The whole fam got norovirus over the weekend, which resulted in an ER visit for Ella, an insurmountable pile of laundry, and two completely destroyed parents. Seven full days later, our house still looks like a scene out of 28 Days Later London, with little vignettes of abandoned activity punctuated by violent chaos.
When you start a week like that, you better get ready for it to continue in exactly the same vein. And it did. Nocturnal baby, flat tire, completely disastrous Thursday, and now an ear infection and pink eye for Aud.
I am fairly wrecked.
But it’s Friday. We made it.
So after the pediatrician’s appointment this morning, I went to Trader Joe’s and bought a) a lot of comfort food, and b) an obscene amount of flowers.
Sometimes when I have a shitty time, I just want to make something beautiful.
I need to get online for a few and catch up on work, but later today I’ll be bribing Audrey with Cheerios in her high chair, surrounded by stems and leaves and petals, filling every glass container in the house with fragrant, wild greens and deep, dramatic purple blooms.
We’ll get the house back together this weekend, but it’s Friday, and I wanted flowers.
Cheers to the end of a truly horrendous week! Let’s take a break and start anew tomorrow.
We tried for almost a full two years to get pregnant before we found out Audrey was on the way. Since we conceived at a time when science said we shouldn’t have been able to conceive, we were never 100% on her timing. Her estimated due date was January 7, 2019, but she measured ahead of that almost from the beginning, and we took that with a grain of salt. Just like her sister, she was a wizard and she would arrive precisely when she meant to.
We had a full 36 hours of false labor toward the end of December, on the day of a supermoon and the eve of a super ice storm. I spent the day dancing around my kitchen, baking and breathing, until my body told me it was time to get serious, and I settled into a cycle of yoga and napping in the dark, with the cats on high alert. I fully expected to be coaxing the Subaru down icy, winding backroads to get to our beloved birth cottage that day. But babies don’t care about expectations, and my otherwise regular, measurable, timeable contractions fizzled at about 6 minutes apart as the sun set.
Suffice it to say, I was fully unmanageable by the time our “due” date rolled around. And then it passed. And then a week passed.
My midwives did everything they could to get labor going. We did everything we could to get labor going. Audrey stayed right where she was.
I am lucky that I had such incredible support from midwives at the birth cottage. I didn’t feel at all pressured to produce this baby, and I was having strong and continuous but inconsistent contractions, so we were ready to wait it out.
If you are friends with me on Facebook, you know how restless I was at this point. We had been waiting for this baby not only for the almost 10 months of my pregnancy, but for almost two full years before that. Making me wait past my due date seemed like cruel and unusual punishment.
But I loved my chosen birthplace and the community of women who were going to help me bring Aud into the world. I loved how they embraced Ella and all of her curiosity and exuberance. I loved how they trusted my body and respected my dignity as a thinking human. And honestly, I loved the ritual of our hour-plus drive through the winter woods to the little house where we thought Audrey would be born.
I prayed, and I yoga-ed, and I reaffirmed my tenuous trust in my body, and I did my level best to walk this baby out, circling the neighborhood in hiking boots I couldn’t tie because of swollen feet, with Ella in tow, the two of us skating on untreated sidewalks hand in hand.
Audrey stayed put. I stayed awake, every contraction a wake up call. I was absolutely exhausted, but I told myself that my body was doing what it needed to do, slowly inching Audrey towards birth.
But at my ten-days-past-due appointment, my midwives tried to sweep my membranes to get things moving, and we discovered that all those contractions had really just been busy work. Audrey hadn’t moved. No dilation, no effacement. We tried a couple of times, but we couldn’t even do a full sweep with my body as closed as it was.
Alison, the midwife I’d felt closest to the whole time I’d been visiting the cottage, suggested we wait 24 hours and see if the partial sweep got anything moving. And then we’d try the magic labor potion.
The magic labor potion was a recipe given to Alison by a French midwife. It included a low dose of castor oil, some herbal tinctures, apricot juice, and almond butter. The idea was that if you drank it, you’d have contractions two hours later. If the contractions fizzled after two hours, you were out of luck and could try again the next day. If the contractions continued after two hours, you were in labor. Abracadabra, magic labor potion.
So, 24 hours after my membrane sweep, I chatted with the midwives, and we decided to try the potion the next morning. If it worked, we’d have a baby. If it didn’t, I’d head to the closest hospital for a scheduled “post-dates” ultrasound, which is basically an ultrasound to check in on the health of the baby and the placenta. I already knew we would be dealing with some scrutiny, since, although the birth cottage regularly sent clients to this hospital for ultrasounds, the hospital itself had a preference for medical induction before 41 weeks.
The next morning, I woke up early and mixed up my potion. I drank the whole thing at 7am. At 9am, I checked in with the midwife on call, who was, naturally, the only midwife at the cottage I didn’t already have a personal relationship with, and I let her know I had no contractions. She suggested we keep our ultrasound appointment and try to get some rest, and then try the potion again the following morning. The plan was for the ultrasound tech to send the report directly to the midwife, who would then call us to talk through any next steps.
My mom came to pick Ella up mid morning. I wasn’t emotional about it because I wasn’t in labor, and I figured she’d be home at the end of the day. I took a grouchy nap while Jon worked.
The first contraction hit me about five minutes before we planned to get in the car to head to our ultrasound. This was about three hours later than I should have started contractions if the labor potion had been effective, so we weren’t sure what was happening. I called our midwife, and we all agreed it was a good idea to go to the ultrasound as planned, since even if I was in labor, we still had plenty of time, and if I wasn’t, we needed to know how Audrey was holding up during her extended stay in solitary confinement.
