Saturday, August 15, 2015

An Apology to Myself (Thoughts on a post-baby body)

My second daughter is 15 months old. While my pregnancy with her was relatively easy, waiting for her to arrive tested my patience. I felt huge and uncomfortable, which was not helped by her transverse positioning and being (supposedly) late. When she finally came, it was with a breath of fresh air. The waiting was over, and she was lying soundly next to me, nursing in her sleep as I curled my forearm around her tiny body with room to spare. It was beautiful and messy and challenging and wonderful, just as it was meant to be.

Her first year went by way too fast, overshadowed by the demands of her older sister. But she is strong and loving, silly and sweet. The year was full of the laughter of little girls and late night cuddle sessions. I have been tested, and often, I have failed. Some days I struggle to put together coherent sentences, let alone string up words of grace and encouragement for my children. Other days, I gather up the two little girls who exploded into my heart and we have great adventures, conquering leafy monsters in the woods or dancing like butterflies with rags from the kitchen.

Unfortunately, in the middle of this messy turmoil called motherhood, I wasted significant emotional and mental energy on something which robbed me of the joy of my little one's first year, and I see many other new moms dwelling on it as well: the state of our post-partem bodies.

Tess's birth coincided with a sudden health and fitness surge that spread through my friends. So while I was up in the middle of the night nursing a newborn, she and I both still squishy and soft in all the right places, I was also scrolling through social media and seeing picture after picture of my friends sharing their workouts, healthy meals, and new-and-improved physiques.

**I am going to be very clear about this so there is no confusion: I am thrilled for my friends who have found new life and new hope through their fitness endeavors. This is in no way meant to criticize them or the work they are doing; this is simply a reflection of how my personal feelings about my post-partem body were impacted by exposure to these things on social media. I love these friends and their spirits. I know their intentions are to help motivate others who are also looking to make changes, and I appreciate their enthusiasm for doing so.**

As a brand new mom-times-two, these fit and healthy pictures made me feel miserable. I felt like I wasn't measuring up; that to be a *good* mom, I had to make sure that I was as trim and toned as possible. I have to set the example for my kids! I need to impress my friends with how quickly I can lose the baby weight! My husband should be wowed at how awesome I look! I should feel amazing! (And if I don't, it's because I'm not putting enough work into it and I am making excuses!)

And while obviously these weren't the messages that my well-meaning friends (as well as various media outlets, advertisements, etc.) were intending to put out there, this is how my hormonal, sleep-deprived brain interpreted them.

Of course, the obvious solution would have been to take a break from social media until my brain was sorted out enough to read the messages as they were meant to be (as encouragement, not condemnation), or at least until I could stop comparing myself to every other new mother out there and their suddenly-six-pack-abs and twelve mile runs logged on Runkeeper. But I had a new baby and was spending a lot of time sitting and nursing said baby, and I just didn't have the willpower. Social media was my only outlet to the rest of the world - you know, the planet spinning beyond diapers and naps, where people actually discussed important issues or shared big news or even just silly things that make me laugh when I was so tired tears were just dropping out of my eyes for no reason.

So I didn't take a break from Facebook. Instead, I started exercising. And it was good; it really was. I started running, and when my daughter was a few months old I ran my first 5k. I was in better shape than I had been in years, and it was awesome. Only... it wasn't.

While I certainly benefited from the 30 minutes of "me" time every other day, and the release of endorphins, my spirit still suffered. The truth is, I wasn't exercising because I loved the release, or even because I loved myself. I was exercising because I had started hating myself, and, more specifically, my post-partem body.

We are so quick to dismiss the miracle of a woman's body once her baby is born, aren't we? The focus tends to gravitate quickly from "look how cute you are pregnant!" towards "your baby is cute; you need to get your body back!" As if our bodies went somewhere while we were creating new life within them. As if we are detached from these bodies that still contain curves where our baby slept and grew and kicked for 40 weeks.

I see it everyday on social media. Posts like:
"Only four weeks post-partem and already back in my skinny jeans!"
"First workout post-baby and I killed it!"
"I can't wait until the doctor clears me to exercise! Time to lose this weight!"

I have been guilty of writing similar posts. Sometimes as a horrible "humble brag", but usually as a disclaimer, so the world knows that I am working on it. Yes, I have some extra baby weight, but I am working hard and I will soon be fit and acceptable in polite society again!

Just last month, a full 14 months after my daughter was born, I finally realized why I was so unhappy with myself. I needed to stop hating myself. I needed to stop feeling the need to justify my body's existence. I have stretch marks across my entire stomach and on my chest. My belly button is now a bit of a bottomless pit. And I have a "food baby" that makes me look four months pregnant the moment I even think about eating.

But this - my body - created two beautiful lives. It housed them, fed them, and carried them. It still works nonstop to provide milk for Tess, to cuddle Samantha after a bad dream, and to love these girls fiercely. I am not in the best shape for running a marathon, but I am in the best shape for soft snuggling. And I love everything this body has done for me and my girls. I love it even more when I stop thinking about how I should feel about my form and just embrace it for the beautiful, hard-working, living work of art that it is. These imperfections tell a story. My story. My daughters' stories. The story of the family that my husband and I have built. Our love story.

All bodies are different. Every mother is different. My body is different from my sister's body, which has birthed and nourished eight children. My body is different from my sister-in-law's body, which just birthed a second baby after a difficult pregnancy plagued with hyperemesis gavidarum. My body is different from that of my gym-fanatic friend, who bounced right back to her pre-pregnancy weight without stretch marks. The one thing that makes all of our bodies similar is that each one is a beautiful masterpiece, created by love and tears and laughter and pain.

