The Summer of Us

Dear Iris,

What a summer. Since May, it’s been you and me. I had high hopes for this summer, and to be perfectly honest, it’s been a lot harder than I expected. I think we’ve done pretty well, considering. The basement was finished, disrupting our routine and our space, and kicking us out of the house for days at a time. I’m pregnant with your baby sister, which has been hard on both of us. I can’t carry you around as much as you’d like, it’s hard for me to get down on the floor to play with you. I’m exhausted all the time, my patience is running on empty, and well, you’re two. Two is a rough age for everyone. I’m learning as we go to be a stay at home mom and I’ve stumbled at times. It’s been hard to be outside because I am always hot. Oh, and we just experienced the worst heatwave in something like 20 years.

I know you probably won’t remember much that happened this summer, but I think we’ve had some pretty good times. We had lots of play dates with friends. Your tantrums over not wanting to share your trains were epic, funny at times and frankly, mortifying at others. We spent a day at the beach. We spent a night at a hotel and you were thrilled that we all shared a great big bed. We took walks and swam in the pool.

We “played trains” for hours and hours and HOURS. You fell in love with your new playroom. You got a big girl bed and you picked out polka dot sheets and your “big girl circles blanket.”

We rode on a train!

We went to a baseball game.

We went to a carnival, and you rode cars and monkeys and horses and your favorite – the big slide.

We ate ice cream and gelato. Lots of it.

We laughed a lot and we cried a lot – both of us. The summer has been a roller coaster, and we rode it with gusto.

But the summer’s not over yet, kiddo. Still to come? We’re going to install new carpet, get a new roof, and oh, we’re going to have a baby.

We’ve talked a lot about your baby sister. You’ve put your hands on my belly and felt her move. You’ve been genuinely interested in her. It melts my heart when you talk about her.

The truth is, I can’t fully prepare you for what life will be like when your baby sister comes. Because honestly, I don’t know. When you came into our lives, we were wholly unprepared for the life force that was you. When baby sister comes, our family will change and our home will change. We will go from a threesome to a family of four. We will have to renegotiate who we are – to each other and to our newest member. It will be hard for you because you will not be our only baby anymore. It will be hard for me because I will need to figure out how to give you both what you want, what you need and what you deserve while still making time for myself and for your daddy. We’ll all learn by trial and error and it won’t always be pretty. But we’re family, and family is complicated and messy and imperfect. It’s also safe and comforting and warm. And tied up in all that complication will be even more love in a house that is already bursting at the seams with it.

Iris, you’re going to be a big sister! That’s a big, important job. I don’t know how to be a big sister. I don’t know what it’s like. I’m a little sister, so I won’t totally know how you feel when your baby sister comes into our lives or when she gets bigger and wants to play with your toys and borrow your clothes and bug you when you’re with your friends. Life won’t always seem fair as you blaze the trail of being our firstborn. I won’t always do or say the right thing. I won’t always have the answer. In fact, I’ll probably have fewer answers than I’ll want to admit.

I do know that I’ll always make time for you. I’ll try my hardest to be sensitive to you, your things and your space. I hope you will understand that she’s going to adore you, even as she’s driving you bananas (and she will). I hope you are friends. I hope you’re kind to each other. I hope you are allies. I hope that many, many years from now, you get together as old ladies and reminisce about life with daddy and me. I hope you laugh and smile when you think of the years that we all lived together as a family.

I hope you always know that no matter what your baby sister does or who she is, you are loved as much – and more – than ever. She will never take your place in my heart and in our family. Once upon a time, you saved me. No one can ever take that away from you. No one can ever take that away from us.

Life is about to change in a big way. For all of us. But we have each other and we all have so much love to give. It’s going to be great.

Hold onto your hat, little girl.

With love,
Mama

– ALW

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I Want to Complain

I want to complain about being pregnant. My belly feels impossibly huge and I am getting more uncomfortable by the minute. I can’t bend at the waist or carry my toddler. I am starting to feel nauseous again, and I am always, always, ALWAYS hot. My back hurts, my hips hurt, and I get terrible headaches. I am so tired.

But I am incredibly lucky to be carrying this baby. I can’t wait to meet her. I love to feel her kick and squirm inside of me. If I’m totally honest, I’d never let someone else carry her for me. Right now, she is all mine. I know the pain of loss. I know the disappointment of trying month after month without success. I know the constant stress of going through pregnancy in a panic. And so far, things are going great. Time has flown. I still worry. And when I feel the first kick of the morning, I silently thank my baby girl for letting me know she’s okay. I am thankful and so happy that life led me to something I didn’t even know I needed.

I want to complain about being a stay at home mom. I’m hugely pregnant and even small tasks are tiring. I don’t get a day off. I need a break. It’s tedious. Sometimes I feel like the bad cop, correcting and saying “no” all day long. I’m exhausted. I work hard all day long, yet society at large doesn’t value what I do. I had no idea how difficult it would be.

But I am incredibly lucky to stay at home with my beautiful daughter. I get to hear all the hilarious things she says and the silly and wonderful songs she makes up all day long. I get to “play trains” – and even when I’m TIRED of playing trains, I could be doing a lot worse. We can stay in our jammies all day and not brush our hair. We can take walks on a Tuesday morning or go out for ice cream on a Thursday. We have play dates with friends. We can lounge around and read books or look for acorns in the yard or swim in the pool. We get to take naps every day. It’s the hardest job I’ve ever done, but it’s the most important job I’ll ever do. I am trying every single day to be better for my daughter.

