Life Rafts

This transition from one kid to two has been the biggest challenge of my life so far. There are massive emotions all around, and my sleep deprived, hormonal, emotional self doesn’t always respond well to them. Some days I am pushed so far past my limit that I’m not certain how I’ll get through it all. Here are a few things that have helped keep me afloat when I felt like I was drowning.

Caregivers

I’m lucky to have the support of some amazing babysitters whose presences have been a lifesaver and gotten me through some particularly difficult days. They’ve gone above and beyond to step in to help, and have even taken the initiative to remind me to take time for myself.

Fellow Moms

I’m lucky to have the support of friends and fellow moms who I write to at all hours of the day and night. They write back when I text things like “how is it only 8:20am???” or “I’m so tired I don’t know how I’m going to function right now.” These conversations make me feel less alone and more connected to the outside world.

Social Media

I recently talked with a friend about how there’s way too much pressure on parents nowadays. Social media paints these pictures of how we “should” do things and if we fall short it feels like we’ve failed.

On the flip side though, social media holds the potential to make us feel less alone. I can imagine before social media parents probably felt the same isolation I sometimes feel, but had no way of knowing there were other parents out their feeling the same way.

So long as we are discerning about who we follow and how often we check our social media pages, I think it is a helpful tool for parents just trying to get through the day.

Family

Days when my husband is able to come home early make a world of difference in my anxiety level. Weekends are the best because daddy is home! I’m also blessed to have the grandparents living nearby so they step in when they can and fill in the gaps. Without all of them, I don’t know where I’d be!

My biggest lessons of having two children have been to surrender to the chaos, accept help when it’s offered, and to offer myself, my husband and my children grace during this heightened time of stress.

We will get through. We will wonder how the heck we did it. And we’ll remember all the blessings above that helped us float on through.

One Day I’ll Miss This

“One day I’ll miss this.” I try to tell my exhausted self as she wakes us all up at 5:50am after I’ve been awake since 3am with Ryan.

“I want mommy.” I hear her voice boom down the hallway. She repeats it over and over. I don’t want Ryan to wake so I get up.

“Mommy I lost my ding that picks up dings again.” She’s talking about that gray tool from her doctor kit that she slept with. She’s obsessed with that thing.

I walk to the kitchen and silently fill up my water bottle. I tell her I’ll look for it in a minute. I take a sip and breathe.

Using my phone as a flashlight I peer under her bed and find her “ding that picks up dings”

“Ganks mom!”

“Mommy I want to put on my undies and drink my milk and watch my screem.”

I tell her to go pick out undies and I’ll get the “screem” (an iPad) that I hid in my room yesterday after she was too rough with her brother. “Tomorrow’s a new day” I had told her, and she would get another chance to use it as long as she was kind to her brother.

We change her out of her pull up into her undies and I pour her a glass of milk. I set her up in her nest- surrounded by pillows and place her milk on the table next to her.

“Mommy dis isn’t the show I wanted to watch. I wanted Captain Underpants.”

I find the show she wants. “Ganks mom!”

And here she is now. Drinking her milk and watching her show. I think of all the shame thrown at parents for screen time and think of how useless that pressure is. Our screen is giving us all a few more moments of peace this morning.

It’s 6am and I’m tired to my bones. This is motherhood. This is survival mode.

One day I’ll miss this.

Supermom or just mom?

There I was at the gynecologist, feet up in stir ups with ten week old Ryan on my chest. I had finally gotten him to calm down after nursing him. My phone rang.

The doctor poked me with a needle again to numb me. “Can you feel this?”

“Yes!” I said while my whole body jolted. “I can STILL feel this.” This was the fifth or sixth attempt to numb me.

I answered the phone with one hand while holding my baby with the other. I had no choice- this was a new babysitter with my older daughter and I couldn’t let it go to voicemail.

“Hi. The AC guy is here asking where you keep your double A batteries.”