We got to the hospital for the ultrasound about 10 minutes late, only 25 minutes after that first contraction. By this point, I was having a hard time talking through contractions, but we still weren’t sure if I was in labor or if the potion would wear off and everything would fizzle. We made our way up to the radiology waiting room, where I promptly had a contraction so strong that I had to hold onto the wall and, if we’re going to put this delicately, “vocalize loudly.”
Friends. I was screaming, like a preggo lady in a dumb movie.
Naturally, and perhaps understandably, this put the radiology staff on guard. I am as suspicious of the mainstream health care industrial complex as anyone, but I try to keep in mind that I wandered into this hospital with no current record of prenatal care, approximately two weeks more pregnant than they believe is safe for me and the baby (which is not based on science but whatever), and apparently in active, messy, LOUD labor. The poor ultrasound tech student who drew the short straw that day would be forgiven for reconsidering her career choices.
I dutifully got myself up on the ultrasound table, but laying on a board on your back while a human head attempts to force its way through your genitals is obviously not ideal, so the stress level of the medical types in the room went up to 11 with every contraction.
The ultrasound showed no issues at all with baby or placenta, so then we just needed to wait while the hospital faxed our report to the birth cottage, where the midwife on duty would read it and call the radiology team to clear me for discharge. At this point, our plan was basically to check out of the hospital and speed about a kajillion miles an hour over the river and through the woods to the birth cottage, because although the baby looked pretty chill where she was, I felt like we were hurtling towards delivery at warp speed a la the Millennium Falcon.
But the thing is, we couldn’t get a hold of our midwife. The hospital faxed the report, they called the on call number, they called the back up number. Nothing. For 30 minutes, I paced the ultrasound room, breathing and groaning. And then finally we decided we were done.
We told the staff we were done waiting and wanted to labor at home. They were, perhaps understandably, nervous about letting us go, without having heard from our midwives. They very politely asked that we check in upstairs at labor and delivery so that someone with expertise in babies and birth could clear us for take off.
It seemed like a reasonable request, so we went upstairs. And we never left. And the rest of this story is still really hard for me to share, because I’m still not sure it was medically necessary, and because despite the fact that I feel like there were some larger forces at work, and despite the fact that I am still angry about some of the treatment I received, I will likely go back to the same team that delivered Aud for any additional children we are blessed to have.
A rather bewildered nurse checked us in and asked for medical records we couldn’t provide. We gave her the same phone numbers for the birth cottage that we’d given the radiology team, and then we were ushered into a room for monitoring.
A very kind delivery nurse came in and strapped a monitor to my belly with a big Velcro belt. I watched my body shift with each contraction – and in between contractions, Audrey would kick so hard the belt would be jarred off my belly.
In came the doctor on call. She stood in the doorway with her hands on her hips and said, “why are you here?”
We explained, again, the situation. We were just here for someone with medical expertise to monitor us for a few and determine that me and the baby were all right so we could be discharged to drive up to New Hampshire and get the show on the road.
This was met with some incredulity, but she finally shook her head and left.
While we were waiting, our midwife called. There was a malfunction with the pager system, and she’d gotten all of the hospital’s calls at once. She said everything looked good from her end, and she was comfortable with us either laboring at home or heading up to her right away. We said we’d be on the road shortly, as soon as someone came back to get rid of my monitor, etc.
But the person who came back was the doctor. We told her we wanted to leave, and that the midwife would be calling them momentarily to confirm her recommendation.
Honestly I thought they’d be relieved to get rid of us, with our weirdo birth plan and our lack of medical records and all of that.
Instead, she informed me that she disagreed with the midwife, that things were not going ok, and that if I left the hospital I would need to sign a paper indicating that I left against medical advice. She said that the monitor indicated the baby was stressed, and that if it were her she’d stay because she didn’t want the baby to die. “But hey, it’s your baby,” she said. And then she walked out.
So, “against medical advice” is a tricky thing. It doesn’t necessarily mean much, and it’s a nice way to make someone doubt their choices. The implication was that if I stayed, my baby would be fine, and if I left, I didn’t care that my baby could (somehow? Still not clear on what she thought might happen…) die.
If you want to play “industrial birth complex BINGO,” the “against medical advice” is the first space you can put a chip down on.
I panicked. We stayed.
We called the midwife and told her we were staying put.
The doctor came back in. We told her we agreed to stay. “Ok,” she said, as though we were still somehow arguing with her. “You wanted a midwife. Just so you know, you’re not getting that here.”
We said we understood that. She offered me an epidural, which I declined. “Are you sure?” she asked. “That’s a big baby.”
“That’s a big baby” is another chip on your BINGO card! Looking at the outside of a baby bump without actually examining anything is a wildly inaccurate way to guesstimate the baby’s actual size, and women with significantly larger babies than Audrey have healthy vaginal births every day.
I said I was sure, and that my last birth was unmedicated, so I knew what to expect.
“Suit yourself,” she said, and, to my great joy, left.
They got me in a delivery room, and a very supportive nurse settled in to spend my labor with us. Less than an hour later I started shaking and vomiting. They checked, and I was at 8 centimeters.
Another hour later and I was pushing. And pushing. And pushing. Audrey was at sort of an angle, so we moved me around a lot to try to get her sorted out. She’d get closer, and then move farther away. We started to hear things like “failure to progress” – hey, another one for your BINGO card!