I want to complain about finishing our basement. It’s taken weeks longer than planned. There were workers in our house for over a month, cramping our style and making me feel like I was in the way in my own home. There is dust everywhere and everything is out of place. It feels never-ending. It’s a giant, draining, messy pain in the ass.

But we are incredibly lucky to be able to make these changes to our home. We are doubling our living space. We are adding value to our house. We have worked hard through the years to have the means to make these much needed changes to our lives. We are turning our little house into a home and giving our whole family space to live and breathe and grow. So many families have to make due with so much less. We are incredibly fortunate to be able to create the space we need and want.

I am 30 weeks pregnant. I am a stay at home mom to my toddler. We are working to finish our basement.

It has been so much harder than I expected.

I wouldn’t change a thing.

– ALW

The Broken Road

Dear Baby Girl,

In just 12 weeks, we will meet. Oh, you already know me. I’m the one who eats all that key lime gelato and pepperoni pizza. I can’t wait to lay my eyes on your face and hold you in my arms. I can’t wait to kiss your little nose and rock you to sleep on my shoulder. I can’t wait to see you smile for the first time. I can’t wait to hear the things you have to say.

I am so excited for you to meet your daddy. He is kind-hearted and sweet, and you are going to adore him. I’ll tell you a secret: he’s more fun than I am. He has the patience to read you a book 10 times in a row if you ask him, and if you’re a thrill-seeker like your big sister, he’ll flip you around in his arms and carry you on his shoulders and swing you in circles until you’re dizzy with laughter.

Speaking of your big sister, I cannot wait to see you together. She has a big personality and a big heart, and is a force to be reckoned with. She lives to have fun, to laugh, to learn everything she can soak up about this world. I hope you adore each other. I know you will, and I know you’ll have moments when you can’t stand each other, too. That’s okay. I hope you will be great friends. I hope she shares her toys with you. I hope, as your awesome Grandpa Hap used to say, you fight for each other and not with each other. She has been an only child, and the center of our universe for over two years now. She may struggle with your arrival. I hope you are patient with each other. I hope you grow old together, sharing stories and laughing. She is the only person in the whole world who will share your upbringing and understand exactly where you came from. You are allies. I hope you never forget that.

My pregnancy with you has been so different than my pregnancy with your sister. I felt so sick with your sister, but this time around, I feel really great. I am only now starting to feel those aches and pains that mean I’m getting close to meeting you. I’m not quite so afraid all the time, though the fear does creep in. I had a hard time at the beginning. Sometimes life takes us down a path that we don’t expect. And through your life, you’ll learn that change is hard. Even change that leads to amazing and wonderful things.

At my wedding to your daddy, your grandma and aunt gave us an amazing gift. They surprised us by signing us a song called “Bless the Broken Road.” It was the perfect song to sing to me that day because every road that has led me to true happiness has been marked along the way with heartbreak. The broken road led me to your daddy. The broken road led to me your sister. And it has led me to you. And you three are and will always be the great loves of my life.

Your daddy has taught me to be kinder, gentler, and to forgive more easily. He shows me every day what it means to be selfless and to put others first. He is by far the kindest person I have ever met. He works so hard for our family. I am so incredibly proud and feel so lucky that he is your daddy.

Your sister taught me to be a mama. From her I’ve learned patience and perseverance. She taught me to be flexible. She taught me selflessness and showed me the amazing love that a mama has for her baby. She makes me laugh, she drives me nuts, and she breaks my heart with love every day.

And you, baby girl, have taught me trust – trust in my body, trust that life will turn out okay. You have led me and our whole family to a place that I never dared dream we could be. You came into our lives with a determination that, for many weeks, I did not understand. You changed everything and made my life – all our lives – fall into place in a way I never knew possible. You are the catalyst that led us turn our adequate house into a home. As I sit here, I can hear your bedroom being built, and with every nail, every sheet of drywall, I feel like I am closer than ever to the life of my dreams. Closer to you.

I can’t wait to learn all of the things you will teach me once you’re here. I can’t wait to see how you’re similar to your sister and your daddy and all the ways you are uniquely you. Will you be fiery like your sister? Mellow like your daddy? Will you have my tendency to say inappropriate things? I can’t wait to see how you are different from us, how you will surprise us, how you will make us laugh. You have already been such a blessing, I am so excited to see what you have in store for us.

In your life, during hard times, people will say things to you like, “everything will turn out fine.” Sometimes that will be true, and sometimes it will not. Not all of your roads in life will be easy. But sometimes, baby girl, the broken road is the right one. It has been for me. It led me to you.

Love,
Mama

– ALW

Before I Even Ask the Question

Before I even ask the question, I know the answer and I believe it with all my heart. I really, deeply do.

I know that my heart will explode with as much love, adoration and amazement for my baby girl as it did with my baby boy a year and a half ago. I do, I really know this and believe truly believe it.

But I still ask myself the question: how am I going to have double this love, adoration and amazement for another babe?!?

I have 10 weeks to go before we welcome our second kiddo, a baby girl, into our family. While I get the ‘sweats’ thinking about having two children under two years of age, I keep wondering how am I going to possibly love another kiddo as much as I love E?!?

