Happy Friday friends!
I don't know about where y'all are, but if you're anywhere around Richmond, the last three days have been absolutely GORGEOUS. Full on springtime. I have kept almost every window in our house open, and have tried to soak in as much outdoor time as possible.
We've had a lot of front porch time.
A lot of backyard time.
And some back porch time too :)
The nice weather has made this week go by SO much faster than pretty much every other week this winter. Even though R is on a long work stretch right now, my days as a solo parent haven't felt so endless and exhausting. It makes me more than ready for spring and summer to finally arrive.
Other random moments from this week:
Ryland did some Valentine's "crafts" in "school" on Monday, which thank goodness, because mama certainly did not do any Valentine's activities with her on actual Valentine's Day (I'm no Susan after all :) )
R also very sweetly got me some beautiful flowers and fancy, yummy chocolates for V-Day.
I also got a MUCH needed hair cut and highlight on Tuesday morning. I hadn't since well before Bobby was born so we were having some root issues. As I've mentioned before my hair is starting to fall out again (did this exact same thing after Ryland), and that combined with the weird halfway grown out hairs from the first round of hair loss (basically they look like I gave myself bangs), means that my hair is just a hot mess, and will be for the near future. But my hair dresser managed to make it look somewhat less insane and at least brightened it up.
This week has been overall pretty lovely, with the only blip being our evenings. 5-7 is always hard when I'm doing it by myself, but since Bobby is insanely mellow most of the time, the typical issue is Ryland's mood during this time frame. However this week they've pulled a little Freaky Friday body switch. Ryland has been sweet and cooperative right up until bedtime, but Bobby has pulled some major meltdowns in the evening hours. Last night I actually had to bust out the SLING while I was making dinner. This was literally I think only the second time so far in the 3 months he's been alive that I've used it (I loved the sling with Ryland, but Bobby is such a chill dude he hasn't needed it and is usually content in his rock n play or chair when I need to put him down to have free hands).
I think he's definitely going through a growth spurt/Wonder Week/regression/typical baby shenangian moment. With Ryland I obsessively tracked these and felt like our entire world ended when she was going through one. With Bobby, I just shrug and go with it, because the toddler keeps me too occupied to dwell too much on anything else. And to be fair, for him so far, any of these little phases usually just means extra fussiness in the evenings.
This has meant that my dinner the last two nights has been this:
Both nights I've actually cooked wonderful meals earlier in the day (chicken chili on Wednesday and crockpot Skinnytaste lasagna soup last night). When R is at work, I usually eat whatever I've made in advance after I put Ryland to bed around 7pm. But the last 2 nights Bobby has been shrieking his head off the moment I put her down (and while I'm putting her down too), and the only way to calm him down is to nurse or stand and rock him (neither of these activities goes well with eating steaming hot bowls of soup). I could wait until he finally settles down for the night, but I'm way too hungry. So popcorn and Cliff bars for the win!
However I really can't complain too much, because if Bobby were as cranky/needy as Ryland was at his age, I would probably have lost my mind by now and ran off to Bora Bora.
And even with the fussy phase it has been such a lovely warm week. You forget how necessary it is for your mental wellbeing to be outside every day, how much sun and fresh air fills your soul up with goodness. I hope all of you have been able to have a little outdoor time (especially since this weekend's weather looks gross).
And just because it's really cute I'll leave you with a giggly video of sweet Ryland :)
There's a strange phenomenon I've noticed as I've tried to navigate the adult world. I first encountered it when I got engaged and planned a wedding, and it's only grown more pervasive in my life since I became a parent. It's this constant, invisible pressure to do things a certain way, not because it's organic or feels right, but because you feel like you should. It's a nagging tug that follows you around your day to day life and grows even more pronounced on special occasions like birthdays or holidays, a little voice in your head always full of suggestions for how to not simply live your life, but create Moments, beautiful, perfect, curated social media ready Moments. And there's a checklist of them, things or events you feel pushed to accomplish but don't really know why.
Here's the thing. It's hard to be an adult. It's hard to be a parent. It's hard to be a mom. No matter what. No matter when. But in 2018, it's gotten exponentially harder to do these things. And I've finally come to the realization that we can blame it all on Susan. Or rather the Susan phenomenon.
