pssst…..is anyone there?

i will write this post in lowercase as an act of humility and regret for not updating this thing in nearly a year. kids are a lifesuck. but so is facebook, feedly, netflix, you name it. i shouldn’t blame it all on the babe-now-toddler but i can blame some of it on her, right? sorry for my absence. so many friends are pregnant or having babies (including my friend rachel ann, just last night!) that i feel spurred to write again, not only about babies, but about life in general.

for (more than) the last 19 months, i feel like my life has not been my own. pregnancy feels like your body is possessed, because it is. rearing a newborn feels like living under a benign dictatorship. and parenting a toddler feels a lot like being out on parole — you get out a little more but your still being watched, your every movement monitored. often, you can’t even shower or pee by yourself, which is actually more like prison. knowing several formally incarcerated women, i typically frown at prison jokes. but there are some uncanny comparisons to be made. but on top of that, we were told last January, around the time i fell off the blogging train, that we were being moved to a different church out in the country, 20 minutes from the closest grocery store. [being married to an itinerating methodist minister means my life is doubly not my own). we have since moved and learned to love our new church and the mooing cows in the pasture across the street. but it also means i spend even more time alone than i did when living in the largish city of raleigh. staying at home with a child is isolating, even more so when you live in a rural area. 

i follow a lot of mommy blogs. well, i should say, i follow a lot of blogs of women who happen to have children, usually small children, and are continually trying to rediscover who they are in the midst of rearing small lives and caring for small bodies while their own hopes, dreams, ambitions are put aside. what i like about these women is that they struggle. they wrestle with the stay-at-home parent role. they document their toddler’s screaming fits and don’t try to pretty-up a life that many of us know is covered with soggy cheerios and dirty diapers. they recognize that underneath the breastmilk-stained shirts and the unkempt hair lies a woman whose identity is something beyond motherhood, even as they stay home all day being pushed around by their little benevolent dictators. i’m inspired by these women, take comfort in their words and enjoy the glimpse into their chaotic lives that we so often miss in the filters of instagram and restoration hardware catalogues. i can only hope others take comfort in my words, even if they don’t always extol pregnancy or motherhood. and that my friends and acquaintances who don’t have children will forgive me for my absences over the past year and a half. it’s still me under here! believe me, i would give my right leg to sit in a coffeeshop with you and talk about nothing child-related. i’m still working on how to do this all well….being myself, being a mother, using my gifts and pursing my goals while caring for a sweet, spicy, clingy, independent tiny lady.

thanks for your ear. more to come.  

 

 

Surviving Colic

Now that E is 8 months old, Dave and I have nearly forgotten (i.e, blocked) the trauma of those first few weeks. I assume this has an evolutionary benefit; otherwise, no one would ever have children again. E is now an absolute joy, so perhaps I can actually write this post without retraumatizing myself (fingers crossed). And perhaps this post can provide some comfort for that poor, desperate, sleep-deprived parent googling “surviving colic” at 3am. Yup, that was me and Dave. And we survived. WE SURVIVED.

I know that I use hyperbole a lot in my writing, but please know, the first few months of E’s  life were truly painful.  Colic is traumatizing. You spend nearly 10 months nurturing a sweet baby life inside of you, endure many hours in labor and welcome your lovely newborn into the world, vowing to meet all of her needs. And then, without warning, your baby  begins to scream. And scream and scream.

All newborns cry; it’s how they communicate and it’s what they do best. Most newborns also stop crying once you meet their needs. But colicky infants cry without warning or without reason. You run through this list – is she hungry? tired? wet? lonely? When your sweet, angry baby continues to cry and cry and cry, you immediately feel like an utter failure. Any new parent can attest that the cry of their infant causes a physical reaction. Your body literally responds with an adrenaline surge to the sound of your crying newborn, and your primary (and primal) goal is to do whatever you can to stop the crying.

Now, imagine if that crying never stopped. No matter how much nursing, rocking, shhhing you did, the crying continued, loud and long, like a jackhammer. That’s colic.

This would be hard enough for anyone, but new mothers are especially vulnerable. You are overwhelmed with the responsibility of caring for this new life. You are exhausted and sleep deprived. You are bleeding and your organs are floating all over the place. Your hormones are fluctuating so you are a blubbering mess. And you are still trying to figure out how to breastfeed with sore, bleeding nipples.

Dads are just as bewildered and feel perhaps even more helpless. At least I had breasts, which were (and still often are) the only thing that calmed her. Dave spent many, many hours rocking and shhing E in the wee hours of the morning, only to get up at 7am and head off to work.

All that to be said, colic is survivable but it will likely be one of the hardest experiences of your life (if you’ve had a relatively easy life, like myself). Here are some tips and advice from the other end of the colic tunnel.

1) Wear ear plugs. Or noise-cancelling headphones. All parents of newborns should own these. They save your hearing and your sanity. Feel free to wear them all day and all night.

2) Don’t worry about bathing your child. In the beginning, E was fine with baths. But when her colic peaked, she would FREAK OUT every time we tried to bathe her. So we didn’t. Newborns aren’t really dirty. They don’t necessarily need to be bathed all that frequently. And if bathing, or any other  non-essential activity (like getting them out of pajamas into “real” clothes) sends them into a rage, don’t feel pressured to do it.

