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. 

Monday, December 10, 2018

EMDR

July 23, 2018
My head is pounding and my stomach churns. I pull up to the grocery store and walk in to use the free blood pressure monitor. Am I dying? Do I have preeclampsia?

My numbers pop up 105/ 52. No preeclampsia. (Not to mention that according to my doctor, preeclampsia isn't even something you develop until after 20 weeks, which is still 4 weeks away for me.)

I vaguely remember that when I was pregnant last time, I did not feel scared. I was eating all the right things, getting sleep, seeing a chiropractor, and though it was unknown and I didn't particularly enjoy being pregnant, I was confident in my body and in the care I was giving it. I don't know if I'll ever enjoy a pregnancy free from fears again.

Nesting comes and goes in waves, even at 16 weeks. I finish sorting all my pre-baby, post-partum and maternity clothes. They are all labeled and put away. I finish sorting and putting away all the clothes that are too small for Sammy, by size. I label all of it. I enjoy the feeling of organization, but holding hands with that feeling is another thought, "It's good I am doing this now. That way if I die in childbirth, Caleb will be able to find everything."

It's a horrible thought that burrows it's way into joyful moments. "I wonder if I should take a video of myself telling Sammy how much I love him and how sad I am that I won't get to watch him grow up." I think as I snuggle his sweet sleeping self. "You know, just in case."

I have thought I was doing okay, mostly fine for the past many months. Caleb and I didn't hold each other and weep like we had done in the early days. But as I texted with a friend, it started to come to light just how un-fine I felt.

I feel unhinged. So many pieces of me feel scattered, or dead. I used to believe that physical wellness mattered. I used to have time and space to care about what I put into my body, to monitor my energy levels, to be aware of the deeper world. Maybe the loss of some of that is just motherhood.

August 2018
Finally, I realize that this is probably something I need help with. I am tired of crying through all my prenatal appointments and of living with such fears. I find a therapist who seems like she might be a good fit. I schedule a time to see her. It's not a good fit. Someday I might write a post on how much artificial fragrances bother me (perfumes, scented, body lotions, laundry products, I'm looking at you), but I am not exaggerating this time when I say every outlet in that building had a Glade plug-in.  It still didn't cover up the dog smell coming from the doggie daycare in the basement.

I got smarter. I realized that I would need to ask about the use of scented candles or air fresheners when I called to schedule the initial appointment. When I found my therapist she seemed confused by the question. "Of course I don't have Glade plugins."


When I arrive at her office, it is cozy and smells only faintly of peppermint, in a nice way. Over the course of weeks and months, I learn about and complete EMDR (Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) therapy. It takes many weeks and I am left completely exhausted. I can tell this is deep work, but it is also making me feel lighter. The heavy thoughts come less frequently and I have a way to handle them when they arise. I begin to trust my body.

It feels like a new beginning, but also like a continuation of myself. 

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Getting started

"Hey," I grabbed Caleb's hand across the center console, interrupting his story. "I need you to know that I am feeling really scared."

"Scared about what?" Caleb asked, naming a few specific possibilities.

My eyes filled with tears, "I don't know. All of it. I am just scared."

We were driving to our first prenatal appointment for our new baby. Not only was it this baby's first appointment, it was our first prenatal appointment ever in a medical office, seeing an OB.

[Start here if you don't know the story of our first baby's birth.]

Something like 8 weeks pregnant and already none of my pants fit
I had started thinking through this decision of who to see for prenatal care, just months after Sammy was born. I knew I did not want to have a home birth. It seemed early, so early, to be thinking about this, but I knew that I had to start thinking about it now or I would not be ready. With the guidance of my favorite article about birth of all time, I made what I loosely call my birth plan. Instead of a specific play-by-play, this is a list of what is important to me in birth:
  • I want to feel safe. 
  • I want to do skin to skin immediately. 
  • I want to remember. 
  • I want all the options. 
  • [Added later] I want straight answers only: yes, no, I don't know. "We'll see" or "Maybe" are not options.
I didn't pull the article up on my phone during the drive, but I thought about it and remembered it and that gave me strength. The OB we were going to see had been described by others as "a midwife in an OB's body." If the midwife who was there for Samuel's birth could have offered us the option of a hospital birth, I would have taken it. But she only does home births. 

So many things drew me to the midwifery model, like the time spent with each client ("clients" in a midwifery world because pregnancy is not an illness). The focus on wellness and holistic nutrition. The through review of each test or procedure with pros and cons and the genuine lack of pressure as you decided what you wanted to do. 

But I also wanted all the options, with no judgement of my choices. And I didn't think I could handle having a midwife like the one I left halfway through my first pregnancy. 