I am poked again by a needle and jolt again. This hurts so bad.

“They’re in the hidden drawer. It’s to the left of the sink.”

I wince in pain. And then don’t feel anything.

“To the left of the sink there’s a drawer. Open that, then open the one above it. There may not be batteries. I’m not sure.”

“Oh I see what you mean. I only see triple A’s though.”

I look Ryan and he’s staring at a wall sweetly.

“Tell him just to take the batteries out of the remote and use those.”

“Oh he just told me that’s what he did.”

“Okay thanks.”

I hang up. My doctor tells me it’s done.

She’s burned off the granulation tissue. This is extra tissue that formed during the healing process after giving birth. It contains nerves and causes a lot of pain- pain I have had to deal with for over 2 and a half months since giving birth. Pain I pushed through every day as I cared for my newborn and toddler and cried about each time it burned as I peed.

“Talk about super mom. Holding your baby while getting this done while talking to the sitter while coordinating with the AC guy. I am seriously impressed.” my doctor told me.

I wasn’t impressed with myself though. I was just in shock. Did I really just have granulation tissue removed while holding my baby while talking to a babysitter while problem solving how to find batteries for the AC guy?

This felt like a hyperbolic version of the stuff I do all the time. It was a next level messy juggling act that mothers do daily as we try to take care of our most basic needs while taking care of everyone else.

So it was done and here I was in the doctor’s office getting back into my wet clothes because they had been soaked on the walk over in the pouring rain. I put Ryan back in the carrier and off we went.

On the walk home the rain had cleared so I had a free hand to called my best friend to process it all. I also bought a giant Twix and housed it in two minutes.

Had that all really just happened?

One day I’ll write about this, I thought. One day soon.

But for now, back to my daughter and motherhood. Because moms don’t get a break.

In All My Messiness

Emmy’s out the door on the way to camp. I run to the shower; this is my chance! Tangled hair between my fingers from postpartum hair loss distracts me as I rush to get reasonably clean. I hear Ryan’s cries over the running shower. I am pulled to him but allow myself this time, this two minutes, to feel a little bit human.

He continues to cry as I step out of the shower and search for something to wear from the pile of clothes I haven’t had a chance to put away. I’ll wear shorts that are a little too tight and one of my maternity shirts that can pass for a regular one. This is what fits. I sing to him while I clumsily get dressed.

I finally pick him up and his cries stop immediately. I need to find the carrier and get him in it so I can walk Romeo. I put him down again and he cries. Once he’s snuggled in near me he stops again and we can both breathe, probably in unison.

I write this in my phone as I allow Romeo some time to play at the park. I wonder if people are judging me with my wet hair, bags under my eyes, and fingers typing away on my phone.

This is who I am right now. A messy version of myself. A version where I am so needed- to literally keep these humans I somehow created alive. It’s not pretty or instagram worthy really, but it’s life.

We get back home. Ryan has fallen back asleep in the carrier. I’ll squat down and grab Romeo a scoop of food trying not to wake the baby. I’ll wonder how I’m able to do this while still recovering from childbirth, with my ab muscles separated and healing.

The messy kitchen and dishwasher that needs unloading glare at me, but I’ll sit and bounce on the yoga ball while he sleeps. Hoping soon I can put together something to eat. Hoping soon I can maybe put on a bit of mascara and concealer to appear a little more awake.

Until then I bounce, with my baby boy peacefully sleeping on my chest. Knowing that within this mess is the most incredible love I’ve ever felt. I’ll look back one day and wonder how I did it. I’ll think “wow that was hard.” And I’ll also, not for one minute, regret that I wasn’t able to “keep it all together.” I’ll be grateful I was able to be there, in all my messiness, for my babies.

Many Things All At Once

In the age of social media and insta-moms I think it’s important to remember we are all many things at once.