3) It’s probably not your breastmilk. I could (and should) write an entire post on this.  Allergies are rare. Very rare. Sometimes, babies will have a cow’s milk protein intolerance which will irritate their intestines. E had blood in her diaper at 8 days old and I immediately went off dairy. The blood lessened (over about a 4 month span) but the crying continued. Some parents swear that giving up dairy (or gluten, or whatever) instantly solved their baby’s crying jags. I gave it all up, some weeks existing only on rice, pears and turkey, but E was still very mad. Some are even encouraged by their doctors to give up breastfeeding for good. But it’s good to remember that 1) there are many babies who have blood in their diapers WITHOUT colic, like my nephew, 2) very little of what you eat gets into your breastmilk, 3) if your baby is sensitive to what you are eating, you will likely notice other symptoms (excessive spitup, congestion, skin rashes, mucus in the stool, etc), and 4) breastmilk is the most easily digested, least expensive food for your baby (non-dairy and soy-based formulas tend to be VERY expensive). I am not a doctor or a lactation consultant, so if you think your child is sensitive to something in your diet, it’s best to discuss this with professionals (also, please check out KellyMom, especially this article).

Just remember that if your child is gaining well and seems in otherwise good health, yet continues to cry, it’s likely not your breastmilk. I can’t imagine what I would have done if I didn’t have the option of comfort nursing E. In the past hour, I nursed her three times after various head-bonks.

4) Don’t buy into gimmicks but do what you need to do. This is a tough balance. As a parent of a colicky infant, you will do whatever it takes, spend whatever it costs to get your child to feel better, even if that means buying snake oil from the shady traveling salesman. There are various “colic remedies” out there that claim to work – gripe water, gas drops, Colic Calm, probiotics, chiropractic adjustment, etc. We tried the probiotics. No change. Chiropractic adjustment. No change. Things like gripe water are supposed to help with gas but it’s good to remember that ALL babies have gas. Colicky infants tend to freak out about it more than calm babies. And gas is usually caused by ingesting air during crying, rather that causing the crying in the first place.

More often than not, these things will “work” for the short term because they are novel, or they seem to cure colic when in fact colic has ceased naturally on it’s own (usually around 3 or 4 months). I understand the desire to have a solution, so do what you need to do and see what works. But understand that, most of the time, colic is a developmental stage that your child is going to need to grow out of. (This is all from Weisbluth’s Healthy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child. Get it. Read it.)

5) Find a way to unwind each day. Make it a priority. Every day in those early weeks, I took a bath. I found this very relaxing (as long as I had ear plugs and couldn’t hear the baby crying downstairs). I would bring a novel, sometimes a glass of wine, and do my best to relax. You may enjoy going out for  a walk (sans babe) or gorging yourself on jelly beans (another way I liked to relax). Whatever it is, you need to do it. Enlist your partner, your family, your friends to walk the hallway with your crying baby. If you aren’t caring for yourself, there is no way you can care for a high-needs baby.

6) Laugh when you can. In those early months, there will be a lot of tears – from your baby, from you and your partner, from your sleep-deprived upstairs neighbor. Find humor in every situation you can. There is plenty of opportunity – getting peed on, the loud noises that erupt from your child’s bowels, half-assed attempts at swaddling, the hilarious song-and-dance your husband does that magically makes the baby stop crying, the 45 episodes of The Office you just watch (in a row) on Netflix. This laughter just may eventually rub off on your child. (Right now, E is staring at a pink ribbon and laughing. I’m not really sure why.)

7) Co-parent, co-parent, co-parent. Your partner is your Number 1 Ally. Early on, Dave and I promised not to blame any of E’s crying on the other. E’s crying at 2am was the not because of my loose swaddling or Dave not shushing loud enough. You are team, so tag team. If you held the crying infant for a half hour and nothing worked, time to hand her off. If your partner works outside of the home, you deserve to leave the house sometime, too. Resist the urge to “correct” the non-stay-at-home parent on their soothing skills or nap rituals. They may add some new techniques to the repertoire. Recognize that parenting is not a job but a life responsibility. Share that responsibility whenever your partner is home. And split the nights. I can’t recommend this enough. Yes, your spouse may need to work, but spending the entire day at home with a screaming infant is no picnic. You deserve sleep, too. When E was 1 month, I started pumping a bottle and Dave did one of the night feedings. This was life changing. Dave would take the first half of the night (9-2) and I would take second shift (2-7). To this day, Dave still gets up with her at night, changes her diaper and feeds her a bottle. Then I’m up with her at 6:30am.

8) Practice the 5 S’s. Harvey Karp, who wrote Happiest Baby on the Block (OMGBUYTHISBOOKNOW) came up with these five steps to calm a crying infant: Swaddling, Side Position, Shhing, Swinging, Sucking. You can google it, watch YouTube videos about, etc. This worked on E about 80% of the time when she was really worked up.  It really works, at least until she started crying again an hour later.

9) Buy a Miracle Blanket. Yes, they should pay me for advertising, but seriously. Buy it. Buy two, actually. E lived in this thing for about 3 months. She slept in it, napped in it, and when she was REALLY crying, we would swaddle her into a calm state. It’s much easier to use and more effective than other swaddling blankets (in my opinion). And it’s like a little baby straight-jacket. E could almost never wriggle out of it.

10) Breastfeed whenever, wherever. High needs infants often LOVE breastfeeding. Not all but most. Take advantage of this built-in calming device. If you have the time and the ability, breastfeed on demand. Throw out feeding schedules. Ignore the well meaning relative who exclaims, “Nursing again? Didn’t she JUST eat?” First, newborns ARE hungry, pretty much all the time. Also, breastfeeding is not just for nutrition but also comfort. If your  baby is crying, see if nursing will calm her down. Often, it will. Obviously, don’t wear yourself out. Once nursing is well established, use a pacifier, pump a bottle or two, experience the delightful freedom of not having a child attached to your breast. After many sleepless nights of E attached to me while co-sleeping, we moved her into a crib and I stopped nursing her every hour. Now, we both sleep better. But during the day,  I still nurse her quite often. And I’m okay with it.

11) If it doesn’t work now, try again later. Babies grow exponentially fast and are CONSTANTLY changing. One day, E loved baths. Then she hated then. Then she loved them again. For the first few weeks, we wore her in a baby carrier. Then she hated the carrier. A few weeks later, she took her evening nap in the Ergo. Try everything at least three times over the span of a few days or weeks.

