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Lewis’ birth story

The Shoemaker's Daughter. A memoir of days, both past and present, by Rhonda Mason.

Rick’s alarm goes off at six o’clock, and we both roll out of bed. Rick quickly changes into his clothes and gives me a big hug.

“I love you, Rick,” I whisper, pressing my face into his chest.

“Love you too, Ronnie,” he replies, before disappearing to go downstairs to unpack the dishwasher and to chat with Pa and Nan.

I change into the clothes I chose last night: my black long-sleeve maternity top, my blue knit top, and my grey maternity capri pants. I also wrap my black eternity scarf around my neck.

As I wash and powder my face and brush out my hair, I am somewhat in disbelief that today is the day.

Today, I will give birth to our last child.

Today, we will meet this little person.

Today, we will hold him in our arms and introduce him to the rest of the boys.

Yes, today, we get to tell the boys that they have another little brother—a special secret that Rick and I have been keeping for four months.

I finish packing bits and pieces into my hospital back and, as if on cue, Rick appears and asks if I am ready to go.

Yes, I tell him.

He grabs my bag, and I follow him down the stairs.

As soon as I appear on the landing, four little faces beam up at me.

“Good morning, mummy!” they exclaim. They are all in the middle of eating their Weet Bix. Pa and Nan are sitting with them at the table, both still in pyjamas. They all beam at me with their beautiful, big smiles.

As soon as I reach the bottom step, Nan immediately rushes over to give me a big bear hug. I hug her back.

“Oh Ronnie, we love you soooooo much.”

“Love you too, mum.”

Rick puts my bag into the Corolla then re-emerges to signal that it’s time for us to go.

I walk over to each of the boys and give them all a kiss and a hug.

“Love you Gus. Love you Pete. Love you Jamie. Love you Bear…”

Rick asks them all one last time whether they think the baby is a boy or girl.

“Girl!” Angus and James shout out loud.

“Boy!” exclaim Pete and Bear.

I grin back at all of them.

“Love you boys. We’ll see you later today. Make sure you listen to Pa and Nan, okay?”

“Okay, mummy!”

I kiss both Pa and Nan goodbye.

“Go well, Ronnie,” says Nan. “We’ll be praying for you!”

We pull up the driveway at half past six, and we arrive at the maternity ward at quarter past seven.

Our midwife’s name is Carmel. She has short red hair and a very efficient manner. She introduces us to a student midwife called Courtney, who has a very friendly face. She looks a lot younger than Carmel. Carmel asks me if it’s okay for Courtney to help look after me as part of her training.

Of course, I say.

Together, they show us to Birthing Suite 5. Rick sets down my bag, and I immediately begin to unpack my things.

I change out of my clothes and into my black t-shirt dress and Rick’s grey hoodie—the outfit that I wore yesterday at home. I also pull on Rick’s khaki woollen socks. I wore them for all the other boys’ births and today, for my last birth, I will wear them once more.

I remember that it was bright and sunny on the day of Edward’s birth, and I remember how much that had lifted my spirits. As I take a peek outside, I notice how dark and gloomy it is, and I find myself longing for a ray of sunshine.

I lay out my laptop and my phone on the table, and I try to get comfortable on the bed. Rick settles down onto the couch, and we both try to close our eyes for a short rest.

Dr Lynch appears around eight. She attempts to break my waters, but not much water comes out. She and Carmel agree that I’ll need to be prepped for the drip.

I look over at Rick, and he nods encouragingly. Out loud, I ask Carmel and Courtney whether I could possibly get an Emla patch before the canula. They are both happy to oblige.

At about half past nine, the canula goes in. In spite of the Emla patch, it is a painful one. I grimace and look away. Rick stands next to me and holds my other hand.

To pass the time, Rick and I play endless rounds of Big 2—me sitting on the bed, him on the fit ball. To my slight annoyance, I find myself losing more rounds than winning.

Two hours later, contractions have not progressed at all and I notice that my wrist has become puffy. We bring this to Carmel’s attention. She takes a look and immediately concludes that the drip has been going into my skin tissue instead of my vein. The canula will have to be removed and re-inserted.

My heart drops.

They bring in another midwife—a lady called Cindy who is supposedly an expert at canulas. Secretly, I wish that they brought her in for the first one.