So here's what I think happened, the mythological origin story of why modern parenting has gotten so unnecessarily complicated, the reason we all have glue gun burns and raging caffeine habits. It all started with our friend, Susan, circa 2010, right at the birth of Instagram and Pinterest.
Susan is that woman, that mom. We all know a Susan. She's an over achiever, but makes it all look effortless. She only needs 3 hours of sleep a night (4 if she's really feeling tired). She went to culinary school, did a stint as a pastry chef in Paris, and has a masters degree in nutrition with an emphasis on toddler diets. She studied child development and psychology, has an education degree, and worked for years as a teacher's aid at a Montessori school.
Susan is an expert in calligraphy, photography, and basic ceramics. She can embroider a pillow, sew a dress, and knit a blanket. She knows how to whittle figurines out of wood, cut glass, and use a table saw. She is a whiz with chalk paint, and can refinish any piece of furniture in a single weekend. Susan doesn't just have a crafting table. She has an entire crafting wing of her house and spends the majority of her salary at Hobby Lobby and A.C. Moore.
Susan LOVES a chalkboard paint moment. Half of her house can be drawn on with chalk. She has a cookie cutter for every occasion, including Arbor Day and Columbus Day. Susan has an Etsy shop where she sells her own screen printed shirts along with inspirational quote paintings (did I mention that she is an excellent water colorist?).
Susan never misses a volunteer opportunity. She is the class mom every year and brings all the snacks for her kid's sports teams. She LIVES for DIY. She has a freezer full of homemade casseroles and a refrigerator full of pre-prepped nutritional and delicious meals (toddler and adult versions of course). When her kids were babies Susan made all her own baby food, even if it meant hours of steaming and pureeing vegetables.
Now that her kids are older Susan still makes all of their meals, and they typically have a rotating theme. She sends them off to school with healthy "bug" snacks made out of celery sticks, grapes, and pretzel antenna or packs spooky halloween lunches with mummy hot dogs (organic, turkey dogs of course). She makes her own lunchables, packed in adorable little bento boxes, and never stops for fast food.
Susan makes EVERYTHING herself, from play-dough to bath bombs to matching bridesmaid caftans. Even if she is just a guest at your wedding she will come with an emergency kit stocked with needles, thread, and back up lace (that she researched specifically to match the bride's dress, just in case).
If you have a headache, Susan has an aspirin. If you feel sick, Susan will be right there with the Pepto or Tums. She remembers EVERY occasion, from her first kiss with her husband to the birthday of your cat (and you better believe there will be a homemade, cat themed cake delivered to your door every year, complete with fondant kittens and chocolate catnip). Susan LIVES for a countdown, whether it's to a baby's birth, to Christmas, or to national sibling day.
When it comes to Christmas, she is Buddy the Elf. Her house turns into a magical winter wonderland that makes FAO Schwartz look bush league. There are trees in every single room, each with its own theme. There is a train set and full scale replica model of snowy New York City that she put together by herself the night before (remember she only needs 3 hours of sleep, 2 during Christmas time), a massive Christmas village (which she may or may not have made herself in one of her pottery classes), and heaping plates of homemade sugar cookies everywhere. She doesn't just get her kid's pictures taken with Santa at the mall. She rents out Santa (and not like a grody, weird old Santa with a fake beard, but a magical, warm Santa who may or may not actually be from the North Pole) for a full day and using her own camera, takes loving, perfectly framed and lit images of her children and Santa cuddling by the fire that would make a grown man weep.
Susan doesn't throw regular parties. She throws elaborate, extensive theme parties that make the MET ball look like a hick barbecue. She spends as much time planning a 2 year old's birthday party as some people do their own weddings. Every year has a new theme, each more elaborate than the last, and a month out from a party Susan pretty much stops sleeping entirely because she is up all night hand carving tiny wooden bats or pruning miniature bonsai trees to give out as party favors.
Susan gardens extensively and sources her own vegetables all summer long. She can roast a perfect chicken and has a fabulous little recipe for homemade lavender ice cream to go with her famous chocolate cake. Her house is always clean but she never seems to be cleaning. Instead she spends her days on the floor with her kids, wrestling and exploring and creating, all with perfect hair and nails.
