Here it is, long overdue - this is the story of Ravenna's birth. For 7 months now I've thought to myself that I would write it at any moment. Unfortunately, I am more a planner than a doer. I hatch great plans, grand schemes, and all with good intentions, but I have trouble following through and transforming them into action. Now, finally, is the time for doing.
My Birth Story
I'd been planning to work right up until I went into labor, but the week before, on Tuesday, September 12th, I suddenly felt that it was time to tie things up and take leave. At this point, I was still two weeks away from my due date, September 26th. While everything from two weeks before to two weeks after is considered "in range", I had heard that first babies tended to be late, if anything. Nevertheless, I went with my instincts and gave notice for that Friday. I spent that week working to make a positive handoff of all my work to other members of my team, and on Friday, I cleared out my desk, tied off all loose ends, and went home.
Now, those of you who know me well know that organization does not come naturally to me. But this was very organized...it was the cleanest, most organized, most professional exit I've ever had from any job, I think.
I had occasional contractions starting a few weeks before I went into labor, but things really kicked into gear on Sunday night, September 17th. I don't remember what we had done earlier that evening, but we went lindy hopping that night. There was a live band playing, and although Jaimes mostly opts out on the rare occasions that I do make it out to a swing dance these days, he was there. It was only the second or third time I'd been out to a swing dance throughout my pregnancy, but each time I went, the baby in my stomach seemed to really enjoy it - moving around in time to the music, kicking and rolling and making himself/herself felt and known.
I had a great time at that dance, taking in the music, dancing some, sitting and watching...I remember it being a great evening. That evening I felt a strong connection to this mysterious being in my belly who I was so curious about and impatient to meet, both of us joyful and happy.
Already it was getting to be a strange evening...at some point, I'm not sure if it was before the dance or after, there was a fire at a Whole Foods near the neighborhood we lived in. The block was blocked off, there was smoke, fire engines, lots of commotion.
After the dance, we went home to bed. The night was a windy one...very windy for Seattle. At some point our power went out. It wasn't out long, but all the clocks got reset.
At about 3 am I woke up with what seemed to be my first contractions. I don't remember how I knew what time it was - I think the power was out at this point, and it was dark so I couldn't find my cellphone right away. This power-out, and the wind and storm, and the fire earlier...so many strange happenings, all night long!
The contractions at this point weren't too strong. The power came back on, and I found the cellphone. After I found my phone, I used it to time contractions. I also text messaged our friend Ward, who was planning to film at least part of the birth. The contractions were fairly consistent, but not too strong, and I don't think they were ever much closer together than 20 minute intervals.
I don't remember if I slept more that night, but I think I did. Jaimes was up for a while with me. We were excited, exuberant. We made love. He slept, I lay awake and anticipated, let the contractions sweep over me, meditated and connected in my mind with my baby.
Early in the morning we called our friend Ariel, who was planning to act as a doula for us, and she came over. We must have spoken to the midwives at some point, too.
That morning, I felt an incredibly strong urge to take care of some registration work I'd been sitting on for Jaimes' upcoming class series. I also wanted to write up a skeletal outline for a birth announcement email and finalize a list of recipients so that I wouldn't have to worry about it later. I spent several hours and completed both tasks. Although I had been telling everyone for the last 2 months of my pregnancy that I thought I was carrying a boy, at the moment that I wrote my email I chose "Announcing the birth of our baby girl!" as the subject. I can't tell you why...maybe instinct, maybe chance.
Although my contractions had seemed to be getting closer together in the morning, they slowed down while I did my work on the computer. It was a significant slowing, with maybe an hour or even more than that between contractions. Jaimes noticed this, perhaps more than I did, and strongly encouraged me not to do anything else on the computer.
Unfortunately, at this point, I don't remember a lot more about the rest of that first day.
The contractions must have started getting closer together again sometime that afternoon or evening, because I was uncomfortable enough that night that I did not sleep well. I remember various things I did to cope, but I don't remember what I did when, or which days. It did seem that one coping mechanism would work really well at first, and then as several contractions passed, it would become less and less effective, until it seemed hardly to work at all. If I left it and then came back to it again later on, it often regained much or all of its effectiveness.
Early on, probably often that first day, but less and less in the following days, I would pull into a fetal position or push myself into a bridge, or other such positioning things on my own, that seemed to help. They weren't very intense positionings. They weren't effective at all towards the end, but at this point they still had a positive effect.