It has been 15 months since Tess was born, but it has been far longer since I've truly loved and appreciated my body as it is. So today, I am going to embrace my soft, food-baby belly. I am going to stop trying to find clothes that make me look thinner than I am and that hide my imperfections. I am going to stop posturing about exercise. I am going to embrace who I am, embrace what it means for me to be post-partem. I am going to stop feeling guilty over food, or the skipped workout; I am going to stop apologizing to others for the shape of my being. The only apology I owe is to myself, to this vessel that contains my spirit and moves me around and carried my children.

My apology to my body looks something like this:

I am sorry for not loving you the way you deserve to be loved. Thank you for working tirelessly for me and my children. Thank you for movement, for flexibility, for bending and stretching and hugging and jumping and loving extravagantly. From this point forward, I will love you unconditionally, I will accept you without reservation, and I will embrace every imperfection as a work of art.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

On Not Being Enough

"Why am I never enough?"

This is the question that was posed on a mothering forum recently. It's a question that I know I've struggled with many times myself.

The woman who posted it was just having "one of those days." I've been there. The baby won't nap. The toddler had an accident. Someone wants to read a story (but it must be sung to the tune of a "Frozen" song - but not that "Frozen" song), or she wants to unwind a roll of toilet paper and then run with it through the house while the baby is nursing. Or maybe dinner is burning, my husband had a bad day at work, I just realized I put my underwear on inside out, and suddenly it's 9 pm and I'm collapsing into bed to close my eyes as quickly as possible to put the day behind me (knowing that it will only be a few hours before I'm up again to feed the baby.)

So I read this question and felt the pangs of inadequacy that this other mom was experiencing. And quickly the comments filled up with encouragement - you are enough, tomorrow is a new day, etc. And let me first and foremost say this - I am so thankful for this online community that is supportive and encouraging. Everyone needs community like this, and I think it's wonderful to be a part of a group that seeks to actively lift others up in their troubled times. (So please, don't misread what I'm about to say as me thinking that all of this encouragement was wrong.)

However, when reflecting on my own feelings of "I'm not enough," I came to two realizations:

1) There are a lot of different roles to fulfill.  I am a mother of two littles, a wife, a daughter/daughter-in-law, a sister/sister-in-law, and friend. These relationships are all special to me and take different amounts of time and energy to balance. I am an entrepreneur, small business owner, baker. I am also a babysitter to two other little ones and a church volunteer. I am occasionally an athlete and a writer. And I am pretty much always a basketcase.

2) I will never be enough. Because in thinking about all of these roles (which I know don't seem like a lot compared to what some others do), I left out my most important one - the daughter of a King. And I am not meant to be enough, at least not on my own.

This realization wasn't discouraging; in fact, it was quite the opposite. In acknowledging that I will never be enough, all of the burden of expectation fell from my shoulders. Trying to be everything to everyone (or even just everything to two very little people) is seriously, seriously exhausting.

But I don't need to be perfect, because my Creator is perfect.

I don't need to be enough, because His grace is more than enough.

When I fight to do it all on my own, I fail.

When I submit to God's awesome power, I thrive. My family thrives. My relationships thrive.

When I admit my weakness and allow room for God to work in my life, my heart changes and my focus shifts.

Most importantly, I am reminded that I have a caring Father whose love is limitless and compassion is endless. And He is enough.

Even if my underwear is on inside out.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Tessa Ember's Birth Story

"Are you sure you're not pregnant?"

This is how it all started. S was 15 months old. My cycle had just returned the previous month, and we had decided to start trying for another baby - on the assumption that it would take a while since my body is pretty defective. I had really confusing and irregular signs, thought I had ovulated later than I should have, and then on the morning that D asked me this question, had realized (or so I thought) that I hadn't ovulated at all.

"Of course I'm not pregnant!" I told him.

And then I went home and took a pregnancy test. It was late September, and two little blue lines showed up. Clearly, a mistake. I had shown no classic signs of fertility - at least not in the order they're supposed to be.

So I took another pregnancy test. And, of course, there was no mistake.

By the time I got around to seeing a doctor, I thought I was about 11 weeks along. The ultrasound showed me to be at 13 weeks. Goodbye, first trimester! My EDD was set for May 19th.

We then began the search for a home birth midwife, since we no longer live near the awesome birth center where Samantha was born. We found a great midwife named Sarah who was about an hour away - she was really the closest one. So at 20 weeks, I began driving down the Millheim for my appointments. Samantha loved going to the midwife. Sarah would let her "help" take my blood pressure, and push the button for the doppler to hear the baby's heartbeat. (Samantha enjoyed these tasks so much that she started playing "midwife" at home, rubbing her hands together, rolling up her sleeves, and then palpating my belly to feel the baby's position.)

After a completely normal and healthy pregnancy, May finally arrived. The countdown began, with May 19th as the baby's estimated birthday. At 37 weeks, everything was perfect, and baby was head down. At 38 weeks, something changed. I went to my appointment knowing that the baby had shifted positions, and was most likely now lying transverse. Sarah confirmed my suspicions, but wanted to be positive. She knew that if she sent me to the hospital for an ultrasound, and they found out the baby was transverse so close to my due date, they would want to schedule a C-section. So she called another home birth midwife in the area who owns a small ultrasound machine, and sent me over there. Twenty minutes later, I was back in Sarah's office with the confirmation - my baby was suddenly sideways.

