2016 in Review: Breathing

Geesh.  It’s been a year.  J turned five this year and A turned three.  This year saw the end of diapers in our life, and the end of breastfeeding. Our family’s theme for 2016 was “Breathing.” It’s hard to live with a child who constantly squawks and seems to have no volume control, who seems to have no idea how his noise-creation impacts other peoples wellbeing. Well, it does.  Life with two people under the age of six is hard.  But that’s our life, and it’s also beautiful and full of joy.  I am so PROUD of my children, and when they rise to the occasion and surprise me with their manners, their initiative, their grace and generosity, I get a glimpse of my success as a parent.  We’re doing a good job.  It’s not always pretty, it’s rarely easy.  But it’s us. And overall, it’s working.

So, breathing is what we focused on this year.  We wanted to remember to breathe when things start spiraling out of control, when we start losing our cool.  We wanted to teach breathing techniques to cope with anxiety and anger to our kids.  We wanted to remember to be in the present moment and be connected mentally and physically with what’s happening in the moment. It was a great theme for this year.

9 Months Postpartum

I feel like something has lifted, some sort of ease has entered our family life that was missing since the baby joined us. Perhaps it’s a new level of maturity in the now-three-year-old, or perhaps it just always takes this long.  Nine months adjusting to the fact that a baby is coming, and nine months adjusting to the fact that the baby is here.

Medically, the postpartum period is limited to the first six weeks after birth. That’s the time it takes for involution to occur; the uterus returns to it’s pre- pregnancy size. Most moms find that the transition time after giving birth is much longer, sometimes even up to a year, or beyond. I’m telling you now that this is OK. It takes as long as it takes. To heal, to adjust, to settle. Take your time and be kind to yourself. 

Onward: Intentions for 2015

It’s already the third week of January, so I suppose I’m a little late to the party, but it’s time to state my intentions for this next year.

1. Produce more useful gifts and things for sell/trade

2. Follow my calling–Support postpartum mamas

3. Learn three new skills

a. Embroidery/cross stitch

b. Build a Little Free Library

c. Write a kids book and illustrate it

4. Do a better job of composting and recycling

5. Less coffee, more tea

What intentions are you setting for this next year?

2014 Recap: I Must Have Been Busy!

Well, it’s been almost a year since I last posted here. My journey of motherhood has been very much hands-on for the last year. I’ve not been so interested in having a virtual life on the interwebs when my two little suns (concentrated balls of energy and light–yup! That’s my boys!) are so very much PHYSICAL, and ALIVE. My desire to be present with them (because I believe that if children need anything from their parents, they need their REAL presence) has forced me to reevaluate my online life and my own screen time. We’ve been going on walks, playing chase, reading books, swimming, taking baths, doing laundry, eating food, raking leaves, and laughing. We’ve been doing other things. Anyway, here I am feeling like I need to justify why I haven’t been writing anything on my blog the past year… REALITY CHECK! I’ve been parenting. I think that sums it up just fine. Moving on…

Last year I wrote that my intentions for 2014 were to go outside, make more music, be available to myself and others, grow, and do less surfing (online) and more writing.  Since the year has turned yet again, it’s a good time to reflect on my success at following the trajectory of those intentions.  On all accounts, I added more of these things in my life than in previous recent years, except for the writing (hence, my absence here).

1. Go outside. I was definitely outside a lot, although I would still like our family to be in the woods more than we have been so far. We’ll get there. We certainly were at the coast a lot, and despite two boys with very different sensory needs, we found a sweet little spot south of Newport (Ona Beach) where both boys could enjoy playing in dry sand.

2. Make more music. This was an important one to me because once upon a time I was a singer-songwriter, and music has always been a primary part of my life. While music-making is still a much smaller presence in my life than it was before kids, B and I both made an effort to bring live music into our lives on a regular basis. We took both boys to a Kindermusik class, I took my guitar and fiddle out of their cases and now they live on hooks on the wall, always available for playing, which both J and A love. We sing as a family all the time. J and I often will “read” Rise Up Singing and learn bits of new songs from it. We now have a family ukelele and a child-size guitar, both always available for the boys to play.

3. Be available to myself (and others). I learned some important lessons about self-love, community, and reliance this year. I learned more about saying no to things beyond my top priorities so that I have the resources and energy available to devote to those things most important to me (this year it was parenting our sons well, and fostering good mental health for myself and my partner). I’m not just talking about outside commitments and activities, but also saying no to expectations and assumptions my mind likes to make me think are important. I’m proud of the ways I stayed true to this intention in 2014 and I’m looking forward to carrying what I learned into 2015 and continuing to hone the balance of energy between self, family, and community.