At this stage, it also often helped to have Jaimes put his hand on my sacrum, or on my back, solid downward pressure, throughout the contraction. I think it also worked to have Ariel do this at times, to give Jaimes a break. I would sit or lie down while they did this. I think I made noise, but was not to noisy...but Ariel or Jaimes might have more to say about it.
Christa had come over on Monday. While she is a very giving, nurturing person and wanted to help me in whatever way she could, at that point I was having trouble with her energy, so Jaimes chased her off. He kept she and several of our other friends (Malou, Shorey) at bay for the rest of the labor...giving them updates, but advising them that they could best help me by giving me space if/until I explicitly asked for them. It seemed to me that he, also, was driven largely by instinct at this point, wanting to close off and protect the space that I was in.
Tim and Ward were in and out now and throughout the labor. They both did a wonderful job of staying back, out of the way, unless I asked for something or needed something which they could provide, at which point they would come forward, meet the need, and then fade away. I know they were around the house a large portion of the labor, and that they did a wonderful job of not only supporting me, but of supporting Jaimes and meeting his needs so that he could more fully support me, but I don't really know when they were around and when they weren't. That's how responsive they were, and how respectful of my space, my energy, and my needs (especially my need for space, particularly emotionally and energetically). Even now, looking back, I am very impressed with the both of them. They were amazing.
Jaimes and Ariel were both wonderful, as well. Jaimes had found subs to teach all his classes and cancelled all other engagements, so he was at my side 24/7. Ariel also was around most of the time...she had called into work and was with us all the time, with a few exceptions where we sent her off to get some sleep and meet her own needs.
During these days, there was pain, there was nervousness, but there was a lot of joy. We were excited. This process was strange and terrible and wonderful and beautiful, and we were taking it all in, eyes wide open, hearts open as well. It was all so amazing!
I don't think I got any sleep on Monday night. Contractions were regular again, 10-15 minutes apart. We had checked in with the midwives by phone, but I don't believe we had seen them. I was still able to eat and drink.
Tuesday, same thing...contractions were regular, but the midwives did not come over because it appeared my labor was still a pre-labor. My water had not broken, I was still fairly lucid, not much in the way of bloody show. I did see a mucous plug at some point, maybe by then, or maybe it was after...I can't remember now for sure.
By lunch time I was starved, and I really wanted to get out of the house...Jaimes showed some trepidation, but gave in to my pleas and took me for sushi. We first drove to Kisaku, our favorite sushi restaurant, but it was closed. Contractions on the way were terrible, getting much worse, but I so wanted sushi at this point that we carried on and went to a spot that Jaimes knew about, not too far away, in Wallingford. I remember that the lunch was wonderful. We had some particularly delicious yellowtail belly. The sushi chef was a woman - this is possibly the first and only time I had seen a woman in this role. She had several children of her own, and we chatted a little bit about labors. The waitress was a woman also, but completely oblivious to my labor pains. She had the poor timing to come over several times just as a contraction was starting...while I was not noisy during these contractions, I blanched white, gripped the counter, and was unable to communicate with anyone until the contraction passed. She would ask if I was alright, Jaimes would explain...but I'm not sure she ever really figured out what was going on.
When we left the restaurant, the contractions were 5-10 minutes apart, perhaps. There were one or two on the way back to the car where I had to just stop, hold on to Jaimes, couldn't move again until it passed. Jaimes played it cool, but I think he was getting pretty excitable by this point.
At home contractions continued with regularity.
At some point on either Monday or Tuesday I did a self examination while I was on the toilet, and realized that my cervix was at least somewhat open...I could feel in with two fingers, and could touch...my baby's head? My water bag? I wasn't quite sure. I think that might have been on Tuesday.
I think the midwife on call came over to check me on Tuesday, either that morning or that afternoon. I was a few centimeters dilated, but still had a ways to go before I was far enough along that she would stay, so she went over the signs we were to look for with us all again, answered all our questions, and told us to keep in touch.