Worth the wait

When E was born, through the haze of coming out of an emergency C-section after days of induction and laboring, and four hours of pushing, my heart exploded. Right there in the operating room. Then it exploded again as I finally got to hold him. And then again when I saw him finally feeling like myself again post-op.  And again when he opened his big brown eyes looked at me. And again when we got the hang of nursing. And again and again…

All of E’s ‘firsts’ have made me boil over with love and pride of his sense of accomplishment. And mine. And his papa’s. E is now a running, chattering, funny, loving, and adventurous little boy who hugs and kisses my pregnant belly. He tells me there is a baby in my belly. And in his. And in his papa’s. He continues to amaze me and makes me laugh everyday. Really, he truly does.

It took me some time to find my feet as a mama. Now that I am comfortable with my ‘mama legs,’ I wonder how my confidence as a mama will change how I will love, adore and enjoy our baby girl. I wonder how seeing our baby girl and all her ‘firsts’ through the eyes of her big brother will change how I see and feel love, adoration and amazement. My guess, it will only increase the frequency of my heart exploding.

The thing is, I am so full of this love, amazement and adoration; I can’t imagine doing it again and have this sense of fullness double. Really, I cannot imagine it.

NVC and big brother-to-be

And yet, I cannot wait.

– NVC

Plan C

It’s been a while.

Five months, in fact, since I sat down to write something.

The truth is, I’ve been avoiding it. It’s been nagging at me, but I’ve forced it out of my mind.

To put it mildly, there have been some other things to occupy my thoughts.

Since I last blogged, my life has, in the wise words of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, “been flipped turned upside down.”

We started off the year with a decision. After some serious thought about some big questions, we decided that we would be done having children. We would live our lives as a family of three.

Sometimes all it takes it to lay it out. To clearly outline all the pros, the cons, the expectations, the fears, hopes and feelings. Inevitably, when I get it all out on paper, my true feelings emerge so easily it’s as if there was never really a question in the first place.

My husband and I talked and talked. Could we truly be happy with just us – the three of us, in our little house, on our busy street, with our annoying dogs, in this lovely town? Undoubtedly, unequivocally, yes.

Iris

I couldn’t have been happier, more relieved. It felt as if a huge weight had been lifted. We could move forward, grow up together, make this little home our forever home. It felt right. It felt comfortable. I felt lighter in the knowing, in the deciding of something that had weighed on me for some time.

But truth, as they say, is stranger than fiction.

And it’s true, life can throw a curve ball. In this life, we don’t always get to stick with Plan A. Especially after, say, too many drinks at a birthday party. We are lucky to live in a country that still, and hopefully always, offers us choices. When Plan A fails, we are able to move on to Plan B without much worry or concern that our best laid plans have gone awry.

But sometimes, Plan B is simply not enough. It is too late. It is inexplicably, inconceivably not in the cards and and we are faced with Plan C.

I am pregnant.

I found out 10 days into the new year, and since that day, everything has changed.

I fell into a depression, the worst I’ve ever experienced. I sought help, and started to see light again.

We looked at moving away from our beloved Madison, back to family in Illinois. We decided, in the end, to expand our small home here, in the place that we love, though too far away from the family we love. Our basement is set to be finished in June, nearly doubling our living space and adding a third bedroom.

After much agonizing, countless tears and a gut-wrenching goodbye, I quit my job to become a stay at home mama to my Iris and baby-to-be.

When the time came for my 20-week ultrasound, we walked back into the scene of the worst day of our lives with our hearts in our throats. To our happy relief, we are having a healthy baby girl.

And now, five months into the new year, it’s starting to feel like life is falling into place again. I have some catching up to do – with friends, with writing, with myself. I’m taking baby steps back into the world as the new me living this new life.

The spring has been unseasonably cold. But it’s slowing warming up.

And today, the sun is shining.

– ALW

A Year of Parenting

Fall always brings out the reflective and nostalgic in me. Now this fall, for the first time, I reflect on my first year of being a mama.

Pregnancy. Childbirth. Sleepless nights. Your child’s laughter. Parenthood. It all changes you from the tips of your toes to deep in your soul.

Looking back at my year as a mama, here are a few bits of what I have learned:

1. Sleepless nights suck.

2. Laughter is key.

3. But sometimes you just have to cry it out.

4. I knew my husband was amazing before we were parents. I have since learned that he is an outstanding dad. My son is so lucky to have him as his Papa. So am I.

5. Snuggling my baby, even in the middle of the night, makes my heart full.

6. Watching my husband put my child to bed after I tried and failed is the best feeling of relief and yet it will make me sigh every time.

7. I will always be there for my child. As in ALWAYS, no exception.

8. Friends make it all so much easier. Sharing the tales of parenting reminds me that the crazy, hard moments are actually normal.

9. People are so kind and so generous to a new mama and a new family. I seize the opportunity to pay it forward.

10.  Watching my child experience wonderment – through food, music, experience – is the most uninhibited, organic and, usually, joyful sight.

11.  I never knew the feeling of selflessness until I had a child.

12.  What and who I think I can count on will always surprise me.

13.  Finding community of mamas was harder than I thought and yet, turned up when I least expected it and needed it most.