I haven't talked much about that experience on here or at all, probably because the birth itself ended up overshadowing it. But as we drove to our appointment, I remembered driving to that first appointment for Sammy. The office where this midwife took appointments was located nearly an hour from our house. We'd interviewed her early on and been impressed with her for a variety of reasons, all of which fell apart as we began to see her regularly. I was nervous, but often did not feel much better after our visits. The drive was stressful to me, and the best way I can describe her was somewhat cold. Despite what she said, I did not feel like my questions were welcomed, and I had a lot of questions, having never been pregnant before. She constantly compared herself to being better than a traditional OB in terms of flexibility, time, etc. Sometimes she did not listen to what I said, but assumed she understood. Finally it all became too much and I told her I was going to switch. She instantly became difficult to get ahold of, and when I finally did get in touch with her, she spoke harshly and critically about my new midwife, recommending that due to my nervousness and anxiety, I just go ahead and find an OB who would deliver in a hospital. Looking back on it, I don't think I had any more anxiety than the average first-time mother. 

So. Here we were driving to my first prenatal appointment with a new doctor. I held Caleb's hand tightly. I bit my lip to keep from crying as the nurse made small talk as she took my blood pressure and placed an unwelcome hand on my belly for a fleeting second to comment about how I was showing already. Finally, it was all too much, and I burst into tears as I described our first birth.

The nurse seemed shocked, and didn't really know what to say. "Eleven pounds? You should probably just have a c-section this time," she suggested unhelpfully.

Instantly, I was aware that I no longer wanted to share my story with this person. "We'll see," I said, intentionally folding my arms across myself as a way to close myself off.

She turned to Caleb and acted as if she was telling him a secret, cupping both hands around her mouth and saying "C-section".

I was ready to get off the table and leave. I did not feel like a human or at all respected. She wouldn't let me sit next to my husband, whose hand I needed. After she left, I quickly moved back into the second chair. It was a small move, but it reminded me of my dignity as a human. I was not there to just be examined on a table. I was there to receive care - and also I was there to interview them. They were professional adults - but so was I. Maintaining my own sense of agency by posturing my body in the chair instead of on the table became my act of rebellion for the next few visits to that office. It reminded me that I have choices and that I have a voice. Even when I was weeping.

In the end, I loved the OB, but made the decision to transfer based on her staff. Until one September day when she told me she was leaving to start her own practice. And that is where I landed, thankfully. 

Thursday, December 6, 2018

36 weeks

Dear Baby,

Our life has been a whirlwind of doctor appointments, finger pricks, careful food tracking, medications, ultrasounds, and insulin injections. We have a gestational diabetes that just won't be controlled. But we don't have much longer before we meet YOU. The thought of it simultaneously gives me relief and scares me. How will we do it? Some days, most days, it feels like we are just barely feeding ourselves, going to work, and keeping everyone clean. But somehow, you will fit right in.
All my maternity photos are work bathroom selfies. #NotSorry
You're following your growth curve from the past 16 weeks, clocking in now at approximately 7.5 lbs, which would actually make you smaller than your brother if you were born on your due date, but you won't be born on your due date. We'll decide at some point in the coming days if we want to induce or have a c-section. Someday, the way you were born will be one of the least interesting things about you, but for now, it feels like a big decision.

We have wonderful doctors working with us to inform us on all levels about this decision, and they are kind with me and spend hours willingly answering every detailed question I ask: "Can you show me on my body where the incision would be? What would that morning look like for me? What kind of pants do women usually wear afterwards? How many people would be in the room?"

Meanwhile, at home, we had a plan to finish renovations on an upstairs room for your brother. It went awry when your dad broke his elbow early on in our third trimester. It might get done, it might not. Moving Sammy there might be too many transitions all at once. We'll have to see. In any case, whether we squeeze you into our room or set up the bassinet in the living room, you'll have a cozy spot to sleep near people who adore you.

We have tired eyes as we finish our nesting, but our hearts are happy. See you soon little one. In the meantime, as we make our last decisions, I keep coming back to this quote:

“Birth is working with mystery and the unknown. So our power actually comes from letting go of the ‘how am I going to make this happen? How am I going to achieve this goal?’ And going to a place of wonder and curiosity. I actually don’t know what the outcome is going to be. I’m going to discover it as I go. And my power comes from a place of receptivity and a willingness to allow the process to unfold without needing to know how it’s going to go, or to have it go a particular way.”

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Close call

There are some moments in life when the line between heaven and earth seems to fade away for a while and leave everything clearer.

Last weekend, I went to be Saturday, noting that I was feeling really great. I woke up in the night and was no longer feeling great. For the sake of the delicate reader, we'll call it indigestion. As the day progressed, I didn't have any more indigestion, but I did feel worse and worse. I laid in bed. My back hurt, my belly ached. Everything felt off. Everything felt wrong.