12) Take Dr Sears with a grain of salt. While I was pregnant, I read Dr Sears’ Baby Book, vowing to co-sleep with my child until she was 16, wear her everywhere  and never, ever let her cry it out. Then E was born and I threw everything out the window. Some of Dr Sears advice regarding high needs babies is great. But some of it will make you feel like crap. Sears argues that you should carry your baby most of the time, cosleep with your baby  and never allow your baby to cry. But, sometimes you need a break. And sometimes babies hate baby carriers. And sometimes you sleep better in separate rooms. And sometimes baby (when she’s old enough) will need to cry in order to get to sleep. So, feel free to pick and choose based on your child. This goes for ALL parenting books, not just Dr Sears.

13) You will get used to the crying. I know this doesn’t sound comforting in the beginning, but eventually, your body will stop responding to your infant’s cries like a bomb just exploded. You’ll stop sweating profusely while changing her diaper as she screams. You’ll stop crying with her at that 3am wakeup. You’ll learn how to respond best to your baby’s needs and your postpartum hormones won’t dictate how you feel every second of the day. I promise.

14) Repeat this to yourself every hour: “I deserve a medal.” It’s true. You really do. Parenting is hard as hell. Parenting a newborn is especially bewildering. And parenting a screaming ball of rage is, for many, one of the most difficult things on earth. You are doing  a great job at a seemingly impossible task. You should be wearing a cape and a mask because you are a superhero. Really. At the end of all this, you will be better parent, more unflappable, more attentive, more patient and more thankful than you ever thought possible. YOU DESERVE ONE HUNDRED MEDALS.

15) Don’t worry about not cherishing the newborn stage. When you have a child, people mean well, they really do. They may say things like “Hold on to these moments now, because they grow so fast” or “You may be tired, but what a beautiful time this is.” The truth is, newborns are hard and colicky newborns are even harder. And it wasn’t a beautiful time for us. It was a very dark time filled with a fair amount of misery, many nights of clutching Dave and whispering “I never knew it would be this hard,” and very little gazing-at-our-peaceful-newborn-while-she-slept-three-hours-in-a-row.

It’s okay to wish away the newborn stage. It’s okay to look at your crying, red-in-the-face infant and say “I can’t wait until you are 5 months old.” It’s okay to take out a calendar and mark down the days until you reach 12 weeks, 16 weeks, whatever the magic milestone is when colic supposedly ends.  I had a lot of guilt about this in the beginning. But I got over it quickly. Now I am holding on to every moment because E is growing up so fast and is just so dang sweet. But I am SO GLAD she is no longer a newborn.

16) Feel free to vent. There’s no need to sugar-coat those early weeks of parenting (see above). People will ask how are you are. Tell them the truth — that your infant cries ALL THE TIME, that you are walking zombie, that parenting is harder than you thought it would be, that at times you are overwhelmed at the thought of stepping out your front door, let alone making it to that awesome concert everyone is going to. Dave and I went to a wedding when E was 2 months old and we spent most of rehearsal dinner and reception telling others how out of control E was. It was nice to get it off our chest. And people understood why we had to break so many commitments  or why we smelled like we hadn’t showered in two weeks. Also, people knew how much help we needed and offered it.

17) Keep a journal. I kept a pretty detailed journal for the first 4 months of E’s life. I would record how the morning, afternoon and evening went, whether she had blood in her diaper, what I ate that day (when I was still convinced that she was allergic to something beyond dairy) and other information I thought would be useful down the line. It made me feel like I had some control (data! information!) and also helped me document that, indeed, things were getting better. Sometimes, just for fun, I would look back and read an entry from the week (or month) before. This gave me some good perspective, especially on really bad days. Over time, I slowly stopped recording how many minutes she cried each day and started recording happy things: The baby rolled over! The baby laughed! Our baby is in the 80th percentile!

18) Don’t believe the 6 week rule. According to study mentioned by both Karp and Weisbluth, colic peaks around 6 weeks, then gradually gets better until about 3 months, when it “magically vanishes.” Not so for our babe. I would say the 10 or 11th weeks were some of the hardest for us, and things didn’t get significantly better until 4.5 months. Of course, every baby is different but I had invested a lot of hope and energy in the 6 week rule.

19) Know that it will end. This was the hardest one for me to believe. Some parents would tell me that their super sweet and super happy toddler was once a colicky baby and I never believed them. Perhaps their baby was fussy, but never as fussy as mine. Yes, all babies grow up. Colicky babies become distractable, interested in the world around them, more sociable. It comes naturally with time. But in the black hole that is colic, you assume that it will never end. But it does. It really does.

When Your Body Goes Absolutely Nuts: The Postpartum Edition

This is what 34 hours of labor will do to you.

Today marks 6 months postpartum. In three months or so, I will be post-pregnant for as long as I was pregnant (9+ months), and this will be Em’s “boomerang” birthday (9 months in, 9 months out). Over the past two months, I have felt relatively like my old self, though my life AND my body will never truly be back to “normal.” Something radical took place and I have the unkempt hair, stretchmarks and dark circles under my eyes to show for it. I’m still functioning with (what can only be) an impossibly small amount of uninterrupted sleep each night — but I’m functioning. I guess that’s the gist of it. I’m functioning, I’m functioning! That’s my postpartum, postcolic victory cry.