Susan makes her kids' halloween costumes every year. She also hand monograms every single Christmas and Easter outfit, each one carefully picked out and stored in tissue paper months before the actual holiday, never the night before in a rush because she completely forgot. In fact Susan never forgets anything or does anything last minute.
Susan spends a lot of cash at Nordstrom and Restoration Hardware, but she also loves an IKEA hack. She has made stunning, museum quality furniture out of items named VLERG and NERDORF. Oh did I mention Susan dabbles in interior decorating? She mostly does it as a hobby, but occasionally consults on a project or two. Her house has been featured on (a dozen) home tours and in several national magazines.
Susan always has fresh flowers in her foyer. She arranges them herself, because she had a brief stint as a professional florist. She can also make wreaths and garlands, using leaves from the huge magnolia tree in her backyard mixed with some fresh herbs from the living wall in her kitchen she designed herself. In addition to the flowers, there are always multiple candles strategically placed throughout Susan's home so it never smells like dog or baby poo, even though she has 7 kids, 3 dogs, 2 cats, and a bird.
Susan has a killer laundry and mud room. She installed the cubbies herself. And then engraved them. She also tiled the floor.
Susan's children are never bored. They are always engaged in developmentally appropriate sensory play, thoughtfully running their little hands through moon sand or rainbow oats or feel frames.They don't watch TV. Obviously they don't even own a television.
Susan has it down, all of it. She loves this stuff, deeply down to her soul. It fulfills her. It brings her joy. She's good at it. And there's nothing wrong with it. I would never begrudge Susan her life's work. That's not the problem.
The problem, is that back in 2010, before we all knew what a Pinterest board or Instastory was, Susan took a liking to social media. She began to share scenes from her insanely perfect life, and because they were so beautiful, other people started to share them. And then more people not only shared them but tried to emulate them. There is more than one Susan out there. In fact there are a lot of Susans, and more and more Susans shared their elaborate gender reveal parties or customized bridal party favors. On and on it went, like a giant snowball. And 8 years later, we have suddenly found ourselves in a world where everyone (or at least a lot of us) feel like we need to be just like Susan. Instead of being the exception, Susan's life has become the standard we are all supposed to attain. Her mark is everywhere.
It's because of Susan that we feel the need to have gender reveal parties where we are showered with pink or blue glitter from above or set off giant pink or blue smoke bombs or shoot our spouses in the face with a pink or blue paint gun.
It's because of Susan that women feel the need to ask their friends to be bridesmaids with proposals that are often more elaborate and complex (and expensive) than the actual proposal of marriage.
It's because of Susan that we feel the need to hire professional photographers to document EVERYTHING IN OUR LIVES, from our pregnancies to our newborns to our second pregnancies to our second newborns to our child's 8 month birthday. We can't just go to Sears and get a nice little studio portrait, even if deep down we know that's what we want. We have to throw down several hundred dollars to stroll through meadows and pretend to laugh and talk like we're on a Barbara Walters special, even if we're threatening our toddler under our breath because they keep kicking us in the shins between set-ups.
It's because of Susan that we can't just buy a yellow sheet cake with vanilla frosting, order in some pizzas, inflate a few balloons and have a birthday party for our kid. Thanks to Susan there has to be a THEME. And we have to commit to that theme, even if it means we are going to spend hours of our lives decorating cookies to look like elephants or turning our yards into petting zoos. We can't just give our kid a slice of cake. It has to be THE SMASH CAKE. So we either spend a lot of money or spend a lot of time baking a miniature (on theme of course) cake, buy specific decorations for the kid's high chair, dress them in an elaborate outfit, hire a professional photographer, all to watch a one year old put their face in some icing (or burst into tears because their parents have made it into such a pressurized MOMENT that the poor thing can't handle the stress).
It's because of freaking Susan that we are supposed to bring elaborate favors into PRESCHOOL for every holiday (even if a kid is more likely to eat a hand crafted President's Day card than look at it).
It's because of Susan that Elf on a Shelf has turned from a cute thing that some people do to a MANDATORY LIFE EVENT that will scar your child if he or she misses and basically ruin Christmas. And freaking Susan took it up several hundred notches by planning elaborate new "tableaus" for her elf every day that involved hours of planning and storyboarding (Susan is also an amateur director and writer, so she has a lot of creative energy to get out). And Susan's elf has to bring her kids toys and treats and books every day, so now you have to buy presents for the weeks leading up to Christmas and not just for the day itself.
