Monday, June 10, 2019

Lightness

Oct 20, 2018
"When I ask people late in life to reflect back on when they were the happiest, they always bring up the years when their children were little. There was no sleep and no money. It was exhausting and kids were yelling and running around, but there was so much love. And where there is love, there is God." - Fr. Adam (paraphrased from my memory)

Caleb and I went on a retreat over the weekend to a monastery nearly two hours away. It is so, so hard for me to leave Sammy, even with loving grandparents and aunts that he adores, but we did it. And there was so much space and so much quietness that it was a little hard to know what to do with myself. Except that I knew exactly what to do with myself - sleep as much as humanly possible over the 24 hours we were gone. 

It's been seven years since I last went on a retreat - to give some context to that number, I was not yet dating Caleb. So a *few* things are different now. A small group of us sat and received wise words from a man who has been a monk for 40 years to help guide us into our retreat. 

Fr. Adam also shared about Mary and Martha - about how we often separate them and talk about how Mary was "holy" because she was sitting and contemplating and Martha was not holy, as she rushed about trying to complete housework. We try to separate them, he said, and it's ridiculous because serving God and serving your neighbor are two sides of the same coin. The sin of Martha, he continued, isn't that she was busy doing housework, it's that she was officious about it. (Officious: assertive of authority in an annoyingly domineering way, especially with regard to petty or trivial matters.) There's a false dichotomy that's been around since the nearly the beginning of Christianity that there is the material world which is not and cannot be holy, and there is the sacred, which only exists in the spirit realm. But you can't separate service of God and service of neighbor. You can't say that only Mary was doing holy work. 

It struck me that it had been awhile since I had read the story of Mary and Martha, but as a busy mom, I identified with Martha a whole lot more than ever before. I was relieved to hear that her work was also holy, though her posture may not have been. 

I later reflected on this - every day there are so many routine task that I do, and each of these is usually laced with anxiety. Truly though, it is such a gift to be able to prepare meals for myself and my family every day, to pack food to send to daycare with my son, to have dishes that need to be washed and the water available to do it, to have clothes that have been lived in and need to be washed to remove the food or dirt or drool that seems to coat everything we wear. These are all acts of love - and where there is love, there is God. Could I stop being anxious or stressed about these task simply by deciding to view them like this? 

 I remember a few weeks ago at church, Sammy desperately needed me to hold him. I remained seated in the pews, his head snuggled up in my neck as I draped him over and around my 3rd trimester belly as we sang:

Come to me

All who are weary and burdened
And I will give you rest
Put my yoke
Upon your shoulders
It might appear heavy at first


But it is perfectly fitted
But it is perfectly fitted
But it is perfectly fitted
To your curves

For my yoke is easy my burden is light
My yoke is easy my burden is light


It's true, I thought. There are a lot of what appear to be heavy burdens literally hanging on me right now, but somehow it's not heavy. It's pure love. 

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Postpartum I

When you have a baby, there are a series of well- child checkups that you go through - 2 days after you come home from the hospital, 2 weeks after that, 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 9 months 1 year, 18 months, 2 year and then it becomes annual. At Henry’s two week checkup, he was closer to 18 days old. Caleb has gone back to work, as his employer didn’t offer any sort of paternity leave. He skipped nearly all of my prenatal appointments, follow-ups with the high risk specialists, and the hospital tour (all things I desperately wished for him to attend) so that he could save up a full two weeks to be home after the birth. I had hoped for him to come with us to the checkup, but he didn’t feel like he could, having just returned to work a few days prior. 
I was overwhelmed by getting out of the house at all, but we managed to do it. Henry, as usual in the car, instantly began wailing. My nerves snapped and I also began sobbing, wailing, screaming. I just wanted my husband along. I just wanted him to be granted time off without worrying about how we would handle future sick days (his, Sammy’s, mine). I hated everything about living in a country that parades itself (quite literally) as one of the best countries in the world when it can’t even take care of parents taking care of babies. I was over it. “Today,” I determined through wails, “everyone else is going to join my discomfort.” 