14.  I have found that there are other ways to trust my body after pregnancy. And no, I did not find it in childbirth.

15.  C-sections suck.

16.  Bodies are amazing. My body (and me) grew a human. Then it produced food for said human. That human grows from a tiny ball of baby to a roaming, running, babbling toddler all in one year. Amazing, I tell you. Truly amazing.

17.  The early days, weeks and even months of being a mama were very foggy for me and felt surprisingly lonely. I didn’t expect that, but will be more aware the next time.

18.  I worry more as a parent than I ever thought possible and far more than I ever expected.

19.  Raising a boy to be a good man is a challenge I take very seriously every day.

This is what a feminist looks like.

20.  There is nothing more heart breaking than to see your kiddo sick. They have no idea what’s going on and there is often little you can do to really make them better.

21.  Even when I feel completely clueless, finding ways to make parenting choices with confidence and without judgment is essential.

22.  Being a mama is the hardest and most rewarding job I ever could of dreamed of.  I can’t imagine my life without mama-hood.

23.  Watching my baby dance warms my soul.

24.  It really does take a village. I am so grateful for ours.

25.  I am conscious every day not to wish the time away. I am SO excited to hear his first sentence, to see his first steps, to tell his first joke, to meet his first friend and to be a big brother. Today, however, I am enjoying the present.

It’s been quite a year. The most amazing year. As my baby is about to complete his first revolution, of many, around the sun, I am ready to celebrate. I can’t think of any other way than to throw a party and celebrate with our village our first year of parenthood! We made it! My hubs and I will surely exchange a super high five.

Happy (almost) birthday baby E!

– NVC

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Birth Center

{Editor’s Note: Below is a guest column from a fantastic woman I met a few summer’s ago at a Lynda Barry writing workshop. We’re like pen pals and keep in touch, even in this crazy digital age. But forget that and read her amazing story of birthing her son in the back seat of a cab. I am not lying.}

Yeah, so my son was born in the backseat of a vehicle. Before I go into the story I want to first clear something up. As romantic as it sounds, it was not a Yellow Taxi Cab. I know it would be so New York if it was, but this is not one of those “New York” stories. It actually is, if anything, a Brooklyn story. We were in what New Yorkers call a “Gypsy Cab.” Graham said that the more APPROPRIATE term is a Livery Cab. Gypsy Cabs are usually a town car of sorts or some other pedestrian vehicle contracted by a car service company. The one we were in was a minivan and driven by a Hispanic driver named Gladys.

So, as you know, I was a little ATTACHED to the desire to give birth in a non-hospital setting. We did our research and happily signed on with the only remaining freestanding birth center in the New York area, The Brooklyn Birthing Center. Now here is the thing about Brooklyn: It is HUGE. Just because you live in one area doesn’t mean you are ANYWHERE NEAR another area. BBC was on the way other side of Brooklyn from us. On the subway it takes an hour and fifteen minutes to get there. Our visits would last 15 to 20 minutes tops, but our commute was two and a half hours roundtrip. Not exactly convenient and it was something we wondered about when discussing what would happen on THE BIG DAY. So we took a car service to one of our appointments, just to time it, to see what we were really dealing with. It took 45 minutes. Not ideal, but doable. We discussed this with the midwives who said that this was a common thing and they would factor the time in for gauging when it was time to come in.

The car service driver we had for that trial run was named Gladys. Thirtysomething, mellow, agreeable Gladys. I liked her because she was a woman and didn’t drive like a maniac. The problem I have with Livery Cab drivers (actually make that all taxi drivers) is that they drive like maniacs, talking on their cell phones, listening to their radios full blast, and not giving a shit for much. I am almost always white knuckled in the back of the car, sure I am going to die (and still have to tip). When we had friends visiting from California this summer, Gladys had been the driver to help us transport five of them and their luggage to Manhattan. She drove a minivan and seemed calm and pretty friendly. We talked to her on the way to the BBC on our trial run, told her what was happening, and asked her what her hours were. Her English came and went at odd times, but she was very friendly about being our driver and gave us her card so we didn’t have to call through the car service, we could reach her directly. Great. Our transport was secured and now Gladys was part of the plan.

That was two months ago. Two months before I started daily complaints about my due date coming and going like some floating cloud that meant nothing to my body, but everything to my emotional state. I don’t know if you caught on, I mean, I think the majority of you are pretty DARN SHARP (no dull tools in THIS shed), but I was SICK OF BEING PREGNANT. I wanted OUT. I watched with desperate yearning as one by one all the babies that I knew were due a week before mine, came one to two weeks early. Then the ones that were due after mine came early. I was starting to think that birth was an elaborate hoax that I would never get to experience. We tried everything: sex, spleen six pressure points, walking, and eating spicy food. Nothing happened. I went to see the midwives two days after my due date and I was already at 2 cm, but I couldn’t be naturally induced by stripping my membranes because the baby was not effaced enough. So I went back to the waiting, thinking there was NO WAY I would go to the next appointment scheduled, a full TEN DAYS after my due date.