And speaking of Christmas. Have you ever found yourself furiously searching online for matching Christmas pajamas for your kid or rushing around to different stores a week before Christmas? Have you been incredibly stressed out over these pajamas, to the point where you feel like the success or failure of your Christmas literally depends on your baby and your toddler wearing matching striped footies? Susan.
Same goes for the "baby going home from the hospital outfit" phenomenon. Susan has made us all feel the need to be Kate Middleton, only there is no paparazzi waiting outside to take our pictures. No one cares what our babies are wearing. They are going to poop on that outfit. Possibly within moments of putting it on.
We can also blame Susan for those monthly baby pictures and the entire Etsy industry that has cropped up to sell creative signs to display how old the baby is. Same for pregnancy updates.
Oh and you know how everyone has to come up with a super cute and charming way to announce they're pregnant now? One word. Susan.
Let me pause for a moment to say that none of these things are bad or stupid or wrong. I know I sound super mean and judgey, and I'm not trying to do that. Because you know what? I have done MANY of these things. But the reason I wanted to write this was because I finally realized that half of the things I've done as a parent so far are because I really wanted to do them, and half are because I just feel like I'm supposed to do them for the photo op. And that's a really stupid reason to stress yourself out. Life is stressful enough without all this pressure to create perfect moments to share on Instagram.
If you do these things because you want to do them or because you think it will make your kid happy that's fabulous. You will not hear a bad word from me. If planning an elaborate themed birthday party brings joy to your soul, go forth and do your thing. If taking professional photographs of your family every few months is near and dear to your heart, and you love it, and you love the result, God speed.
I only have an issue with the times that we do these things not because they make us happy or because we really want to do them, but because we saw that Susan did them and feel like we should too.
God love Susan because women like her do really exist. And honestly, we all have our Susan moments. We all have our things, whether it's crafting or baking or coming up with games or taking gorgeous photos. And we should embrace those things we're good at and that we love.
But we also should really evaluate the other stuff, the things that make us curse silently under our breath as we stab ourselves with a sewing needle for the 10th time in an hour trying to sew a halloween costume, or that leave us in tears as we throw away our 3rd attempt at a homemade cake.
Sometimes you have to give yourself a pass, say you know what, Susan may be really good at this, but I'm not. And there are alternatives that make everyone's life easier, like going to Target to buy party favors instead of crafting them, or buying a cake from Wegman's (because they make really good cakes).
It's okay to not be a super mom. It's really hard, but we need to give ourselves permission to just let go of all the crap we do because we feel like we should instead of because it feels right for us and our families. Let's all just take a breath, put down the glue guns, and remember that no one is perfect. Except for Susan. Although quite frankly I think she might be medicated.
Happy Monday everyone! I hope you all had fabulous weekends full of fun and relaxation. R was off this past weekend and despite the super rainy conditions, it turned out to be a nice couple of days.
Yesterday we had a little day date thanks to my sweet mom (he starts a 9 day stretch today, so it was our last chance to connect minus kiddos for a while). We went to what is fast becoming my new favorite place, Fine Creek Brewing out in Powhatan. I love, LOVE, Richmond breweries (in fact there's an article I wrote coming out soon about my favorite family friendly breweries, that's how much I love them). But sometimes I really crave a more Charlottesville-esque brewery, somewhere picturesque and rural, with lots of outdoor space and a big fireplace and a cozy, woodsy vibe. Fine Creek absolutely fills that niche. It's gorgeous, all rustic wood and beams and big stone fireplaces, and the outdoor space is so pretty too. I can't wait until spring/summer to be able to go and sit out at the big picnic tables or play cornhole in the field there.
I got the Farmhouse Saison which was right up my alley (I love an orange-y wheat-y beer).
The food at Fine Creek is also shockingly good (like way more than the afterthought food typically is at breweries, I would actually come here just for the food even if they didn't have beer). We split the Italian sandwiches (on absolutely heavenly, fresh rosemary focaccia bread) and the buffalo chicken pizza (mmmmm).