4. Grow. I am saturated with information and knowledge (we all are), but what have I LEARNED? How am I GROWING, and what is causing it? Is the information I’m consuming actually helping me to grow in the ways I want to? In 2014, I’ve thought a lot about the ways I use technology and social media.  It’s one of our parenting goals to limit the time the kids see us using screens to a bare minimum.  That means that by the time they are asleep and there’s just a wee bit of the day (and my energy) left to squeeze out before I collapse from exhaustion, scrolling blankly through Facebook or marathon-binging on an instant streaming TV series are attractive and tempting activities because I *think* they will be relaxing.  But I’ve made an effort to bring these choices to a more conscious level this year.  If I only have those few hours before I fall asleep available to myself and to my partner without distraction (i.e., the kiddos), how do I want to spend them?  They are so precious! It’s so easy to go on autopilot and automatically check Facebook, but half the time I do that, I’m too tired to actually read anything or comment on anything. The more I try to bring my use of social media to a more conscious level, the more contempt I have for it because of the way it makes me feel. Sure, there are the great things about it (blah blah blah, we all know what they are), but it’s also such a time-suck and an energy-suck, not to mention a very clever tool of capitalism and thus, specifically designed to make me feel like my life is inferior and incomplete in a multitude of ways. So what does this have to do with growth?  Getting better at making conscious choices for my life, I guess, and being comfortable with what I choose because I’m getting better at being my own authority in my life.

5.  Less surfing, more writing.

Obviously, these last three are really all tied together. Beyond what I’ve already said, I’ll add that I definitely did less internet surfing than I’ve ever done in my adult life, and it felt good. Yes, I probably missed some important things (like “the news”), but to be honest, there is no dark void in my life because of it.  I’m a big fan of voluntary simplicity, and beyond material simplicity (which I’ve already worked on, continue to work on, and think I’ve hit pretty close to the “sweet spot.” Something that gets overlooked a lot, I think, is mental clutter. I used to always listen to public radio programming in the car. I used to watch Democracy Now! every morning, follow various critical blogs, keep up on what movies were coming out, keep tabs on climate change activism, and track which environmental disaster occurred where this week. Do I still care about these things? Yes. But I want to become less of a consumer of information and more of a creator of the world I want to leave for my children. To do that I need to focus my efforts, my mental space, and my heart to my *actual* sphere of influence–my relationships and my local community.  And I’d be willing to bet that even though I’m barely aware of the news, I could tell you the gist of what’s getting reported and I’d be pretty damn accurate.  If I want to be a good parent and a good partner, those things take time, energy, and mental space.  I also need time, energy, and mental space for myself. Something’s got to give.  What gives in your life?

While I didn’t do nearly as much writing as I dreamed of doing, I’ve got some pretty exciting ideas that were planted and fertilized in 2014, and I think that 2015 is going to be fruitful, grounded, and productive.

Coming up in my next post: It’s already the third week of January, so I suppose I’m a little late to the party, but it’s time to state my intentions for this next year.

“I love you and miss you so much. Thank you for going far away”

That’s what I said to my partner as she and The Two Year Old we’re getting in the car this morning. Her full-time job and long commute means that my alone-with-the-children days are twelve hours long, five days a week. Giving me some time alone was the best gift she could give me. Hi, my name is Rachel and I am an introvert. And that is a hard thing to be with two children under the age of three.

This is Not That Child

The one that came before, with whom I’ve done this bedtime with two years ago,

the bedtime of endless crying, little body rolling over and over and over again as if on a spit

head plowing into the pillows, head butting the walls

the instinctive need to ambulate

the ability not quite there but so close

impossible to let the trying go, and yet

here sleep is, here it is, there now, hush.

This is not that child,

The one who slept in closets or on boards

just for the fun of it

who emptied her drawers to sleep on a bed of clothes

who remembers all these nighttime rituals thirty years later, and only now gives a sympathetic thought to that child’s mother, who never got enough sleep

that child can bring up from the depths of memory a particular smell

that she always knew was her mother’s scent but

only now when it soaks her own clothes, pouring freely in little white rivers for this child

understands that all this time, it was the milk.

the scent memory so strong, animal in its ability to tie infant to mother so tightly that they can find one another even in the dark, breast and mouth,

smells like love, like eggs, like dark warm, like head in lap, like eyes hiding in a warm neck, like cows in fresh hay, like female skin, like celery, like sweat, like blankets, like a mother’s pillow.