The doctor came back in – she had blessedly been absent for a lot of this labor – and said, in a very reasonable tone, that she was going to give us a little more time, but that baby was “getting stressed.” If her words had been transcribed, there would absolutely have been a large ellipses after them…
That’s a two-fer! Assuming authority over a birthing woman AND setting a timer in one go!!You win! You’ve won Industrial birth Complex BINGO!! Give the reader a prize! Bonus points for the vague warning about baby’s stress level with no evidence in evidence.
But here’s the thing: from the second I had that first big contraction in radiology, a c-section felt essentially inevitable. I seemed like a risk to this hospital and to the team who happened to be on call. I’ve made it my business to learn about the waterfall effect of interventions in hospitals, and I had this creeping feeling the whole time that’s that’s where we were headed.
I’m not an aggressive person. I don’t like conflict, although I don’t usually shy away from it. Fighting a doctor whose opinion was set from the moment she saw me WHILE TRYING TO BIRTH A HUMAN felt a little extra futile.
So the next time the doctor came in, before she could open her mouth, I made the choice my own. “If you’re going to give me a c-section, just do it already,” I told her. “I’m not going to argue with you.”
The room exploded into action. Jon was whisked away to prepare. I was shaved (with no warning, I might add) and brought into the operating room. I had wave after wave of contractions, at 10cm dilated, while sitting on a steel table waiting for the anesthesiologist to arrive. At this point, it was decided, so I just wanted to stop feeling anything. During one particularly horrible stretch, I hung onto the shoulders of this doctor I actively hated and cried while she told me it would be over soon. Those last four or so minutes were almost as bad as the four or so hours I had pushed without any real progress.
Finally, someone stuck a needle in my back and everything went pleasantly numb. I was fairly out of it at this point, but I remember they were already getting started before someone thought to bring Jon back in. He was there when they brought Audrey out, and we laughed that maybe her giant ears were why she got stuck.
She was bigger than Ella had been, but not by much, and since I’d been pumped full of saline at the hospital a lot of it was water weight. She didn’t have much hair, but she had a good set of lungs, and she snuggled right up when they let me half-hold her on the operating table.
Then they took her and Jon out of the room so I could be stitched and cleaned up.
The doctor decided that was a good time for chit chat, from behind the curtain, where my body was still cut open:
Her: castor oil? Why would you use THAT?!
Me: …I was trying to avoid a medical induction.
Her: yeah but why put yourself through that?!
Me: …because I didn’t want to be in a hospital, because of the high incidence of c-sections.
Her: what do you do?
Me: I’m a writer, I freelance and I do some performing.
Her: ohhhhh so you’re one of those hippy-dippy types.
Me: I’m not sure what you mean by that.
Her: you know, all artsy-fartsy.
Me: I actually make money doing this sometimes.
Her, talking over me: I just don’t get that kind of stuff.
Her: so WHERE were you supposed to be giving birth?
Me: at the Birth Cottage in NH.
Her, laughing: I’ve never heard of that.
Me: they refer here all the time.
Her: well I’ve never heard of them.
Me: one of their midwives used to work here.
Her: I just think people who have babies at places like that are crazy.
Me: well. I wanted to avoid a c-section.
Her, talking over me: It just seems insane to have a baby without any doctors.
Me: …you guys actually have midwives here? They’re on call on the opposite weekends as you?
Her: I mean it just seems insane.
Me: I DON’T BELIEVE DOCTORS ARE NECESSARY FOR NORMAL BIRTH.
What I probably should have said was, “Could you please finish stitching me up before you disrespect all of my educated choices?”
But seriously, my guts were literally out in the open while this was happening. I’m not sure there’s a way to feel more vulnerable than to have your uterus literally open to the air while someone mocks your choices and tries to make your values seem less-than.
So again, I didn’t argue. I let her stitch me up. Eventually they rolled me into a recovery room, where I waited almost an hour for my baby to be brought to me, because we were forgotten in a shift change. It was our grouchy doctor who noticed Jon and Audrey sitting in a corner and read everyone the riot act about keeping the baby separate from me.
That is one of the stranger things about this entire experience. This doctor who was massively antagonistic throughout my birth experience was incredibly protective of me once it was done.
We had amazing care after birth. I overheard this doctor advocating for me to be released a day early, as I’d requested, because she said I was tough and could handle it. This woman praised me to her nursing staff for giving up the pain meds early so that I could feel ok about nursing and be cleared for driving to my frequent follow up appointments. “This one’s a tough cookie,” she said.
In private, she held my hand and told me she hoped I knew I’d done a great job.
It’s been a year. Audrey is amazing, and healthy, and an absolute joy. I am constantly grateful for her existence, and it sometimes feels self-indulgent and selfish to continue to be conflicted about how she came into the world.
I still struggle to understand this woman who delivered Audrey, and I still struggle with the treatment I received before I became a known quantity. I still grieve the birth I didn’t have, the one I’d hoped and planned for, with the midwives I loved who treated me with respect and dignity, in a cottage that felt as close to home as possible, just an hour’s drive up winding backroads through beautiful winter woods.
The reality is that I am very likely to end up back at the same hospital, with the same doctor, if I am lucky enough to have more babies. I developed post-delivery preeclampsia, so maternal-fetal health will need to be involved next time, and I’m cleared for a VBAC but only in a hospital setting. I’m part of the system now, and even a year later I can’t fathom the idea of laboring for hours only to end up with surgery anyway. I’d rather the choice be mine, the process be one I can at least vaguely control. The hospital had very good meatloaf with unlimited portions.