Tuesday evening I spoke with one of them by phone, and they advised that maybe it would help to have a glass of wine, to help me relax and get a bid of sleep, so that the labor could progress. I had some thai soup broth with mushrooms for dinner - nothing else really appealed - and someone brought me a glass of wine. After I had finished the soup, I went to take a sip of the wine. The smell nauseated me, but I took a sip anyway...mistake! Such a terrible, terrible mistake. Just that small sip, barely a taste, made me so nauseous that I went running the bathroom and barely made it in time to vomit into the toilet. The vomiting made my contractions more intense, and the more intense contractions made me vomit...it was a nasty cycle. I did not sleep that night, and I was not able to eat or drink anything else. The contractions remained intense, frequent, and the nausea remained as well.
At this point, the coping mechanisms that had worked early on were not very effective. I was moving more during contractions, writhing on the ground. At some point during the night my mindset shifted, and I wasn't really "coping with the pain" so much as I was "suffering from the pain". This may sound like a small distinction, but it's huge. My whole attitude shifted, and every moment was unbearable. I just wanted everything to be over.
In the morning, the midwife on call came to check me. I was sure that after two full days and nights of labor pains, and this last night so long and painful, I must be close. But no! I was only 3 centimeters dilated. I couldn't believe it. How long would this go on?
At this point someone, maybe Jaimes, maybe the midwife, had a chat with me and clued me in to the shift I had gone through. Somehow, with their support I was able to bring myself back and to begin coping again. Instead of spending every moment suffering and wanting it all to end, I connected with what was going on, let it wash over me, let myself feel it, and began, once again, coping.
Wednesday passed. Contractions were 5-10 minutes apart for most of the day. I was still nauseated and could not eat or drink, but I did alright. I walked around during some contractions. Sat by myself for some. Had Jaimes or Ariel stroke my back with a firm downward touch for some. For a while sometime in the afternoon, Jaimes and I danced through the contractions. We danced to The Beatles, music that the baby had responded positively to throughout much of the latter part of my pregnancy. It was painful and difficult and wonderful all at the same time.
Wednesday night the midwife came to check me again. Three full days now, two full nights - contractions 5-10 minutes apart and quite intense - surely things were progressing and the baby would be born soon! But no. After all this work, all this pain, after a night of suffering and a full attitude shift and a day of regular, intense contractions, after having been experiencing regular contractions for 60-some hours and only having had 6-8 hours of sleep in all that time, nights and naps combined, after not having been able to eat for the last 24 hours, I was STILL only 3 centimeters dilated.
I did not take this news well. Again, my attitude slipped, and there was a marked change in my contractions...again, instead of coping, I was suffering. I cried. Why, why, why? Why wasn't it going anywhere? How long would this last - could I be in labor forever? It would never end! These thoughts and questions were irrational, but I was not in a rational state of mind. I was hungry, nauseated, exhausted, and still beset by regular, intensely painful contractions, that didn't seem to go anywhere, with no sense of progress or forward motion.
We talked about options. The midwife told me that we could consider going into the hospital and getting me a shot of morphine. At this point, my uterus, which is, after all, a muscle, was exhausted - it was working hard, and regularly, but not effectively. The contractions were not working to pull my cervix open because the uterus was so exhausted. It wasn't able, any longer, to pull with uniformity, with intent. The morphine would slow the labor down a bit, allow me (and my uterus) a bit of rest, which would likely allow the uterus to start working more effectively again. We talked for a while during the downtimes - during the contractions, I was in my own world, in pain, unable to communicate - and decided to go with the morphine. So, we drove to the hospital.
The drive was unbearable...every bump along the way was extremely painful, would set off a new contraction.
At the hospital, the set me up on some monitors to observe some of my contractions and to check the baby's heart rate. After they were satisfied that everything was normal, they gave me the morphine.
Oh my, that morphine was such a godsend. The contractions didn't slow down that much...I think they were still every 20 minutes or slow...but they became bearable. The nausea subsided. My people brought me home, and they brought me dinner - I ate, rather, I devoured a full portion of butter chicken and garlic naan, I was so famished. And then I slept. For four hours! The contractions continued while I slept.