I try to be pretty insistent on carving out time for dates, at least once a month, even if it's during the day or a quick drink out in the evening. We love spending time with our children, but I think it is essential for a married couple to spend time without their kids. We've gone to Fine Creek with Bobby and Ryland before and had fun, but with any kid included outing you're always kind of half listening, half doing something else, half tackling your toddler to prevent her from diving headfirst into the fireplace. You don't really focus on your spouse or speak in full sentences or taste the food you're eating. We won't be going out on Valentine's (not that I really care that much about Valentine's Day as a holiday) so this was a nice little chance to have a mini date.
Rewinding a bit more, on Saturday during Ryland's nap I got out for a mani/pedi.
There's a place near my house that I'm obsessed with. The basic pedi and mani are really good and come with a foot, leg, and even neck and shoulder massage. And their massage chairs are delightful. And they have a fancy Japanese toilet in their bathroom which is almost worth the trip there alone. Oh, and you also get a free drink and snacks! It's pretty much heaven.
It was a really nice and much needed break, and it got me thinking about how important self care is. I am a firm believer that you can't take care of other people without also taking care of yourself, but because I am a mom and a (lapsed) Catholic, I also deal with a lot of guilt when I do take time for myself. If I let myself slide down the crazy slope, I will start feeling selfish or self indulgent or frivolous. Pioneer women didn't get mani/pedis or go to the gym or have girls nights and they did just fine! I'm pretty sure spin classes weren't around for the Vikings. Who do I think I am needing these luxuries, the Queen of England!? (also pretty sure she doesn't do spin classes, but just go with me)
I think as a mom, especially a new mom, you sort of have whiplash the first few years, from going to a life where you could do whatever you want, whenever you want, to a life where you can't so much as go for a run in your neighborhood without arranging a babysitter. And it's hard to navigate this massive change, and especially hard to figure out how to take time for yourself without feeling bad about it. We all want to be that super mom, whether we're working or staying home. And it creates so much pressure. There have been a ton of great articles recently about the "invisible workload" mothers carry. Basically a woman either works outside the home or works as a full time mom (and momming is a full time job, anyone who has done it knows this beyond a shadow of a doubt). But in addition to either job, a mom carries the burden of all this invisible crap that runs through her mind all day turning her into a crazy person. And it never ends. It follows a mom in every waking moment and in her sleep. There is an awesome poem written by Ellen Seidman, on her blog, Love That Max, that describes this "invisible workload." It's so good you should read it in full, but I'll excerpt a big chunk of it here.
• I am the person who notices we are running low on clean silverware/
• I am the person who notices we are running low on coffee pods.
I am the person who notices we are running low on clean underwear, unless you count the pairs with holes which some people do.
• I am the person who notices we are running low on toothpaste/dental floss/mouthwash/anti-cavity rinse in bubble gum flavor and NOT the one with SpongeBob on the bottle/soap/shower gel/shampoo/conditioner/that detangling spray that supposedly wards off lice [insert product critical to good hygiene].
• I am the person who notices we are running low on matching socks, unless you count the pairs with holes which some people do.
• I am the person who notices we are running low on eggs, milk, bread, yogurt, butter, cream cheese, chocolate ice-cream, that pasta shaped like little wheels, Cheerios and other food basics.
• I am the person who notices we are running low on granola bars, brownie bites, dried fruit, kale chips, cheese sticks, Pepperidge Farm Goldfish and other lifesaving snacks.
I am the person who notices we are running low on ketchup, one heavy burden to bear.
• I am the person who notices we are running low on OJ, juice boxes, chocolate syrup and the organic strawberry lemonade our son has been drinking by the gallon.
• I am the person who notices we are running low on Bac-Os, although I keep meaning to look those up to see if they might kill us.
• I am the person who notices we are running low on creamy peanut butter and chunky peanut butter and Natural with Honey peanut butter and whipped peanut butter and I so wish our family had consensus on p.b.
I am the person who notice we are running low on sprinkles, that essential food group.
• I am the person who notices we are running low on aluminum foil, plastic wrap and Ziploc bags. (As someone wise once said, "You can never be too rich or too thin or have too many Ziploc bags.")
• I am the person who notices we are running low on vitamins, aspirin, Tylenol and Midol, and while I am the only one to care about running out of Midol it would benefit other people to care about this too.
• I am the person who notices we are running low on tissues, Children's Tylenol, Benadryl, Band-Aids, Neosporin, bacitracin, Aquaphor, more Band-Aids [insert items critical to children's well-being].