As the second canula goes in, I look away like the first time. This one, however, hurts much less. I thank Cindy profusely for her great work.

Another hour passes. Contractions are still very far apart and don’t seem to hurt much at all.

Our hot lunch arrives. There’s beef casserole, rice, mashed potato, steamed vegies, chicken, bread rolls, jelly, custard, apple juice, orange juice, and tea. I am excited to eat (more excited than Rick). In between mouthfuls, the two of us chat and reminisce about all our other births. We are almost disbelieving that this will be our last.

My parents come into the birthing suite very briefly to see how we are going. We update them on the slow progress. Dad cannot stay, as he has students to tutor later in the afternoon. I give him a big hug before he leaves. Mum returns to the waiting room.

Rick and I continue to play Big 2. After a while, we download Mastermind on my iPad, and we find ourselves flicking between the two games.

Around 2pm, Dr Lynch returns to try and break my waters again. This time, the second layer is ruptured and water comes gushing out.

My contractions finally gather some pace. We stop playing games so that I can start breathing through the pain.

As I breathe, I look around the room, trying to take it all in. I am all too aware that this will be my last time labouring in this hospital. I can’t help but think how good this place has been to us. How it was here that the other four boys entered the world and into our lives.

As the contractions grow stronger, I move over to the fit ball and Rick moves over to the chair. Back and forth I roll, as I count myself through every single contraction.

Unlike all my previous births, I find myself labouring in silence. Instead of counting out loud and banging stress balls together, I close my eyes and internalise the pain.

For some irrational reason, I want to feel the pain, rather than distract myself from it. I want to feel it so that I can remember it.

For this too is precious. This pain. This labouring. These contractions. This is the the birth of our last baby, after all. Our last child. Each contraction is a gift. Never again will I experience this.

In between my contractions, I am overwhelmed with emotion.

In between my contractions, I cry.

In between my contractions, images of all the other births rush through my mind: Cameron’s birth. Angus’ birth. Pete’s birth. James’ birth. Edward’s birth. And now—Lewis’ birth.

In between my contractions, I am flooded with sadness and joy. Grief and gratitude.

In between my contractions, I tell myself that this is what I was created for: To birth these children. To bring forth life.

In between my contractions, I am overwhelmed with love for all our boys. From the first to the last. From the last back to the first. Even though the beginning seemed like the end, I see now that the end of Cameron’s life was only the beginning. This makes me cry even harder.

Around 3pm, I ask Carmel to check me before she leaves at half past.

I am dilated to five centimetres. A new midwife called Dayle joins Courtney. She brings a calming presence to the room.

Contractions are now very intense, and I can feel Lewis beginning to descend.

I ask Dayle to check me a couple more times because I don’t want to be left alone when I need to push!

Sometime after 4pm, I am dilated to seven centimetres. I climb onto the bed and breathe through each contraction with closed eyes.

Rick fetches me ice chips as there are no icy poles. Dayle contacts Dr Lynch—she has gone home! Dayle asks her to come back.

The next hour is a blur. My urge to push becomes increasingly stronger until I feel like I can’t hold it off any longer.

Thankfully, Dr Lynch appears around 5pm, and I’m given the all clear to start pushing.

In two contractions, Lewis’ head is out.

In another contraction, his body is out and he is placed on me.

I burst into tears—the first time I’ve cried after birth since Cameron—and my heart expands yet again.

It is 5.18pm. Lewis Cameron Mason is born weighing 3.57kg and measuring 51cm long.

Rick takes photos and contacts family.

My mum, who has been waiting in the downstairs cafe, is the first to arrive. She walks over to me, her own face overcome with emotion. She stares at the tiny bundle in my arms.

“It’s a boy!” I tell her, in Cantonese. “And his name is Lewis…”

She is speechless. All she does is look down at his tiny face.

Some time later, Pa and Nan arrive with the four older boys.

The moment of truth. Finally, we get to tell them.

Rick takes Lewis from my arms and walks over to the boys:

“Once, there were five brothers…”

Photo above: Our little Lewis in the present day…

The day before

The day before—The Shoemaker's Daughter (A memoir of days by Rhonda Mason)
The day before Lewis’ birth day, we stay at home.