Late in the day on instinct, I googled "signs of preterm labor". Check, check, check, check, maybe? Two that were no, two that were maybe, the rest were yes. I took a deep breath. Caleb had been primary parent all day, and I could hear his voice was tired as he managed bath time. I didn't want to just walk in and announce it. I needed to think. I looked through all my informational hospital literature. I looked at more websites.

Finally, bath time was over. I reviewed my symptoms with Caleb and the weariness was instantly gone from his voice. "You need to call." My eyes filled with tears. "I'm scared. I'm not ready for this."  I sat on my bed for a few minutes before I could make the call, crying, realizing that this could be the start of a whole new journey to either stay pregnant or visit a little tiny NICU baby. I wondered why I'd spent so much time recently being stressed about our house being messy and other trivial things. What a waste. I called, the friendly triage nurse calmly told me I needed to come in to see what was happening on a monitor.

Sammy was now running cheerily around the house in his diaper. After I got off the phone, I caught him and held him for a minute, explaining that I needed to go to see the doctor to make sure the baby was okay, and that I hoped I'd be home when he woke up, but I didn't know, and that I might be gone for a little while.

We decided what would be the least stressful for me was for Caleb and Sammy to drop me off, since the hospital is near our house, and then have them come home and have a normal night of bedtime routines. It gave me a lot of comfort to know that Sammy would be enjoying his usual snuggles with Dad before bed, even if that meant that I would be alone. I knew several people who would be willing to come and sit with me, but I felt strongly that I wanted to be alone or only with Caleb. This ended up being a perfect intuition.

We pulled up to the ER, and I kissed them both goodbye. I walked through security and had my backpack, which consisted of all the things I thought I might need for a night or two away, searched. I walked up to the triage desk. "Baby time?" they asked. "I hope not!" I replied. I carry babies 100% out, so it's not uncommon for people to think I am full-term, though I still have three more months.

I walked through my symptoms, and then an aide came up to me with a wheelchair. "L&D run?" he asked the triage nurse. I climbed in the wheelchair, he placed my backpack on my lap, and we turned to go through the double doors. That's when it hit me. "This is the part I missed last time."

Time and space seemed to open up as I rode, imagining this same trip 19 months (minus two days) earlier. I don't remember riding to the hospital or going to the L&D unit from the ER. And now I was getting to do it all. I fell silent, observing. It was longer than I'd imagined, though I am guessing we took it at a faster pace last time. The poor aide tried to ask me some friendly questions, but I was a poor conversation partner, hushed by the opportunity to consciously see what my body had experienced before. It smelled like the NICU, a combination of new plastics, cleaning agents, and some other unidentifiable smells.

We arrived to L&D and they gave me a gown and hooked me up to monitors. I know they tried to hook me up to monitors last time, and I also know that I was combative. I looked at them in wonder, realizing that though I had a baby in a hospital, I'd never really seen the monitors or the machine that tracks contractions. I felt such a sense of relief- both to be there and to know I was in the right place if anything was going wrong, and to have had the opportunity to go on that journey consciously.

After being connected to the monitors, I text-updated our families and a few friends. Then I put my phone away and reflected. When you're only 26 weeks pregnant, it's quite a jolt to see a baby cradle and warmer lined with a hospital blanket. I was glad for the solitude, glad to be left alone with my thoughts. I knew based on the time that Caleb was probably feeding Sammy dinner and I thought about how much love I felt for the two of them. The line between heaven and earth is very thin, indeed.

I sat with all of this for quite a while. A really long while. That's when I knew I was not having an emergency situation. I couldn't see the fetal monitor behind me, but I imagined that it must not be picking up on anything exciting. Caleb, meanwhile, put Sammy to bed. My mother-in-law arrived to my house so that Caleb could come and join me. My brother and I texted each other hospital toilet jokes. (I am sure the nurses wondered what was making me laugh so loudly.)

Caleb arrived shortly before the doctor. I was not dilated at all. (My first time being checked for that while not in active labor and it was just as terrible then as it was during labor. Yuck.) There had been no contractions, baby was doing well, but they emphasized that they were glad I came in. I was glad too. We left holding hands, grateful to be going home for what would be a normal night, grateful for the blessing of routine. 

Saturday, October 6, 2018

PPD II

I'm going to start this post with something I wrote a year ago, in October 2017, then bring it back to the present.

(My first post about postpartum depression)

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

10/13/17
It's hard to describe how difficult this week has been.