Here's the thing about transverse babies - they can't come out that way. There is a possibility that they will turn head down during labor, but there is also the possibility that they won't. So D and I began doing the research on planned C-sections, trying to mentally wrap our minds around the idea that we might have to have a surgical birth instead of the natural at-home birth we were hoping for. It was a stressful week leading up to my next appointment. I knew that if the baby wasn't head down by 39 weeks, Sarah would recommend transferring to her back-up doctor and scheduling a C-section. I did all sorts of exercises that are supposed to help turn the baby into the correct position. Samantha caught on and her new manrta became "head down, baby, head down!" D and I talked endlessly about how we could have a "gentle cesarean" to make the experience as stress-free as possible. (Side note: it is now possible to have a C-section and get to hold your baby immediately afterwards, as well as to delay cord-clamping, and some other neat improvements!) I won't go into all of the anxiety that swallowed our household during this week, but I was a nervous wreck by my next prenatal appointment. Even though I had finally let go of the need to control everything and turned the rest of my pregnancy and the birth over to God, I still wanted to be able to follow through on our planned birth experience.

Fortunately, my baby turned into the right position just in time for my 39 week appointment. I remember asking Sarah, "So, what can I do to prevent the baby from turning again?" Her response was a not-very reassuring, "She shouldn't have turned this late in the first place!" I tried to feel peace by reminding myself that the baby was in God's hands, and that any changes in positioning were for a reason (for example, if the cord was getting wrapped and being sideways was preventing some type of problem). And now it was time to wait. And wait... And wait...

The 19th was a Tuesday. I had planned out activities for the entire week, hoping to have to cancel them. But alas, even though I had been having Braxton Hicks contractions for several weeks, there was no sign of impending labor until that Friday, the 23rd. I started having contractions in the morning, but they were all in my back. D went into work for a few hours to finalize things, and we thought we'd have baby sometime in the next day or two. My contractions were irregularly spaced and on-and-off all day, so we went out to the mall and walked around for a while. After we ate dinner, the contractions stopped altogether. 

Saturday morning I went to a prayer brunch with a bunch of wonderful ladies. That morning, I had a bit of bloody show. I told everyone that I was pretty sure the baby would be here by the end of the weekend, even though my contractions were still so intermittent. They continued to be on and off all day, but never got any stronger. My sister suggested that perhaps the reason they were all in my back, and were starting and stopping, was because the baby was posterior ("sunny side up" - basically facing towards my belly instead of my back.) I started doing exercises to try to get the baby to turn around, since babies don't fit quite as well through the pelvis when they face this way.

Sunday morning, D had to go to the ER for chest pain. My contractions completely stopped. D ended up being fine, but I no longer had any signs of labor.

Monday was Memorial Day. We decided to test Murphy's Law and go hiking with friends. We went an hour away from home, out in the middle of the woods. We forgot to charge our cell phones. And our car started having problems. I hiked part of the Falls Trail - with lots and lots of steps. And yet, no contractions, no baby.

Hiking at Rickett's Glen State Park
Tuesday I went to yet another prenatal appointment, where Sarah confirmed that my baby was posterior.

My contractions didn't start up again until Wednesday morning around 7:30 - eight days past my estimated due date. They were stronger this time, but still in my lower back. They came intermittently. D went to work in the morning, and my good friend Becky and her son Ben came over to hang out. The kids played, and my contractions came more frequently. I kept waiting for them to stop again, but when Becky finally asked me, "Do you want me to be timing these?" I realized that they probably weren't going away. We went for a very slow walk around the block, and then Becky & Ben went home for lunch. I got Samantha down for a nap and called Sarah to give her a head's up that I might actually be in labor. I then tried to relax & lay down, but my contractions suddenly became very intense. During one, I felt a small "pop" and leaked a small amount of water. D came home from work, and our friend Beth came over to get Samantha. 

Sarah arrived at 3:30 and checked me - I was already at 8 cm and 90% effaced! I was sure the baby was coming soon, but the contractions weren't as intense anymore. Lisa, the back-up midwife, showed up a little while later. Now it was just a waiting game. The contractions were more consistent, but still very manageable. D and I played Uno while I sat on the exercise ball. Sarah & Lisa sat and chatted in my kitchen and gave us plenty of space. I snacked a lot and we just generally passed the time hanging out. It was very relaxing, but it felt like everything was taking a very long time (especially since I was already so dilated, and because my water had already leaked a bit).

At 5:30 I got into the birth pool. It felt so incredible to be in the water. I could easily change positions, and I tried to be on my knees & leaning forward as much as possible during contractions to help the baby get positioned properly. For the most part, my labor was relatively easy, and for the next two hours D and I talked and joked between contractions. It was a really special time for us, and we were both generally relaxed about the whole process.

Then 7:30 hit, and everything changed. The contractions really started to pick up, and I started bracing a bit to get the baby to move down. I stopped being able to talk easily and just focused on breathing and trying to relax. I did a lot of "horse lips" to loosen up, and found they really helped (even though I sounded ridiculous). D spoke words of encouragement the entire time, and this made all the difference. His reassuring voice in my ear, as I leaned my head on his shoulder, gave me strength. I tried to speak words of affirmation as well ("I can do this, I can do this!"), and spoke to the baby. I got to the point where I felt like I couldn't do it anymore, and that's when I remembered what my sister had once told me - when you reach the point where you feel like you can't do it, you're almost done. 