All that to say, the postpartum “4th trimester” is no joke. Yes, your body does go absolutely nuts when you are pregnant, as I’ve carefully detailed in two previous posts. But the nuttiness continues even AFTER the babe is out, particularly in those first few weeks. Consider this third installment in the series the postpartum edition. Here are some observations on the changes my body (and brain) have gone through these past few months. *Birth and recovery are messy and the following might be gross. You’ve been warned.*

1) Bleeding – Before I gave birth, I read lots of funny accounts of “the period that lasts 6 weeks” and the need for “gigantic pads the size of rafts.” This is no joke. Right after giving birth, the bed, the floor (and the midwife) look like set props in a horror film. Every time you get up out of bed, another wave of blood rushes out. Every time you go to the bathroom, you are tempted to call 911. You’ve been without your period for 10 months. This is pay back. After the first week or two, things slowed down, but I didn’t stop bleeding daily until my 10th week, if you can believe it.

2) Pain – For some reason, I was not anticipating this. Yes, labor and delivery would bring their fair share of discomfort, but once the baby is out, all’s good, right? For those women who have C-sections, the pain of the incision can last for weeks and weeks. It is major surgery after all. But one of the (supposed) nice things about vaginal birth is quick recovery time. This is true, but you will still feel like “a mac truck drove through your vagina”, in the words of my sister. I suffered a 2nd-degree tear (OUCH) which involved stitches (“This will feel like a bunch of bee stings,” said my midwife) and pretty constant pain whenever sitting or standing. I was anti-medicine during pregnancy, but I was popping hospital grade Tylenol like candy those first few days in recovery.

3) Floating organs – I don’t know how else to describe this. Upon delivery, and for a week or two afterwards, it felt like my organs were swimming around my body, no longer cramped by my expanded uterus. Once that baby is out, there’s about 2 feet of extra space inside of you, and your kidneys, liver, stomach, lungs try to settle back in place without the help of your stomach muscles (which are like mush). Every time I rolled over in bed, I felt something shift and it wasn’t awesome-feeling. Some women wear a hilariously-named “postpartum girdle” to help everything get back in place. I mainly just clutched my torso and hoped my spleen would stay put.

4) Phantom baby movement – Up until this past month, I had the strange sensation of feeling baby movement, all while staring at my daughter (outside of  my body) on the changing table. Some of it could have been organs floating back in place (see #3) but some of it was psychological, I’m sure. At night, I would place my hand on my stomach and swear I felt the baby kick, which of course I didn’t. Pregnancy is so gradual. It takes nearly 10 months to grow a human being, and your body changes profoundly, but incrementally, over that time frame. What seems initially so strange (feeling a human being inside of you) because completely normal and a source of comfort during those later stages in pregnancy. The abruptness of one day being pregnant and the next day not is a lot for the mind to comprehend.

5) Breast changes – Sigh. This one is hard. It’s pregnancy that changes your breast, not breastfeeding. So, all those celeb mommies who choose not to breastfeed their progeny to “save” their breasts still have (or had, before they had surgery) saggy, stretch-mark-ridden  breasts like the rest of us. I take comfort in that. My breasts became giant, hard and angry during pregnancy and even more giant and angry postpartum as my milk came in. But, over time, things have evened out, though my right breast is substantially larger than my left (because I nurse E more on my right than my left out of habit — woops). Now, they are not so giant, but definitely changed, saggy and a little sad. But of course, as  a feminist, I know that breasts not for sexual display but for sustaining my child and I should be in friggin’ AWE about that. Which I am. See #6.

6) Changed conception of breasts – For the first time in my life, these things I’ve been caring around on my chest all these years are actually being put to use.  Imagine if some seemingly extraneous, ornamental part of your body suddenly took on a functional purpose — like your earlobes grew long and floppy in order to protect your shoulders from sunburn or shoo away flies. Weird imagine and not a great parallel (earlobes aren’t sexualized). But you get what I’m saying. My relationship with my breasts have changed. They are no longer a source of shame or ornamentation  They are a source of food. And my child has ONLY eaten that food since she came out of the womb, and in doing so, has more than doubled her weight. THAT’S AMAZEBALLS. Most of my close friends, my family (including my father and father-in-law) and the mailman (woops) have seen my breasts. I spent the first two weeks at home basically shirtless (why wear a shirt when you are going to be feeding every 45 minutes anyway?). I have very little shame when it comes to nursing in public (I’ve used an offensively-named breastfeeding cover only 3 times). My sister and I have shared stories about actually forgetting that our breasts were exposed while out shopping or answering the door. They have become like elbows. And I would love it if societal attitudes towards breasts could change, too — this would make breastfeeding so much easier.

7) Sleep deprivation – Here are some things NOT to say to an already insomnia-ridden pregnant lady: “Sleep now while you still can.” Or to a new parent: “Sleep when the baby sleeps.” Both are bullshit, no offense nice, well-meaning folk. I COULD NOT SLEEP while I was pregnant. And as a new mother, even with 30 hours of sleeplessness through labor and delivery, I still COULD NOT SLEEP. The adrenaline, the terror of having to take care of a small, helpless human, the knowledge that when you shut your eyes your baby will jolt you awake with a horrific shriek — all combine together to make you a sleepless mess. We opted to have E taken to the nursery the second night so we could catch at least 2 hours of shut-eye. That 2 hour chunk was the longest I slept, and would sleep, for the next three weeks. You think I’m exaggerating. I would have thought I was exaggerating pre-baby. But horror of horrors, I am not. I told my dad today that, when people joked about new parents not getting any sleep, I thought they meant only getting 5 hours of night. But Dave and I suffered through some hellish months of 2-4 hours of sleep per 24 hour period. Some days I could function, but most days I was a wreck. I took pictures of myself on my most sleep-deprived days, just so I could cherish the memory (see below). I still have not gotten a full night’s sleep for more than a year, but I am sleeping about 6 hours a night, waking up at 11, 12, 1, 2 or 3 to feed the babe and then up at 6 or 7am. I can’t believe this is my life.

Months 3 and 4: Sleep deprivation is not pretty.