Historically, when I have thought about depression, I have imagined it Eyore-style, a little raincloud over someone's head that follows them around. But what I experienced this week was the opposite. It was like being in the sharp, blinding sunlight all the time. Hot, irritating, feeling like "c'mon, you better be working, you're burning daylight and moving too slow."

More metaphors: it felt like there was a hive of wasps stirring angrily inside.

And when it finally abated, it felt distinctly like cloud cover, descending with the peace that passes all understanding, weighing down, sending cooling rain, and finally I could rest.

I didn't sleep the first four nights of this week except for an hour here, 20 minutes there. I woke for the day at 1:15, 4:30, or 3:30, unable to relax enough to go back to sleep.

"Take deep breaths," they said. But I couldn't. I was physically unable because I had no more emotional resiliency left. It felt like labor, but I don't know what, if anything, was birthed.

I could feel myself descending lower and lower, but I didn't realize it was the postpartum depression. I participated in a survey during pregnancy through a university that was researching a large group of pregnant women. I got a follow-up questionnaire this week. I answered a few questions about the birth and about the baby's health. Then I got to the PPD questions:

"In the past week have you been A) as happy as you've ever been B) slightly less happy than usual  C) significantly less happy than usual D) completely unhappy." (I can't remember the exact options, but you get the idea.)

Similar questions followed about suicide, level of interest in activities, ability to sleep, ability to work, appetite and others. This is a pretty standard questionnaire to screen for PPD. I took it at every doctor appointment for myself and baby during my maternity leave. It was given to me along with the standard paperwork for every doctor's appointment. But after those first twelve weeks, it seemed to disappear. Interesting, given that PPD can arise any time within the first year after the baby was born.

This time as I answered the questions, my answers were different. Significantly unhappy, little to no interest in daily activities. Not sleeping. Very anxious.

The thing that is a bear about something like depression is how long it lasts. When I first started feeling depressed, I reached out through almost all of my channels to say I needed help. And I got help. But that was months and months ago. How do you go back to those same channels and say the same things again?

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

Now, in October 2018, I've been seeing a new counselor for several months. I had seen one last fall, but it wasn't a great fit. At my last appointment, my new counselor gently suggested I needed to make time to connect to and move my body. She asked if I was doing anything now to feel at home in my body, like yoga, going for walks. I thought about my life and wondered if doing dishes or scrubbing the floor under the high chair counted. I wanted to laugh and tell her that I didn't know how anyone had time to do that, but I knew she was right.


Part of me felt like I shouldn't have needed to see a counselor to tell me that I need to exercise to help myself feel better. But a bigger part of me thinks that every new parent should see a counselor, someone who is a good fit, to help transition into this stage of life. It's such a big change - and there's minimal guidance on how to do it. It is hard, when you're already overwhelmed, to imagine finding the time to interview or try out different therapists. But when you find one... magic. (Well, actually, it's a lot of work, but then you feel a little lighter and less alone and it's good.)

Thursday, October 4, 2018

On traveling internationally in the first trimester

From July, 2016
[I'm giving this one a TMI warning, in case you don't want to hear TMI about some pregnancy details.]

I had never been to Uganda before.

I had been looking forward to this trip for months. I had been to Kenya, Tanzania, and Madagascar, and I was now especially eager to see what Uganda was like and to meet my coworkers there.

But now I had a secret little traveler who would be joining me, I would be about six weeks pregnant when I arrived.

The week before, I had an extra-early appointment with my midwife, just to check in before I would be gone for two weeks. She and Caleb heard the baby's heartbeat, just for an instant. I missed it, but it was real to me in other ways. My midwife once mentioned that sometimes you can hear the baby's little soul calling out to you before they are created. I thought this was beautiful and true. Even before this baby was born, I knew he or she was going to be persistent.

So off we went, my persistent baby and me, traveling halfway around the world and landing in Kampala late at night. For the sake of length, I'll not go into detail about the wonderful work details of the trip. Really everything went swimmingly for day one and the first part of day two. And then it was lunchtime. I had enjoyed the food at all the previous meals. And suddenly mid-lunch, my stomach turned. And kept turning. For the next two weeks.

All I wanted was macaroni and cheese, but cheese is not an easy find in rural Uganda. Or macaroni.

That night, we got back to our hotel. I was extremely excited, because my room had a squatting toilet, and I had wanted to stay in a room with a squatting toilet for a long time. However, when I squatted down, I realized that I was spotting. I tried not to panic, spotting can be normal. Our hotel had no internet and no phone. At the time, I didn't have a smartphone, but my phone did offer the ability to text and call internationally at exorbitant rates. I texted a photo to Caleb and asked him to send it to our midwife. He texted back saying he had talked to her and that she wanted to know if I could call her.