I started pushing at 8:06. Because the baby was sunny-side up, it was extremely difficult and so much more intense than my first birth experience. When S was born, her body came out without much effort, but this baby was very different! Her head emerged at 8:07, but because of positioning and her larger-than-average size, her shoulders took a while to squeeze through. She wasn't necessarily stuck, but it was a very tight fit. Sarah told me to reach down and feel the baby's head, and as soon as I did I felt a surge of power run through my arm and give me the strength to push her body out. Our beautiful girl was born in the water at 8:08 p.m., after two minutes of pushing (definitely the most intense two minutes of my life). She emerged with the bag of waters draped over her head like a veil.

Because her head was out for a full minute before I was able to push her body out, she was a little bit blue. Sarah and Lisa were completely calm, however, so I never sensed anything was really wrong. My sweet baby opened her eyes and looked at me, and I held her to my chest, relieved to be done and overjoyed at her presence. It wasn't until D asked about her coloring that I even noticed. (It wasn't until over a month later, when Sarah shared her notes with me, that I found out that her Apgar at one minute was only a four - low heart rate, no respiratory effort, pale blue... but because my midwives remained calm, her first few minutes of life weren't disrupted by panic.)

After two minutes of sitting against my chest draped in towels, with Sarah and Lisa massaging her limbs, my baby girl began breathing much better and pinked right up. By five minutes, her Apgar was a nine and everyone relaxed. We spent a few minutes cuddled up, with D learning over my shoulder and our baby against my chest, and for that moment, everything was perfect.

The cord was cut at 8:17 after it stopped pulsing. She weighed in at a whopping 8 lbs 14 ounces and  was 22" long. She began nursing without a problem at 8:37, and we settled in for a little while to rest (and eat peanut butter crackers - I was hungry!) At 9:20, Sarah examined her and discovered that her gestational age was exactly 40 weeks, instead of the 41 or 42 weeks that my due date would have suggested. Looking at Sarah's notes, it is pretty cool the way that the gestational age is determined. They examine neuromuscular maturity and physical maturity, and use a scale which shows various possibilities - for example, on posture, wrist flexibility, arm recoil, what their ears/feet/skin/breasts/etc. look like. Then they total up all of the answers to figure out the baby's gestational age, and our baby scored exactly 40 weeks. Incidentally, this is what I had initially expected to be my due date, until the ultrasound told us different. So it appears that she was just big from the very beginning, and that threw off the dates on the ultrasound.

Tessa's first few minutes of life.

The midwives left at 10:00. We all slept well that night, and D went and got Samantha first thing the next morning. We still hadn't decided on a name for the baby, even though we had known for 22 weeks that she would be a girl. We had it narrowed down to three names, and finally we decided to both pick two and see which ones overlapped or if we could at least eliminate one. Tessa/Tess was the name that we both picked. It was originally a nickname for Theresa, but is now a common name by itself. It means "harvester." We had already picked the middle name Ember, so Tessa's name literally means "harvester of fire." Hopefully this won't invoke thoughts of pyromania, but instead of someone who cultivates passion and enthusiasm for life.

All in all, our first home birth experience was amazing. It was incredible to be in my own home, to have the freedom to move around, eat snacks, and spend quiet time with my husband as we waited for Tess to arrive. My midwives were supportive and present as needed, but virtually invisible when they weren't needed. Being in the water made a world of difference, too. Between Tess's size and her stubborn posterior positioning, I am honestly not sure how I would have been able to birth her naturally without the weightlessness that the water provided. I was able to move easily and get into the optimal position (and it also prevented tearing, which is a plus - especially, again, with her size & positioning being a bit unusual!) And it was absolutely heavenly to climb into my own bed to snuggle with my baby minutes after she was born.

Tess at two days old - when we finally figured out her name:-)

I am so thankful to have had this birth experience. My experience with S was also amazing, but in a very different way. Both births are full of special, unique memories - just as both girls are special and unique.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Evolution of a First-time Mom

So, I meant to write a big long post about S turning one (way back in June) and all of the exciting changes that have been happening since then (and by "exciting" I mostly mean "exhausting," because she is pretty much always on the go.) Obviously, I didn't get around to it. Sorry.

But last week, I started thinking about how my feelings about motherhood have changed in the last 15 1/2 months. You see, during my pregnancy, I was really focused on the birth. I learned as much as I could about the whole process, about possible complications, about relaxation techniques, about all that kind of stuff. I felt really well educated. It wasn't until S was born - after a (thankfully) completely wonderful birth experience - that I realized that I had not spent any time learning about what to do with a baby. I owned about half a dozen books about pregnancy and birth, but none on caring for an infant. 

Fortunately, babies tend to have relatively few needs. The main goal with a baby is survival. So a little one needs food, shelter, and lots of love/touching. Of course, this might be oversimplifying a bit, but it's basically the truth. As a new mom, though, I started to obsess about every single decision. I obsessed about breastfeeding. I obsessed about cloth diapers. I obsessed about co-sleeping. And, let me be clear, I do not mean "obsessed" in that productive, Type-A way where everything has to be perfect, where I can make enlightened observations about the effectiveness of my decisions and adjust accordingly, and where the obsession really just manifests as devotion to my child. No, I obsessed in the sense that it's all I could think about and talk about. (My poor, poor husband.) I rationalize this by saying it is completely normal. I think most first time moms go through something like this. Somewhere in my brain, I tried really, really hard to remember that the entire universe was not spiraling around me and my little newborn babe. But ultimately, my universe did revolve around this little one, especially as a stay-at-home mom, and especially those first few months where I constantly felt like it was a miracle I was able to keep this sweet tiny being alive. So every little change became monumental, and every decision of vital importance.