This means that yes, we can post authentic pictures of our children- adorable, happy, smiling- and love them with every fiber of our being. This also means that yes, we can whisper “what the f*ck” under our breath as our toddler has a twenty minute meltdown over not opening the front door herself (you might guess I speak from personal experience.😛)

This is just a friendly reminder that because a person’s Instagram profile or Facebook page don’t include the hard moments does not mean they aren’t happening.

“Your kids are so happy!” That’s true! But they are also human, and obviously have their struggles. I choose to write about my struggles because I don’t ever want anyone to feel alone or isolated, especially in parenthood. We are all in this together!

We are amazing multilayered and complicated human beings. We are having a human experience which is sometimes joyful sometimes painful and most times a messy mix of joy and pain. I never felt that more than when I became a mom. Just because a person’s life appears one way on their social media feeds does not mean that’s how it is day to day.

I think you know this already but just thought I’d remind you. 💜

Ryan John’s Birth Story

The birth of my son Ryan John was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. The chaos of settling into life with three year old and newborn baby have made it hard to process it all, but I’d like to try my best to put it down in words.

My daughter was a scheduled c-section due to her breech position. That birth was not what I had originally hoped for but ended up being an absolutely beautiful experience. I heard my daughter’s cry before I saw her, and as my husband carried her over to me. We touched foreheads and she immediately stopped crying. In that moment I felt the connection that only a mother and child can have, and my heart forever expanded.

For my second birth, I wasn’t sure if I’d schedule a repeat c-section or if I’d attempt a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean). Once I became pregnant and gathered all of the facts and opinions, I decided I’d try for the VBAC. I wanted to try for the experience of it, but also because I really hoped to avoid the c-section recovery. It was very difficult the first time around and I hoped not to have to go through it again with a three year old at home.

I did what I could to optimize my chances of having a vaginal delivery. To encourage optimal fetal position I went to a chiropractor weekly in my last trimester, did yoga every evening, and was conscious of my posture. (Thank you Prenatal Yoga Center for teaching me about all these techniques!) When it became evident he was in an ideal head down position near the end of my pregnancy I knew we had a chance.

I had a supportive practice of doctors who felt it wasn’t safe for me to be induced after having a previous caesarean, but I could go up to ten days past my due date. So, I hoped and prayed I’d go into labor on my own. Having that ten day cushion sure helped ease my mind.

By forty weeks pregnant I was so ready! I had convinced myself baby would be born in March and when my due date 3/30 came and went it looked like that wasn’t happening. My husband Steve and I joked about how funny it would be to have an April Fool’s Baby.

At forty weeks and a day I took my daughter to a birthday party and walked a good distance to get there. Once we got home I told my husband I had to lay down. I was having severe cramping. I wasn’t convinced this was the start of labor though because I had had cramping for almost a week so I didn’t get my hopes up.

That evening I went to go to sleep and as soon as I laid down I had a contraction. Now this wasn’t the early contraction I had heard about. It was strong, and full body. I couldn’t ignore it or go back to sleep.

I told my husband Steve I was going to go in the living room and for him to go to sleep. I figured it would be a while.  I put on Good Will Hunting, a favorite and familiar movie for me, and began keeping track of my contractions. Like clockwork they came every five minutes. After an hour of this I decided to call my doctor. I had a contraction over the phone and she said I seemed very uncomfortable and she recommended if I wanted an epidural I should come in about an hour.

At this point I woke up Steve and told him I was in labor. I told him I was not in a rush to get to the hospital as I hoped to labor as long as possible at home.

We agreed I should call my dad and step mom to let them know as they were planning to come and stay with Emmy whenever I went into labor. I gave my dad a call and it went straight to voicemail which was strange. I tried again. It rang but there was no answer. I wasn’t worried because I felt like we had time. 

By midnight I had called and texted both my dad and stepmom and wasn’t getting an answer. They did not have service on their phones so we had to figure out what to do.

In the meantime, I was getting strong contractions every five minutes. I decided I’d call up our babysitter Cordelia who lives on our block and see if she could come over and stay until my dad and stepmom were able to come.