Maybe I’ll change my mind about this later. Maybe I’ll decide to fight back, or rebel, or at least look for a happy medium. All of Audrey’s existence is a reminder that I’m not in charge of much, and that the only constant is change. If I do end up trying for a different experience next time, I will definitely be engaging a doula – I didn’t think we needed one because I am pretty hands off in labor and we were planning to deliver in such a supportive environment, but having a doula as a birth advocate is the only thing I think might have made a difference in how all of this went, other than building a time machine to go back and choose the drive to New Hampshire instead of following “doctor’s orders.”
But today, on her birthday, when I can’t help but remember her birth as one of the most stressful days of my life, I’m just going to thank god for Audrey’s precious life. We’ve had a hell of a year together, almost as though we’re making up for all the heartache that came before. Time is a great healer, but Audrey is a greater one.
She had the stomach bug all day today. I held her all afternoon while she was sick, and I rocked her longer than I needed to before I put her down for bed. I can’t imagine our family without her, this baby we almost didn’t get to have. There’s a lot of healing still to be done, but we’re doing it together. And in the end, that’s all I really wanted.
I’ve claimed a lot of identities for myself over the years. Straight has never been one of them.
But that’s exactly what most people who know me think I am, because that’s what my life looks like, and because, for a lot of different reasons, I haven’t bothered to explicitly correct the assumption in a little more than a decade.
This year, though – with Kavanaugh headed for the bench, with a majority that usurps the message of my (loving, welcoming, beautiful) Savior for their conservative political gain, with growing violence against minorities of all kinds, and with the marriage equality I fought for (as a young, single, newly-out lesbian who was just coming to terms with the idea that she might not spend her life alone and outcast) once again on the line – this year, it feels irresponsible not to speak up, particularly because I know the stakes in doing so are, for me, blessedly low because of my (white, cis, married, middle class, hetero-presenting, etc.) privilege.
I feel like I’ve being continually coming out since I was about 14 – to myself, to my family, to my old friends, to new friends, to everyone (again) when I realized my spot on the rainbow spectrum was a little… blendier than anticipated… and now, again, at 35, with a husband and two kids I never in my wildest dreams imagined as a teen with a truly obsessive crush on a local lady folk singer.
I love my life, seriously, and all the amazing weirdos who have found their way into it – my husband and daughters included. And it would probably be easier and more comfortable for everyone if I just left it at that.
But I can’t.
Because my girls are growing up in a world where that kind of omission is dangerous.
I grew up in a white suburban world with a dearth of LGBTQ role models. The few non-straight women I was aware of as a kid were all women I struggled to relate to. When I realized I might actually be one of them, I felt not bereft of some heterosexual future (because I had never, even as a very young child, imagined one) but instead like my world had opened infinitely up – and like I was basically alone in it.
That Ellen episode? I knew it mattered, and I knew it wasn’t normal that I cared. I spent that spring taping a bunch of OTHER stuff off TV so it wouldn’t seem so weird when I taped THAT episode.
And then I spent the next four years watching it on repeat, in secret, in my basement bedroom, imagining what that kind of public revelation might do to my own life. I didn’t look like Ellen, or like any of the women whose names I’d secretly read on the PFLAG website in the middle of the night on our family computer, whose names I chanted silently to myself in class during the day, trying desperately to ward off dread about what would happen if the people sitting around me knew who I really was.
I imagined a lot of different things. Good, bad, truly horrible, truly surprising and wonderful, and generally underwhelming. All of them have actually happened, in one way or the other, over the last 21 years since I had my own little self-revelation.
I can’t overstate the toll that kind of anxiety and emotional exhaustion can have on you. How can anyone accept themselves when they’ve been conditioned to believe that the people around them will – and worse, should – reject them? It actually doesn’t matter if that belief is based in reality. Either way, recovery from that experience is glacial and perpetual.
It makes sense to me, then, that Coming Out Day is the day after World Mental Health Day in this tumultuous year.
And in the interest of my daughters’ mental health, and the mental health of basically any human on the planet who may now or someday in the future be not sure what to say about themselves…
I just want to tell you, that I am a little bit gay, and a little bit straight, and a lot of things in between that I am still figuring out, daily, and hope to still be figuring out for the rest of my life.
I just want to tell you, because I care about you, and because it’s not something I feel super great about sharing publicly, even after all these years, even with the amazing support system I have in my husband (who has never seen me as the liability I often fear myself to be) and in my friends and chosen family. I somehow, still, after huge amounts of alcohol and therapy and punishment and prayer, I still somehow feel like I am supposed to be apologizing.
I just want to tell you, because I want you to know that I rarely share all of me – and if you rarely share all of you, I want you to know that DUDE I GET IT. This shit is not easy. I’m in the gray area – you can be, too, if that’s where you feel safe.
Your life is not a lie or a phase or a mistake. We’re doing the best we can.
Happy Coming Out Day, even if the only person you can come out to is yourself. I’m thinking about you, I love you, and I’m here if you want to talk.
It’s never been hard for me to accept Jesus as divine – I’ve always had an affinity for the fantastic, the unexplainable.
But Jesus as a person stops me in my tracks. A real human, who walked real human steps on this real physical earth in real human cities we can actually visit today. This blows my mind.