This is not either of these children,

but like happens and has happened a thousand thousand times before

the sleep will come, milky and heavy

stillness will settle into small limbs, and you, my child, will assume the shape of all-surrender.

I’ll place the blanket over you, and while you’ll be half-aware, your body will not move. Like when, after waking in the middle of the night you might lift yourself from the mattress to peer outside and discover that a blanket of snow covers everything in the world, but this change will just invite more sleep. Stillness and silence, these are discoveries.

By the blankets, we know the world has changed, but all the better for sleeping, and so we shall.

Birth Story: A Forty Hour Labor

Waiting is hard to do.

It’s especially hard when you’re waiting for labor to start so you can finally meet your baby. At 38 weeks, I was DONE with inhabiting a pregnant body, and I wanted to see my son. I did not particularly enjoy the pregnancy experience, especially since I had had six months of morning sickness that required medication in order for me to function. Month seven was great, and then by month eight I was starting to feel like a blimpy hippopotamus in a slow motion movie. So yeah, I was over being pregnant. I was looking forward to labor because I’d much rather be DOING something about a particular situation than being a passive participant. Even though it’s not really like this, pregnancy felt like a very passive thing to me. I looked forward to labor because I felt things would finally start HAPPENING that I could participate in. Plus, it would mean that I wouldn’t have to be pregnant much longer. But I had to wait some more, had to dig deeper into practicing patience, which as it turns out, is what motherhood is all about. It wasn’t time for my body to go into labor yet, so despite whatever I wished for, my uterus remained relatively quiet and my cervix steadfastly closed.

In week 39, I started having BH contractions that came at steady intervals. They were painless but noticeable, and coming every 5-7 minutes. I thought (of course) that maybe this was the beginning of the real thing, but really my uterus was just doing a little pre-game trial run. I had 48 hours of this 5-7 minute pattern and then whoosh they vanished. It wasn’t until ten days later at 40 weeks 5 days that labor actually started. The nice thing about that was that it gave my mom time to get here for the birth, which I was so glad about. She arrived from 3,000 miles away on July 16. We spent the 17th relaxing, and on the 18th we took a longish car trip, hoping superstitiously that it might get things moving along because we had gone to the beach for a day trip the day before Beth went into labor with James. Worked for her, might as well try it again, right? Mom cooked one of my favorite meals that night (gf chicken and vegetable lo mein) and I gobbled it up. Nobody said so, but we all had the feeling that “tonight’s the night.”

The evening was the time of day that my BH contractions would come back, so Beth and I took a walk around the neighborhood, and I took up a pace that was brisker than usual (although I’m sure I was still just moving like a waddly puddle.) I went to bed having contractions that felt stronger (squeezy) but still painless (not crampy or sharp) and slept well. I got up to pee at 4am, and when I got back in bed I felt a twinge-cramp thing that got my attention, and a flick-pop on the lower right side of my belly (assumed it was the baby kicking). Ten seconds later, warm fluid poured out and I said “Oh!” I was excited to have a clear signal that things were finally rolling. I woke B up and went to the bathroom to check the fluid– it was clear. Real contractions started immediately, but I could still talk through them. After calling my midwife and doula, I tried to go back to sleep, but I couldn’t sleep through the contractions anymore. Since the amniotic fluid was clear, my midwife said I could stay at home for as long as I wanted before coming into the hospital. I knew that laboring at home for as long as possible would help things progress, but I also was apprehensive about transitioning to the hospital when already in active, intense labor. I decided it was time to go a few hours later, and we made our way to the maternity ward.

I was just 2cm, and the contractions were INTENSE. (I’m going to write a later post in which I’ll try my best to describe what labor actually felt like to me, since that’s the question on the mind of every woman whose facing labor for the first time). They strapped the monitors on my belly for the initial 20 minute strip, which I hated. They encouraged me to sit down in the rocking chair, which I HATED. No, I don’t want to sit down. No, not even between contractions to rest. Don’t you understand, there is a baby skull pushing on my cervix, trying to get out! It doesn’t want to get pushed back up by a chair!

After the strip was finished, I was free to walk the halls, with the help of Beth and my doula. I have no idea how long I was walking– in real time it probably was not much more than an hour. All I know is that when I started, I could still keep walking during the contractions, albeit very slowly, as long as I kept breathing deeply. When I said I wanted to head back to the room, I was grabbing whoever was closest to me and latching them into a slow dance, moaning into their shoulder, and thinking about how nice it would feel to crawl back to the room rather than stay upright.