Now, I am the mother of a very curious, very active toddler. I look back at those days with a newborn and, while they were definitely not "easy," the needs were much simpler. I didn't have to worry about things like discipline, or teaching concepts like "patience" or "sharing" or "no you cannot eat the entire block of cheese just because you saw it in the refrigerator." Every day has become full of "teachable moments." In the five hours that S and I have been awake today, I have already tried to teach her things like:

* When pointing to my eyes and saying "eyes," you don't actually need to POKE me in the eye. Likewise, smacking in the belly and saying "belly" is not cute. Even if you then rub and say "gentle" afterwards.
* When you pull all of the cooling racks out of the tupperware cabinet, and then get stuck in the cabinet and can't climb out because of said cooling racks littering the floor, a simple "help" will do. Screaming like a velociraptor is not necessary.
* When we are in the shower, no matter how much fun it might seem to play with the bath/shower switch and the nozzles that adjust water temperature, it is not appropriate to do so when I am trying to wash my hair.
* If you don't like my homemade applesauce (okay, okay, it was really gross), you don't need to hide it under your legs. Or discreetly drop it on the floor so I step in it barefoot. Just say, "All done!" and stop eating it.
* When it is time to change your diaper, that is not code for "run in the opposite direction and hide behind the pantry." Also, please note: diaper changing time is not the opportunity you have been looking for to practice going "kick kick kick" like we do in swim lessons.
* When I say it is time to come out of the bathroom, that does not mean throw a whole bag of dental flossers into the trashcan (where I also found a headband and a stegosaurus.)
* When a friend comes over to play, and you borrow/steal all of his toys, it would be helpful to go around and gather all of them up when they are getting ready to leave. Not hide them in parts unknown, only to pull them out to play with innocently the next morning. (Sorry, Becky and Ben!)

I realize this sounds completely daft, but I need to be honest about something. It was only a few weeks ago that this occurred to me: after all those months of planning/reading/preparing for pregnancy, birth, and infancy, that is the simple part. (Please don't misunderstand - I am not saying it was easy, and I think all of those experiences are absolutely vital and valuable in a mother's journey, and yes, they can be very, very challenging in many ways. But the needs themselves are much more basic.) It finally occurred to me that I am not simply helping sustain the life of a sweet little girl and getting lots of cuddles and laughs along the way. Instead. my task - my JOB - is to work with D and teach this little girl how to one day become a responsible adult.

ADULT. The idea of my babbling daughter being an adult is weird, and terrifying, and awesome. I get so caught up in the "why isn't she sharing?" phase that it becomes difficult to remember that this is not a job with immediate results. I am helping to form a person. Not a cute little baby that I can put in dresses and people will go "aww how sweet," but a person who will be expected to be able to make responsible decisions, contribute to the world, and have some semblance of morals and ethics. Considering that I still don't feel like an adult most of the time, I feel completely unqualified for this task. It is totally overwhelming. I find myself exhibiting selfish behavior or a negative attitude, and then I see it mirrored right back at me in her chocolate brown eyes and chubby little cheeks. Every single day I struggle with making good decisions that will teach her and influence her as she grows. How on earth will I continue to do this for the rest of my life?

I think: 

This is exhausting.


I am not good enough/strong enough/selfless enough.

Here is the beauty of motherhood. It is exhausting, and at times discouraging, and there are days when I go to bed just feeling broken. These are the days when I know I am NOT strong enough. Not on my own. 

But with God, I can do anything. He makes beautiful things out of the ashes of sleep deprivation, tantrums (mine or hers), frustration, selfishness. He is taking all of these things stored in my heart, which I thought I had tucked away secretly but have lately been brought out into the open in motherhood, and he is transforming me, bit by bit. And that is truly and completely beautiful.

A friend posted this awesome video on Facebook today, and it is a really awesome version of one of my favorite hymns. It sums up perfectly what I've been trying to say. (So you can just skip the entire reading part of this post, and watch/listen to this video!)

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Going on a Bear Hunt...

I am just going to put this out there: when someone is attempting to take their 11-month old camping for the first time, it is not helpful to flood her with stories about how many bears are running around the state park. Because I love nature, but the idea of trying to keep a curious little one from crawling into the fire or off a cliff, rolling in poison ivy, and eating rocks can be daunting enough. Trying to remember the proper procedures for dealing with a black bear (play dead? act big and scary?) and how to get a baby to cooperate with those procedures was enough to make me almost cancel the trip.

Fortunately, I didn't let my silly fears convince me to cancel. And on the first Saturday night in June, the three of us were able to  get out for a night of fresh air and family time - both of which were very much needed!

We decided to go somewhere very close to home (Happy Acres Campground, right next to Little Pine State Park, which is about 30 minutes away) and to only go for one night. This way, if things didn't work out well with Samantha, or if the predicted thunderstorms did end up coming our way, we could just pack up and leave. We went with very low expectations. No pressure to hike five miles and then sit down to a gourmet campfire meal. No belief that Samantha would sleep... at all. No plans other than to just be together as a family, and to be outside.