On Good Friday, this earthly Jesus is the one that worries me.
Because real human men have real human mothers, and on Good Friday, Jesus’s real human mom stood and witnessed her baby’s suffering and death, and somehow kept breathing.
Tonight I’m thinking about Mary and all of the moms who have lost and kept doing the work of living anyway.
I’m thinking about the Parkland moms and the Newtown moms, the moms with kids in the service and the moms with kids in the hospital, the moms whose children have been unjustly gunned down and unfairly jailed, the moms whose babies happened to be in a Brooklyn crosswalk at the wrong time and the moms whose babies never even got to draw breath.
These moms are countless in number and awe-inspiring in their strength. They are sometimes hard to look at, because we’d all like to keep that kind of loss at arm’s length, lest we fall into the abyss ourselves. But on Good Friday in particular, I make it a point to look and to acknowledge and to respect.
God, please bless the moms who have continued moving through unimaginable loss. I can’t begin to fathom who I would be in their shoes, but I have faith that you can.
I am 99% asleep when he leaves for work, grey light just beginning to sneak in through the cracks in the window blinds we’ve been meaning to replace since we bought the house this summer.
I wake up half an hour later most days, when he is already on the train into the city, to the sound of Ella asking, “Mumma, where’s daddy?”
No matter how much time they’ve had together the day before, he is always the first thing she thinks of on waking in the morning.
Even before we were officially dating, we talked all day on gchat, back when gchat was new. I remember hastily hiding my chat window when the cranky doctor I worked for stalked by my desk.
I pull those conversations up sometimes, to remember who we were, who we were trying to be in front of each other. In my mind, he was still the cool kid in sophomore biology who came back from an unsupervised trip to Woodstock ‘99 with an eyebrow ring.
I can’t imagine what he thought of me when we started, the straight-laced choir girl he knew from high school, suddenly slinking around Allston in ripped fishnets and an anonymous boy’s black hoodie. But I’ve always been better in writing – maybe gchat was exactly the right place to fall in love.
I barely have a free hand to text him these days, and instead of gchat, WhatsApp is our medium of choice. I spend my time wiping bums and boogers, fetching snacks and beverages like a manic vending machine, joyful when I can complete any meaningless task without interruption – switching the laundry, cleaning up cat puke, bringing in the mail.
Many nights it is Ella who greets him at the door, while I juggle a screaming, hungry infant and attempt to make dinner for everyone with teeth. Ella is the one who kisses him like a chaste 1950’s housewife, who asks him about his day, who presents him with gift after gift of pinecones harvested, pictures painted, stickers pilfered.
We spend the next two hours in constant motion. Dinner, diapers, baths, more boogers. We rarely get to finish a sentence without the four-year-old demanding to know what we’re talking about or the two-month-old demanding another bottle.
By the time Ella is ready for sleep, one or both of us is usually ready for sleep, too. At best, we’re headed for the couch, where we’ll rewatch an episode of a show we’ve both already memorized while we let ourselves be hypnotized by the scrolling screens on our phones.
Tonight is no different.
I’m sitting on our couch, sipping a drink he made for me while I hold our new baby in my arms. He’s already gone up to bed in the spare room, because he’s on call at work and because we’ve learned a thing or two since we had our first daughter. Sanity must be preserved, sleep must be prioritized above almost all else.
I might not speak a coherent word to him until he gets home tomorrow night. And, truthfully, it might be a lot longer than that before we’re able to talk about anything meaningful.
But I’m thinking back to a minute before we tucked Ella in. The baby was dozing fitfully in her cradle, and we were trying to rush through Ella’s bedtime song before soft grumbles escalated into desperate screams down the hall.
He put his arm around me, like he does every night. He layered his toes over mine on Ella’s creaky floor. He pulled me in to rest my head on his shoulder. We started Twinkle, Twinkle in different keys, in different time signatures. But finally we met in the middle and finished as an imperfect but earnest duet.
We don’t have a lot of happily married role models – we both know we’re making it up as we go. I think I know better than most how easily a family can come apart, and I think we both know how many near misses we’ve already had.
But I’ll wind down swiping through the most recent pictures on my phone – him helping Ella crush a racing game at the arcade, him dramatically mimicking the baby’s crying face. And I’ll fall asleep thanking God for this partner, this witness to my life.
Even when the going gets tough. Even when the whole house gets norovirus, again. Even when dividing and conquering is the only way to get through the day. Even when raising our tiny miracles distances us from the miracle that is us, together.
We are always for better and for worse, and we are always for each other. That’s more than I ever imagined, and it’s more than enough, for now.
I tend to go overboard on holidays, but this year everything is sneaking up on me. And let’s just say that, although I’m typically all for Valentine’s Day, with a three week old at home still learning how to nurse and a four year old at home adjusting to having a three week old at home – not to mention a body that is still very much recovering from my batshit crazy delivery – I am not feeling tremendously romantic today.
I am, however, feeling tremendously grateful for a particular group of people in my life. So, on this day that’s supposed to be all about love, they’re who I want to tell you about.
You guys. Moms – they are the greatest.
I literally don’t know what I would do without the mothers in my life.
I’m talking about the moms I know:
My mother, who is more dedicated to her family than I can begin to describe.
My mother-in-law, who mothers everyone around her until they’re like a big, warm, beautiful, messy family.
My grandmothers, whose lives have asked more strength of them than most people can imagine.
