Birth & Making Time Stand Still

Second pregnancies are different. Time no longer stands still. Best intentions of maternity pictures and quiet meditation take a backseat to jobs, and housework, and taking care of big sissy.

I knew she’d come at 38 weeks, but still it caught me by surprise. I never got to all those things on my list. All that contemplation and connection. Instead, it was Friday night and we went to dinner at a friend’s house and I announced to everyone I was done. Wishful thinking, I thought.

But, sure enough, that night the cramps turned into contractions and I slept as well as I could between each one, hopeful when they were 6 minutes apart but remembering the nights of prodromal labor with her sister. And, just the same, daylight came and they tapered out. Another night, the same. Exhausted but excited. Another day spread out and then a third night, more intense. I could no longer sleep between. I howled into the night, “Bring me my baby,” a voice primal and haunting escaping from my lips.

Alex got up at 3AM to check on me. He must have sensed it was time or heard my wails. We called Grandma and when she arrived the contractions were 3 to 5 minutes apart, strong enough to make me believe maybe we wouldn’t have to wait another night. I cried in the triage room when they admitted me. This was real. Somehow it had all flown by and I was having a baby. A BABY. How was it not real, already?

Bright lights and 30 minutes of fetal monitoring left me twisting back in forth in the hospital bed. “Your baby will be here soon, Mama,” the nurse assured me, her Spanish accent so maternal I wanted to melt into her arms. I needed to get up and move around. I was ready.

As the light began to creep into the sky, I felt my contractions spreading back out. I was too late. I couldn’t do another day and night. I needed my old friend, Pitocin, but now the memory of induced contractions flooded back and I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, do it again. I had told myself if this birth was like Eloise’s I would do it differently. Not because I regretted the way I’d done it before, but because I’d already done it.

I asked for an epidural knowing Pitocin was next.

When the doctor came in, he thought I was the surrogate for my dad and my husband, who were with me in the room. We laughed. Exactly the moment comedic relief was needed.

I was more afraid of an epidural than the pain, but I was also so very, very tired. I held my breath and trusted it was an experience I needed. I let myself be less than perfect because perfect in my mind was facing the pain head on. After all, I’d done it the other way before. I should be able to do it again, but maybe that’s exactly why I didn’t. I needed to make time stand still, the super power I’d always wanted as a child. A tiny break before the marathon of newborn parenting.

I may have cried a little as the epidural was administered, but soon my legs were fuzzy and I was able to relax. We’re too hard on ourselves as women, I’ve decided. The midwife who delivered Eloise came on duty and we chatted about my choice. She was so supportive, her curiosity about my experience comforting, as she wanted to hear the difference between an epidural birth and a natural one, having opted to go natural for her one and only childbirth. Knowing she would deliver Miriam was everything I needed. It was the natural balance to my choice.

For the next 7 hours, I rested and visited with family. It was somehow anti-climatic to lie and wait for the baby to arrive, unlike the hours of hard work I put in with Eloise. Still, there was comfort in the ability to let go and just let it happen. I imagined my body opening. I went crazy unable to move my legs. Finally, the epidural started to wear off just as I hit the wall of transition. I wailed and moaned and sent the anesthesiologist running down the hall with needles to fix things. Numb again, I stopped trying to harass my legs back to life and finally accepted my passive state.

When it was time to push, she was out in just three contractions. So much peace in her exit. The midwife had me hold my own legs and the muscle memory of pushing came back easily. No tearing, no pain. Just a baby. As her head emerged, they had me sit up to look. I pulled her onto my own chest. My little act of agency in such a passive state. A gift from my kind midwife, knowing I needed a little more.

A warm, wet baby on my chest. Wiggling and real. My baby. Born on a rainy afternoon in February without screams or profanity, just ease and grace. Tears again. Loving disbelief on my husband’s face. Eloise was the first besides us to meet her. I had thought we’d wait until we went upstairs to recover, but my husband marched her in and I pulled her into bed with me. Another moment I didn’t know I needed. Our little family of four finally complete.

Two girls, my girls. Miriam Grace, the missing piece of our puzzle, teaching me on day one to be present instead of “perfect,” to make time stand still, again, to let her enter the world in peace.

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One of my two favorite pictures in existence. The other, our first picture of Eloise.

37 weeks, again.

It’s 4AM. Maybe I shouldn’t have gone to bed so early. The words are back and it’s time to write. I owe baby M at least one reflection on my pregnancy.