Yeah, I was a little depressed when I showed up the next week. Another way to describe it might be SLIGHTLY INSULTED by the fact that I still hadn’t given birth. I went in BALLOONING with fluid and HIGH HOPES that I was ready for membrane stripping or at least a bit of castor oil. So I got checked and I was at 3cm, but my other physical scores still were a point away from being stripped. I started to cry. The midwife said that she would just jiggle the handle of my cervix (my words, not hers) to see if it couldn’t be cajoled into another point towards inducement. As it happens, my cervix PUTS OUT. I went from 3 to 6 cm immediately. So I got stripped. Wow, did that not feel comfortable. It was like being the midwife’s big giant purse, while she rooted around trying to locate her keys. Graham held my hand while I gritted my teeth and did my best to BREATHE big breaths. I should have realized that this was foreshadowing of what was soon to come: the writhing discomfort, the need to practice big breaths, and that for the next little while my insides would be SEVERAL people’s big purse containing anything from a lost pair of keys, a ringing cell phone, or a cigarette lighter. I will tell every pregnant woman in the world, that when you get to that point, feeling like your health provider might be ELBOW DEEP in your insides, it is time to GET USED TO IT for the time being. There is only MORE WHERE THAT CAME FROM.

I left feeling hopeful, cramping, and tired with a plan of action. I had an appointment with an acupuncturist to help get labor started, and if neither the stripping or the acupuncture worked by the next morning, I could use castor oil and see what happened from there. If the castor oil didn’t click, I had agreed to be induced on Saturday morning, but my midwife thought this probably would not be an issue.

At about two in the morning those tell tale waves of menstrual cramps woke me up. Since I’d had some labor before, I was determined not to take these too seriously, but Graham started timing them and sure enough, they were like clockwork: Every 25 minutes, lasting 30 seconds. By the time we woke up they were every 20 minutes. I had a doubtful feeling, though. They just weren’t that strong and by a couple of hours after we woke up, smaller erratic contractions had started to punctuate the rhythm and finally, they seemed to slow entirely. So we went for a walk and found the only hill in our neighborhood and walked up and down it until we were so cold and the need to pee was too painful to ignore. The contractions had slowed to every half hour and were pretty weak.

Castor oil it was. And hours later, nothing happened. NOTHING. No runs, no change in contractions, nothing. I was beginning to think this kid had enjoyed his breakfast of pancakes and bacon so much that he was thinking of calling in supplies and staying the rest of the winter. So we called the midwife and she said it was time to help that castor oil out. I am not about to admit on the Internet what she suggested, but let’s just say it sort of rhymed with your aunt EDNA. So me and Aunt EDNA had some quality time. I came out of my quality time with EDNA and within a half hour the contractions rolled in at ten minutes apart and they were getting STRONGER.

Then my water broke and we checked the quality and thought, IS THAT MECONIUM? In case people don’t know, meconium is the baby’s first poop. I know, it sounds like a rare and precious metal or a planet Superman’s family might have summered on, but it’s really just poop. It’s supposed to be THE THING you check for when your water breaks. If it is slightly discolored with it, fine, but if it has dark matter or a pea soup quality, we needed to call the birthing center immediately. So we stood over a maxipad and kept asking ourselves is that it? Is that green or is it brown or is it anything? So we called the midwife and she said, “Well, it’s probably nothing, but just in case, why don’t you head in. I might send you back home if it’s nothing, or if it’s something I’ll send you to the hospital.”

The phrase I keep coming back to is I MIGHT SEND YOU BACK HOME. Remember, we were 45 minutes away. The midwife did not seem very concerned with time. I later found out they thought I had loads of time because I was a first time mom and first time moms don’t usually go very quickly. Well, ladies, welcome to Quickie McGee Pierre.

We called Gladys and this is where I think something in me knew that this was not going to go as hoped or planned. She had no memory of us whatsoever and was unclear as to when she would pick us up. Graham explained I was in labor and she said she guessed she could be there 10-15 minutes. Usually cars come in five. I still clung to the familiarity of her so we said we would wait. 20 minutes, another call to a different car service, and two contractions later, Gladys finally showed up. We hopped in, with me moaning. She asked, “What is going on?” As if it hadn’t already been explained to her. Graham reiterated that I was in labor and she nervously laughed, “Why aren’t you going to the hospital?” She meant the hospital that we were across the street from. “We’re going to the birth center,” Graham explained and then said, “You’ve driven us there before, remember?” Nope. No registry and it became very clear that she didn’t like having us in her van. The entire time she kept trying to dump us. “You should be in an ambulance!” She said, “call an ambulance they can give you a ride to the hospital.” But we weren’t going to the hospital, we kept explaining, and this isn’t an emergency.

Well, that is until we hit the Brooklyn Queens Expressway and it was slammed with traffic.

It is hard for me to even write these words. Even now, my body rings with memory of what it was like to have escalating pain in a small space. I was breathing through very intense contractions that were noticeably quicker. I climbed in the very back seat so I could somehow get more comfortable and to try to calm down. Meanwhile, Gladys was flipping out. She wanted us out of the van. During a stopped moment, she tried to get Graham to get out of the van to flag a private security van down to take us. I bellowed to just KEEP GOING FOR PETES SAKE. It was LABOR, not the end of the world. I hated her in that moment. I hated that I felt I had to fight her and the claustrophobia and the traffic and the contractions. I wanted her to just SUCK IT UP and GET US THERE.