I'm going to let the pictures tell the story, but there are a few things I learned. First, now that I no longer spend all of my days playing outside in the woods, I have lost my "bug tolerance" (seriously, those critters were everywhere and it was driving me nuts!). Second, I'm getting old, and no matter how many sleeping bags and blankets I pile onto the ground, I still wake up achy. And third, D and I still are most content, and most complete as a couple, when we are able to spend time together in the outdoors, without any distractions, schedules, or agendas.

Without further babbling, here is how Samantha fared on her first camping adventure:

We had a busy day before we left, so she passed out on the way there. She slept long enough for us to set up the tent without her trying to "help."

Sleeping arrangements for the night. we made a little nest of blankets on one side for S, and brought a few comforts from home (her puppy and blanket).

D was excited to show her the tent as soon as she woke up.

"I in a tent!" (words her father woke up and shouted in the middle of the night on his very first camping trip)
The hot day cooled down perfectly as a light rain fell and the sun shone through.

"Now what do we do?"

It took a while for the excitement of having such a large 'playground' to kick in.

D tried very hard to get her to stop eating rocks.

But she's a persistent little girl.

I got this camping chair at a yard sale for $3 that morning. She loved it! It was also the perfect distraction to keep her from trying to play with the campfire.

Snack time.

Trying to climb a hill full of pine needles... and slipping again and again.

She's a persistent little girl.

Practicing our walking skills.

Fast asleep by the fire. Once I put her down on her "nest" in the tent, she didn't stir. Well, until someone's car alarm went off at 2 AM.

We enjoyed mountain pies for dinner, and warmed up some apple bread for breakfast.

Mmm... apple bread. Delicious when smothered with crunchy peanut butter or Nutella.

S asks for more bread. It was the first time she'd ever had any, and she loved it.


I was trying to take down the tent to leave, and she refused to climb out.

No bears, and we will definitely be camping again! :-)

Thursday, May 2, 2013

How Does Your Garden Grow?

It has long been a dream of mine to have an awesome vegetable garden. Unfortunately, it has also long been a reality that I don’t actually have a yard. So, instead of vegetables I’ve kept house plants, and compromised by going to the local farmer’s market often during the summer months to stock up on fresh produce.

This winter, I approached my landlord and asked if I could dig up a part of the yard for a small garden. He was hesitant to say yes (for good reason, I know), but instead provided me with several containers I could use for growing plants. So I went to the library to look for books on how to grow vegetables in pots. Unfortunately, all I found were books about how to make your plants look good in various containers, and very little about having your indoor/porch garden be functional. Honestly, I don’t care how it looks, I just want to be able to eat it.

D and I spent several months reading gardening books (me), searching for advice on the internet (him), and discussing our dream garden. We made several lists of what grows well in pots. For my birthday, he gave me several new containers to use to start our garden. And then, the entire month of April came and went, and I still hadn’t started anything. So last weekend, armed with my lists, I headed out to Lowe’s to see about getting started.

Now, here is where all of my best intentions fly out the window. I will spend days/weeks/months researching something and coming up with a game plan, but when it’s time to act on it, I tend to just wing it. This is exactly what happened when I got to Lowe’s. After a leisurely stroll down the lighting aisle (Samantha’s favorite), and the countertop aisle (daydreaming about having my own cupcake kitchen), we headed out to see what seedlings were available. My list, incidentally, was tucked into my back pocket. It might be no surprise to you that it stayed there the entire time.

The selection was absolutely amazing… if you wanted tomatoes. I had no idea there were so many varieties of tomatoes! Over one third of the vegetable selection was tomatoes (okay, I know, tomatoes are a fruit, thanks for pointing that out.) The other third was varieties of cabbage. This narrowed down the selection rather quickly. So, without consulting anyone, or asking for advice, I randomly picked a tomato seedling that looked healthy, and also grabbed two bell pepper plants. I debated for a while about various herbs – especially the “chocolate mint” – but decided pot space was too limited.

I wandered around for a while looking for the seed packets. And, again, without consulting my list, I bought things that I am rather positive will not grow well in containers (carrots, spinach, onions). I even splurged and spent the extra sixty cents on “organic” seeds, only to realize once I got home that I am not using organic potting soil and the effort was therefore wasted.

Oh yes, the potting soil. Usually, when I repot my houseplants, I run out of soil and have to keep running back to the store to get more. I didn’t want to bother with that, so I decided to buy two of the largest bags I could find. The problem? I couldn’t lift them. So I wandered around for about twenty minutes trying to find someone burly to help me, to no avail. The only employee in sight was a 16 year old the size of a pencil, and she was swamped with the long line at check out. I tried to muscle it out. With Samantha sitting in the cart watching with great amusement, I attempted to wrestle the first bag onto the bottom of the cart. The soil inside was all broken up, so it was like trying to manhandle an ornery marshmallow. I got it halfway on the cart before it became stuck. I then went in search of one of the low, flat trolleys to put the soil on. After several more embarrassing attempts, I finally managed to get the first bag of potting soil loaded up onto the trolley. I went to reach for the second, and found it oddly much lighter than the first. At this point, I was really frustrated and didn’t stop to think about why two bags of the same size might have such a drastic weight variance. Samantha started to get antsy, so I finally managed to push her and my seedlings in the cart with one hand, while pulling the soil-laden trolley with the other, to the long check out line. We passed the time with Samantha trying to eat the seed packets, and then trying to climb out of the cart to play with the handle of the trolley, and then finally made it to the cashier. We doled out enough money to have just bought fresh veggies at the market all summer long, and headed to the car. I opened up the back only to discover that it still contained the large jogging stroller, the pack n play, and the pack n play mattress, and therefore had no room for the soil. So I wrestled the soil marshmallows into the passenger seat and went home angry and frustrated.