8) Hair loss – I was amazed when my hair stopped falling out in pregnancy. It’s a definite pregnancy perk. About 3 months post partum, my hair started falling out in clumps. It still is. It clogs the drain. It gets wrapped around E’s fingers and toes. It coats the carpet. It’s all over my clothing. Everywhere. It doesn’t help that my daughter absolutely loves yanking my hair out with her vice-like grasp. My hair doesn’t look noticeably different, besides being totally unkempt all the time, but I hear some women actually get bald spots. Yikes.

Welp, that’s it for now. I’m sure I have a Post Partum Edition #2 in me, which will include things like 1) not being grossed out by baby poop, 2) not giving  a rat’s ass about drinking while breastfeeding and 3) showering only once a week (this was not really a post partum change) and 4) eating only rice, turkey and pears because you found blood in your baby’s diaper. Stay tuned.

Well, at least she’s cute!

Growing

Image

This picture shows a nice progression in E’s arm fat rolls. She’s gained an extra roll (or 2) with each month. Just today, Dave and I counted 6 arm rolls. Yeesh!

@ Birth, E was 19 inches long, 7lbs 40z with a 13 inch head circumference.

@ 1 month, E was 21.25 inches long, 10lbs 7oz with a 15.25 inch head circumference.

@ 4 months, E is 24.75 inches long, 16lbs 6oz with a 17.25 inch head circumference. She is in the 90% for weight and….97% for head size!

Baby – 1,2,3 and almost 4!

Sorry for the lack of blogging. I’ve been in parenting hole with a colicky baby. But we are emerging! Life is beginning to feel somewhat normal! Our baby actual smiles and laughs! Well, I’m not sure about the normal part. I’m still operating on about 4 (or 5 if I’m lucky) hours of sleep and I spend most days with my hair in a giant fuzzball and spit up all over my shirt. But, I guess that’s a new normal so I’ll take it.

E is 17 weeks tomorrow, nearly 4 months old. How time flies! Well, not really. Time has moved quite slowly. As I suspected (and expected) parenting is radically transformative. And there’s really no way you can fully prepare for it. Dave and I knew bringing a baby into our lives would be an interruption and  a school for virtue, but we really had no idea. Many days and nights rocking and shhing a screaming infant. Many hours breastfeeding and feeding and feeding. Many mornings struggling to get out of bed after few hours of sleep. Many moments holding our breathe as we wait to see our baby’s first smile. Many canceled dates due to baby meltdowns (or general zombie tiredness). Many loads of cloth diapers from laundry to dryer. Many days waiting and wondering if our baby will ever feel good in her body. Many baby clothes left unworn because she’s growing so fast! Many times counting our baby’s fat rolls because they’re just so cute (and so numerous!). Many foods eliminated from my diet (dairy! wheat! corn! nuts! soy!) to  see if our baby felt any better. Many doctor visits with few answers. Many pacifiers found and lost. Many moments in the dark rocking E to sleep, watching her drift off and nuzzle into the crook of my arm, thinking, “She’s growing up too fast.”

Just these past few weeks, Dave and I were able to turn to each other and say, “Hey, remember when E used to cry all the time?” We never imagined this momentous day would come. Don’t get me wrong, she still fusses like it’s her job (which, as a 3.75 month old, it basically is), but she also smiles and plays and laughs on occasion. And coos, and ahhs and oohs and bats at toys and kicks and rolls over! And sucks on her hand and splashes in the bath. And makes awesome raspberries (i.e., fart noises) with her mouth.

She is growing and growing! I can’t believe she’s only been in our lives for 4 months! Dave and I feel like we’ve survived a war and we may have a little PTSD. But we thank God for the gift of our sweet baby, who is healthy, bright, enjoys eating and loves us even when we sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star terribly off key.

The first few days were  a lot like this….

And this….

But soon became this….

And then, after a month, there was some of this…

But still mostly this…

But soon there was looking….

And grabbing…

And a whole lot of fatness…

Not to mention funny faces…

By three months, we actually caught some this on camera!

She clearly loves her daddy….

And she started holding her head steady….

Blowing lots of raspberries….

And learning to roll over!

Now she spends much time tolerating her mother…

Getting smooched by her auntie….

And hugging her dad.

And if we’re lucky, we get to see this…

And this…

And a smile that will melt your heart!

Happily waiting…

I’m 38-going-on-39 weeks. It’s amazing how these last weeks of pregnancy tend to blend together. My sister and I were joking the other day that at the beginning, you know exactly how far long you are, by the day (“I’m 5.5 weeks!”). And you breathe multiple sighs of relief whenever you hit a major milestone. Now, each day feels a bit like the last, except now when people ask “When are you due?” I say, “Next week.” Weird.

Dave commented that it feels like only in the past two weeks people out in public have actually begun to gawk. Many strangers ask when I am due and or they just blatantly stare at my stomach (eyes up, people!)  Of course, I’ve been milking the I-actually-look-pregnant stage as much as I can. This Sunday, while driving home, the oil light came on in the car and I pulled into a gas station where an extremely nice attendant helped me top off in between helping customers. And when taking the car the next day to get the oil changed/checked (there was a leak), the nice man at AAA said he would try to get it done asap because “You shouldn’t have to wait in your condition.” Ha. I decided not to tell him that I feel perfectly capable. Instead, I said thanks and waddled away. Dave and I also braved the crowds at the RBC Center to see Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson show (a birthday present from my parents!). This involved walking quite far from the parking lot, marching  up and down multiple flights of stairs (because our seats got reassigned) and walking halfway around the arena to finally get to our tiny stadium seats. Piece of cake (almost).

Also, and surprisingly, I feel great. I thought I would be MISERABLE as I entered the “dreary” trimester. I’ve heard so many women say how sick they are of being pregnant by the end. And these poor women are likely working full time and/or rearing other children. But this isn’t my case. I feel awesome. And I’m going to miss my awesome round belly.

