Thursday, August 23, 2012

Being present

After I wrote my post about how much I miss living close to my family I had a breakdown.  Henry came home that evening and I just lost it.  Crying, hysterically on the couch while he looked on in horror.  Can I still blame postpartum hormones?  No?  Okay.

After I got everything off my chest he said he didn't know whether this was one of those times where I wanted to talk about what we could do to improve the situation or whether it was one of the times I just wanted to vent.  It was the latter.

I know it's not productive to constantly list all the things that are hard about our current situation (living far from family, not being able to easily walk places from our new house, feeling isolated, not being able to get HP to nap consistently), but it was just what I needed to do.

As Henry rightfully pointed out, not all of those challenges are a result of living in Austin, many of them would happen if we lived back home.  So true.  Having an infant and adjusting to parenthood is just plain hard.  It's wonderful, and there are so many joys that come with this stage, but that doesn't take away from the fact that it's a major adjustment and requires, well, adjusting.

The next morning I woke up ready to focus on the positives.  I don't want to spend HP's childhood wishing we were somewhere else.  There are many things I would dearly miss if we left Austin.  We bought a house this spring and are starting to put down roots.  I think part of the emotional roller coster I've been on this week stems from the fact that settling down in Austin (at least for the short-term) makes me feel vulnerable.  If we are able to move back to my hometown in a few years, it will be a hard to leave after investing so much of ourselves into relationships here.

Austin is the place where HP was born and where we started life as a family of three.  It will always hold a special place in our lives and hearts.  I know that if we ever leave, it will be bittersweet.  It will be hard to leave all that we have cultivated here behind, and the longer we stay, the harder it becomes, which makes it scary to put myself out there.  But isn't that just the way of the world?  I've moved enough times in my life to know, but that doesn't make it any easier.

I know this season in our lives is going to pass in the blink of an eye and when I look back I'll think it flew by.  Case in point: HP just started rolling over this week.  How is that even possible?  Didn't I just birth him?  He's no longer my squishy little newborn.  I don't want to spend this stage wishing we lived somewhere else.

The challenge is to find the balance between keeping our goal in mind (moving closer to family and to a smaller city) and being happy where we are.  If moving back home is important to us (and it is), I don't want to push that desire aside, but I also don't want that desire to prevent me from being present where I am (especially since we will likely be here for a few years to come).  It's a fine line, and I'm doing my best to stay on course.

Monday, August 20, 2012


When we moved to Austin we said we would stay for at least five years.  Five years seemed like long enough for Henry to get some solid job experience that would expand his options when looking to move closer to home.  It's no secret that I've had a hard time adjusting to life in a big city, especially after the miserable drought of last year.  This spring, I made the decision to commit to life in Austin.  Now that we have a child though?  My thoughts have changed.

I never grew up with extended family nearby.  We saw grandparents, aunts, uncle, and cousins only once a year.  Twice if we were lucky.  I thought that's how all families were.  I never questioned the idea that I would graduate high school, leave the state for college, and eventually find a job in a new city (or country!).  It never occurred to me that I would want to move back to my hometown after leaving; it just wasn't the model I grew up with.

Now that I have a family of my own, my desire to move back to my hometown has taken on a new urgency.  My parents, sister, and brother all live within a mile and a half of each other.  When we lived there for six months during the job search, I loved it.  I loved having dinner at my parents' house, playing cards with my siblings and their spouses, seeing old friends from my childhood, being able to easily ride my bike or walk everywhere in town... the list goes on.  Henry and I were excited to embark on a new adventure, but it was hard to leave my family behind.

My mom was able to come down for HP's first week of life.  When she left, I cried buckets of tears--huge, ugly, body-shaking sobs.  I wasn't crying because she was no longer going to make our food for us (though that would be missed); I was crying because she wasn't going to see HP again for months.  What I had thought was normal as a child--only seeing extended relatives a few times a year--is not what I want for HP.  I want his grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins to be a part of his every day life.  Living fourteen hours from family doesn't make that possible.

It's a hard situation because Henry truly loves his job here.  He is doing meaningful work that challenges him intellectually.  He enjoys his coworkers and respects his boss.  How often does that combination occur?  We feel truly lucky for him to have found this job.  At the same time, neither of us feel truly connected to Austin.  We both long to live in a smaller town, with a more mild climate, that's closer to family.  But how do you balance everything you want?  Is it worth it to move back home if Henry has to take a job that he doesn't love as much?  If we wait for him to find the perfect job in Missouri are we going to be waiting forever?

It's not that I hate my life here--not at all.  We've made wonderful friends here who would be hard to leave behind.  Austin has things to offer that my smaller hometown is lacking (most notably excellent local and organic food options).  It's just that I love my family and want to have more than a long-distance relationship with them.  