"Many women experience spotting. It could be nothing. But I need you to make a plan for accessing emergency medical care in case you miscarry and start to hemorrhage. Are you near a hospital?"

I very much doubted this, but I knew that I was in good hands. "I will ask the staff tomorrow." I explained. She also suggested that I talk to the baby and ask him or her to stick around. And so I had the scariest conversation with my baby who was the size of a blueberry. (I will stick to "him" as a pronoun since that is what he was, even though I was convinced he was a she at the time.) I told him that based on what I had felt so far, it didn't seem like he was the type to just give up, and that we really, really wanted him to stick around because we already loved him so much. But I also recognized that he was on his own path and that he had to follow that. I tried to hold space for both possibilities. I wished Caleb was with me.

The next morning, I explained what was happening to both my colleagues who were with me on the trip. When we went to the office, I explained the situation to the staff member in charge. She sprung into action. I stayed close to the office instead of venturing out and visiting families for the next few days. I got a snack tray one day that was full of easy things to eat and I was well cared for.

The spotting continued lightly, but thankfully did not get worse. We completed our work in Uganda and flew to Nairobi for the next portion of the trip, a staff conference. My stomach continued to turn. In Uganda, I had eaten all of the one snack I'd brought that sounded good: almond butter packets. Caleb sent some with a coworker who was meeting us in Kenya, but by that point, I couldn't eat any more of it.

During the conference, we had candy baskets on the tables that contained small hard candies. Some were caramel flavored and I liked these very much. So much, in fact, that I would eat all of them from all the baskets. I'd read that if you just keep eating small amounts of whatever you can get, the nausea isn't as bad. The buffets of food at the conference center were incredible, but with so many smells swirling around, I was eating meals that consisted of 3 pieces of broccoli and a pickle. "Surely my coworkers are going to figure this out," I thought to myself. Thankfully they did not.

During the day, I would occasionally send Caleb emails of all the foods that sounded good to me that I could not get, I titled the emails "weird food cravings just for fun":
grilled hotdog with ketchup on bun
oatmeal
ice cream
pickles
cucumbers
extra crispy fried chicken (this was only briefly)
buttermilk biscuits
donuts

My pregnancy symptoms continued, and I was relieved as things felt less and less scary and more and more... nauseating? 

Upon finally arriving back to the US, Caleb took me straight to Arby's to get curly fries, and then to the grocery store. In a jet-lagged stupor, I told him to stop me if I started spending too much money. He didn't stop me. Bless him. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

From June 10, but really from a month earlier...


Two lines pop up immediately, I don't even have to wait three minutes. My eyes open wide and I gasp. It is 5:40 am. Caleb is holding Sammy so he will sleep for another hour. I go back to lay in bed, jittery with emotions.

The day before nothing had sounded good to eat. Except for kettle corn. Which I don't even like. I ate an enormous bag of it and a chocolate milkshake. That night, I said to Caleb, "Just bring me something to eat and I will eat it without looking at it while watching Netflix." That was when the lightbulb went off. Oh. I know this feeling. I remember this. 

By the time Caleb and Sammy wake up, the initial shock has worn off and excitement has set in. 

Dear littlest one, we are so so excited to meet you. I am hoping that you look like me and are smaller than your brother, but however you are will be perfect. 

I am also really really afraid of losing you. 

It's different being pregnant the second time. I know how sweet this first trimester time is, before everyone starts trying to touch my belly (which I hate so readers, please don't do it).  Even though my body has already shifted in some pretty big ways, many people don't know I am pregnant. Depending on how bloated I am, I don't look pregnant. (Let's talk about bellies and bloating another time.) You, my sweet one, are the size of a strawberry. But for some reason, I just have this gnawing, nagging worry in the back of my mind and in my heart that for some reason, your genetic code will be lacking something important and you will cease to be with us here. I am terrified of that. It's a cycle too, because why am I so afraid of it? Is it because it will happen? 

So I pray what I prayed for Sammy, which is that I desperately want you, but I also release you to follow your path, whatever it may be. I will control what I can, which is admittedly less than it was the first time - sleep is a bit less and so are meal prep times. But in the end, you are and will always will be your own being. 

I love you and even though I sometimes get overwhelmed, I can't wait to meet you and get to know you. 

Friday, May 18, 2018

Office housework subverted

A few months ago, we were talking about gender at work. More specifically, we were talking, as a department, about gender norms in our culture and around the world - how do these play into global poverty and our work? It was a rich discussion that took place in small groups - each with a volunteer note-taker. At the end of the session, all the note-takers were asked to send their notes to someone to compile them for posterity.

Then one of my colleagues said, "Can all the note-takers raise their hands?" I assumed that she was doing this as an accountability measure so that we would know who to follow up with if notes didn't come in. But she had something else in mind.