I called Cordelia who answered on the second ring. “I’m so sorry to wake you. I’m in labor and my dad isn’t answering his phone.” Without hesitation she said, “I’ll be there in two minutes.” And, that she did!

Steve was calling his parents in NJ to see if they could come. Luckily they woke up and headed over. I was vaguely aware of what was happening but tried to remain focused on my labor. I surrendered to the fact that our plan for Emmy was going to be different than we talked about and that was okay. Steve was on top of it, I had to take care of myself and baby boy.

I decided I didn’t want to go to the hospital yet, and Cordelia stepped up and acted like a doula. It was amazing! She began timing my contractions, giving me a shoulder rub, and massaging my feet. It was so wonderful to have that feminine support at this time and I was able to stay calm and present with her help. She was able to tend to me while Steve tended to the logistics of getting us to the hospital and care for Emmy.

Around 1:45am my mother in law and father in law arrived at our apartment. At this point I had no sense of time and was just rolling with each contraction. I was able to breathe through them but had to pause, stand up and bend over with my hands on a table or on the wall each time a surge came. I remember them walking through the door and having a contraction as they came in. I thought I’d stay home a bit longer, but when I went to the bathroom there was some blood and I got a strong contraction so I told Steve I wanted to go to the hospital.

At 2:00am we took an Uber to the hospital and I had a few contractions during the ride. When the driver dropped us off he said, “Have a nice night!” and I laughed. I wondered if he realized we were about to have a baby!

We signed some forms and checked in, and I was admitted to triage where they would monitor me for an hour. This was tough because I had to lay flat in a bed throughout the contractions and I really wanted to be standing!

The night before we had watched the documentary Free Solo about a professional rock climber working towards doing the first free solo climb of El Capitan. I remember through each contraction I was imagining myself climbing a mountain as the pain was increasing. I’d tell myself once I reached the peek it would get better. I used deep breathing and visualization (and lots of squeezing of Steve’s hand!) to get through these contractions.

A doctor came to check on me and said I was contracting regularly and was 100% effaced but only two centimeters dilated. She asked if I wanted to walk around a bit and I said yes.

The next thing I knew, a nurse came and told us they had a delivery room for us. Great! So she set us up in there and said they wanted to just monitor me and baby for 20 minutes to be sure we were good and then I was free to walk.

I asked Steve to put on a playlist I had made for labor. I had been adding songs and listening to it throughout my pregnancy when I practiced yoga at night. I also asked him to hand me my Gentle Baby essential oil for me to rub on my wrists. I was finding that music and scents were helping me get some relief through my discomfort and pain.

At around 4:00am while being monitored for 20 minutes the contractions began to get stronger. The nurse informed me that there was one point when baby’s heart rate had dropped a bit so they wanted to monitor me for 20 more minutes. It was nothing to worry about, they just wanted to be safe.

Then, I felt something start to gush out and told the nurse I thought my water broke. Contractions were getting stronger and stronger. I could no longer see use visualization and breath to get through the contractions. Instead, I had to let out some vocalizations to get through each one. I also continued to reach out to Steve and he held my hand through each contraction. I’m not sure how hard I was squeezing but it was probably pretty hard! The next time the nurse came I told her I wanted the epidural.

A doctor checked me and said my water had indeed broken and I was now 3cm dilated. The nurse said progressing a centimeter in one hour was great. I was glad for the encouragement.

At 5:30am the anesthesiologist came and administered the epidural, pausing a few times while I had contractions. The nurse was so helpful telling me I was doing great and helping me breathe through them.

I remember at this point Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love” was playing and she said “This is a great song.” “It is!” I said. I was amazed that for a split second music took me outside of my pain.