Graham called the midwife to say we were still in traffic. She suggested an alternative route, but Gladys had no idea what she was talking about, so we stayed in the clogged river of vehicles. Graham started counting miles to the exit for me, while that horrible trapped feeling started to increase with the contractions. Have you ever seen a tiger or large animal pace a cage anxiously? That is the only way I can describe the feeling. I was an animal being held in a confined space and I had no choice but to start saying over and over, “I want out of this fucking car, I want out of this fucking car, get me out of here, get me out of here, I don’t want to be here anymore.”

The contractions were really rolling in at this point and I kept thinking as a way to get me through them, “After this one is done, I’ll have a break. Just get me to that break.” They were about 3 or 4 minutes apart at this point, but then something happened I’ll never forget. One rolled in, started to subside, and then another slammed me. I started sweating horribly. This was not good.

Finally, we exited and the relief in the van was palpable. “After this, just another ten minutes or so, okay?” Graham said to me. I could taste the relief of being safe for just a moment.

Then we hit another wall of traffic.

It was the most horrible thing I’d ever seen in my life. As far as I could see, a strip of red taillights stopping and going. Somewhere in my mind that small argument began to take place between denial and reality: “Don’t be dramatic and say what you’re about to say,” said one voice. Another voice said, “But I don’t think we are going to make it.” And that’s when another contraction slammed me so hard and a distinct burning sensation ripped through my groin. I have to say that at this moment I was grateful for any and all birthing classes I ever took, because this one sensation, the burning sensation, put to rest any and all arguments of what I was battling out in my head. I knew from every video that we watched that when a burning sensation comes on, the baby is coming. That and an utterly guttural desire to push. That’s when what I hoped I would never have to say, came screaming out of my mouth, which was, “He’s coming! The baby is coming!” I started frantically trying to rip my jeans off. Graham called the midwives, who said to pull over immediately and call 911. So that’s what we did. Gladys got out of the van and Graham was on the phone to 911 explaining what was happening while he ripped off my shoes and tried to help me pull off my jeans.

You might be able to picture the terror and helplessness that Graham experienced in the van, pulling off his wife’s jeans, and trying his best to get help on the phone. I have no memory of this, but at one point he dropped the phone in the darkness of the van and while he frantically looked for it, I calmly handed it back to him. He found the light in the van and switched it on. He examined me to see if the baby was crowning and informed 911 that I wasn’t, but that he could see it coming. I will never forget the look on his face when he said to me, “Baby, listen to me, they don’t want you to push.” That was like telling me not to have skin or to breathe or to yell. I don’t know if I can adequately express to you what the urge to push was like. It wasn’t an URGE at all. It was my body taking over completely and saying, STEP ASIDE, SISTER I GOT IT FROM HERE. I started to panic.

Then the cops came. The BLESSED COPS! All rosy sirens and flashing lights and TRAINED IN AN EMERGENCY COPS. But it was just one cop and he was TWELVE YEARS OLD. He took one look in the van, uttered the word, “Okay,” and then CLOSED THE VAN DOORS and STOOD THERE. Graham, still on the phone with 911, told them what the cop was up to. 911 was not pleased. They wanted to talk to him. So Graham opened the door and handed the phone to him. The boy cop looked at Graham and said, “Who is it?” Um, HELLO IT’S 911! Remember? THIS IS AN EMERGENCY! Thank you, Brooklyn’s FINEST. What was surmised from this exchange was that he wasn’t trained to help in any way at all. If I hadn’t been focusing so deeply on somehow dodging the next contraction my morale wouldn’t have been so hot. I would not have been immediately relieved when the fire department came. I was too busy living every second of that moment in the van, with my dress about my hips, dreading the next contraction because it wouldn’t be just a painful bystander. It would PUSH for me and since I was told directly NOT to push, I sat there feeling like a bomb about to go off. About four firemen peeked inside, asked about my contractions, to which Graham said I was about 3 minutes apart. One of the fireman said, “Oh good, she still has time.”

(Oh, ha ha. Maybe my midwife will check me and SEND ME HOME AGAIN TOO!)

A paramedic showed up—a nice bald paramedic, who laid out pads and paper on the seat and checked me. He had this great idea he was going to move me onto the stretcher and into the ambulance. That’s when a lady paramedic showed up, climbed in the back, took one look at me and said, “We are not moving her. This baby is going to be born now.”

That’s when the last two contractions hit and I screamed so hard it rang in my ears. What they say is true about the pain. A week ago, I could remember the pain and the screaming it created. Now, I only remember the screaming and that’s how I associate the pain. I’ve never screamed like that in my life. I felt that if I screamed loud enough my skin would rip off my entire body, like some popped balloon and that would be a pleasure. My eyes were closed deep into the screaming, but I remember distinctly the pop of his head coming and then another pop which told me he was out. I opened my eyes and there he was on the seat, pink faced, gurgling, looking wet and amphibious. I kept waiting fro the big cry, but he wasn’t crying, just gurgling. So I said, “Is he okay?” And that’s when the lady paramedic said something I will never forget as long as I live. She said, “Mama, he is BEAUTIFUL.”

I didn’t cry then because I was in shock, but since then I have thought of this moment over and over again and wept and wept out of relief and gratitude not only for the health of my son, but for the most perfect four words that could have been spoken to me in that moment of shock and confusion. He was more than alive. He was beautiful.

I remember looking up through the back window at Graham who was pressed up against it looking in on me just saying over and over again that he loved me and then back at my pink faced son, who looked a little stunned to be flat on his back on a car seat.