"I just wanted to see how many note-takers were women. I recently attended a conference where the man in our group took notes, 'because women are always the ones to do it'."

Minds exploded and the room burst into chatter.

"Women are also the ones who usually bring treats for celebrations, organize potlucks, and contribute the majority of the potluck food," I heard her continue to one of my (male) coworkers who had never noticed this before.

This isn't isolated to my work place alone. But it's possible the way the men have responded is unique.

Last week we had the first ever day of men only bringing treats to work. We arrived on Friday and there was a small spread of pastries, homemade chocolate cake, and orange juice with a sign that said, "Happy Mothers Day!"

This week, my birthday celebration was arranged by male coworkers. There were lunch plans for Friday, treats the day of, treats on Friday again, and a card.

I feel touched in a way that is sort of surprising to me. I was always touched when my female colleagues ran the celebrations in years past, but this felt different somehow. As I sat with it, I started to piece together the puzzle. By now, nearly everyone has seen the famous "mental load" comic. Previous birthday celebrations, though very appreciated and very welcomed, had this sort of very subtle undercurrent. I am almost uncomfortable naming it, because it is so subtle that I didn't notice it until I experienced something different. By naming it, it makes it feel bigger than it is/was. But if I don't name it, you won't know what I am talking about so here we go:

Say one of my female coworkers plans my (or anyone's) work birthday celebration. There is usually some combination of a card, an invite to a restaurant co-selected by all the month's birthday celebrants, possible treats, and this weird quirky thing we do where we put the celebrants' faces in a random photo that is somehow related to the time of year, chosen restaurant, person's favorite animal, or none of the above. Example from this year - me as an empanada:


This is all a lot of work that needs to be done but is also worth it because you get to also eat the treats and go to the restaurant. But when I show up on my birthday and find gluten free treats, and later go out to a restaurant and get a card, even though I love it, I also know the work it took to do it and that it usually fell on females. So it was almost like... "Thank you and also I'm sorry and I feel your pain." Pain is too strong of a word, but you know what I mean. I know that you had to think about this when you were not at work. I know that you had to exert some extra planning during your home time. I know you had to fit in making a funny image with my face on it during your real work. And I know you did it because you value me and because you know if you don't do it, it's possible that no one else will either. And overall, it's a small thing. But it's happening over and over, for all the birthdays, and all the holiday potlucks. Here is a poem of sorts that speaks to this.

To have the whole thing be planned and carried out by men felt subversive and different and refreshing. And more men are volunteering to take notes in our meetings too. So thank you men. Thank you for hearing and acknowledging and showing up and saying "I've got this one." Because showing up and practicing in the little things sets us up for success at the big things. 

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Mom yoga

Yoga used to mean 75 minute classes full of tuning in, finding flow, sweat and savasana. 



It's different now. 

I kick up into a handstand against my front door for the third time in a row. I make eye contact with my son and we both smile, recognizing the relative strangeness to seeing/being an adult upside down, all weight suspended on her hands. I bring my eyes back to the floor, allowing my internal focus to shift from what I am seeing to what I am feeling in my shoulders. I press down into the floor more, then tighten across my low belly to support my back. Subtle shifts bring me away from leaning against the door. I breathe, then kick down, after assuring there is no tiny traffic behind me. Back to watching this little person discover more about the world. 

It is bed time, but before crawling into bed, I spend some minutes between the bed and the wall. I go through a few movements before checking in: what hurts, what is asking for attention? I run through a unique combination of physical therapy exercises and yoga poses. I find my deep core muscles. I move my body to release my shoulders and upper back. I used to know the Sanskrit for this pose I am doing; now I can't bring to mind even the English name. It's still in there somewhere - I can feel it - but the retrieval is not available to me. Instead all I can call to mind in this moment is how to hand express breastmilk and the steps to perform during infant CPR. That is okay. I will just do the pose and remember the name again in a few years. I make a subtle shift, an adjustment I practiced on others during teacher training. It feels amazing. "This was worth all of those hours in training," I think to myself. 

"Ommmmmmmm" I chant again softly into the teething babe's ear. He can't sleep, but he sure wants to. "I know," I tell him. "I know." We find rest together, curled up in the recliner, riding the waves of my ocean breath. (I used to know the Sanskrit for this too.) I realize that this is my yoga practice and it is perfect. 

Friday, March 9, 2018

Our first feather baby

[From April, 2016]
This has not been the best week.

Except for one big thing. On Tuesday night, we went out in our back yard to forage for henbit, an edible spring weed. In case you're wondering, we have mostly the look-alike, Purple Dead Nettle, which - despite the name - is also edible. Our next door neighbor was also out and called, "Hey, do either of you know how to clip a chicken's wings?" [I love our neighborhood.]