I potter about the house—tidying, putting things away, nesting. I also play games with each of older boys: Chinese Checkers with Pete, Mastermind with Gus, and Pick Up Sticks with James. The boys stay in their pyjamas all day. Lego comes out in full force—amongst other things, Gus makes the word, “Super.” Bear plays with his carpenter tool set, and the big boys all finish their find-a-words from church on Sunday. Rick keeps us fed and full all day, whilst also squeezing in some reading and getting the washing on the line.

We are all excited about meeting this new baby of ours tomorrow. At bedtime, we take family selfies in James and Pete’s bedroom with our selfie stick, as well as a video. When it’s time to say goodnight, I give each of the boys an extra big hug, telling each of them how much I love them.

Later at night, I work on our family life album, and then I finish packing my hospital bags. Pa and Nan arrive sometime in the evening. Over cups of hot tea and hot Milo, we chat briefly around the meals’ table—giving thanks for each of the boys—before bidding each other goodnight. Upstairs, Rick and I shower, embrace, kiss, pray, and take selfies with just the two of us.

Before we sleep, I take out Rick’s phone and look at our family selfie with the four boys.

My heart swells.

We look so happy. So joyful. I love the fact that I am wearing Rick’s grey hoodie, and I love how beautiful and round my tummy looks.

i think back to a selfie that Rick and I took in September 2007, less than two weeks before Cameron died.

We looked so happy in that photo too. So joyful. And my tummy was just as round.

After Cameron’s death, I was convinced that we would never ever look that happy again.

But looking at the family photo in the palm of my hand, God has proved me wrong.

Yes, He took Cameron away.

But He has also blessed us more abundantly than we could ever have imagined.

Lewis Cameron Mason, we love you deeply, and we cannot wait to meet you…

Last outing

Last outing—The Shoemaker's Daughter (A memoir of days by Rhonda Mason)

It is the Saturday before Lewis’ induction date.

We head out sometime after ten—the six (seven?) of us packed into the Disco.

The sky is grey, and it is cold and rainy. Inside the car, we are listening to New Boys Restart.

We drive down to Botany and stop for fuel. We answer Aunty Jess’ phone and tell her where we are going: The Early Start Discovery Space in Wollongong!

It takes us about two hours to get there; we arrive just after quarter past one. The boys are very excited. We park quickly and walk over to the building. The three big boys and I snap a few obligatory selfies.

First, we eat. We stop by the cafe and order mini hot dogs, sweet potato chips, sandwiches, and coffee. We chat excitedly about all the fun in store for us. The boys wish we arrived earlier. Rick and I reassure them they’ll still have more than two hours of play.

We buy our tickets and check our belongings into a locker. It’s a lot warmer inside so we shed our sweaters and hoodies. The boys disappear into The Cave, along with a number of other kids. I sit outside listening to the shrieks of laughter. Moments later, the boys emerge, all ready for the next adventure.

For the next couple of hours, we weave our way through all the different activities the Discovery Space has to offer: the tummy tour, the shipyard, the marketplace, the construction zone, and the lights and sound station. There’s also a music area and a dress-up box. It is particularly amusing seeing Angus morph into a carrot while James and Bear transform themselves into cute little cows.

As the afternoon draws to a close, we head out to the garden where the boys run and jump around to their hearts’ delight. Rick and I buy a coffee each—a much-anticipated reward for our whirlwind afternoon.

Before leaving, we retrieve our things from the locker and pull our sweaters and hoodies back on. Outside on the ramp, I ask Rick to snap some photos of me with the boys. The five of us look very happy and content in these photos: them all ruddy and gorgeous with their hoodies, shorts, and sneakers; me smiling and ready to burst with my favourite black sweater, maternity capri pants, and Oxford flats.

Rick carries Bear back to the car while the others run ahead. I walk behind Rick and watch Bear’s face. He is radiant with joy. For three years, he has been my littlest but, in three days’ time, he will become a big brother.

We drive back home in the rain, giving thanks for our last outing as a family of six…

All to myself

All to myself—The Shoemaker's Daughter (A memoir of days by Rhonda Mason)
The Friday before Lewis’ induction date is both hot and sunny.