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The next nine or so hours I was deep in Laborland. The nurses couldn’t find a fetal heartbeat distinguishable from my own, so I consented to an internal fetal monitor (the kind that is inserted just under the skin on the baby’s scalp.) Count that as Plastic Thing Number One connected to me. Every hour (or thirty minutes? Who would know the difference? Certainly not a woman in labor), they put my finger in a heart rate monitor and took my temperature. Thing 2, Thing 3. I hated the Things. Then I needed IV fluid, the reason I cannot recall now, but I know at the time I fully agreed it was a good idea. But it was another Thing connected to me.

All during this time I was trying out the full spectrum of “labor comfort measures”– birthing ball (No), squatting on the bed using the squat bar (YESSSS), massage on my lower back (YESSS!), counter pressure on my hips (NOOOO!!!), drinking water (YESSSSS), getting in the bathtub (NOOOO), sitting on the toilet (no), sitting in a rocking chair (no), laying on my side in the bed (FUCK NO), hanging from the squat bar and the foot of the bed (OH YES), kneeling and leaning on the raised head of the bed (No, yes, no, yes, NO). Finally I got to five centimeters and they could get the birthing tub ready. About an hour (two hours?) later, I got in the deep warm water and it felt soooooo good. Beth got in the tub with me and we had some really beautiful cuddles and kisses in between contractions. She tirelessly dug her knuckles into my sacrum during Every. Single. Contraction.

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The warm water helped me relax enough to be sleep a little in between every contraction. It also made me nauseous, so I asked for some Zofran because I knew that if I started vomiting, I would lose my rhythm, my calm, and my confidence. The physical sensations would just be too much. The feeling of pressure started to increase, and I started feeling pushy and grunty. The midwife came in to check me and I was only 7cm but she said I could follow my body’s signals and push if I felt like it. I pushed a little with each contraction, but not with full force because I knew I wasn’t fully dilated. That went on for a couple hours, and I started losing all sense of time. The span between contractions seemed to me to last twenty minutes, and I started to worry that labor was stopping. I talked to my mom between contractions, asking her over and over again if it really had been twenty minutes since the last contraction, and if I was doing ok. I needed her constant reassurance that it had only been three minutes since the last contraction, not twenty, and that I was doing everything right for my baby. I needed her to say these things to me between every contraction, and she did. Time stopped for me. I was deep in Laborland with no concept of how long I had been in labor. I was only aware of the previous contraction that had just ended and the one that was approaching. It was quiet and dark. There was nothing to do but just ride the wave.

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Around 2 or 3 in the morning, the midwife checked me again, and I had not progressed past 7cm, and my cervix was a bit inflamed, so she recommended that I get out of the water to get things moving again. In retrospect, when I had started to get worried that labor was slowing down an hour or two before, I should have listened to that inner voice and gotten out of the tub then. But “should” is a useless word, so let’s move on.

As soon as my body lost the buoyancy of the water, the contractions came right on top of each other and I felt like I could barely catch my breath between them. I think I labored on all fours on the bed for a while, and at some point the baby’s meconium started coming out, which is a possible sign on distress. I also had a fever over 100 at this point, and my water had been broken for 24 hours– all concerning signs for the medical professionals.

The midwife sat down on the meconium stained sheet and talked calmly about our options.  In the 60 seconds between each contraction, she said 1. The contractions seemed to have plateaued. 2. I had a fever (probably fighting infection), and a fevered uterus cannot work as efficiently as a non-fevered one. 3. I had been laboring like a champ for more than 24 hours, and I seemed very tired to her. 4. In her opinion, we were at the point of doing things to avoid needing an emergency c-section. 5. I could continue laboring naturally, and it was possible that I might continue to progress, but she felt it would go very slowly, and she was concerned about how little energy I would have left when it came time to push if we went that route. 6. I could use some pitocin to “re-establish a regular pattern of contractions” and an epidural so that I could try to rest for a few hours before it was time to push.

She left the room, and I talked it over (semi-deliriously) with Beth, with my mom, and with the doula.  They all felt like the interventions made sense, and they reassured me that this was the kind of instance where those interventions were important and appropriate.  I was at the point that I couldn’t really think well enough to make a decision on my own, so I was grateful for the birth support team–who knew what my priorities and wishes were–to help me make the decisions I needed to make.  The idea of an epidural scared me.  The needle, the paralysis, the poking around in my spine.  I didn’t really want one, but I knew at that point it was the best decision for me and my baby.