The other moms in my family – sisters and aunts and cousins and on and on, who are there to commiserate and compare notes and lend a hand without judgment.
The friend moms, who drop everything they have going on in their lives to show up with food and caffeine, who never judge the laundry pile in my entryway, who ask how I’m doing and actually mean it, because they still see the person under this nursing bra and baggy maternity pants (and baggy eyes, while we’re at it). The moms who don’t mind if I lose it for a bit, because they’ve been there. The moms who, instead of saying, “have you tried…?” say, “I’m sorry, that sucks.”
The work moms – driven, inspiring women who have had my professional back through the fog of sleepless nights and daycare closures and pediatrician appointments and sudden-onset stomach flus, who have kept it real and shared their own struggles to balance things that simply can’t be balanced.
But I mean the moms I don’t really know, too:
The friends of friends moms who know enough about our fertility story to casually mention they’ve had a bumpy road, too, while we hover over the veggie tray at a party.
The Internet moms, in Facebook groups and message boards, who are always ready to pipe with a no-holds-barred review of everything from local nail salons to school programs. Seriously, people, if you own a business, the moms groups are the people you need on your side.
And the total stranger moms, who have held my screaming infant on a plane so I could take my sweatshirt off, who have helped wrestle my toddler into the grocery cart mid-tantrum, who have nodded grimly in solidarity as I abandoned half-eaten meals to whisk a poorly-behaved kid out of restaurants.
We’ve lost that “it takes a village” mentality when it comes to raising our families. But this parenting thing… it takes not just a village, but a whole, global tribe of moms who are knee deep in it with you.
So today, I’m celebrating Galentine’s Day, and I’m holding every past, present, and future mom on the planet in my big, gaudy, lace-and-sparkle-bedecked heart.
My sweet baby girl is two weeks old today. Just fourteen short days on this earth and already Audrey Sophia is rocking our world.
In some ways, these early days have been easier than they were with Ella. We’ve managed to keep up with the most basic household chores instead of becoming overwhelmed with dirty dishes and piles of laundry and bags of recycling unattended. We’d already become accustomed to broken sleep, so exhaustion hasn’t been the shock it was last time around. And since Ella has been carefully teaching us the magnitude of our own ignorance as parents for the last four years and change, we don’t panic when we can’t immediately divine the motivation behind the baby’s cries. There’s something to be said for knowing what you don’t know.
But in other ways, these last two weeks have been the hardest of my life.
This birth did not go as planned. I’m feeling a little more even-keeled this week, but I’m still not ready to talk much about it – someday I’ll have to, but right now thinking about every moment along the way where we veered off course is much too overwhelming. It’s like an old band-aid I can only pull up a bit at a time, even though it’s excruciating and one big rip might be cathartic.
Trauma is funny. I was OK while we were in the hospital, but the second I walked in our front door on the day Audrey and I were discharged, I crumbled. I spent our first week home marooned on our couch, a shore battered by waves of traumatic memory from my wild labor. The physical trauma was much less difficult than I expected and certainly nothing to the way this experience shook me to my core.
I’m clawing my way out of that shaking, bruised place. I’ll tell you about it sometime, but now it’s still too raw.
On top of the energy it has taken me to process some of what happened while I worked to bring this precious baby into the world, we’ve also had to face some setbacks that have further eroded my confidence.
After a healthy pregnancy with little medical intervention – always my preference – I wound up with postpartum preeclampsia that gave me horrible headaches and required hefty medication. It’s already resolved, but for a few days there my head spun not only with pain but with worry that, despite my best efforts to live a healthy life and make good choices, my family’s dismal health history (very little of which has been determined to be genetic) was destined to repeat itself. Another log on the “I don’t have much faith in my body” fire after our fertility trouble and a surprise c-section was not strictly necessary, but there it is.
And, after having a birth experience that was in direct conflict with my values and my philosophy about birth (and, really, about women’s health care in general if we want to go big on broad strokes here), the prospect of breastfeeding this baby was sort of the last of my hopes and dreams from this pregnancy that seemed hell bent on trashing my expectations from the very beginning. So it was fairly devastating to learn that Audrey, although she’s healthy and wonderful in every other way, has some anatomical challenges that may make nursing impossible.
The door hasn’t completely closed on breastfeeding for us yet – we’re seeing a specialist next week who should be able to tell us more – but in the meantime I’m pumping around the clock to build my milk supply while Audrey isn’t able to give my body the signal that we should be feeding her, and hopefully we’ll know soon which of her feeding challenges can be addressed. The pumping is hard and honestly kind of grosses me out but I’ll keep it up for now if it helps bridge the gap until we’re able to nurse.
Pumping is also lonely. It’s harder to do discretely in front of other people, and, unlike breastfeeding, it doesn’t help me bond with the baby at all. I pump on the couch while my family keeps moving without me – while I’m attached to the milk machine, Jon has to handle any baby needs and manage Ella, who has understandably been a bit of a handful.
Also: I miss Ella! We were attached at the hip before the baby came, and now I’m feeling so separate from her. Everyone warned me that the transition from having one kid to having two would be difficult. Silly me – I assumed they meant it would be difficult for Ella! We’re going on a “just us big girls” date tomorrow, which I’m really looking forward to, and I’ve been trying to give her as much of me as I can, but the reality is that the baby needs me more right now, and Ella has been so excited to have Jon home that she’s not too psyched about me anyway.
