothes are actually a NECESSITY now, but the reality of our coming baby is beginning to hit me in the most pleasant way!  Rather than fretting over how to manage this new variable in our lives, I am softening into daydreams of snuggling with a little newborn, breastfeeding, and sharing all the special moments that happen when a new life is created.  (As I typed that, I thought to myself that the me from a few years ago would have gagged a bit at the mushiness of that sentence, but that was before the influx of hormones that makes me gaze adoringly at babies and want to stroke their soft little baby skin.)  I’ll just go ahead and admit it now: I am going to be an obnoxious mom.  My poor child, like everything I love, will have the scars to prove my attachment.  Of that, I’m sure.  I love hard, and leave marks – physical and otherwise.  Just ask my stuffed animals, my husband, any former love, and my family.  But, loving hard can’t be all bad.  My puppy misses the smell of my feet, so I can only assume she loves me hard right back!

The last blessing I want to talk about today is the blessing of health.  I have watched with alternating fascination and horror as my body has changed with pregnancy.  I’ve talked about it plenty here.  My thighs, oh my thighs!  What are these things I once knew as my muscular legs?  Hah.  I remind myself that they are blessings too.  I have health, wellness, and a body that is supporting me well as I grow a tiny hew human.  Sure, I occasionally feel tired, or my feet hurt, but overall I have been blessed with health through this pregnancy (with the exception of a wildly under active thyroid for a bit there…).  I have read several books on pregnancy and birth, all of which encourage a certain reverence for the wonders of the female body’s ability to create and support life.  On an intellectual level I completely get that, but I am working to understand that in my day-to-day reality as I see myself in the mirror and feel shocked by the belly that juts out in front of me.  I reflect daily on the challenge of labor and what will be required of my body to birth and support a child.  Then I look at my hips and thighs with a new admiration.  These  “maternal stores” come with the territory as my body becomes a life-giving machine.  I am beginning to recognize that the hips, which I have often joked would never be able to birth a child unless I starved the thing, are now preparing to do that.  My frame is small, and it is entirely focused on a single purpose now – allowing the growth, support, and passage of a baby. Wow.  That is wild stuff.

Anyway, if you have made it to this point in my very long blog post, I am impressed with your curiosity and perseverance.  I have many other blessings, which I suppose I should reserve for another post.  I will close by acknowledging the many sources of love and support in my life that give me the confidence and security to embrace this new direction in my life.  Thank you!

The Heart



My life up until a few years ago rarely featured my heart.  It showcased my sense of adventure, my need for freedom, and my conflicts over how to love in light of those things.  There were many pieces of me on display, true.  But the way my heart works wasn’t among those pieces.

In recent years, I have worked through yoga and through some soul-searching to open my heart, to accept and love myself in spite of my flaws (and because of them), and generally be more honest and authentic in recognizing what I need and what I want.  I feel good about what I’ve done.  It’s been a lot of work, and a lot of truly amazing reward.  But, nothing so far has prepared me for this.

Today, I heard my baby’s heartbeat.

Via a monitor on my stomach, through some little speakers, this wildly powerful little chug-a-lug of a heartbeat shook me to my core.  I’ve seen the little one on ultrasounds a few times, and watched the little flicker of his or her heart blink along in the sepia swirls, trying to see limbs or a discernible form.  Today, though, hearing the little being within me thumping along made it all seem more real to me.

It’s been a few months (3 to be exact!) since Rick and I found out we were expecting.  In that time, I have suffered barely any symptoms besides being a little tired and uninterested in eating.  As a result, the fact that I’m carrying another human inside of me has at times felt unreal.  I have been reading voraciously about birth, fetal development, and trying to absorb everything under the sun about this massive change which will soon be a reality in our lives.  But, all the reading, diminished appetite, and the increasingly tight waistband of my pants has not really sunk in for me personally.  That is, until today.

Maybe this will make me more protective of myself and my cargo, where I have otherwise been treating my life as normal – going rafting, hosting parties, riding my bike around, running, doing inversions and twists in yoga.  Who knows? I recognize that pregnancy in many ways is a test in flexibility and managing expectations.  Things can move fast, and even though I seek a healthy and safe pregnancy, that could change in a moment.  As such, part of me doesn’t want to give up too much too quickly. I am trying to keep a good handle on my life, recognizing that there will be PLENTY of time for me to alter my life to accommodate another little member of our family soon enough.

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Baby’s first Elephant Rock! 62 miles in the saddle and first ride since October!

What I have actually found to be the most noticeable part of being pregnant, for me, has been a very deep recognition of the incredible man who got me into this position.  Comprehending the immense experience we are sharing together (be it as common as ever) reminds me of what I love about Rick.  He is reading pregnancy books and following along with my apps that tell me what fruit compares to my baby’s size (lime this week).  He listens to my every observation and constantly reminds me that I’m pregnant, and not getting fat.  He busts his butt to keep up on the schoolwork to get his teaching certificate and just got a great teaching position, all the while doing daily projects on our adorable little house and managing a totally deranged little puppy.  And when I come home from the office he, more often than not, has dinner cooking for me.  He is coaching me back into running so that I can run a race in Aspen this summer, and he supports me in all the little things I ask of him.  He is so truly a good man.  And, I think in knowing I am bringing another human into the world his goodness gives me such hope and joy for the whole process.  I am recognizing that this is an experience I can’t imagine with anyone else.

So, to bring this back full circle, let me finish this post on a point about the heart.  Today when my heart cracked open a little bit as I heard thumping through a little speaker, I recognized that there is so much still to feel within me.  At times I look at Rick or my puppy and feel like my heart will explode a bit, but today assured me that there is another threshold of love that I’ll soon be aware of.  The vulnerability that comes with pieces of your heart being outside of your control is absolutely terrifying and incredible.

 

 

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Baby’s first rafting on the Arkansas! I think we all enjoyed it! And I am doing my best to “show” here. Not showing too much yet…