Realistically, we'll likely meet or exceed the five year commitment we originally envisioned when we moved here.  And the longer we are here, the more connections we make, and the more rooted we become, the less likely it is that we will leave.  But if the perfect job came open?  Let's just say it would be hard to turn it down.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

HP's Birth Story

I'm sitting on my couch watching my weeks old baby sleep on my chest. I should be sleeping, too, but the memories from the birth have started to fade and I want to record them before they are forever lost in the recesses of my mind. I wanted to give myself some space from the experience before putting it into words, but not so much space that I would forget the details. Seems about time I write out HP's (aka Wolverine's) birth story because the details are already starting to slip.

*(Turns out I am quite verbose when it comes to retelling stories and this is much longer than expected. I apologize for all of the unimportant details I decided to include, but I wasn't sure what I'd want to remember, or more importantly, what I would remember in the future, so I wrote it all down.  Feel free to skim.)*

Wolverine decided to make his appearance (it's a boy!) nine days late.  Here are the official states:

Birthday: June 24, 2012
Time of birth: 10:11am
Weight: 8lbs 9oz
Height: 22in
Head circumference: 13.5in

And here's the story:

I had assumed all along that I would go into labor before my due date. My mom had both my sister and I approximately two weeks early, and I figured I would be the same.


My due date (June 15th) came and went, with no signs of labor. I was quite content, even thankful, for Wolverine's tardiness. We had just moved into the house and had many projects on the to-do list before the birth. I spent the days leading up to his birth painting nearly every surface of the house and generally abusing my oh-so-swollen feet. When we finished up the bathrooms though I finally felt "ready." My readiness did not seem to make any difference to Wolverine, who showed no signs of wanting to leave his uterine home.  

On Friday the 22nd I reached my breaking point. I used to think it was ridiculous when women would say, "I'm never going to go into labor on my own; I'm going to be pregnant forever!" Whenever I would hear that I would think, "Well, that's the silliest thing I've ever heard. Of course you'll go into labor!" But after hitting 41 weeks? I felt like I was going to be pregnant forever. Neil kept saying that I would have the baby that weekend (he really didn't want to go back to work on Monday after weeks and weeks of thinking it could be his "last" day before paternity leave) and I kept insisting that he would be heading into the office on Monday, not snuggling with a newborn. I had my postdate ultrasound scheduled for the next Thursday (the 28th) to make sure it was safe to continue the pregnancy if I still hadn't given birth. When I originally made the appointment I thought, "There's no way I'm going to make it to the 28th!" At 41 weeks I was sure I'd be going in. All of that's to say that I was mentally ready to be a parent instead of pregnant.

I'm glad I went so late because I think it helped me be in a better mental place to cope with the birth. If Wolverine had decided to come before my due date (or even in the 40th week), part of me would be saying, "Not yet! I'm not ready! I haven't painted the bathroom!" (And yes, I know how trivial that sounds, but it was important to me at the time.) When I finally did go into labor? My thoughts were more along the line of, "Bring it on!  Let's get this baby OUT!"

I thought I had been having contractions the week prior to his birth, but I could usually only tell when I actually felt my abdomen (and could feel the tightness). There was no specific start and end to each one and I was so unsure of what I was feeling that I wasn't even sure they were actually contractions. Turns out, they weren't. Or at least not real contractions.

On the morning of the 23rd (Saturday) we rode our bikes to a neighborhood potluck, swam at the pool, and came back home. I napped with Neil on the couch while he skimmed through Dr. Sears' The Baby Book. I was exhausted and thought to myself that I should sleep now in case I went into labor that night. I got ready for bed at 8 o'clock, still feeling exhausted and wanting to rest up as much as possible.

I was drifting in and out, but not actually asleep when I felt a "pop" at 9:15 as my waters broke. I jumped out of bed and went to the bathroom where I informed Neil who was brushing his teeth. He had been concerned all along that I would wait too long to call the midwife and no one would be here for the birth. While I was changing clothes and putting in a pad, he got on my phone, pulled up the midwife's number, and handed it to me. The midwife asked me several questions then told me to relax, try and sleep, and call back when my contractions were less than five minutes apart or in the morning, whichever came first.

Almost immediately after hanging up the phone with her I had my first real contraction. I told Neil after it was over that everything I thought were contractions before, were in fact, not. These were unmistakable; there was no wondering or guessing about what it was. For the next hour, we laid in bed, timing my contractions and trying to rest. It quickly became clear to me that I would not be able to go back to sleep because my contractions were already 6-7 minutes apart and lasting for at least a minute. Neil timed contractions and I tried to relax through them.