All the aches and growing pains I’ve felt over the last few months have ceased. I’ve only gained 29lbs so I still feel pretty limber. I can (mostly) breathe, except when walking uphill. No constipation. Limited heartburn. No stretch marks on the belly. Sleeping hasn’t been terrible. I’m measuring right on time and blood pressure is low. I’m still pounding the spicy food. But along with that, there’s been very little action. At my last appointment, the midwife noted that the baby hadn’t even dropped. I have a few Braxton-Hicks contractions a day but I’ve been having them for weeks (and they just feel like your belly has gotten tight….nothing else really). I declined a cervical check at my last appointment, though I am tempted to have one done this time. We’ll see. I don’t really want to psyche myself out, especially since I’m pretty content.

But because very little has been happening to indicate that birthing time will happen soon, I don’t want to risk induction if I go two weeks late. Going late is fine by me, esp. since average gestation for first time moms is 274 days from ovulation (or 41 weeks and 1 day from LMP). And only 10% of babies actually come on their “due” date. So, according to more recent studies, the babe is most likely to show up around March 30. I think I can handle that, as long as no one is trying to stick me with pitocin. I imagine the midwives will be pretty restrained.

Either way, though, I’m starting to walk more, doing daily pelvic floor exercises and stretches, sitting primarily on an exercise ball, keeping my stomach hanging forward (rather than lounging on the couch) to encourage an anterior position, mapping my belly,  listening to my hypnosis scripts and affirmations, seeing a chiropractor once a week (to keep my hips in line) and drinking larger doses of red raspberry leaf tea. Last night I ate half a pineapple, which is supposed to ripen your cervix (yum) and I may opt for some acupuncture at this week’s chiro appointment. I may also start using evening primrose oil. So, I’m not exactly sitting around passively waiting. But I am happily waiting, relishing in these last few weeks of this unique time.

Clear eyes, full term, can’t lose.

I couldn’t resist the shout out to Friday Night Lights. Yes, this means that I am knocking on Full Term’s door (tomorrow!) and the baby could shoot out of me tomorrow and live it’s special little life without much medical intervention, if at all. Crazy! I’ve gotten so used to being pregnant, after moving beyond the anxiety and general nastiness associated with the dreaded first trimester. The idea of NOT being pregnant is a distant memory. Dave and I are enjoying this special time together and it’s bittersweet to imagine it ending.

People ask us if we are excited and we most certainly are. But it’s sort of like being on a plane bound for somewhere exotic and amazing, destination unknown. You have a lot of anticipation, nervousness and giddiness, but you also feel a sense that you should “wait until we get there.” I imagine giving birth is one of those rare moments in life where you can truly pinpoint the moment your life has changed forever. Going to college was one. Meeting Dave was another. You don’t know where these momentous events will take you; you just know that you’ll never be where you are again. Your life, your sense of self, your sense of purpose have all been turned upside-down. Giving birth (not just being born) is a good metaphor for baptism. Or, baptism is a good metaphor for giving birth. Either way, you climb off the bed or out of the pool a different human being. Something astonishing has happened to you, yes, but you have also participated in that change in a profound way. Needless to say, this is exciting…but also terrifying!

Dave and I are currently in go-mode, trying to get our house at least ready for Superpac (yes, that’s our baby’s nickname). We’ve acquired a great number of things from generous family and friends. Most other stuff came from consignment sales and Craigslist. We scored a $5 changing table, a $2 changing pad, several $5 cloth diapers, etc. We’ve spent very little on this child. My sister-in-law gave us a crib, which is still in it’s box and will likely remain there for a while as we intend to sleep-share. My friend Kate gave us a co-sleeper, just in case sleep-sharing doesn’t work out for us. And, for that reason, we haven’t had to invest much in a nursery. We have a room where the baby stuff goes, but most of the time, the kid will be with us. We are cloth-diapering and I plan to breastfeed as a long as possible, which cuts expenses down considerably.  I’ve sewn my own flannel wipes, blankets and burp cloths for Superpac. We have good health insurance and a strong support system. Because of that, we’ve spent about 1/5th of that estimated by the “Don’t Have a Kid Unless You Are A Millionaire” calculators.

Dave and I just finished our 6th and final birth class last weekend. We are using Hypnobabies (yeah, yeah, the name is weird and the passed-out lady with lots of makeup on the website doesn’t help). But I’ve been very satisfied with the techniques we’ve learned and feel equipped and confident to enter my birthing time without fear. I’ve read story after story (and seen video after video!) of women who have used hypnosis for childbirth and have been really amazed at what I’ve seen. Hypnosis has been used for patients who are allergic to traditional anesthesia – you can google videos (if you dare) of people undergoing breast surgery or root canals without any medical anesthesia whatsoever. My dad has used hypnosis on patients in the past, mainly for anxiety issues, but it has also proven successful for addiction and weight loss. Check out this Time article. So, why not for childbirth?

The main focus of the class is to rewire the way you think about childbirth, recognizing that other people’s negative experiences, as well as tv shows and movies, have programmed us (in this culture) to fear childbirth. Hypnobabies is like cognitive behavioral therapy – if you can change the way you think, you can change what you experience. When I get on a plane, my negative associations with flying cause my heart begins to pound and I start to sweat, thus triggering more fear (“Why am I sweating? I must be terrified!”) and more bodily responses, like a vicious cycle.