When I woke, early, early the morning of Thursday, September 21, I went to the bathroom and manually examined myself, and it seemed to me that my cervix was now open almost 5 centimeters. Progress! Forward momentum! Joyfully, I went back to bed. I was not able to sleep again, and the contractions started becoming more and more intense. Jaimes woke up and started helping me to cope with them. At this point in time my coping ritual became more and more elaborate, and more and more specific. Sometimes I would get onto my hands and knees and roll against my yoga ball. Most of the time I would squat, holding on to the bed in front of me for support, legs apart, and rhythmically move myself, in this low squat, side to side, forward, back, up and down. Jaimes would stand behind me and press downward on my sacrum, hard, just so, in a very specific way. This was physically demanding for both of us. I think it was especially hard on him, finding leverage to push in the way I needed, working with my movements, some of which were very unpredictable. It started when I woke up, at or around 4 am, and went on for hours, every few minutes, the interval between decreasing steadily.
At some point, after a number of hours had passed, when it was really intense, Jaimes needed a breather and Ariel stepped in to take his place. As the contraction ramped up, as I started my rituals, Ariel tried to push against me in the way I wanted, but she didn't do it just so, as I wanted, needed, had to have it, and I was in pain, so much pain, and her touch was too tentative, was wrong, was aggravating instead of soothing, I was like an animal and could not communicate, did not have the capacity for kindness or tact, the pain and the contraction were washing over me, and I must have screamed at her to stop, stop, it's wrong, it's not working, back off, where is Jaimes?!, he knows what to do, ooooooh, oh my, ooooooooh...............and then it passed.
This terrified Ariel, I think. Up to this point she had been present, helpful, a comfort and a crutch, so good to have around. But the extreme emotion, and perhaps a feeling that she didn't know what to do, or a frustration that she couldn't help, perhaps, along with the stress of 3 days of missed work, not enough sleep, not enough food, and constant stress, all got to her. There was a marked change in her, and from this point on, through and after the birth, and in the weeks after, she was much more removed, much more timid.
It's not so much that Jaimes was able to do something Ariel could not have done...I think it's more that he had been there as these more intense contractions were ramping up, learning with me what worked and what didn't, "practicing" this ritual that had evolved through the morning so that he could do exactly what I needed from him without any hesitation or error. At the start it took some communication and time for him to figure out the exact positioning, the pressure, the connection that helped the contraction to pass more bearably, but he was making his mistakes when the contractions were less intense, when I had more capacity for coping.
Thursday morning is when my awareness of the people around me starts to get really hazy. The pain was more and more intense, and I was more and more in my own world, apart from all else. Contractions were longer and longer, and now outlasted the gaps between contractions... not even a minute apart from the end of one to the start of the next. I know that Tim and Ward did a lot to take care of Jaimes and meet his needs, that they fed him bites of food between contractions, let him drink Emergen-C through a straw that they held up to his mouth, so that he could be with me every moment and help me through every contraction, frequent as they were...but I know this more because I was told about it afterwards than because I was at all aware of it at the time. I know that in the morning my water sack ruptured, and there was water all over, leaking out during and between contractions. It was not, however, a full break...the mebranse at the cervical opening were still intact. I know that sometimes Ariel would coax me to drink through a straw between contractions, and that once in a while I would take a sip, but that often I refused. I know that the midwife on call, Suzy, came at some point. That she checked me, and that I was fully 9 centimeters dialated, but that the membranes at the cervix were still intact. I believe she came that morning and was with us most of the the day, or all of the day.
At some point, they artificially ruptured the remaining membranes, in an effort to help things progress.
At another point, they left me alone with Jaimes with instructions for us to be loving, to kiss, for him to stimulate my nipples, all this over a prolonged period of time, 40 to 60 minutes, which would in turn cause my body to release oxytocin, a hormone that would stimulate longer and stronger contractions and progress the labor. I don't remember much about this except that there was so much pain, the contractions were even more intense, and they had been so intense to start, and it was so difficult to feel loving or turned on. Pain was everything. I was in another place.
Sometime in the morning, early on, I think, maybe 5? 6? 7?, in addition to the contractions, there started a pain in my hips, all down my legs. It was constant, but it escalated during the contractions. When it started it was bearable, but through the morning it became more and more intense, until eventually it surpased the contractions. At the time I thought it was muscle pain from the intense squatting ritual we had been doing for so many hours. It kept getting worse, and worse...eventually the pain between contractions was nearly unbearable, and the pain during was like a nova, a bright light overwhelming everything, radiating down my legs starting at my hips, hot and bright and terrible.
Hours of this, felt like an eternity, the midwife thought dehydration might be exaserbating my tired leg and hip muscles and causing or, at the very least, intensifying this newer pain, and they gave me an IV.