After a little more than an hour I gave up trying to sleep and wanted to start moving around. We watched an episode of the Colbert Report while I stood behind the couch, swaying my hips through each contraction. Standing was infinitely more comfortable than lying down. Around 12:40am my contractions were 4-6 minutes apart and we called the midwife back to come to the house. Genevieve arrived first (one of the assistants) at 1:15am. She listened to the heartbeat and asked how we were doing. She waited to check dilation until Michele (the primary midwife arrived) fifteen minutes later.

We went into the bedroom and Genevieve checked my dilation just before 2am. She said I was at a 7, but she later told me that I could have been as much as 8.5; she had been being conservative in her estimate. At this point I am thinking that Wolverine will be here within a couple of hours. Not so much. Looking back, I think part of what made the second half of my labor so hard was that once I had been checked, I thought I was almost done. I was not prepared for labor to last another eight hours.

I labored on the birth ball for awhile, then at Michele's suggestion I went into the shower at 3:30am. I have no idea how long I was in there, but that's when the nausea hit in full force and I vomited off and on with contractions until I started pushing. At first I just stood in the shower, but then I brought the birth ball in. The water did help, but between the contractions and the nausea I was having a rough go of it.

The whole time I was in the shower I kept thinking that I had to be getting close to complete. The midwives told me to let them know if I started feeling the urge to push, which we all expected to happen soon. Eventually I just wanted them to check me again because I thought I might be close (for no real reason other than I thought I should be).

Michele checked my dilation at 4:40am and said I was complete in the front but 2-3cm in the back still. Apparently the last part of the cervix to dilate is usually in the front, and mine was in the back, which usually happened when the baby was posterior. She checked Wolverine's position and sure enough, he had turned posterior. I was surprised since he had been anterior throughout the entire pregnancy. In an effort to turn him she stacked a huge pile of pillows up on the bed. I got on my hands and knees, with my upper body elevated against the pillows. At this point the contractions were starting to get unbearable and I found the position incredibly uncomfortable. I was still vomiting, which didn't help matters. After several contractions they checked his position again and found that he was back to being anterior.

Since I still had not felt the urge to push, I continued to labor on the birth ball, standing, and squatting with Neil supporting me. Throughout the entire labor time was completely irrelevant. I was always surprised when I would look at the clock and see how much time had passed. That's not to say that it was easy, just that I would think, "Oh, another hour has passed? Okay, I feel just the same as I did before."

Genevieve checked at 5:45am and said I was complete in the front, but only 9cm in the back. She had me do a few "practice" pushes to see if I could push past the lip of cervix. My cervix was still tight so I continued to labor for another hour, this time on the birth ball in the living room.

Around 6:30am I broke down and started crying. Everyone kept telling me to relax through the contractions when I just wanted to tense up. I knew they were right, but I was getting so frustrated and tired. Cindy talked to me while I sat the birth ball, tears streaming down my face, eyes closed. She told me how everyone gets to this point in the labor and what an awesome job I was doing. Hearing her words helped me get through that final bit of dilation.

At 7:15am I asked to be checked again because I thought surely I was ready to push. I know that you are supposed to wait for the urge to push, but at that point, I was ready to move onto the next stage. I figured if I was fully dilated I just wanted to push the baby out. That only takes a few minutes, right? How hard could it be?

Turns out, pretty damn hard.

I still had a lip of cervix, but I was able to move Wolverine's head past it with a practice push. They told me I could start pushing if I wanted to. Looking back, I should have waited until I felt an overwhelming urge to push. At the time I just wanted to get him out and be done with the whole thing.

First I wanted to try pushing on my hands and knees because that seemed most comfortable to me. Michele said that that position moved the baby's head off of my cervix and was therefore less effective. I wish I would have insisted on continuing in the position I found most comfortable, but at that point in the labor I was not in a position to argue/debate with anyone. I moved to squatting on the edge of the bed with Henry supporting me from behind. In between contractions I would get up and walk, which was not what I wanted to do, but I was told it would make the contractions stronger and more effective.

I continued to push using the birth stool or squatting on the edge of the bed. Around 9:30am Michele checked to see how far down Wolverine had come and said he had moved back up instead of continuing his descent. The news that I was not only not progressing, but moving backwards caused me a moment of doubt. I thought, "This isn't working. I'm never going to get this baby out. I'm going to have to go the hospital and have them cut this baby out of me because clearly I am incapable of pushing him out." That thought alone made me pull it together and push through (literally) the last hour. I realized that no one else was going to do this for me. I think I was really struggling with the fact that I couldn't take a break; it was contraction after contraction at that point. I just wanted a moment to rest and collect myself, but my body had a different plan in mind.

Michele recommended that I use a breast pump for twenty minutes to increase the intensity of the contractions to help my pushes become more effective. Those twenty minutes were the worst part of the entire experience. My contractions increased in intensity and I literally could not resist the urge to push. Trying to relax instead of pushing at that point was pure torture. It was only time I vocalized through the entire labor. I could not stop myself.