I hate to sound like I’m complaining. We have two healthy, beautiful little girls, and in the end that’s of course the most important thing. I’m soaking up all the snuggles I can get, prioritizing sleep above almost all else, trying to stay hydrated, treating my body kindly with good food, thanking God for getting us through it all, and giving myself some grace during this healing time.
And that’s what it really feels like – time to heal. As much as I’d like to be, I am not healed yet. More patience is needed, always. And some trust that, with time, we’ll all find our footing and move forward.
There are certain things you hear a lot when you choose to do all your prenatal and maternity care in a not-so-mainstream setting, but the biggest, most cardinal-est rule is probably of the “due dates are just a guess” variety.
It makes sense. Due dates, for most women, ARE just a guess, and in reality, only 5% of those guesses end up being accurate. There’s plenty of literature out there about why that is, but the bottom line seems to be that babies come when they are ready, and they like to be in charge of letting us know when that is.
My mantra as we approached Ella’s due date was “this baby is a wizard, this baby is a wizard.” It’s a Lord of the Rings reference – Gandalf rolls up at the 11th hour for Bilbo Baggins’s 111th birthday and Frodo is all, “You’re late.” And Gandalf tells him, “A wizard is never late, nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to.”
Ella was a wizard. I had absolutely textbook labor, and she arrived late on the night of her due date, with an hour and fifteen minutes to spare. It was the first and last occasion I have ever been on time for anything, probably.
I’ll tell you what: I have felt like this baby is ready to arrive since about Thanksgiving. Everyone, including my midwives, suspected I would go early with this one. I even bought her a Christmas stocking in case she got here in time for the holiday.
But Christmas came and went. In fact, we got through an ice storm, Christmas, a snow storm, New Year’s, a supermoon, and a blizzard. No baby. I even had 36 hours of prodromal labor two weeks ago and was sure it was the real deal, only to have my contractions fizzle out.
Ella’s first dance recital was scheduled for my due date, so of course I was anxious I’d go into labor and miss the show. But nope.
I’m a patient woman, usually. Right now, though, I could climb out of my own skin with impatience.
Partly this is because I’m physically uncomfortable. I mean, of course I am. This is week 41 of pregnancy, I’ve never had to haul this much body around before, and sleep is basically a joke.
Partly it’s because no one on the planet seems to know how to mind their own business when it comes to pregnant ladies. I spent two hours at a crowded grocery store yesterday and when I got home, I told my husband I’m not leaving the house again until we head to the Birth center to have the baby.
It’s not just that I’m grouchy. It’s also a public safety issue. “If one more complete stranger comments on my size or asks when I’m being induced, so help me god…”
Partly it’s because I haven’t only been waiting 41 weeks for this baby. We started trying to get pregnant about two and a half years ago. I’ve felt ready for another baby for more than half of Ella’s life. I am so anxious to hold this one and make her part of our precious little family.
And partly it’s because, due to a number of uncontrollable circumstances, this pregnancy has kept me in limbo for awhile.
I knew my job was headed in the wrong direction by Christmas last year. I’m good at what I do – I know how it should work, and I certainly knew it wasn’t working that way. But almost as soon as I started exploring my options, I found out that, after months and months of trying, we were finally expecting this baby. Stability and security were suddenly our top priorities, and I decided to stick it out and see if I could right the ship.
Irony, right? That ship had not only sailed but sunk.
The layoff in August was equal parts shock, outrage, and relief. It’s been an unexpected blessing to be able to finish this pregnancy without the constant stress of a job gone wrong. But of course, by the time I was laid off I was already quite visibly pregnant. And although I’ve been able to do a lot of networking and have even applied for a few great opportunities, and although it’s technically illegal for businesses to discriminate against a woman because of her pregnancy, the truth is that as a pregnant mom in the U.S., you’re starting at a deficit in the job market.
I’ve been having a lot of work dreams, when I’m lucky enough to sleep. Dreams about confronting the people who put me in this position, dreams about returning to old roles under better circumstances, dreams about entirely new career paths. I’m excited to throw my full weight into what’s next, from a position of power instead of hesitancy.
I’m excited for what’s next in my own creative work, too. I had an audition scheduled for next week (when I thought this baby would be a few weeks old already!), which is looking less likely by the minute. I have plans for this blog that I want to roll out when I’m better positioned to give it my attention (as in, not when I’m adjusting to life with a newborn!).
There’s so much goodness coming, and I’m psyched to embrace all of these changes. I’m also psyched to embrace this baby.
But for the moment, I’m overdue by a week. A week isn’t so bad. At the library, you don’t start racking up fines until you are overdue by two weeks. Babies are like library books, right?
It’s 7:15. I have an absolutely massive to do list for today, with Christmas only a week away. I probably should get a jump start on my wrapping and laundry while the house is still quiet, but instead I just snuck downstairs buck naked to pour my first cup of coffee and grab a phone charger. And then I tiptoed into my room and climbed back into bed.
Ella came in around 5 and by some miracle is still sleeping. Right now she’s curled around my belly, where her little sister is getting ready for life on the outside. This baby is going to make her appearance any day now – we hit 37 weeks this weekend, which was the milestone we needed to deliver at our birth center of choice.
I am constantly aware that our family’s life is about to change. And while I am so excited to add another tiny human to our little tribe, I’m sometimes a little sad, too.
The last few months have been such a blessing. I’ve had more time with Ella than I got with her even as an infant. There have been some trying days and I am always a little on edge about our financial stability, but for the most part, I have so enjoyed this time.