I pointed at Caleb. We'd never discussed this before, but the man is full of surprising knowledge about things like this. This started a long conversation about our neighbor's new chicks, how this one wasn't getting along with the others, how Caleb and I wanted chickens eventually, how you could eat the chickens once they were past their egg-laying prime, [aside moment to hold their new teacup chihuahua puppy], how Caleb knew the best way to kill a chicken... I went inside.

About 20 minutes later, Caleb walked in our back door. "So, we have a chicken now." His hands were cupped around the small white bird previously being discussed. We welcomed her, played with her, named her Sadie, put her in a box with some of the feed from our neighbor, and had our first pet.

Tiny Sadie lived in a cardboard box in our living room while we figured out a better solution for her. We would race home from work to take her out in the yard to play. This bird would run around and then dive into our laps to cuddle and warm up. We would let her take dirt baths in our houseplants and then lay next to her on the rug while she laid peacefully in the sun.


These were such beautiful days. Eventually, she outgrew the box, and Caleb had finished building a coop. We took her out there to play on the coop during the day, and at night, we put her box inside it, so that she could feel at home. She panicked. She fluttered around trying to get out as the sun went down. Caleb and I were both out there with her, and I asked Caleb to close the coop door with me inside. He complied and out of instinct, also locked the door. It got darker and darker, and Sadie's panic did not abate. Finally she fell asleep roosting on my arm as I sang to her. (Yes, I know.)

I gently transferred her to the roosting pole in the coop. She rocked slowly, making gentle chicken sleep clucks. I smiled and crept to the door of the coop and found it locked. I reached for my pocket - nope, no pocket and no phone. I started laughing - eventually Caleb or my brother would realize I was out here, right? Surely...

Caleb was watching from the window and realized what happened, and I was quickly freed from the coop. Sadie loved her new coop after that night. I'm convinced it was the singing.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

My messy house completes me

There is a ceramic plate and a plastic funnel in my bathroom sink. The bathroom floor is littered with clothing. The front room is covered with unopened mail, empty boxes, empty gift bags, reusable grocery bags, shoes of every shape and size, my work bag, Caleb's work bag, Sammy's daycare bag, all of which are half open with contents strewn about. The diaper pail is in the living room and has four dirty diapers sitting next to it that only need to be placed inside.

The kitchen counters are barely visible underneath the piles of dishes. The high chair tray (and the floor underneath) is smeared with the leftovers from dinner. 

Our toys, normally corralled in our toy shelf, have dispersed themselves throughout the house. 

I can't see all of it at once, but I think about it from my vantage point in the bathtub. 

And it relaxes me. I sigh peacefully and sink deeper into the bath. 

We had a long weekend this past weekend. And for the first time in a long time, we chose each other over the chores. Normally, we are busy bees on the weekends, working hard to finish all the cleaning and all the cooking for the week. In the midst of those moments, I look at Caleb and say, "Hey - we're doing this! We're doing it!" This and it being keeping ourselves fed, clothed, and somewhat rested. And the floors somewhat clean. 

But this weekend, we opted for going to the park, and having long conversations, sitting on our front porch, celebrating a birthday, and spending an afternoon at my parents' house. Some of it was deeply exhausting. Some of it was deeply relaxing. Most of it was somewhere in between. All of it was a good break. And the house caught it all. And that is why I am relaxed. Even with a plate in my bathroom sink*. 

*I was eating eggs for dinner, which Sammy can't have. He really wanted them, so I took them to the bath and ate them there. And then to hide the plate from him, I put it in the sink. So there you go. 

Monday, March 5, 2018

Why I don't like the phrase "mom guilt"

When I was going to my postpartum physical therapy, I was talking to my therapist about my return to work. (Quick side note to say that I LOVED PP PT [hehe, see what I did there?] so much and think everyone who has a baby should do it.) I was telling her about how hard it was to go back to work, because I love my baby, but that I also love my job. And it was just hard.

"Yeah, that mommy guilt will get you," she responded.



Others have said similar things. This is also a phrase that gets thrown around wildly on the internet. I do not like it. And I am pushing back.

Our friends at Merriam-Webster define guilt in a variety of ways, but the one that seems most suited to what is being discussed currently is "feelings of deserving blame especially for imagined offenses or from a sense of inadequacy".

We all certainly feel inadequate from time to time, mom or otherwise. And we all do things that are deserving of blame.

But for me, the work versus kid balance isn't about feeling like I deserve blame. Oh heck no. No, no, no. And it's not even about a sense of inadequacy.

It's about desire.