And so, we parked in the parking garage. I got out and scooped up teeny newborn Henry who instantly stopped crying. I on the other hand, was not about to stop crying. I was tired. I was bleeding (for those who may not know, women bleed for many weeks after having a baby). I was overwhelmed. I was sick and tired of being without my spouse in a moment when I needed him due to lack of cultural support. 
I wailed and sobbed through the parking garage, my sobs echoing off the walls. “I will not hide this common postpartum emotion in my car,” I thought. I decided to skip the elevator and took the stairs -careful to not rip my stitches, crying inside. As I walked into the office, I dared the people around me to see my tears and see my pain. “I dare you to look at me and see what new motherhood really is,” I thought. The nurses hustled me back into a room to wait for the doctor, who met my eye contact and was unphased by the tears. He reminded me to ask for help. He reminded me that I needed to get sleep. “Stay as long as you want,” he said. It felt good to be out of my house and in the world. I returned a few weeks later and we started reflux medicines that changed our lives and brought us a baby who could fall asleep (sometimes!) during a drive instead of screaming. 
So, if there’s a new baby in your life, know that one or both parents are probably completely overwhelmed. And maybe scream crying at various points. And if you’re a new parent - I see you. I am not afraid of your tears. I’m angry with you. You’re doing a hard and great thing. Sending you a virtual hug. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Stream of Consciousness

Everything is hard and wonderful. Some days and nights are sleepless and some are full of sleep and naps. Henry suffers from terrible reflux and some part of me is usually wearing it. He is also miles of smiles now and it’s the best. Sammy strings together words to convey meaning: “I jump! Baby! I see? I see? Baby. Watch. Jump.” (I want the baby to watch me jump.) “Otto. Mama. Car. Home.” (Otto and his mom are going home in their car.”) “Mama funny!” (When I jump around the car after buckling everyone in.) “I up here!” (When he has climbed up somewhere.)

I bought new rugs and now I want to buy 100 rugs because they are so nice. I love to lay on them... any time I’m not actively trying to put Henry to sleep. Having a baby in the winter when everyone is sick is hard because you can’t go anywhere. And then you buy 736 things online after you just watched 7 YouTube videos about minimalist zero-waste lifestyles... oops. Special oops because paid family leave is still not a thing here. (But going back to everyone being sick, if you’re sick, stop, please stop going places you don’t HAVE to go.)




Feat of the day: I woke up 15 minutes before we were supposed to leave for a doctor appointment. I made it there with both boys on time even though I missed the exit. I don’t talk about this NEARLY as often as I think of talking about it because I don’t want to gross anyone out, but Caleb is the best parent and husband ever ever. He is totally the quiet hero most days  in our home. And he has to go to work and not nap. Sammy is so smitten with him and so am I. Anyways he got us out the door on time. And my mom met us there. 

I have to start thinking about my return to work now. Part of me is thrilled - I love the work, my coworkers both here and abroad. And I love other job benefits such as the number of hours I will not be covered in spit up. Unfathomable! But good grief, 12 weeks is just not enough time. Around 6 or 7 weeks is when I just started to feel like I was in love with Henry.  Of course I loved him instantly and instinctively, but like anyone, it takes time to get to know him. Now I see him whip his little head around when he hears my voice, I watch him instantly go from fussy to burrowing in my arms, his body relaxing. He struggles with reflux and I read a study that showed that a parent’s touch can reduce the amount of pain a baby feels by 40%. He needs a lot of touch. He looks so much like Sammy and so different, but this week I’m starting to see glimpses of his own person. 

Sammy turns two soon. Sometimes I reflect back on his newborn days and it is amazing. It is sort of as if I have lived two different realities, that are somehow the same and totally different. 
Henry’s cheeks are so soft and his features so dainty compared to Sammy’s. And yet both perfect. 

Don’t be fooled by my twitterpated ramblings - this stuff is still so hard and I still swear several times a day. And yell. And sometimes slam doors. And sometimes want to slam my head in a door. And wonder if I can quit.... but also know I never would want to. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Transitions

Tomorrow marks a new transition for our family. Tomorrow, Caleb goes back to work and Sammy goes back to daycare. It's bittersweet really. The past two weeks have been FULL. I was worried about how Sammy would do, but he's done great. Henry is attached to me most of the time, and Sammy has even began to become worried when he comes into our room and doesn't see Henry in my arms or next to me. That's not to say Sammy and I haven't had lots of our own special moments together. We yell "HI DADDY" over and over from my bed during at least one nursing session per day. There was the time I was getting ready for a much needed "me-time" bath and Sammy came in and started taking off his shirt too, so he joined me. And even though I thought I needed time alone, it turns out I needed some good, silly toddler fun with my first baby. Or the afternoon when I held Sammy until he went to sleep in my arms and then I picked him up (breaking my weight-lifting restriction) and laid him in his crib.