• I am the person who notices we are running low on gift wrap, birthday cards and birthday candles.
• I am the person who notices we are running low on light bulbs.
• I am person who notices we are running low on dry-cleaned clothes to wear to work.
I am the person who notices we are running low on AA batteries, AAA batteries, C batteries, D batteries, 9-volt batteries and ALL OF THE BATTERIES.
• I am the person who notices we are running low on crayons, markers, colored paper, tape, glue sticks, glitter, index cards, highlighters and, sigh, who was the last person to use the scissors?
• I am the person who notices we are running low on paper towels, sponges, laundry detergent, bleach, stain spray, dishwasher detergent, sponges, dish soap, refills for the scrubbing thingies, bathroom soap, hand sanitizer, bathroom cleaner, furniture polish, dust rags, floor cleaner, glass cleaner, all-purpose cleaner [insert products critical to household cleanliness].
• I am the person who notices we are running low on children's outerwear after most has gotten left at one activity or another.
• I am also the person who notices we are running low on children's clothing that actually fits them.
• Not to mention shoes that still fit them.
• And the hats.
I am the person who notices we are running low on storage space for all the toys and games and race cars and fire trucks and crappy plastic thingies from birthday party goody bags.
• I am the person who notices we are running low on stamps/matches/paper clips/
various crucial little things.
• I am the person who notices we are running low on family photos and that we'd better take some before the kids are in college.
• I am the person who notices we are running low on sunscreen, bug spray and Chapstick.
• I am the person who notices we are running low on writing utensils and where do all the pens go, anyway?"
Awesome right? She just hits the nail on the head of the universe of tasks and lists that run through a mom's head. But my point in all of this is basically to illustrate why you NEED to take that little time for self care. Otherwise you will go insane. And I mean that quite literally. Because who couldn't not go insane right? I'm sure pioneer women and viking moms did go crazy, but back then everyone was just like, oh there goes Nancy running through the wheat fields naked again. Don't mind her. That's just her monthly exercise. Or oh Helga, she's not weeping into her mead. She just has allergies!
I don't really want to run through a field naked or do some mead weeping, and because of that I try really hard to practice self care. For me that can be a mani/pedi or massage, an exercise class or a night out with girlfriends, or even just a trip to Starbucks for some solo time to write. If I can get a babysitter (which thanks to my mom and awesome friends I usually can), I really try to use that time to do things that are restorative. Sure, I could go to the grocery store or clean the house without a toddler trying to play with the vacuum cord, but that isn't going to do anything to fill up my spirit tank. I'm not going to come back to my kids feeling relaxed or energized. So I really try to prioritize that time to do things that are for me, even if there's that little voice in the back of my head that wants to suggest it's selfish.
I also try to find time for self care even when my kids are around. I take a shower every day, even if it means the baby fusses a little or Ryland destroys our bathroom. I watch some mama TV, which typically involves some Housewives or Sur employees. Because my brain needs that little mental version of a candy bar, sweet and easily digestible and kind of bad for me but worth it. I take the stroller for walks in the city, even though it's out of the way, because it brings me joy. I make that third (or fourth...) cup of coffee and savor it while I put on Sesame Street to keep Ryland entertained. I sit in the bathroom with the door closed so she can't see and eat a cookie without sharing a single bite. I pour that sweet, sweet glass of wine at 5pm and sip it while I give Ryland dinner or a bath.
And this is all just what self care looks like for me. For some women it might be a Bible study or meditation or knitting. Some women hate shopping and mani/pedis and would rather use that time to go for a run or check out an antique store. No version of self care is bad if it makes you happy. Nothing is vain or stupid if it feels good to you.
Basically this is a really long winded way of saying that I hope any mamas (or anyone really, because we all need self care, whether you're a crazy busy career women without kids or a mom of 7 who hasn't stepped foot in an office in her life) who read this know that it's okay to take some time for self care. It doesn't make you a bad mom or selfish or self centered. It makes you human. And at the end of the day you'll be a better mom (or person) because of it.
I'd love to hear from you! What do you guys do for self care? Facials? Listening to music? Carving sculptures out of sticks of butter? (hey to each his own)
I feel like I've used the above Jon Snow image a lot this winter, but aside from the fact that I just need a little GoT in my life from time to time (and the new season doesn't start until next freaking year!), it really captures that terror/misery/exhaustion that winter brings for a mom of babies.