They clamped and cut Gus’ umbilical cord and then put him in my arms with one of those metallic “blankets” you see athletes donning after a marathon. I was still wearing my jacket and down vest, so I covered him up as best I could. He was warm and whimpered up against me. I couldn’t do anything but say, “Hi there, hi there, baby.”

Now is as good as any to tell all you people that I had one small fear about giving birth and that was pooping in front of my husband. I know it was a little neurotic shred of vanity that I held on to. What would he think? OH MY GOLLY, MY WIFE HAD A BABY OUT OF HER LADY PARTS AND DID A POOP! I remember Maggie Mason saying to trust her, you won’t care when it happens. Man, was she right. I did not care so much so that it also didn’t matter that there were about ten firemen, a policeman, Gladys, and about 20 onlookers seeing me SPREAD EAGLE in the back of an illuminated minivan doing MANY bodily things, including I am sure (but not positive) a little pooping. And maybe that’s why I can admit this to you, ye PUBLIC INTERNET, I just didn’t/don’t care. A friend asked me now that I’ve given birth in a car, do I feel like I can do anything? No. If anything, I feel even more vulnerable in some ways. In this other way, the shame, bodily way I feel FREE AS A BIRD.

They put Gus and me on a stretcher and carted us into the ambulance. When Graham was following us into the vehicle, Gladys apparently stopped him and asked if he could find out how her phone could take pictures. She wanted a picture. She apparently got WAY INTO being part of such an event once we stopped. He said no and got in the vehicle with us and we sped off to the hospital.

So I got my unmedicated birth free of interventions, I just did not get the sense of safety or the Jacuzzi tub I had planned on. And what have we learned through all this? Plans really ARE for suckers. Someday this will be a great story we tell over dinner to Gus’ true love. As it is now the trauma of it still has some lingering affect. For days afterwords Graham and I cried off and on having memories of it. Not the blissed out kind of memories, but the broken flashbacks of something very terrifying, chaotic, and miraculously okay. For me, I was in deep shock at the time of his birth, and it’s been an emotional process as my body tries to knit the memories to feelings. I remember what Shara, our birthing class teacher, told us about quick births. Sure, you have LESS time in labor (aka less pain), but some part of the process goes missing. I am still feeling as if I am looking for those pieces that got lost in the cracks of that backseat.

Then again, I am also reminded of something else Shara said: Women have babies. Not doctors or midwives or anybody else. THIS woman had her baby, dammit. I had my baby in the back of a mother loving vehicle while a ton of people stood by. Am I proud of myself? Yes, I am. But next time I am staying home.

SP and her Back Seat Baby

 

– SP

The Weighting Game

Breast feeding. Vaccinations. Work/life balance. Childcare. Cloth versus disposal diapers. BPA. All hot topics amongst the childbearing set. Add to that weight gain and loss, from pregnancy to post-partum.

Each woman I know talks about pregnancy weight with a mixture of fear and glee. Fear as you see numbers on a scale you never imagined and glee at eating a little more than you ever thought possible. Stories about never owning maternity clothes or who shows earlier are traded like cards. It is a tough scale to balance on, with one hand wondering how a being mere ounces can make you gain weight and on the other, loving your growing form. Rumors of people only gaining 15 pounds are laughed at and brave people admit they gained upwards of 60, 70 pounds per pregnancy, no matter your assumptions of their previous size.

Women share stories about how big they get. Or don’t get. Numbers equaling a middle schooler are tossed around, or odd stories of someone who gained so little they walked out of the hospital in pre-pregnancy jeans. You can thank genes for that. I remember thinking around month 7 that I looked a little like Chris Farley and my ankles were so swollen my husband’s thumb prints from nightly foot massages stayed visible for far too long.

My personal weakness while pregnant? Lemon freezies with fresh fruit from Culver’s. I didn’t go overboard, but didn’t hold back. “When else can you eat Cheetos and not have anyone stare at you?” said my friend, E.

After stories about gaining weight come stories about how fast someone gets it off. Again, stories of women who lost it all when they had the baby, or weighed less than before the baby. It’s all something pregnant women are anxious about – when will my bottom parts feel normal again and when will the pooch disappear? I have good news and bad news, ladies. You can figure this out on your own.

The Baby Weight Gain Game doesn’t end even post-partum. There’s the excuse of “I just had a baby,” or “I’m making milk,” that leads to no budges on the scale. We moan amongst our female friends about stomach skin that doesn’t look right anymore, angry, red stretch marks or a chest that will always require the help of underwire and padding. [Note: if you have never been pregnant and are a woman, take a photo of your chest RIGHT NOW. Consider it a quaint historical relic to admire once you’ve had a baby.]

Many of us trudge along, working on getting back to shape, while balancing work, child(ren), friends, life and personal time. What I notice on this path is that I’m kinder to myself as I work on the numbers going down. I made a pledge amongst our female friends that we won’t say negative statements, even in jest, about our bodies in front of our children, and I’m also giving myself more time and yes, more permission, to wait out this weight game. After all, my insides grew a baby and my privates pushed one out. What have you done today?