Let's talk for a minute about fingernails - do you know how much easier it is to clip the fingernails on an almost two year-old compared to a two day old? Or change the diaper or pants on a cooperating toddler?

When we left the hospital, our nurse said that when we got home, our oldest was going to look older, and he did. It took us several days to remember that he was not a seven year old - he was just so big! so capable! so able to express himself!

We thrive on routine in our family, and eventually we found our staying at home routine - Sammy began to miraculously sleep in until 8 or even 9 each morning. Henry and I slept in one room, Caleb in another. Caleb was available if I needed him in the night, but was mainly in charge of Sammy's sleep. Henry and I stayed up late having nursing parties (#ClusterFeeding), and then stayed in bed until 10 or 11. Sammy's nap time moved to be later in the day. Friends and family stopped by mainly in the afternoons to hold Henry or play with Sammy or unload our dishwasher (bless you).

Sharing a pacifier
These were demanding and beautiful and precious and exhausting days together, finding our way as a family of four. There were hugs - so many hugs - between all of us all the time. There were tears - so many tears - from all of us except Henry who hasn't quite started making tears yet.

Most days in the evenings, Caleb and I would look at each other wearily and smile and high five, a sleeping Henry tucked into one of our arms."We're doing it!"

Tomorrow we will begin to find a new routine. And in ten more weeks, we'll find a new one again. Breathing, accepting, beginning again. 

Monday, December 17, 2018

Preparations

“The closer you get to birth, the more your muscles are doing two separate actions: opening, expanding and relaxing, but still holding your body up.” My physical therapist expanded her hands and then brought them back together, illustrating the way my core muscles are working. My soul is doing the same thing, opening, releasing, creating space for this new little love, while also barreling through the list of things to finish up.

************
It’s exhausting to be this close to birth, physically of course, but even more mentally. My low back twinges, the baby moves and hits my pubic bone sending pain searing downwards, my abdomen tightens in a practice contraction, taking my breath away, and I am hyper aware. What’s happening? Is this it? There are a lot of passages in the Bible about keeping watch, and never was such a vigilant watch kept as in the last days of pregnancy.

************
I sit quietly in an all-day meeting at work. My phone rests in my lap, screen unlocked. As we discuss strategy and initiatives for the coming year, I breathe through a practice contraction once every 30 minutes for hours, keeping track on an app on my phone. I wait. I keep watch. I try to stay unattached. Could be something, could be nothing. That day, it turns out to be nothing.

************
"What are you thinking?" my doctor asks. I am thinking that this day arrived a lot more quickly than I expected. How is it already Thursday? Even still I am hesitant, aware of all the unknowns that surround all of birth. My options are induction at 38 weeks or a c-section at 39 weeks.  "I'm leaning towards an induction." I say. She comes back in the room after calling the hospital. "The hospital is all booked up next week, except for one opening on Sunday night." The wind is knocked out of me - that's 37 weeks and 4 days, and it is only three days away.

************
I call my doctor from the parking lot of the store where I stopped to buy diapers after our appointment. My voice is calm - after crying the whole way here, I have found the path forward. "I'm not completely attached to an induction." I tell her. "When you talk to the high risk team tomorrow about the induction, please get their opinion about what would be the safest option for the baby. My risks are probably about the same whether I get induced today or next week, but the baby's could change a lot." "I will," she says. "And I will advocate for both of you. I promise."

************


I stand at the bottom of the stairs and sigh. "You know you can take the elevator, " Caleb reminds me. "I know," I say, and then begin my slow ascent up, pausing in the middle to try and find my core muscles, thanking them for their contradicting actions. 

Friday, December 14, 2018

Is it supposed to be this hard?

3/6/18

I was ready to go to bed at 8pm. I hadn't been feeling great the past few days, a deep exhaustion had been creeping into my bones. I  decided to start a load of laundry before bed. Then I worked for a bit on budgeting. Then Caleb and I talked about some things we'd needed to discuss for a while. Suddenly it was 10:45 and I still hadn't gotten ready for bed. I'd been asleep for all of twenty minutes when the baby awoke.

I moaned and got up when it was clear he was not going back to sleep. He is usually pretty easy to put back down, but something was bugging him tonight. He would fall asleep, and then wake up and scream. We troubleshot. These were new jammies, we put the old ones on. A new diaper with fresh diaper cream. Finally, I strapped him into the baby carrier and bounced, on the exercise ball and then standing. I paced and he started to fall asleep.