I tried in the beginning to write, but it was too hard. I felt so sick. Then there were all the uncertainties and school started again and time flew.

Now, 37 weeks, 3 days. The exact point where labor began with her big sister.

It’s not time yet, but things are getting real.

At this point with E, it was all about the future. I dreamed about our adventures to come. I was ready.

With M, it’s about the present. I haven’t had the luxury of so much time. I haven’t laid awake talking to her in the middle of the night. Instead, I’ve worked and taken care of her sister and tried to take care of myself. I’ve folded all her clothes and gotten all the gear ready. I’ve done my best to prepare E for what’s to come. But, still, I haven’t figured out how to slow down and be fully present.

There have been moments. Like when we got to see her face by surprise during a growth scan. Her lips and expressions somehow mirroring her big sister’s. I cried and she was real. Of course, I feel her all the time. Her little knees and feet and elbows skimming across the right side of my belly, her body head down but turned toward my right. The day we found out she was a girl was surreal. Sisters. Of course, I’d thought she was a boy because of how sick I’d felt all summer, different than with her big sister.

Everything has been different. At our first doctor’s appointment we learned her due date was way off and held our breath for two weeks until we could return again to find a heartbeat. Then we discovered a possible challenge with her placenta. So far everything has been alright, which has taught me to take a google search of any diagnosis with a grain of salt. Mix in an extra crazy world and wow, this baby is brave.

Since the beginning, I’ve told her it’s by the grace of God she joins us. We hadn’t planned so soon, but still she’s a wished-for child. Two sentiments reflected perfectly in her name, or at least in the name we hold for her until our eyes meet and we know for sure.

Miriam Grace.

Two.

12842543_10104252860195903_1581912007_oLittle feet hit hard against my knees.

When did she get so long?

She screams as I press her tight against me. Memories of colic flooding back. Now she’s bigger and I know it will stop within minutes instead of hours. Still, night terrors bring all the same feelings back. Please. Make. It. Stop. Please.

Two years, today.

I’ve revisited each moment of anticipation for the past week. Going into the hospital to get checked. Sleeping every afternoon to build strength for the nightly contractions. Returning to the hospital again. An entire family anxious in the waiting room. And, finally, at 8:27 this morning, the moment when she was handed to me and everything changed.

Two years.

Everything is Thomas the Train now, even the little boy undies she’d prefer to wear outside. Obligatory morning hugs for her “grumpy” dogs. “I missed you” breaking and healing my heart simultaneously. Embraces worthy of a luchador, making me a little sorry for those maybe not-so-grumpy dogs. Wash everything, hands and blankies, but never teeth. “Mine” for all things she wants and “yours” for all things she doesn’t. The sweetest sleeping face I’ve ever seen, legs that seem to reach for the far end of the bed, or more often her dad’s face.

My growing girl. My little love. Sometimes I still can’t believe you’re real.

 

Two.

Letting Go for the Sake of Balance

I realized I was so focused on trying to find a way to work from home that I wasn't actually focusing on what matters most when I'm at home.
I realized I was so focused on trying to find a way to work from home that I wasn’t actually focusing on what matters most when I’m at home. My family.

Something happened last summer. I was suddenly in turbo drive. After nearly a year and a half of being in total mommy mode, all my other curiosities flooded back. I wanted to do EVERYTHING. Teach, write, start a business, work for my husband, take care of my family…

I felt like supermom. I could do it all. And, I did, for about six months and then it became too much. I found myself less present with my family. I wasn’t exercising as much as I needed. I couldn’t keep up around the house. I forgot what it felt like to sit on the couch. Still, I couldn’t decide what to let go. I liked it ALL so how could I make a choice?

Thankfully, I had this nagging feeling time would tell. Oh, patience, a lesson I must need again and again. And, just like that, a new (part-time!) teaching opportunity I’ve been lusting after presented itself. Suddenly everything else made sense. Teaching, writing, family were non-negotiable.

It all feels a little obvious as I write this now. After all, I taught and wrote before my daughter was born, but I had been so focused on keeping myself at home as much as possible that I’d lost track of why I wanted to be home in the first place, to be with my family. By letting go and being out of the house a bit more, I’m actually able to be more present in all aspects of my life.

Even so, I had fun experimenting with my previously dormant entrepreneurial spirit. I learned a lot. Especially about margins and what my time is worth. I let myself be a hummingbird and I have renewed faith it will prove useful somewhere down the road.