I tried other things to cope, standing in the shower with warm water pouring down on me; lying down with the midwive's apprentice, who was also a message therapist, trying to work with my body to release the pain in my hips and legs; sitting in a bath - I think maybe Ariel or someone else added water off the stove to the bath, since our water heater wouldn't fill the tub? - but all for naught. It was so unbearable, and it had been all day long. I had been at 9 cm for hours, and again, we were stuck. The midwives thought we were almost there, so close, but I was so overwhelmed with this pain, so frustrated, so hysterical, I didn't think I could do it. If it had been just the contractions, I could have. But this extra pain in my legs, in my hips, this radiating constant terrible pain that never subsided, just flared up into excruciating and then ebbed back into sharp and bright and one step past bearable, only to flare up again, over and over again...it was too much. We were approaching nearly 90 hours of labor, and I couldn't do it any more, I was despairing and suffering, and I couldn't talk myself out of it again as I had before. I couldn't find it within myself to cope.
We talked through our options...talk being an understatement, my memory of this all is hazy but I am sure I begged, pleaded, was possibly incoherent. I was so angry and upset with myself for a perceived failing, for not being able to do this in the way I wanted, for even considering giving in, but at the same time feeling so overwhelmed, so despondent, submerged in pain and unable to surface. After a time, with Jaimes's unconditional support and encouragement, we made a decision to give up birthing at home, and to go in to the hospital for an epidural. I am not saying this lightly when I say that this may have been the most difficult decision I had made in my life up to this point.
Once the decision was made, we acted quickly. Ward drove me in my car, and drove as smoothly as he could so as not to aggrivate my contractions. Was Jaimes in that car with me? He must have been. Suzy, the midwife, followed in her own. She spoke with the hospital before she left so that they would be ready for us when we arrived.
When we got there, they brought us to a birthing room. Again, they hooked me up to a monitor and just observed for a set period of time before doing anything. This time was excruciating, but at least there was light at the end of the tunnel, I could see and understand that this pain, this blinding, white-hot pain would end, that it was finite.
I think it may have been at this time that they determined my baby was posterier-facing, and possibly pressing against my sciatic nerve in this position, thus causing the intense, constant, non-contraction pain I had been experiencing all day.
The anesthesiologist came in wearing some non-traditional cap, maybe it was patterned with an american flag?, and spoke with me, with the others in my crew who were in the room. I have no idea what was said, I was in such a different world. Eventually he positioned me so that he could administer the epidural, and in time my legs numbed. It was mostly effective, but not entirely...even after he had administered the anethesia and given it time to work, and even after he administered a second dose on my right side, some level of pain in my ride hip and leg persisited, and it would flare up with each contraction. It was, at this point, however, bearable.
Now I was advised to rest, if I could, to let the labor progress. I think they administered some other drugs to keep the labor going, progesterone?, since the epidural and the decrease in pain would have interrupted the natural hormonal cycle of my labor. The nurse adivised me to sleep in a specific position to encourage the baby to turn.
I slept for an hour. When I woke, although I could no longer feel my contractions, with the exception of the lingering pain in my right hip and leg, I strongly felt it was time. I asked a nurse to examine me, or maybe it was the midwife working at the hospital...they checked, and I was fully dialated, the baby's head beginning to crown. And, while I had slept, the baby had turned, and was now anterior facing - a position much more condusive to the movement through and out the birth canal!
It was time to push.
I don't know when they had all come, but around now, or almost now, or shortly after this point, those who had been at the house along with several other friends all arrived in the room. Ward, Tim, Christa, Malou, and of course both Jaimes and Ariel. The nurse was in and out. Our midwife, Suzy, after a break for her own personal care, had come back and was with us again. The hospital midwife, Sally, was presiding over the birthing.
Because my legs were now numb, they set me up with a bar over the bed for the pushing. For each contraction, I would reach up to the bar and pull myself into a squat, using my arms...they would stand on each side and help to pull me up, and then I would push for the duration of the contraction.
The pain that I still felt in my right leg turned out, actually, to be a blessing in disguise. Because it flared up with each contraction, I could still tell when a contraction was coming on, even before it registered on the machines (and once in a while, even when it did not register). Because of this, I always knew when to push, and it felt very natural. Also, I felt more connected to the baby, I think...she was feeling pain each contraction, and still, so was I. If my pain had been completely numbed, I am afraid I would have been more emotionally, spiritually, and energetically disconnected from the process and from my child.