At 9:50am I returned to squatting for the final pushes. At this point I could feel Wolverine's head. Apparently he had a huge spiral curl that everyone could see. As he was crowning I moved to the bed where he crowned for three contractions. Everyone kept telling me, "This will be the last one.  You'll get to meet your baby with one more push!" They were finally right the third time they told me that...

He was born at 10:11. Neil caught him and immediately put him on my chest. I remember Michele asking, "What did you get? A boy or a girl?" And Neil looked. A boy! We had both thought all along it had been a boy. At my first (and only) ultrasound around 10 weeks I remember seeing the heartbeat on the monitor and thinking, "That's my baby and he's a boy." And there he was.

He was very purple when he came out and it took a moment for him to cry. We rubbed his back and they gave him a small amount of oxygen. He was crying and pinking up after a couple of minutes. I was oddly unconcerned about the purple/lack of crying. I just remember knowing that he was okay, that it was just taking him a minute to adjust to life on the outside.

After about fifteen minutes one of the midwives asked if we had a name for him. I looked at Neil and asked if he still wanted to name him HP. We'd had the hardest time coming up with a boy's name (our girl's name had been set since around 20 weeks). Our little HP.

At 11:00am we started nursing, side-lying, and he latched right on. He nursed for a good twenty minutes, then had his newborn exam. The midwives left around noon with plans to check in the next day. I was exhausted, but happy.

Neil was amazing through the whole experience. He was so calm and supportive throughout the labor, doing whatever I needed. Not that I'm surprised, but you never know exactly how your spouse is going to respond in such a new and different situation than anything we've experienced before.

I will say that once HP was in my arms I remember thinking, "Whelp, I better enjoy this because I'm never doing that again." Of course by now the memory of the pain has softened around the edges and I think, "That wasn't so bad!"

But seriously, natural birth is no joke.

Looking back (now eight weeks later) there are parts of the experience that I would change if I could do it over. I wrote most of this post when HP was about four weeks old, but as I got close to the end, I had to stop because I found myself becoming frustrated with the way some things happened. Now I've had more space and time to reflect I was able to complete the story and put my frustrations into proper perspective. In the end, I got what I wanted--a healthy baby born naturally at home with no complications. And for that, I am thankful.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Thoughts on Motherhood

I'm almost two months into this whole "raising another human being" adventure.  Honestly?  So far it's easier than I thought it would be, but that's only because I imagined it being impossibly hard.  That's not to say that it's been easy, just easier than I envisioned.

I'd heard horror stories of babies crying for hours on end, no sleep for parents, and painful recoveries from birth.  I've been blessed with a sweet, non-fussy baby, a husband whose work let him take a full three weeks off and then go to part time for another six weeks, a mother who cooked every meal for us for the first week, friends who brought meals for the following two weeks, and a smooth recovery from birth (it helps when there is no tearing involved).  We're just now settling into our new "normal" as Henry is back at work (part time, but for him that still means 30 hours plus a week--one week he worked close to 60 hours), I'm once again responsible for feeding our family, and the newness is wearing off as the reality sets in.

There are days when I feel like I've got the hang of this whole parenting thing and then there are days when it's all I can do to get us fed and make it through the day.  My best days include the following:

(1) Putting on really clothes instead of staying in my pajamas.
(2) Eating a real lunch instead of snacking all day.
(3) Limiting the amount of time I surf the internet/facebook.
(4) Keeping the house relatively straightened.  I always feel more productive when things are orderly.
(5) Reading a book for fun.

Learning how to use a ring sling has made our lives infinitely easier.  I now go on a walk with HP every morning, which has been a great way to meet the neighbors, get some exercise, and establish a rhythm in the morning.  HP isn't a big fan of the sling if I'm not moving, so he only puts up with it for so long when I'm cooking or doing other chores around the house.  It's a start.

The biggest challenge for me has been finding the balance between my needs, HP's needs, Henry's needs, and our needs as a couple.  I am a big believer in not having a child-centric life to the exclusion of everything else.  Of course HP has a lot of immediate needs that can't be ignored, but that doesn't mean that we can't intentionally carve out time and space for ourselves as individuals and as a couple.  I'm still trying to figure out how to make it all work in this season of our lives.

I'm still in awe every time I look at HP's sweet face.  We made that!  He grew inside of me for nine months!  It's surreal, but feels so natural at the same time.  I love being a mom, but I have to say I don't feel like a "mom"... just regular ol' me, only with a child.  Not sure if that makes sense.  I suppose I just imagined it feeling different right away, when it's felt so natural to open our lives to embrace this new little person.  Maybe feeling like a "mom" is something that grows slowly over time, not something that strikes you in an instant.