After the epidural kicked in all I can say is I felt like I was in heaven. Suddenly I was feeling relief from the 7 hours of contractions I had been enduring. I couldn’t feel any pain, but could still feel my legs well enough to shift side to side. I asked for an extra pillow to put between my knees to keep my pelvis open. The nurse could only provide some extra sheets but I rolled them up and that did the job.

I think of this next part of my labor as the blissful, fun part! Once the epidural was kicked in Steve and I rested. He took a mini snooze and then went out to get coffee, and I texted with the grandparents caring for Emmy. My sister in law had been texting me every day the past few weeks saying “39 weeks!” or “39 weeks 6 days!” I got a text from her saying “40 weeks 2 days!” and I texted back a picture of smiling in the hospital bed.

At 7am the doctors switched shifts and I was thrilled to see my favorite doctor come in to greet me. She asked me to catch her up on what had happened that morning as she had came to check on me right away. We both agreed that since labor had begun to slow down once I got the epidural (this was to be expected) that it was a good idea to get Pitocin.

Once I got the Pitocin labor picked up again, and I didn’t feel one bit of pain. Because my water had broke, the doctor didn’t want to do an internal check until four hours later to reduce the risk of any infection.

For a moment, I felt my calm thoughts drift into panic. What if getting the epidural was a huge mistake? What if I had screwed myself over? What if the Pitocin led into the cascade of interventions I was always hearing about and I’d end up with an emergency c-section?

No.

I continued to listen to my music, calmed my mind with the only phrase that kept coming to me “Praise God.” Now let me mention here, I absolutely believe in a greater power that many call God, but saying “Praise God” is not something I think I’ve ever done. It’s what I heard then though, and that mantra comforted me so greatly I flowed with it.

When the doctor came back to check me around 11am I prayed that I’d be at least five centimeters dilated. When she said, “You’re 8 centimeters” I was elated!

“Really??” I gasped. “I was hoping for just 5!” She told me she was too and we were both pleasantly surprised.“I think you’re going to be able to push in about two hours.” She said. Steve and I looked at each other and just smiled. Wow! We were going to meet our baby boy so soon!

“Pushing is like running a marathon”, she said, “So for the next two hours I want you to just try to sleep and rest.

And that’s what we did. At this point I put away my phone and knew I wasn’t going to check it anymore. I went totally inside myself and listened to the calming familiar music that continued to play. I breathed in the smell of the Gentle Baby essential oil. I rested.

It felt like I drifted into this alternative peaceful place that was in between being awake and asleep. I felt total peace. I saw a vision of this adorable baby boy with a little curl in the back of his head. I breathed slowly. I smiled a lot.

I also was very conscious of continuing to shift and move from side to side. I circled my hips often to encourage baby to keep moving down. I also pressed that epidural button whenever I could!

About two hours later I told Steve to change the playlist to the upbeat “Baby Boy” one to inspire me for pushing! Our April Fools baby was coming soon. We also took out the Orange oil I had brought and each put some on our wrists. It smelled so good and was immediately invigorating.

When doctor came to check me she said, “It smells good in here. What is that?” We told her we had both just put some Orange oil. She laughed and said that was great because it rarely smelled good in that room!

Then she checked me and said “Baby is really low and you’re ready to push!”

At this point I wasn’t pressing the epidural button anymore so was feeling just enough to be able to feel baby was low, and to be able to feel when contractions were coming, but I was in zero pain. It was absolutely incredible.

Only my doctor, a nurse and Steve were in the room with me as I began to push. About ten minutes into pushing my doctor told the nurse to call the pediatrician on duty because it looked like baby was going to be born any minute! Five minutes later Ryan John was born and took his first breath. I remember seeing his tiny toes and thinking “there they are!” The song “Kodachrome” by Simon & Garfunkel was playing as he entered the world.

They placed him on my belly- he couldn’t quite reach my chest yet because the cord was so short! Steve and I marveled at this because Emmy had also had a super short cord which is why we think she couldn’t turn around in my womb. The doctor said, “I guess your babies just want to stay close to mama!” Once I delivered the placenta and the cord was cut, Ryan was finally on my chest. He stopped crying as I kissed his face over and over.