Here's the thing. I used to LOVE winter. Winter and me were pals. I may have even considered it my favorite season. I love snow and ice. I love Christmas. I love sweaters and hot drinks and boots. I even didn't really mind the cold. Back in my running days, I LOVED a cold winter run. It was all good.
But then I had kids. Specifically two children. In two years. Last winter wasn't so bad. I think it was because it was a warmer than average winter, and I remember a lot of outdoor time even in January and February. Ryland was 8 months old when last winter started and didn't seem like such a delicate little flower who couldn't be exposed to cold air or germs.
But this winter, the timing could not have been worse. Bobby was born on November 17, pretty much right at the end of fall. Which means that he would be a newborn/infant for the ENTIRE winter. And he certainly is not a delicate flower (I mean look at this chunk monster).
You're not convinced? Okay fine, one more.
Like I was saying, no delicate little snowflake here. He is a big boy. Nevertheless he is still a very young baby without adequate temperature regulation or a fully functioning immune system. And you know what you really need in winter, to like go outside, in public? TEMPERATURE REGULATION AND A FULLY FUNCTIONING IMMUNE SYSTEM.
So unless it's nice out, we've more or less been homebound. And it hasn't been easy. It's only February 9, and if I think too much about the fact that there are still almost 2 months of winter left, I might just cry into my third cup of coffee of the morning (winter may or may not have given me a severe caffeine habit). Winter is hard for all moms of littles, but being a stay at home mom makes it even more brutal. Because there is no escape. I am stuck with these little monsters, all day, every day. Which has its own set of challenges no matter the time of year, but in winter you can start to veer dangerously close to Jack Nicholson in the Shining territory.
As an adult, I am perfectly comfortable going for walks in frigid temperatures or going to the mall during flu season. But every time I've wanted to do things like that this winter I remember oh yeah, I have small offspring to consider when making my plans. And I can't just leave them anytime I please with George as their babysitter (trust me, I've considered this option).
Perhaps you don't have small children. Or maybe you do but work full time. Perhaps you're thinking that the idea of hibernating inside with your babies all winter sounds like a delightful 24/7 cuddle fest. What is she complaining about, you may be thinking as you chip ice off your windshield. That sounds FANTASTIC. And sure, there are some lovely, cuddly moments in there. Some days it's pretty great to have an excuse to stay in pajamas all day. But the charm of all day pajamas started to wear off sometime in early January. Here are some reasons why:
1. The darkness.
Oh, the darkness. I never would have imagined that I would spend so many waking hours each day before the sun rises. I worked night shifts for three years, so I'm familiar with that whole vampire existence, but when you're not getting paid, it's slightly different. Bobby wakes anywhere from 4:30-5:30 most mornings. Which is fine, because he usually only wakes up once during the night before that and I know it could be a lot worse. But still, when you're up at 4:30, and the sun doesn't really rise until closer to 7:30, it can start to wear on you, especially when the sun then sets by like 5. There's a reason I don't live in Alaska. I like sunlight. I need sunlight, and there are days with kids when you spend way too much time staring out your windows, willing the sun to rise.
2. You feel guilty if you take your kids out, and you feel guilty if you don't.
Mom guilt is real. We all know that. But in winter, it's pretty constant. I feel really bad for Ryland that she has to spend so many days stuck inside our house. I mean she's 22 months old and a very short attention span, but still, she has her limits. There is a reason she has started to pilfer things out of every drawer of our kitchen for her personal entertainment. She has played with her toys to their maximum fun potential. And then she has turned to the rest of our house, and even that is getting a little stale. I can just see it in her eyes, like mom, really? Another viewing of Sing? This is what you've got on the agenda? But the flip side is that if I do get motivated and attempt an outing, I then spend the majority of that outing also feeling guilty. Is it too cold to be out? Are her hands warm enough? Is Bobby silently freezing to death? Are his lips blue or am I imagining it?! Is that kid over there sick? DO THEY HAVE THE FLU? Did that other kid just sneeze in Ryland's direction!? Are they going to get sick now and it's all my fault because I left the house? How selfish am I that I couldn't just stay indoors all day for the 37th day in a row? So then the next day we do stay inside, and I then switch to guilt mode over that. Am I not stimulating my toddler enough? Is she going to be stunted in her development because she spends all her time in her house? Is she going to be socially weird and awkward because she is never around other kids her own age? Is she going to be that weird kid in school who picks her nose and eats it because of this homebound winter?? And on and on aboard the crazy mom train express.