For now, Wandertots is mostly on hold. At first I thought it would require a lot of humility to share this but instead it feels empowering. We should have the right to experiment and put ourselves out there without worrying about how it makes us look. I have no trouble taking ownership over the fact that I have a lot of interests and love learning through experimentation.

I’m still fulfilling orders and have oddly become the queen of selling kid’s headphones, so if you want any busy items, get in touch. I’ll give you a good discount for being a loyal reader. That’s the irony. Wandertots received a ton of interest and still receives regular orders, it’s just not the best home-based model, or at least not the way I’m doing it.

Whew.

Sharing all that feels like the load is getting lighter and I can focus again. If you’ve been in my shoes of doing more than you can handle, I wish you the patience and awareness to let what matters most float to the top. It’s not easy letting anything go, but the last few weeks have felt so much better for me. I’m even writing again, something that had fallen to the bottom because it seemed the least profitable. But I guess that’s just it. You never know, you just have to keep working at what calls you, even when sometimes you’re called multiple places at once.

10 Toddler Wrangling Tips

They're more powerful than they look.
They’re more powerful than they look.

Up until recently, I found myself wincing at the idea of E turning two or transforming into a “three-nager” on her third birthday. While I like to joke at twenty two months she’s already solidly a two-year-old, the reality is she’s also a lot of fun. Enough fun I’m not so worried anymore.

Sure, she throws some pretty intense tantrums and is about as stubborn as they come, but she also has such wonder about the world around her. Halloween, Christmas, snow… Everything familiar to me is an amazing new source of joy. And, as far as the hard stuff goes, I keep discovering little tricks that make our lives easier.

Today I’m sharing some ah-ha moments I wish I’d found earlier. My doctor recently told me the secret to a strong-willed child is making the options appealing. I think she’s right:

  1. Connect your child’s wardrobe to something he/she loves. For awhile, giving E choices of what to wear was enough, but then she suddenly didn’t want to change out of whatever she was already wearing. When I’d try to force her to wear what I picked out, she’d kick and scream and I’d have to give her space for everyone’s safety, (have I mentioned she’s strong-willed?). This could go on for 10 to 20 minutes until I somehow got the day’s outfit on and was then late for wherever we were headed. Then recently it hit me! She’s obsessed with pumpkins, snowmen, and Santa. If I told her the outfits I put in front of her were pumpkin dresses (orange), snowmen clothes (white), or Santa pants (striped) she couldn’t wait to have them on. {Insert sigh of relief.}
  2. Make food fun and available. I’m always envious of friend’s kids who seem to eat whatever they’re handed. E will easily skip eating during the day and then want to nurse the entire night, (which as I shared in a previous post is no longer an option). I get so frustrated because food she loves one day she won’t touch the next. I feel required to keep a huge variety of items on hand and practically beg her to eat at regular intervals throughout the day. While I still haven’t fully solved this problem, these tricks make a difference:
    Thanks Lala!
    Thanks for the idea, Lala!
    • Cookie cutters! One evening at my parents’ house, my stepmom pulled out cookie cutters and cut E’s sandwich and apple slices into stars. This made food she wouldn’t touch before interesting enough to eat. We’ve been using this trick at home, too.
    • Create a story around the food. Just like with clothes, if mashed potatoes become snow and broccoli becomes trees, she can tolerate putting them in her mouth. Basically, the food has to be fun enough to make it worth sitting still in her chair to eat.
    • Keep toddler-friendly snacks in a cabinet or drawer your child can access. While I might not always want her to eat a granola bar or crackers, at least I can tell she’s hungry when she heads to her section of the pantry.
  3. Outsmart tantrums. I’m not going to try to tell you every tantrum can be outsmarted, but many of E’s can. Most of her fits are connected to being overly tired, hungry or bored. Here’s what helps us:
    • Honor your sleep routine. Although I can get away with altering E’s schedule for a day or two, if we completely miss a nap or wake her too early, we’re headed straight for meltdown city. It can be tempting when out doing errands to keep pushing nap time back, but the gift of a peaceful outing is worth the time constraints.
    • Always carry food or be ready to find some. Sometimes I forget how grumpy I become when my blood sugar is low. The same goes for E. When her mood shifts and I’m not sure why, food is always a good place to start. If I’m in a grocery store and don’t have a snack for her, I don’t hesitate to break into something in my cart, (string cheese?). This is something I always hated to see my mom do as a child, but now I totally get it. No one at the check stand cares as long as you pay for it.
    • Have a bag of tricks or be ready to find one. Toddlers don’t share the same affinity as we do for fine food, conversation, or people watching. While running errands or visiting restaurants, I always have something in my “busy bag.” Whether it’s a book or small toy, I can usually buy myself a little extra adult time with the distraction. If I’m not carrying my diaper bag at a store, I’ll let her hold merchandise of interest until we get to the check stand. So far, this has worked as long as I’m ready with a different distraction when it’s time to hand it over, (like food).