We remained in the delivery room for a while after, bonding with Ryan and informing family he had been born.

I cried tears of joy with him on my chest. I thought about the babies I had lost before him. I thought of how we had accomplished this VBAC together. I thought of how much love I had inside of me and how all these things had led me to him. I held him and was in bliss. Our baby boy had arrived and the experience better than I had ever dared myself to imagine. Now it was time to get to know him.

The Minutia of Motherhood

On a typical day I wake up around 6am. I meditate for twenty minutes, shower, get dressed, unload the dishwasher while eating my breakfast, pack up Emmy’s snacks, water bottle and cup of milk for school. I do all the things I need to do so that when she wakes up I can be there when she opens her door and says, “Mama, I waited for the light to turn green!”

You see Emmy has a special clock set for 7am. At this time it turns green signaling it’s time for her to get out of bed. That’s when our day together begins.

Emmy then picks out a pair of undies so she can change out of her night time pull up. I grab her Minnie Mouse cup full of milk and my coffee, and we head to the couch. Some mornings she’s grumpy and whiny, others she’s talkative and chatty, others she’s just quiet. Some mornings she protests changing out of her pull up. Others she does her famous joke.  Mimicking a line from a Mickey Mouse Christmas movie she holds onto her weighted pull up and says, “If I eat any more turkey, I’m gonna need new clothes!” We laugh and oftentimes daddy is there laughing too. She then happily changes into her big girl undies.

Always, always, we snuggle up together and she plays with my hair as she drinks her milk from her Minnie Mouse cup.

It’s not lost on me that she used to play with my hair as she nursed, and then as she bottle fed. Drinking milk and playing with mommy’s hair has been a consistent comfort for her whole life so far. As much as it sometimes tries my patience when I’m not in the mood for my hair to be tousled and pulled, I know it’s a precious ritual that I’ll one day look back on and miss. So, it continues on, day after day.

Some days we sit in silence snuggling together after she finishes her milk. Other days daddy is there too chatting with her. Most days “Momeo” (Romeo) our Rhodesian Ridgeback comes wandering out, plants himself in the same spot and stares, expecting his first scoop of food.

We often put on the TV or she asks for her “scream” (iPad) and she quietly enters the day. I wander away and continue doing all the things I need to do to keep our lives running smoothly. Feed the dog, pack up the stroller, make her breakfast, walk the dog. Oh, and somewhere in this all I take my first sip of coffee- always magical.

Every day, within all the minutia and chores, I am there- steady and consistent. I am the mama I always wanted to be.

I couldn’t sleep tonight because I began thinking that there may be a morning soon where mommy is at the hospital having baby brother, and I’m not there for the morning ritual. As much as I know that it’s okay- as much as I know she will be totally fine in the care of her loving grandparents- my heart hurts knowing I won’t be there with my hair as she drinks her milk.

And it’s more than that. It’s knowing so much won’t be the same once baby brother arrives. It just can’t be. So, I cry thinking of all the shifts about to occur. I cry because endings are hard no matter how beautiful the next beginning will be.

As a mom there are so many details. There is so much to be done. There are so many intricacies that make up my day. All of these things are mostly silent and unseen, but all are molded and centered around this one precious girl. Soon my attention will be divided into the details of two, and I wonder how that can be.

Tonight I mourn the loss of our endless time alone together. Our quiet and calm Minnie Mouse Cup mornings will soon take a shift as I recover from birth and nurse a new life.

While I mourn I also feel hopeful. Although our mornings may become very messy and chaotic for a while, eventually we will land at a new normal. We will find a new way to start the day that involves the two souls daddy and I love and dedicate ourselves to.

There will be soon new version of our Minnie Mouse cup mornings that involves the endless details that mothering two children brings, and at that point my heart will have multiplied in size and what is more beautiful than that?