Hypnobabies seeks to rewire your brain to translate the tightening of a contraction into pressure, not pain. In doing so, you remain relaxed, not fighting your body but allowing your body to do what it needs to do, often resulting in remarkably shorter, more comfortable labors. Unlike some hypnosis for childbirth classes, Hypnobabies really focuses on birth education, teaching good nutrition, exercise, optimal fetal positioning, less intervention (i.e., induction) and other ways to increase the likelihood of a complication-free birth. Obviously, someone who experiences cord prolapse, placental abruption or other complicating factors will not be using these techniques to have a normal, vaginal birth. And more often than not, pain is an appropriate bodily response to complication, alerting you to a problem. But for the 90% of us that are able to have uncomplicated natural births (even with big or posterior babies), Hypnobabies seeks to equip mothers-to-be with the skills and the confidence to enjoy labor without having to endure hours and hours of excruciating pain. And I intend to do just that!

Woah. I just went on a Hypnobabies rant. I guess I’ve become a true believer. I will definitely post more on this.

Anyway, I’m off to write my birth plan. Happy (and solemn) Lent to all!

Weary. Cheery. Dreary.

Image

Greetings virtual world. A quick update to say that, as the folk saying goes, I’m currently enjoying the easiest, most awesomest trimester – the second. I’m 27 weeks tomorrow (that’s 6 months for those unaccustomed to thinking in weeks) and pleasantly large, enough to elicit some sympathy/special treatment in the checkout line at the grocery store. But I’m not yet whale-sized, considering I still get handed a beer list when out at restaurants (or a glass of wine while at a rehearsal dinner my husband and I just attended). And as Dave pointed out, I’ve been pregnant for half a year. Sweet lord.

The first trimester is weary (you are tired and sick and hormonal), your second trimester is cheery (your energy is back, your hormones have gone, you actually look pregnant but aren’t huge enough for this to cause major problems), and your third trimester is dreary (tired, huge, and bored with pregnancy).

I’m not sure if I knew this before pregnancy. Many people have asked me how I’m doing, assuming the worst (“After the crappy first trimester, it’s only downhill from there, right?”). When I tell them I actually feel like a normal human being (minus having another human being inside of me squirming around), people are surprised.

I’m now only an occasional insomniac (up for two hours a night 2 or 3 times a week – not bad) and generally feel fine if I get a total of 7 hours sleep. I haven’t been pounding the TUMS (acid reflux will come back soon, but now it’s on hiatus). No hemorrhoids, no constipation, no swelling of the hands or feet, no belly stretch marks, no absurd weight gain (I’ve gained 18lbs thus far…only 17 more lbs to go!), no nausea, no insatiable appetite, no yeast or bladder infections in the last month. Even my constant congestion has leveled out a bit, or at least I haven’t gotten used to it. And, as the doc informed me yesterday, I’m no longer measuring several weeks ahead. I’m right on track for 27 weeks.

Most remarkably, I haven’t been anxiously google searching symptoms, nor have I made any unscheduled visits to the OB in several months (*pats self on back*). I’m no longer convinced that I have an incompetent cervix, that my baby is no longer living (the kicking helps), or that I’m going into preterm labor. They say that the deluge of hormones coursing through you in the first few months can cause a lot of emotional upheaval. Some women cry. Some get angry.I got anxious. Sigh. Glad to be back to my mostly chilled-out self.

I occasionally have a small libation of my husband’s beer, have most certainly pounded some cold cuts and soft cheese, and have stood near the running microwave more than once. It’s hard to abide by all the pregnancy no-nos when you feel so…normal.

Mainly, my back hurts (I use a heating pad every night) and my shoulders hurt (change in posture), but I’m seeing a chiropractor every two weeks which helps. And I sneeze a lot. And I can’t really put on my shoes very well. And I’m nervously awaiting the results of my blood glucose test. And my breasts look like aliens from outer-space. But that’s it. Frankly, I feel like a million bucks.

This past weekend, we threw a Christmas open house (my idea), which involved several days of cleaning and decorating our gigantic parsonage (with decor handmade by yours truly – a cost-saving measure), several days of cooking tons of food (seriously, there was tons), and an entire day on my feet food prepping food, standing on step stools to hang decorations, crawling on all fours to plug in lights and water the tree, and then greeting guests and spreading general merriment. Quite frankly, I would never have pulled that off in my first trimester. And, most likely, my body (and the baby) would have rebelled in the third trimester, as well. But, besides some extremely achy feet at the end of the day, I felt fine.

The baby is active and growing. It kicks a lot at night (which sometimes wakes me up), and when I lay on my side, I can sometimes feel it’s entire body rolling over and it feels like an earth quake. Hard to describe, but it’s bizarre. Dave can feel it regularly now, which is a delight. If it’s particularly hyped up on sugar, I can see my belly moving, like a cat under a blanket. Freaky. But totally awesome.

Pregnancy: when your body goes absolutely nuts

TMI alert. This will be the last time I alert you, though. Frankly, at this stage in my life, very little is TMI.

I imagined that my body would get kind of wonky during pregnancy. Things are changing rather rapidly. Tons of new hormones. Major bone and organ shifting as the baby grows. You gain weight quickly (like never before). But for some reason, I didn’t really consider the emotional toll this would have on my life. It feels a lot like puberty, frankly. Your body is no longer under your control but powered by some unforeseen force (hormones! or, in my case, a tiny apple-sized creature inside of me!). Symptoms or health issues you’ve never experienced before rapidly pop up every week, just to keep you on your toes.

Here’s a small list of some of the crazy changes my body has experienced in the last four months. Some are recurring, some have stopped all together and some will continue to get worse.

Acne – I’ve never had great skin but now I really do resemble my 16-year old self. Back, face, arms. You name it.

Butt and hip pain – Pretty expected but pretty annoying. As my pelvis shifts to accommodate the  babe, my pelvic bones (particularly in my lower back) are shifting this way and that, giving me a pain in the ass, quite literally.

Nail growth – I’m a habitual nail-biter, but several weeks ago I got a manicure for a wedding, which prompted me not to chomp. Well, I swear to you my nails have grown a half centimeter since then. My nails have never been this long.