We drop Angus, Pete, and James off at the tennis court in Narraweena for their last day of tennis camp. Using my phone, I snap a selfie with each of them before giving them a hug and kiss goodbye. We then drop Bear off at Gumnut, and I do the same with him.

Back at home, Rick and I part ways. He works from home while I head out to Chatswood.

Today is my day off. My “one day off” before the arrival of little Lewis. The boys are at tennis camp. Bear is at preschool. And I have the day to myself.

All to myself.

I feel free. Happy. Excited. Relaxed. And ever so intoxicated by the thought of several hours of freedom.

I drive out to Chatswood and park on level two of Chatswood Chase.

My first stop is the sushi train restaurant opposite Nespresso. It is their Happy Hour. Happily, I treat myself to salmon nigiri, unagi nigiri, a prawn tempura basket, and a hot steaming cup of green tea.

Outside, it is hot and humid. I walk (read: waddle) across the road and step inside Siam Escape. My body instantly relaxes in the cool air. I speak briefly with the receptionist and settle on the two-hour deluxe massage.

It begins with a foot massage. I sit back in the chair as the therapist places my feet in warm water. I close my eyes and think of the days and nights ahead. I cannot believe that we will meet Lewis in just four days’ time.

Afterwards, I am taken into a dark cubicle. There is the smell of incense. Quiet, soothing music plays in the background. I disrobe and lie down on my side. My masseuse has given me an extra pillow and I tuck this under my tummy and pull the towel over my body.

I am very relaxed.

My masseuse returns to the cubicle, and the massage begins. Slowly but surely, she weaves magic with her fingers. Slowly but surely, she kneads the tension out of my muscles. I relax under her touch and can’t help but drift off to sleep (only to be woken up—not once, but several times—by the sound of myself snoring).

Two hours pass. Two glorious hours. I slip my black maternity dress back on and ease my feet back into my shoes.

Back at the counter, I thank my masseuse and pay. A man comes in. He sees my bulging tummy and asks if this is my first child. “No, this is my sixth.” He is speechless. I smile and walk out.

I waddle back to Chase and end up at Pattison’s. It is now after three o’clock and I find myself craving something rich and “chocolatey” for afternoon tea. I buy a slab of their chocolate brownie. It is an indulgence, for sure, but I don’t feel guilty about it.

By the time I get home, Rick has already picked up all of the boys. Amidst the chaos, I make two cups of tea and serve up chocolate brownie to all six of us. It. Is. Delicious.

Later in the evening, Pa and Nan arrive to babysit the boys. I retreat upstairs for a hot shower and to get ready for my date with Rick. I shower, wash my hair, apply moisturiser, sweep on my face powder, and slip into my black raw silk dress. I also put on my Delta necklace. Rick also puts on his finery (aka shirt and long pants). At quarter to seven, we find the boys watching television downstairs and kiss them goodbye.

We drive out to Balmoral and check ourselves into the Bather’s Pavilion Restaurant. The maître d’ is very friendly and chats with us for a while. It turns out that he too has five sons; he works six days a week and hardly sees his family.

Rick and I take our time with our food, savouring each mouthful. We make jokes and we laugh. We gaze out at the ocean and we touch hands. We chat about all that has been and all that is to come. We smile and smile some more.

For dessert, Rick chooses cheesecake and I choose a creme brulee. Both are amazing.

I yearn for the night to never end.

Finally, close to ten o’clock, Rick pays the bill and we say goodbye to our new friend, the maître d’. He wishes us all the best.

Outside, we take silly selfies of ourselves under the building’s flood light. We hold hands and make our way slowly back to the car.

Inside the car, we continue to hold hands.

I look over at my husband as he drives us home.

“I love you Rick,” I say.

“I love you too, Ronnie…”

A glimpse of fear

A glimpse of fear—The Shoemaker's Daughter (A memoir of days by Rhonda Mason)

It is our second last Sunday before Lewis’ birth.

We have come back from church, Rick has given the boys lunch, and they are all down for quiet time.

I spend most of the afternoon in my studio – organising, culling, and rating photos. Bear comes out of his room a couple of times, and each time, I encourage him to go back to bed.

“Alright mummy,” he replies. His golden hair and his big eyes get me every time.

Around three o’clock, Nan and Pa arrive, signalling the end of quiet time for the boys.

Rick leaves to do our grocery shop.