The next day was beautiful and sunny and perfect for gardening.  All of my previous frustrations were gone, and I took Samantha down to the yard to sit happily on a blanket while I worked. She was quite amused with the watering can for a few minutes.

I started by breaking every gardening rule about gently transferring plants, and immediately took all of my houseplants out of their containers and laid them on the ground. This helped me see what space I had available.

Various spider plants
My pathetic aloe plant

I then ordered the houseplant potting arrangement and opened the first bag of soil to begin repotting. The first bag – the incredible heavy one – turned out to be soaking wet. This, of course, explains the extra burden of lifting it (it originally only weighed 30 lbs or so).

While I worked on the houseplants, Samantha decided that she didn’t like wearing a hat or staying on the blanket. Instead, she wanted to play with a dandelion.

 And then, she wanted to eat it. But apparently it didn’t taste very good.

The neighborhood cat Twilite came around, despite my best attempts to get it to go away. Twilite wanted to lounge on the blanket and play with Samantha’s toys. Samantha got so excited she whacked the cat in the face with the dandelion a couple dozen times. Twilite left shortly thereafter.

I finished potting my houseplants in their new containers and we took a short break. When we came back outside, I started tackling the vegetables that may or may not ever grow. Samantha decided to explore the yard.

Then she sat for a while, conducting the music of nature while singing to herself.

After a few songs, she went back to doing what she does best – eating nature.

Do you like my lilac leaf goatee?
I distracted her from eating all the lilacs in the yard long enough to get her interested in what I was doing. She then wanted to help. First, she had to inspect the containers.

They look sturdy...

Next, she wanted to help with the annoyingly wet potting soil.

Carefully reading the directions...
I quickly tossed my seedlings and seeds into pots, filled them with soil, and tried to avoid any further baby interruptions. Unfortunately, I was not fast enough:

What's this?
Can I eat it?
Mmmm… potting soil…

Anyway, I finished all of the plants and set them out on the front and back porches, (hopefully) ready to grow!

Tomato plant, carrots, peppers
Onions & more carrots (spinach not pictured)
I am thinking of this year as a big experiment. If things don’t grow, I’ll be disappointed but not too dismayed (afterall, I completely ignored almost every rule about proper gardening). If they do, it will be a pleasant surprise. I have marked on my summer calendar in big, bold letters the expected harvesting time for each plant (SPINACH! CARROTS! etc.) so I’ll know for sure if this adventure was all for naught.

As for Samantha, she took the longest bath of her life, and so far seems to have no lasting effects from ingesting the various flowers, bugs, and potting soil. All in all, the day was a success.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Good Resources for Expectant Moms

I love talking about birth. It kind of freaked me out when I was pregnant, but now I seriously love hearing how each baby I meet entered the world. I especially love natural birth stories. I was sharing a brief version of Samantha’s birth story (the full version can be found here) with some friends, and a mom of two recently asked me how I knew “all this stuff” about alternative options for birth. My answer was quite simple: my incredible sister has seven children, two of whom were born at home. Throughout my pregnancy, she patiently fielded all of my questions and gently provided guidance, support, and information. I was also able to talk freely with my mom about her personal experiences “back in the day.” Between these two awesome women, I was able to educate myself about the birth experience the way women *used* to – by learning from their mothers, sisters, aunts, and cousins, instead of from doctors with whom they had no prior relationship. But I realize that I had a unique opportunity, and most women nowadays don’t have quite that network of women.

There are literally thousands of resources out there now to help guide women through conception, pregnancy, birth, and motherhood. This is both a good and bad thing. It is fantastic that there is information available in books and on the internet, but with so much information out there, a lot of it seems to contradict each other. Especially when your brain is flooded with pregnancy hormones, it is difficult to filter through all the differing opinions of what is “best” and make a decision based on what is best for you and your baby.

However, I think it is extremely important for women to educate themselves about this incredibly special occasion. Most women spend (significantly) more time researching and preparing for their wedding day than they do for their birth experience. Of course, weddings are important events, but birth is the act of bringing another human being into the world – it is THE most important event (at least, in my opinion). So, just like most of us wouldn’t hand over all the details of our wedding to an “expert” (wedding planner, well-organized friend, whatever) without at least getting the chance to veto the floral design or express our wishes for the meal, we shouldn’t just go blindly into birth and assume that everything the experts (doctors, midwives, nurses, whatever) want to do is what is best for you. None of these people are experts on you and your baby.

I would like to advocate here for women (and their partners) to make informed decisions and be actively involved in the birth process. Disclaimer: I am by no means trying to invalidate the experience of those who did not have natural births (whether by choice or by chance). I believe each woman needs to seriously consider what is best for her and her baby, and to make decisions based upon that information. That said, I also believe that our bodies are designed to birth babies – without medical intervention – the majority of the time. I believe that pregnancy and birth are not illnesses to be treated and managed by doctors on a schedule, but are experiences designed to transition a woman into motherhood. These experiences are not easy, will rarely fit into a perfect time table, and will, ultimately bring forth two new beings: the baby, and the mother. It is the most awesome, terrifying, and empowering experience a person can have.