I emerged successful at 1:15am, a mere 5 hours after I had wanted to go to bed. By this point, I was hungry, so I made myself toast and eggs and wondered if I should just stay awake and do stuff.

"Is it this hard for everyone?" I wonder. I feel like we have no space in our life for anything besides the getting through it. I wonder about how any parent I have ever seen in my life with a baby has space to engage or be social. When our week or weekend is off by even a tiny bit, I suffer.

I saw a parenting article earlier this week that I did not click on called "You're not doing it wrong, it's just that hard." The title gives me comfort.

Later in the week... 

It seems important to document what happened today. It was Samuel's one year check up. I was wrought with anxiety for weeks. I was certain that his (normally very kind) pediatrician was going to chastise us. Here are the faults I was certain were worthy of chastisement:
Now that he is over one, he should no longer be using a pacifier or drinking formula.
Now that he has eight teeth, we should be brushing his teeth every day as part of our routine. 

That stuff didn't even come up. Well, formula did - but only that he can continue it until he drops the feeding. We don't need to try and replace it. 

This is what parenting is like now. You do everything you're supposed to be doing, and still lose sleep that it isn't good enough.

I reflect also on gender. Caleb shares a lot of my worries, but not all of them. Why? What is it about motherhood in particular that makes one scrutinize every move and every decision?

In the coming months, it gets easier. The baby starts to sleep through the night. Our final can of formula sits partially empty on top of the fridge for months, until one December day, I throw it out. I still sometimes struggle to go to bed early sometimes, but we have a little more space to see friends. Caleb takes on a home improvement project. Maybe it's just the first year that's so hard? 

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

I want to remember

10/8/18
Like many mornings, when Sammy woke up before us, Caleb got him and brought him into our room where we snuggled. He burrowed into my neck and laid so still that I thought he was asleep, but he was awake. I felt his eyelashes blinking a couple of times. When he got too fidgety and wanted to get up, Caleb got up with him. I rolled over and shoved pillows around my belly, back and knees, and went back to sleep.

When I woke up again, Caleb and Sammy were making waffles. I got dressed and started packing up for church. I packed this wooden tchotchke that Caleb has had since before I met him. It's a little wooden pineapple that says "Cancun". The pineapple has a lid carved into it. You open the lid and there is a small wooden bug with jiggly legs. Sammy loves to open and close things, so I figured this would be a great quiet toy for church. We usually take our Christmas book and a plastic bottle with an easy screw-on lid filled with pom-poms. 

At church, as we were singing, Sammy wanted look at the little baby in front of us, then he wanted to just rest his head on my shoulder and look at the people behind us. I held him close and kept giving him little kisses on his cheek. Out of nowhere, he turned and started putting his mouth on my cheek. I laughed in delight and so did he. Then he wanted to nuzzle noses and kiss my mouth. We both laughed and laughed, and then he went back to just snuggling my shoulder. 

Eventually, his hands got fidgety and I got out the bug toy, just as things had quieted down for the sermon. I handed it to him and unlatched the lid.


Sammy talks a lot, but many of his words are still a little unclear. Upon seeing the toy, he exclaimed with delight one of the clearest words: "A bug!!" He started to giggle at this bug inside a pineapple, completely undone with joy. "Hi!!" he told it. Caleb and I smiled at each other, this was the cutest. 

He then closed the lid, "Bye bug". He turned to me and held out the pineapple: "More, more?" I opened it again, and to his delight, the bug was still there. "Hi bug!!" I suddenly realized that this was not going to be a quiet toy. Our church has an overflow room where they play the service on a TV, so I scooped him up and headed there. It was empty, and we sat on a pew while he greeted the bug over and over. Every few minutes, he'd look up at the screen. Where we had been sitting was just out of the camera angle, but he still said "Bye Daddy." 

After church, he slept and we cleaned the house a bit. We were interviewing a doula. Right before she arrived, I got nervous. What was this big thing we were doing with having another baby? I was unsettled and looking for a pillow to hold while she was here. Moments before she arrived, Sammy blessedly woke up. It's funny how you comfort these little people and somehow they bring you comfort too, sometimes even bigger comfort than it feels like you give them. I think he knew what I needed, because for the whole hour the doula was here, he snuggled into my arms. 

After she left, he ran around playing independently, transferring a pile of clean rags around the living room, crawling into a toy cubby to do a shape puzzle. 

This is one. This is perfection.