I head downstairs briefly to say hello, then return upstairs to keep sorting through our photos.

In between deleting and tagging photos, a sense of unease begins to descend upon me.

I begin to wonder… when was the last time Lewis moved?

Time passes, and my anxiety grows.

At five o’clock, I send Rick a message.

“Suddenly worried about baby.”

“Ah? No movement?”

“Just this weird feeling of not being conscious of many kicks and jabs like usual.”

“I’ll be home soon.”

“…and not responding to coffee…”

“Want to go to NSPH?”

“A little bit. Decide when you get home…”

“Let’s just go. No point hanging around, waiting.”

“I’m going to pack a bag then…”

I leap into action.

I locate my ‘2013 Hospital Packing List’ in Evernote and open it up on my iPad. In the bedroom, I pull out my two canvas bags and place them side by side on the floor.

One by one, I check the items off my packing list. I move around the room like a machine, throwing things onto the bed with great gusto. I have one thought and one thought only: to finish packing and to get to the hospital.

As I start to pack things into the two bags, several scenarios play out in my head. Perhaps everything is absolutely fine, and Lewis has just been asleep all this time. Perhaps something is wrong, and they need to induce me tonight. Perhaps something is very wrong, and I need to have an emergency caesar. Or perhaps something has already gone wrong, and it is too late.

Despite my anxiety, I can’t help but feel excited at the possibility of meeting Lewis earlier than anticipated. Now and again, I feel a small twinge in my belly, but nothing enough to assuage my fears.

I push this horrible last thought to the very back of my mind.

Rick arrives home and comes straight upstairs. I rush up to him, and we hug.

“I’m almost done,” I tell him. I also tell him about the tiny twinges that I’ve been feeling, but we both decide to get the CTG anyway, so that we can be sure that Lewis is okay.

I return to packing. Meanwhile, Rick makes the phone call to the hospital’s maternity ward, then heads downstairs to brief mum and dad.

By six o’clock, I am ready to go.

Rick brings my bags to the car, whilst I check myself in the mirror. I’m wearing my black sweater over my black maxi dress. Yes, I should be warm enough.

Before leaving, mum and I share quick embrace, and I give each of the boys a hug and kiss, telling them that we’ll be back soon.

“Love you boys. Make sure you listen to Pa and Nan, okay?”

“Yes, mummy!”

In the garage, Rick helps me into the Disco, and we share a quick kiss before pulling up the driveway.

The roads are quiet, and the night lights have a calming effect on my nerves. I think of our trip out to Westmead Private Hospital that fateful night back in September 2007 and, quietly, I pray that Lewis will be okay.

We park outside the front entrance of the hospital. Whilst Rick pays for the parking, I slowly lower myself out of the car.

“Do you want me to bring your bags in now?” Rick asks.

“No, you can get them if we end up needing them,” I answer.

I hold onto Rick’s arm as we walk inside together.

We head straight to the lift, and up to the second floor. Rick presses the buzzer.

“Can I help you?”

“Ah yes, this is Rick Mason. I rang up earlier. My wife, Rhonda, is here for a CTG.”

“Okay, come in. We’ll be with you in a minute.”

There are three chairs in the waiting area, and we sit down in two of them.

As always, it is intensely quiet in that waiting area.

I look around me. The artwork on the walls, the wallpaper, the carpet, and the dim lighting—it is all very familiar to me.

As we sit and wait, Lewis finally begins to stir. A twinge here. A squirm there. And then a definite small kick.

Relief floods through me. Rick and I embrace in silence.

We thank God for his kindness.

We decide to get the CGT done anyway, just to make sure all is okay with Lewis’ heart.

We wait there for a long time. At one point, Rick pops his head around the door (at my request), and he is told that someone will be with us soon.

Finally, a mid-wife comes out to see us. She brings us into the small room off the waiting area. I lie down on the bed, and she hooks me up to the CTG machine. Rick sits down on the chair, and we smile at each other, safe in the knowledge that I have felt Lewis move.

We share our story with the mid-wife, and she responds with warmth, kindness, and sympathy.

Afterwards, she leaves us to ourselves. We chat happily, excited for the impending arrival of our last little boy. We reflect on the journey that we’ve been on, and we wonder what Lewis’ birth will be like. We wonder what Lewis himself will be like. We also joke about my upcoming “hotel stay” and Rick suggests that perhaps I only need to stay a couple of nights. Funny man.