I LOVE being with my baby. And most of the time, I love my job too. To label that as guilt is mildly offensive, and plain wrong. Guilt involves a "should". There is no should-ing here. Just strong desires.






Friday, March 2, 2018

How to celebrate the anniversary of the day you almost died

Today is a conflicting day. A few months ago, when I thought about this day approaching, I was full of dread. I didn't know what kinds of memories it would bring up, or what emotions it would stir. Honestly, I don't remember much about one year ago. Pain, haziness, frustration, confusion. The way our babe came into the world was full of terror. 

But what I remember vividly is the nights and days after. I remember seeing Caleb's face and knowing everything would be alright. We whispered, "I love you" back and forth all night that night and for months afterwards. I remember standing over the enormous newborn in the NICU, wondering what his sweet swollen face would look like after all the equipment came off it, wondering what it would be like to hold him in my arms. 

It was better than I could have imagined. 

I remember learning to sit, stand, and walk again, learning to pump and then learning to nurse for the first time. I remember when my milk came in and I had to stop pumping because the bottles were overflowing. I remember the one night I spent at home before Sammy got discharged - how awful it was. The night I spent at the NICU alone feels like it was just a few weeks ago, dragging a leaking catheter bag around our room. I remember the smell of new bottles, a plasticky, sterile smell that I love now. 

I remember going home and having just one week before Caleb had to go back to work. I remember the legions of wonderful people who came and brought us food and cleaned our house and yard and helped us to get some rest. 

I remember holding sweet Sammy for hours and hours, making my back and stitches ache, but happily looking at his face. 

Parenting is the most intense spiritual discipline I have ever practiced. There is plenty of grace, but the grace does not come in the form of quitting for a few days to take a break. It comes in smiles and hugs and laughter and joy and a partner who says, "You go lay down, I've got this." 

So, how to celebrate the anniversary of the day you almost died? By living, with deep gratitude. I cannot tell you how many times over the last year I have realized with a start, "I could have missed this." and immediately, "I am so glad I did not miss it."

I am so glad to not miss this. 

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

I love winter!!!

I love the beach. The rolling in of the waves, the salty water, the smell, the warm sand. But my other happy place is a snowy forest in the winter.

The suddenly visible animal tracks, total silence when all sounds are muddled by snow and clouds. The magic of coming upon a running stream surrounded by frozen nature. The nip of the wind on your face while the rest of you is bundled. The promise of a warm fire and toasty beverage when you return. The fresh snow on your tongue. The magic floof of falling backwards into a snowbank.

It didn't occur to me that I was allowed to love winter until a few years ago. I ran into someone who was, at the time, the youth pastor at my church. I walked by him on the sidewalk and we greeted one another. We    had one of those typical complainy conversations about how it was getting cold and then he said something that I'd never heard before.

"I need to be careful to not complain too much about the winter. Cold weather gives a lot of people life."

"Oh my gosh," I thought. "I AM ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE!"

There is a simple joy to burrowing under a thick blanket with cozy socks and a hot beverage. And in these final days of it, I raise my hot beverage to winter. I will miss you my friend. You are a balm to my soul, a slowing down in a too busy world. The antidote to the mania of summer. See you next year.



(P.S. Please bring way more snow.)

Monday, February 26, 2018

[Driving lessons] or [The water we swim in is different]

When I learned to drive, I learned a lot more than just how to operate a vehicle. Before I could learn how to safely get from point A to point B, I had to learn a lot about the "safely" part.
  1. Before going outside, get your keys in your hand. It’s best to have a remote. 
  2. Watch carefully as you go to your car. Is anyone following you? Is anyone near your car? Glance under the car and in the backseat as you approach. Is it dark outside? Up your alertness times ten. 
  3. Unlock your car when you are within sight of it. Get in quickly, immediately shut and lock the doors. 
  4. While you are driving, be aware. Is anyone following you? If you suspect you are being followed, do not drive home and avoid isolated roads. (I cannot tell you how many times I have driven past my street just to be sure that the car wasn’t following me.)
These four safety rules were ingrained so deeply that I stopped thinking about them. They became part of my automatic settings for using a car, like buckling my seatbelt. 

As an adult, I was riding somewhere with Caleb and observed that he did not lock his doors immediately upon entry. This surprised me, so I commented on it. In our conversation that followed, I realized that these driving rules didn't apply to every teenager who learned to drive. 

There was a lot of buzz last year surrounding #MeToo sweeping the nation. I think it's important to know that this fits into it. I don't know statistics, but I do know that if I ever have a daughter, I will teach her these rules. I wish I didn't have to, but I will. And I will teach my son. Because though the water we swim in is different, we need to keep working to understand how. (Including me)