      Busy bag activities allow us to actually leave the house...
      Busy bag activities allow us to actually leave the house…
  4. Busy bags. Okay, I know the last bullet was about having a bag of tricks, but I think this one is so important I’m going to say it again: have something on hand to entertain your toddler when you’re out. I’m not just saying this because I sell busy bags, I’m saying it because we’re able to go to nice restaurants and actually enjoy our food with the help of activities like coloring books, stickers, small board books, etc. If you don’t want to buy one, make one. Collect items each time you’re out and about and save them for when you feel resistance brewing. Bonus points if you wrap the items ahead of time.

    Our focused time together is the best.
    Our focused time together is the most memorable.
  5. Don’t forget to play with your kid(s). This seems obvious but between multiple jobs, keeping a clean(ish) house, feeding my family, and remembering to take care of myself, it can be easy to spend time around E without actually playing with her. But, focused time together is the whole reason I’m willing to juggle part-time gigs instead of going back to work full-time. I make a daily effort to play even if it means an uncleaned mess or unfinished task. Not only are we all happier for it, but I also notice increased independence from her when she gets a healthy dose of focused attention.
  6. Give your child a little space. As I just mentioned, I don’t constantly entertain E. I give her space to play on her own because I feel it’s important in this busy world to learn to appreciate quiet time alone. On this same token, our TV isn’t always on. There is quiet in our house because I want her to be comfortable without constant stimulation. If I can hear her playing in her bedroom, I give her space to do so without me hovering, (even if I’m still actively listening). Likewise, when she gets up in the morning or from her nap, I let her get herself out of bed and come to me. I can hear her the whole time, but she’s learning independence through the process. I also let her explore at the park or library while I watch from a safe distance. She’s learning to occupy herself for longer periods of time, which is great for everyone.

    We're lucky to live within walking distance of beautiful trails, but it's still an effort to get outside in the winter.
    We’re lucky to live within walking distance of beautiful trails, but it’s still an effort to get outside in the winter.
  7. Go outside. This is one I suck at sometimes. It’s easy to get caught up in the to-do lists and not make it outside before dark (especially during the winter). But, I know kids need to be outside as much as possible. The other day as I was lamenting the challenge of getting her to sleep at night, an eavesdropping dad chimed in that I needed to go run her at the park. He’s right. During these dark, cold winter months, it’s too easy to skip going out, but kids need fresh air, natural light, and space to burn energy without walls.
  8. Be aware of your reactions. Children are mirrors. The other day when I was startled by a raccoon, E wouldn’t take her hands off her eyes for 10 whole minutes. She was petrified and I felt terrible. The same goes for how I react when she gets hurt. If I rush over and make a big deal, she cries a lot more than if I give her a moment and then come over and smile as I calmly check her out. They know when you’re worried and they worry too. Likewise, if they witness you being overly angry or upset about something, they’re likely to repeat the same emotion when they respond to the world around them.
  9. Listen to your own words. This one is huge. As a teacher, I can always pick out what parents must say at home from how a kid talks. This starts early. We purposely try not to use words we don’t want E to use, (although we’re still guilty of slipping up). For example, if you don’t want to be told you’re mean, don’t use the word mean. Instead, say something like “you’re not being very nice.” I’d much rather be told I’m not being very nice, than mean.
  10. Don’t fight over things that don’t matter. I’ll end with this one. It’s the biggest trick I’m coming to accept. I pick my battles with E by asking myself if what is bugging me is really an issue. Often, if it’s not hurting her or anyone else, I let it go. For example, yesterday afternoon, she took a nap with her tricycle in the bed. I could have fought her, but it was clean and there was no reason for her not to take a nap with her tricycle, even if my adult brain felt like telling her no. It wasn’t worth the fight.

Obviously, different tricks work for different kiddos, and even with the same kiddo, something that works one week may not the next. Still, I love sharing ideas because you never know what might help when you or your child is about to lose it. Have any favorite tricks that are working for your family right now? Please, please share! I’m certain we’ll always be learning around here…