The mid-wife returns and checks the CTG. Everything looks fine, so we leave.

Outside the hospital, I hold onto Rick as I walk down the steps. I look back briefly and note how beautiful Royal North Shore looks like all lit up at night.

We drive home, holding hands.

“Well, at least my hospital bag is packed now…”

It is all too much

It is all too much—The Shoemaker's Daughter (A memoir of days by Rhonda Mason)
It is one month before Lewis’ birth, and it is evening.

We have had dinner, and the big boys have all had their showers.

I am sitting in Angus and Bear’s room with the laundry basket before me. I can hear Rick helping Bear to wash his hair in the bathroom, and I can hear the other boys playing superheroes (or some such) in the other bedroom.

One by one, I pick up the pieces of clothing from the basket and I sort them into their piles: kitchen linen, Rick’s clothes, Angus’ clothes, Pete’s clothes, Jamie’s clothes, and Bear’s clothes.

I am usually rather quick at this, but tonight my arms feel heavy, and the task seems irrationally overwhelming. My hips are sore, my body is exhausted, and the humidity feels like it is closing in on me.

Bear bounces in, fresh from his shower. With much excitement, he tells me how he put lots of water on his hair. He is sparkling with energy and looks absolutely gorgeous. I manage a small smile, just as Rick walks in.

He immediately spots my weariness and calls for the boys to come in and help put their clothes away.

Just as everybody clambers in to retrieve their clothes, I spy another laundry basket in the corridor filled with clothes.

Immediately, I feel the tears welling up.

It is too much. The everyday chores. The heat. The exhaustion. The sore hips. The sore pelvis. The contractions. The constant work that needs to be done.

It is all too much.

I struggle to my feet, wincing at the pain of simply getting off the floor.

I push past everybody and stumble down the corridor, just as the tears erupt.

I collapse onto the bed, sobbing, and curl myself up into a ball.

Moments later, Rick comes in, followed by Pete, then Bear.

Rick explains to them very gently why mummy is crying, and they take turns in giving me kisses.

Bear then attempts to arrange a group hug and a group kiss.

“How bout me and Petey and dadda give mama kiss and hug at same time?”

Everyone obliges.

Finally, my tears come to a halt, and I manage a tired smile.

Some time later, I drift off to sleep just as Rick starts to tell a bedtime story to the boys.

“Once, there were four brothers…”

Grace

The Shoemaker's Daughter. A memoir of days, both past and present, by Rhonda Mason.

I am tired today.

In the morning, I lose my patience with Lewis because he cries every time I walk away. In the afternoon, I take out my exhaustion on the big boys. Instead of showing them grace, I am harsh and stern with them.

At bedtime, I apologise for my grumpiness and lack of patience, and I thank them for being such wonderful boys. I tell them that it is not them, but me. During prayer time, Jamie (bless him) prays that mummy will not be so stressed.

After I put Lewis to bed, I return to the big boys. I close the door behind me and lie down on the floor with my head on Bear’s bed.

In the still of the darkness, I sing them song after song.

It is my peace offering.

My way of saying “thank you” for the way they love me unconditionally. Because even when I am harsh, these amazing boys show me nothing but grace.

As I sing my last song—You Loved Me—I think of Cameron and how we sang it at his funeral.

I think of his face—his beautiful, sleeping face—and emotion washes over me.

Love. Pain. Regret. Gratitude. Joy. Hope.

My voice becomes shaky, and tears roll down my cheek.

Afterwards, I say a short and quiet pray.

“Dear God, thank you that Cameron is with you…”

Without skipping a beat, all the boys join me in saying, “Amen.”

A moment later, Angus speaks up.

“I’m sad… I’m sad that I never got to see Cameron while he was alive…”

More tears roll down my cheek.

“I know, daring… I’m sad too… I’m sad that Cameron isn’t with us, but I’m so thankful that we have you boys…”

Yes, even in the face of such a terrible loss, God has shown us grace.

Before leaving, I give them all an extra kiss goodnight.

As I lean over Gus, I whisper ever so quietly: “I love you, Angus. Thanks for being you…”

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