Itchiness – Along with blemishes, hormones can cause your skin to become drier (my problem) and itchy as your skin grows. I”m trying not to rip my flesh off with my new nails.

Urinary tract infections – I’ve had these my whole life, but apparently they are particularly common in pregnancy as your urethra stretches out and allows more bacteria in. Fun. I went on a week of antibiotics to clear this up, which may just have caused….

Yeast infections – Mmm. Never had one of these before. But, again, your vagina and your cervix are basically on steroids during pregnancy, so things tend to get out of whack more quickly. I wouldn’t be surprised if my antibiotic regime caused this lovely infection (antibiotics kill all bacteria, including the good flora that keeps your vagina right on track).

Hemorrhoids- Sweet lord. Could it get any worse? The weight of the baby and the mass increase in blood flow causes varicose veins (and hemorrhoids are just one form). Fortunately, mine are internal, so they don’t hurt much and they heal easily. However, they cause you to bleed like you’re on your period. And, any amount of blood in the toilet is enough to stop my heart (see previous post).

Heartburn – I had this pre-pregnancy but pregnancy heartburn is worse. Tums are my new best friend. Also, they say the same hormone that causes heartburn may also cause the baby to sprout hair. So, hairy baby here we come.

Weight gain – Boring but still quite the change. So far, I’m 8lbs up from my pre-pregnancy weight and climbing. I can only wear maternity clothes.

Pamela Anderson-like breasts – My breasts have easily grown 40% in size. They are a shocking new addition to my body, esp. because I had rather small breasts before (oh how I miss them!). They are also painful and angry, like Pamela Anderson’s breasts, I’m sure.

Laughing and crying – Being pregnant is a bit like those few days right before you start your period when every NPR story, Cheetos commercial or squashed bug on the sidewalk makes you cry. But what I’ve noticed even more is I am laughing. A lot. At stupid things. My laugh is loud and indiscriminate. Gotta say, this has to be a plus.

Frequent urination – In your first trimester, hormones are causing your body to flush fluids rapidly through your system, so even though you are still small with child, you pee about 5 times an hour. As someone who has long enjoyed bladder fortitude, this was annoying. I would pee twice before bed, then at 2:30am, and then 6:30am. Fortunately, this has died down.

Insomnia – Peeing frequently seemed to set a pattern of insomnia that’s been hard to break. For the last two weeks, the vast majority of my nights have looked like this: Crash at 10:30 and sleep until 3:30. Wake for no apparent reason and lay there until 4:30.  Turn on light and read book until 5:30 or 6 when Dave’s alarm goes off. Pass out until 9:30 or 10.

Food aversions – There’s a lot of debate about whether pregnancy cravings are real (as in physiological) as opposed to psychological. I definitely craved pickles and continue to crave meat in all forms (and anything sour). But the most pronounced food issue I experienced was food aversions. Just thinking about certain things (certain veggies) or hearing them mentioned (“Sausage balls,” which Dave mentioned once at 6 weeks) made me want to vomit. Fortunately, I NEVER VOMITED. Boom.

Increased sense of smell – This is an annoying superpower. Fortunately it has died down. But in the first trimester, I couldn’t stand the smell of celery (even the memory of it makes me gag), my Burts Bees lip balm (what the?) and anything burned (like the charred crumbs at the bottom of our toaster oven). I could smell what Dave was eating for dinner two rooms away. I could smell the dirt outside. Everything smelled.

Faintness – A few days ago, Dave and I were in Winston Salem taking a tour through a museum (guided tour only) and half-way through, I became extremely hot and had to sit down. And then, I started yawning nonstop and sweating profusely. Then, everything became fuzzy. “Dave, we’ve got to get out of here.” We had to interrupt the tour so the lady could lead us out. Sweet lord I’ve never almost fainted before. These are the weeks when your blood pressure is the lowest as your body works to pump more blood through your system. Being too hot, standing for along time, dehydration or low blood sugar can make you pass out. Eeek.

Headaches – My posture is out of whack because my lower spine is moving forward, causing my neck to compensate and giving me wicked headaches. Thank you, lord, for the nice chiropractor.

Increased vaginal discharge – Woohoo! This is exactly what it sounds like. You are never dry.

Hairy belly – Is it just me or does my belly look like a furby? I’m a hairy person but wow. Like your nails, pregnancy can cause your hair to grow faster. So far, my belly’s been the only victim….but what’s next??

Totally random bleeding – I’ve had my fair share of this during pregnancy and it’s freaky. Some of it is from cervical infections, or a “friable cervix” (which the midwife mentioned I had a few weeks ago). You are just full of blood, and anything from constipation straining to sex to exercise can cause you to spot. Other causes – ovarian or cervical cyst, placental abruption or previa, implantation spotting, or….miscarriage. Yikers. (Previously, I had written “Random-ass bleeding,” meaning “Totally random bleeding.” For Random ass bleeding, see “Hemorrhoids.”)

Allergies – I’ve never been one to suffer majorly from allergies. But for the past three weeks, I can’t go anywhere without a tissue. Sometimes, I sneeze 7 times in a row. My eyes itch all the time. I am a snot machine, basically, especially at night. Pregnancy makes your blood vessels dilate in your nose, which just aggravates allergies even more.

Now, just imagine all of these things happening AT THE SAME TIME, or at least, within several weeks of each other. When I read these lists before I was pregnant, I thought “Well, I can handle that…and that.” But I didn’t comprehend that all of these things would descend in a gigantic pregnancy symptom hurricane. I must say, the second trimester IS proving to be better, but I still can’t quite say I enjoy being pregnant (even when I reflect on the great joy of carrying a human life inside of me blah blah blah). But, here we are! And here I am! And there it is!