Nobody knew I was trying to get a TEN POUND BABY out of my body.  Hindsight is not really very useful when considering birth because there’s no going back and doing it a different way, but knowing now that I DID have a ten pound baby inside, I know I did everything I could to have a “totally natural” birth, and that I did everything I needed to do to have a vaginal birth, which was important to me.  Could I have kept laboring without the pitocin and the epidural? Probably.  Could I still have had the energy and the wherewithal to push out the mammoth two hours, seven hours, ten hours later?  I don’t know, and I never will, and in the end it doesn’t matter. I don’t believe I’m any less strong for deciding to have these interventions, or any less of a mother.  I did get an epidural at 4am, the pitocin did establish a regular pattern of contractions which I SLEPT THROUGH for a few hours, thanks to the epidural.

The midwives’ shift changed at 7am (I used a practice instead of an individual midwife, so you get whoever is on call) and the midwife came in before she left. Claire said she didn’t want to check me yet, since I was already fighting infection, and she wanted to give me a couple more hours of pitocin contractions before doing another assessment.  This was the same midwife that delivered our first son when Beth was pregnant, so it was really beautiful that she was the midwife on call for me, too.  We hadn’t talked about it beforehand, but knowing that Claire was going off duty, and that by freak occurrence we had found ourselves in the hospital on one of the few days per year where they only have an OB on call and no midwife, Beth asked Claire if she would come back to check me.  She didn’t make any promises, but she said she would see what she could do.  She had a few things she needed to do, but she might be able to “swing by later on.”

In the company of the automated blood pressure cuff and my IV drips, I got a few more hours of sleep. Beth and my mom found places to doze, and the doula and the photographer had both gone home when I got the epidural, with plans to return when I started pushing, or if there were other developments.

Nurses started stirring in the room around 10:30 or 11, and Claire walked back into the room!  She sat on the bed next to my paralyzed legs and said 1. She was going to check me. 2. If I was fully dilated and effaced, I would start pushing. 3. If I wasn’t fully dilated and effaced, we would need to talk about a c-section. I said OK, check me. On the next contraction, she slid her hand in and bumped into my baby’s head, and she said with a smile, “Whoa, we’ve got a major conehead coming!”  He was already at +1 (in the birth canal) so she said, “OK, let’s push!”  Click here to read the rest of my birth story.

Trial by Toddler

This week I’m having a hard time. I’m feeling annoyed by my 2.75 year old, and feeling guilty about feeling annoyed. He’s testing boundaries all the time, and I suspect that he is struggling with his emotions, and the fact that when it’s just me, him, and his six-month-old brother, I cannot respond to him as fully as I could if he were the only child. He says “No! Not (whatever I said, even if it’s really what he wants)” and “I do it! I do it!” (And then not doing it). These two phrases are CONSTANT at our house. And as the SAHM, my adult brain is weary of the repetition.

Sometimes I feel like I can’t do this. Sometimes I feel like if I have to do the same thing one more time I am going to lose my shit. Sometimes I want to be entirely selfish and ignore all the crying and all the laughing and all the screaming and just sit. Sometimes I want to be away from the baby just because I want to be able to wear earrings again.

Fast forward to 2020: I just read the draft of this post, that I wrote six years ago but never published. Maybe I wanted to add more to it, maybe I hesitated in publishing it because I thought it sounded too harsh or critical, like too much complaining. Maybe I just got interrupted by the baby or the toddler and just never got back to what I was trying to write.

Now these kids are eight and six, and I know two things: 1.) It’s not this hard in our house anymore. Parenting and being a family together really did get better and easier as the kids got older, although whenever someone told me back then, “Don’t worry, it will get easier. You’ll miss these days!” I wanted to strangle them. 2.) These feelings and struggles were totally normal. I was not failing, I was not a horrible parent, and I was not being selfish by feeling like it was unfair and wanting to go away and ignore the crying. I also had undiagnosed postpartum depression and anxiety, and when these feelings of wanting to go away turned darker and scarier, I needed the help of medication and therapy.

Over the years that have passed since then, I have learned that I can be the best parent I can be when I have taken care of myself. As an introvert, that means getting time at home alone. Not the easiest thing to accomplish, but for me, that’s the recipe. I can come back to parenting with more presence, more of my whole self. That, I’ve come to understand, is what helps my children really thrive.