Ella has, too. We had the sense, before I lost my job, that sending her to school twelve hours a day, four days a week, was asking too much of her. This kid does not slow down if there is any way to avoid it, and she was running herself ragged during those long days. Mornings and evenings and even weekends were a constant struggle, with an over-exhausted three year old melting down left and right and with Jon and I trying to squeeze our life into the cracks around work and commuting.
Our “mumma Monday’s” and “mumma Thursday’s” (which is what Ella calls them) are slow but usually productive. Our school mornings are lazier even when we have to set a wake up alarm. And our weekends have so much more breathing room.
We’re about to throw another person into the mix, just when I feel like we’ve gotten into a routine that actually works us. I know it’s been quiet around here.
I’m keenly aware that all of my one on one Ella-mumma time is limited, so I’ve been trying to really focus on it. Jon worked late one night last week, and we turned it into a girls’ night at home, with dinner on the couch and a Christmas movie (we usually save movies for the weekend, so this was a big deal). Yesterday I stole Ella for most of the day to go see a friend in a production of A Christmas Carol, and then we had a lunch date at an amazing bakery.
And today, I’m ignoring my to do list to bask in these quiet sleepy snuggles. We’ll make some Christmas magic together later, once we’re up and rolling – there’s gingerbread to be made and a feast to procure and wrapping to be done. It could be the last Mumma Monday for just the two of us, so we’re going to make the most of it.
I hope you’re finding some quiet time in this frantic season, too. I’ll let you know when this baby turns up, but in the meantime, here’s hoping you get a peaceful, wonderful holiday.
My parents used to have a nightstand full of pictures next to their bed. It wasn’t organized in any way – just two drawers jam packed with several decades’ worth of printed photos from real cameras, polaroids, and, eventually disposables. My dad always liked to say that if there was ever a fire, that nightstand was the thing he’d save.
I have this app on my phone called Timehop. It basically searches through your Facebook posts and camera roll to tell you what you were up to on this day in past years. It’s sort of like the digital version of me flipping through the pictures in that nightstand – and it’s a hell of a lot more portable in case of fire.
Sometimes it’s hilarious throw back photos – from shenanigans with my sister, or the early days of my relationship with my husband, or Ella June in years past.
And sometimes it gives you something to think about.
Today’s Timehop is a little bit of both:
1) Ella June at two weeks old, sitting up on her own and squinting at me. It’s clear she is sizing me up and correctly determining she can find a way around me to assume household leadership.
2) Ella June pleased as punch with herself after being forcibly removed from the foam pit at gymnastics two years ago. I had asked her before class if she was going to behave and I got a big grin and a “NOPE!”
If Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s popular quote is at all correct, this kid will be making a large amount of history.
3) From last year, a Facebook post reading, “Twelve working days until winter recess.”
What a difference a year makes.
On this day last year, I was desperately trying to salvage a major project with an impossible deadline and zero cooperation from the department dictating the rules. This was a major project – A Really Big Deal – something that would have an impact for years. In other words, not something you should rush and not something you can produce in a vacuum. But that’s what I was trying to do. It almost felt like I was being set up to fail, and knowing what I do now, that might not be far off from the truth.
I had started counting down to winter recess early to try to preserve my sanity, not knowing yet that I would put in insane hours, winter recess would never happen, and the leadership I was working with would then decide to kick the can down the road.
I lost time with my family – Christmas time, with my exuberant three year old who was just starting to understand the whole Santa thing – and I wound up in the doghouse at work anyway for not having completed an unaccomplishable project that in early January the powers that be decided could wait a few months anyway.
Here’s the thing:
It sucks to get laid off after a year of doing your best to meet unreasonable expectations. It really sucks to get laid off when you are a) too pregnant to be very marketable and b) too pregnant to get even unpaid maternity leave if you do find another job. It sucks that I tried so hard with no possible chance of success, and it sucks that I sacrificed so much to try to please some people that had already decided, I think, that I wasn’t worth collaborating with. It sucks that it’s almost Christmas and I’m counting pennies to make ends meet some weeks. And it sucks to know there was really no way I could have prevented any of this without a crystal ball.
Yesterday was Monday. My husband put the coffee on a timer so I could have a leisurely cup while Ella still dozed. She and I kicked off the week with a donut date at a great local stop. We did our errands, which used to be stressful and squeezed in on the weekends but are now some of my favorite things Ella and I do together all week.
Then we had time for a good snuggle on the couch before I had to get ready for an audition – an audition for an incredibly relevant show that would pay me a little money to do theater again and that would have been an impossibility if I was still at my old job, although it is certainly possible for me to work full time even if I get cast.
I might not get it (it is a little insane to turn up at a theater where you know no one and suggest they just trust you that you are not usually this pregnant…) but I’m proud of myself for having the balls to try.
Today is Tuesday. I’m making bread, getting Ella off to school in time for my yoga class, setting up the baby’s changing area, continuing to decorate the tree, starting some Christmas crafts, and catching up on some family finance stuff I’ve been putting off.
There’ll be some work-related work in there and some networking, too, but basically I’m taking care of myself and my family in a way I couldn’t have imagined this time last year.
Thank you, God, for this reminder that I’m where I’m at right now for a reason, even if I can’t always be sure what it is. Thank you for helping me find the right path forward in the next few months so that my gifts don’t go to waste. And thank you for Timehop, which, while rarely this thought provoking, is my favorite way to start my morning and also easy to save in case of fire.