– MD

At a Loss

My baby girl arrived on March 15, 2009, exactly two years and five months after the loss of my first pregnancy. That first one came as a shock all the way around – shock to find out I was pregnant in the first place, and shock to find out, five days later, that I was going to miscarry. Having kids wasn’t the first thing on our minds in those days. Sure, we had been together six and a half years. We were married, we had a house, we had two dogs. We talked of kids, but that was in the future. We were having fun! We were spending our disposable income, going on trips, taking long naps on weekends.

Then, suddenly, pregnancy.

But it felt right. We couldn’t have been more excited. We knew this is what we wanted.

And then, it was over.

The next months were spent reflecting, considering, mourning. We knew what we wanted, and we set out to have our do-over. We were confident – it had happened on accident, right? How hard would it be?

The next year proved to us how hard it could be. Each month came. And went. Each month brought disappointment. And fear. Was it possible that this may never happen for us?

On our 12th month of trying, one year and two months after that first pregnancy, I was pregnant again.

I’ve always been a worrier. I’ve always feared the worst. I’ve always considered the worst case scenario and worked back from there. On an airplane, I consider everything that could go wrong. I think about the wing catching fire, the engine failing, a flock of birds, the free fall. Preventative worrying. If I consider it, if I worry about it, it won’t happen. Right?

The first weeks passed. I worried. We saw the flicker of a heartbeat. I worried. Had an ultrasound. I worried. Started our registry, planned some showers, bought our first little outfit. I worried.

I couldn’t get the pain of loss out of my head. I couldn’t get the fear out of my heart.

Halfway through, and another ultrasound. The big one. Fear was giving way to hope, to excitement. My husband was joyful, so excited, facing our future without fear. I clung to him, to his optimism.

And then. A fluke. An error on the very first cell division 20 weeks and 2 days ago. There was no chance, no hope. They tried to sooth us. Not our fault, nothing could have been done. “A biological mistake.” “Bad luck.”

Our hearts shattered, we made a choice that nobody should ever have to make.

We pulled ourselves together. We held up our heads. We told ourselves that this would not break us. We brought home a tiny urn full of ashes.

Then, two months later, two pink lines.

And again, shock. We were not ready. I was not ready. I had not picked up the pieces of my heart.

The first weeks passed. We saw the flicker of a heartbeat. Had an ultrasound. Had another. The halfway point came, and went. I soared with hope while my heart was gripped with fear. I knew early loss. I knew loss at 20 weeks. I knew I could survive those things. But at 24 weeks, 30 weeks, 37 weeks….I expected relief at each milestone and got none. I spent the last weeks of my pregnancy in a panic.

Finally, labor. She came out blue and not breathing. She recovered. I recovered.

She is beautiful and perfect and everything I hoped but nothing I expected. I am not the mom I thought I’d be. I’ve surprised myself with patience and flexibility, but feel disorganized, scattered. I don’t use the cloth diapers we bought. I couldn’t breastfeed. I am stronger than I imagined, but feel I am lacking in a million ways. I try every day to be good enough for her, to be everything that she needs and wants and deserves.

But the fear. The fear still grips me.

– ALW

ALW and Sweet Baby Girl

ALW and Sweet Baby Girl

Twisted Sister(s)

Given my demographic and interests, it was no surprise when I was pregnant that I signed up for prenatal yoga. At nine weeks, already stretching out regular workout pants, I proudly brought my purple yoga mat, water bottle and crabby self to yoga.

I live in one of those towns that’s always ranked in the Top Ten of something, so I assumed the prenatal offerings would be the same. Well, not quite.

Upon the start of class, our instructor asked us to form a circle. Uh oh. And this is coming from someone who teaches a fairly free-spirited movement form. A circle. And this wasn’t a workshop. I dutifully formed the circle, crossed my legs and waited for the instructor to start. It appeared she wanted us to share our feelings. Our feelings? I didn’t know these people and wanted to get some sort of workout, having already maxed out my “big” pants but battling excruciating round ligament pain.

Like what I’ve seen on TV interpretations of AA meetings, we all went around and stated our name, that our problem was pregnancy and how long we were in the process. “My name is Sally, I’m 21 weeks pregnant and I feel really good.” “My name is Franny, I’m 37 weeks, and I’m really ready for this baby to be born.”

My turn. “My name is M. I’m eight weeks pregnant and I feel gross. My boobs hurt too much to sleep on my stomach and I feel really puffy.” Crickets. Stares. What – I wasn’t marveling at my changing form?

My good friend, E, a few weeks ahead of me in the pregnancy game, also joined me in suffering. We just couldn’t wait to exercise.

Eventually we did, dutifully moving on our mats like bloated dolphins, hoping to magically expand our hips (for birthing, the spreading had already taken over) and learn breathing techniques to ease our child birthing process.

E and I couldn’t take the trust circles and feelings. Pregnancy had made us sympathetic, but not exactly patient.

Fortunately we found another class. No circles. Just two rows of bellies doing sun salutations and hip openers with a fantastic teacher. Happy, E and I attended each week, smiling as we slowly but surely found ourselves able to do less and less range of movement. Large squats turned into humongous sits on blocks. Legs started to move farther and farther apart to make room for stretching bellies. “I think my baby is going to fall out,” E said during one class. We were both toward the end, and with her second one inside, she knew the rumblings better than I.

As I think back to my pregnancy, I often marvel at the whole process, but I always think fondly of E and I and others grunting over non-skid mats, breathing in and into various poses, growing a life inside while living on the outside.

– MD

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