They positioned a big mirror in front of the bed so that I could actually see my baby coming out as I pushed. This was amazing, feeling it, experiencing it, and being able to see it, to see my baby emerging with each push, with each contraction.
This phase actually went by very quickly...I think no more than 4o minutes passed from the moment that I started pushing to the moment of my baby's birth. The baby emerged, first just its head. With its head outside, but it body still inside me, my baby turned, opened its eyes, looked at us, and attempted an indignant yowl (although, due the fluid in her mouth, it was more an indignant gurgle). So amazing! Not even birthed all the way yet!
One more push, and the baby emerged completely. 9:31 on Thursday, September 21, 2006. Jaimes caught her, with Sally's assistance, and moved her straight away to my stomach. She helped him to cut the cord, and he and I gazed at our baby, amazed, awed, lost. I offered the baby my finger, and it grasped it with its tiny fist. So strong! Was it now that they wrapped the baby in recieving blankets to absorb the vernix and keep it warm? I do not know. Someone asked, "So is it a boy or a girl?" We didn't know! Nobody had checked! We were just so amazed, this was our baby, here, with us, where we could see and touch, connect tactilly. Jaimes, I think, checked, and announced that it was a girl. A girl! Here with us! I think I cried. I think he cried.
We asked that the hospital not clean or weigh her right away, that they leave her in my arms, and they honored this request. She remained physically in our arms and on our bodies every moment that night.
The nurse helped me to latch her, and this baby of ours ate for 45 minutes. 4 days of labor made her hungry! Jaimes and I ate her up, savored each and every moment with this new creature.
When did everyone leave? I don't know. I just know that eventually, all had gone, except for Jaimes, myself, and our new baby girl. We had wanted to go home right away, but as my legs were still numbed and I could not stand, we spent the night. We alternately stayed up and slept all that night, gazing at our baby, holding her, attending to every breath, every noise, every moment of quiet. Between the two of us, we never put her down. I slept more than Jaimes, perhaps. Throughout the night we were terrified of every noise she made, and then even more frightened when she became silent. We were learning her. Learning fear and worry and love.
We talked that night about the labor, about the birth, about the future. We talked about names. From the first moment Jaimes looked into our baby's eyes, he felt Claire come to mind. This name felt good to me as well. He also felt that Sara fit. Perhaps then, or perhaps later, for a time, when I looked at her, I wanted to call her Caroline. We talked also about Ravenna...we had talked about it as a name before the birth, but wanted to make sure that it felt right, that it fit, before we decided for certain.
Morning came, and we wanted just to leave. The hospital staff convinced us to stay long enough to let their pediatrician look at her, even though it was redundant to care we would get from our midwives later that day. The day nurse insisted on testing her sight, her hearing, and got terribly upset with us when we declined to let her do the foot prick-test, since we planned on having our midwife do it that afternoon...in fact, she made us sign a form declaring to the state that we were declining the test, when in fact our midwife would and did send in the test results later that same day. But finally, all said and done, they released us. Jaimes went down to get the car, and I packed up. Somehow, the first time putting my daughter into a sling, I managed to get her settled just right so that she could nurse while I walked, but hidden away from all prying eyes and from all the world.
We drove home, walked into the house - and it was perfect. Our friends had gone, after the birth, the night before, and cleaned up in anticipation of our arrival. What love! What wonderful friends!
Jaimes and I climbed into bed with our baby, and spent days on end loving each other, loving her, getting to know her and getting to know ourselves as new parents. We hardly emerged at all these first few days, except to eat, and even that was almost too much.
Our baby has a name now. She is Ravenna Claire Krueger. We are still on our journey, Ravenna and Jaimes and I, getting to know each other, learning and growing, but we have emerged now from the bedroom. Ravenna is an absolutely wonderful, amazing baby...she has the sweetest temperment, but is at the same time curious, inquisitive, and incredibly present and grounded. We had such a time bringing her into the world! Yet for all the length, for all the pain, for the disapointment and sense of failure when plans changed, I wouldn't change it in any way. There was also love, beauty, excitement and joy entertwined with every day and every moment of the birth. I love where we are now, and so love the path that brings us here.