Anyway, because I am always interested in discussing birth with anyone who will listen, I have often been asked for recommendations on the various books and resources that I have found helpful. I did a lot of reading and internet searching while preparing for Samantha (and even more since she has arrived), and many of these resources have been recommended to me by other mothers. I wanted to share a list of some of my favorites. Most of these follow the type of birth/parenting “philosophy*” that I adhere to, so if you’re not interested in that, then you probably won’t find these recommendations helpful. Please feel free to comment with other recommendations, as well.

*”Parenting philosophy” is a term I use loosely, since I think trying to put everything you believe into one ideology/set of rules is a sure way to set yourself up for frustration with a baby (and I can only speak about parenting itself from my perspective with a particularly adorable eight month old). However, if you’d like some clarification on how I would define my “style” , I’d say part attachment parenting, part “instinctual” parenting, and part “make it up as you go” parenting. It is not the easiest way to parent, and probably not the most effective, but it’s what feels right to me and my husband, so that’s what we do.*

Anyway, back to the recommendations:

For Pregnancy:

*The Pregnancy Book by Dr. Sears – this goes month by month with what to expect. Dr. Sears is one of the main advocates of attachment parenting, and I have read many of his books. The cover on this one is a bit 1980’s looking, but the information inside is solid.

*What to Expect When You’re Expecting – this is probably the most popular book. I read this side-by-side with The Pregnancy Book, each a month at a time so I wouldn’t get overwhelmed. This book represents every single possible spectrum, so it is good for pretty much all mothers, regardless of what they are considering. However, I will say that while it discusses natural birth, it is a bit light on some of the alternative options or other more natural approaches to pregnancy, which is why the Dr. Sears book is a good companion.

For Nutrition:

*Real Food for Mother and Baby by Nina Plank – I didn’t read this until just a few months ago, so it wasn’t helpful to me during my pregnancy, but I wish I had read it then! It follows the ideas Plank shares in her book Real Food (simply: processed food, “low fat/carb/calorie/whatever”, and things like “cheese products” are not, actually, food, and that real food in its natural, complete form is quite healthy and good for us… Imagine that!) In this version of the book, she gives ideas for diets for increasing fertility and conception, for pregnancy, for breastfeeding, and for feeding baby when s/he starts solid foods. While I was pregnant, I did try to read “What to Eat While You’re Expecting,” and the Dr. Sears book also had nutrition guidelines, but I have a hard time counting calories, or protein/carb/fat intake, so this holistic approach to eating well to help baby grow and help prepare your body for its biggest physical challenge is simple and wonderful.

For Birth:

*The Birth Book by Dr. Sears – I think this book is extremely important. What to Expect covers every single option for birth available – from drug free to elective C-section – and that is all fine to know. This book, however, while covering all of these topics, puts a lot of emphasis on natural birth and alternative birth options. It discusses all of the tests that will be done during your pregnancy (which, by the way, did you know that you have the right to refuse any test or treatment if you want? This information was the most liberating thing I learned while pregnant. While I only turned down one screening early on – to see if there were any genetic defects in the baby, since we knew we would have the baby regardless of the results and the test can show a false positive and cause unnecessary worry for the remainder of your pregnancy – it was still comforting to know that D and I could be in control of our baby’s wellbeing from the very beginning). Anyway, it also discusses putting together your birth team – selecting your doctor/midwife, and choosing who will be with you (partner, doula, family, friends) – as well as writing your birth plan. It discusses the pros and cons of various birthing locations (home, birth center, hospital). It also thoroughly explains all of the stages of birth and everything to expect. Honestly, by the time I went to my birth class, I knew all of the information already because of this book. It’s a good read if you want to be really well informed. It might even help you prepare yourself to avoid any unnecessary but all-too-common medical interventions. Knowledge is power, afterall.

(Notice there is only one book under this heading? Even though it’s the main topic of my blog post? That’s because I only read this one book specifically on the subject of birth [other books touched on it] and felt that I had all the information I needed to make informed decisions throughout the process.)

*The Business of Being Born. This isn’t a book, it’s a documentary. And it’s amazing. And okay, it made me cry when I watched it with my fearful early pregnancy hormones, but it opened up my eyes to quite a lot of information. Like any documentary, it has a specific spin (this is very homebirth oriented), but I think it is especially important for those planning a hospital birth. It clearly demonstrates the effects of extraneous medical interventions, as well as reveals some of the (now out of date) rather scary aspects of medicalized birth history (twilight sleep, anyone?) It also shows how incredibly awesome and transformative birth can be. Be advised that it does depict actual birth scenes, although none of that close-up nonsense of the baby emerging (which, I’m told by my husband, is “crazy and beautiful and a confluence of emotion that is hard to describe” when you witness it on a loved one, but might not evoke quite the same emotions when watching a stranger on the tv screen). These scenes are very… well, real, of laboring women, and if you’re getting ready to have a baby and you have never seen a birth before, these are the ones to watch. They might not be pretty, but they are absolutely beautiful. Honestly, if you only take one recommendation from this blog, I hope it is to watch this movie. Seriously.

I have been able to find most, if not all, of these resources at my local library. As I said earlier, there are thousands of books out there on pregnancy, nutrition, and birth, and I am sure each one has at least a glimmer of good information. These are just the resources that I found particularly helpful during my pregnancy, and that I routinely loan to friends. I am very interested to hear what resources have been helpful to others during pregnancy, so please comment with other recommendations!