3. The Groundhog Day-ness of it all
At this point, I sort of feel like I have lived the exact same winter day approximately 276 times. Which may be a slight exaggeration, but my goodness. There is so little to distinguish one day from the other right now. Ryland is in "school" on Mondays, but between Christmas break, all of the Monday holidays in January (which was pretty much every week of that month), and her random colds, she has pretty much not gone all winter. So there is no routine, no schedule. It's just day after day after day of waking up, checking the forecast, seeing that it's not getting above 40 degrees all day, watching the news and seeing all of the dire reports of children flu deaths and then resigning ourselves to being at home all day long. You kind of lose your bearings in what feels like a never ending parade of diapers, snacks, more diapers, Sing viewings, more snacks, nursing sessions, Sesame Street and Peppa Pig marathons, more diapers, more Sing, and then some more snacks. I cannot tell you how excited I get if there is some kind of appointment on our schedule, no matter what it is, just because it breaks up the week. I was counting down the days for Bobby's 2 month well visit for crying out loud. I have a hair appointment next week and it is literally the most exciting thing in my life right now. I could be having a root canal and I think I might welcome it just because it breaks up the monotony a little. When it gets warmer and the germies fade away a little, I will sign Ryland up for lots of fun classes and groups and what not, but right now any large gathering of children is just not a great idea (and I know I probably sound super paranoid, normally I am not even a remote germaphobe and think it's good for my kids to get minor colds to strengthen their immune systems, but this flu season is really brutal, it's scary if you have kids period, but if you have an unvaccinated 2 month old, it's particularly terrifying).
But yeah, there's not a lot right now to distinguish one day from the next. It is sort of one pantless (on Ryland's part, not mine) blur.
4. The loneliness.
I love my kids. I love being around my kids. But until you're a parent you have no idea how it's possible to literally never be alone during a day (like even when you are peeing, or in the shower) and simultaneously be really, really lonely. I don't care who you are, your kids are not a stand in for an adult human, especially when they haven't even learned to speak in coherent phrases yet. And when R is working, and I'm stuck inside day after day after day with Ryland and Bobby, I'm not ashamed to admit that I really miss being around other full grown humans. I try to break it up with playdates, but a lot of my mama friends work, and this time of year even if I do manage to schedule a play date half the time either my kids or the other mom's kids inevitably get sick and it falls through. It's particularly hard because R leaves so early and gets home so late, so I don't even have that dependable evening time to have a conversation that is more than me just screaming "No" over and over again at Ryland while she tries to burn down our house. Sure, I can talk to her, and I do, but again, she is 22 months old. This is not a stand in for adult conversation. There are only so many time we can discuss her nose or belly button before the conversation gets stale. In the warmer months, it's so easy to get out and be around people and meet up with friends at parks or playgrounds. But in the winter, you can feel kind of stranded on an island where the only other inhabitants are incomprehensible pygmies who poop their pants.
5. The complete and total destruction of your home and all of your earthly possessions.
You know what happens when you stay inside your home all day with a toddler? Chaos. CHAOS is what happens. It is like living with a drunk and highly motivated raccoon. Nothing, and I repeat, nothing is safe. I will leave a room for like 5 minutes and come back and it looks like a bomb went off. Books ripped off shelves. Clothes thrown out of hampers. Nothing can stay in its place. It's like toddlers are deranged interior decorators, constantly rearranging every single item they can see. For some reason, Ryland has a thing with moving all of our hampers around the house, constantly. She also loves to take all of the pots out of the drawer in the kitchen and pile them onto our bed. Separately, she takes the pot lids and arranges them in a mysterious pattern on the living room rug. I find my toiletries and makeup in the laundry room and then find my laundry in the bathroom. She moves framed pictures from room to room, takes all of the coasters off every surface, unplugs lamps, finds every single piece of loose change I've accumulated since 1993. And that's not even mentioning her toys, which of course get carried to every random inch of the house you could imagine. Some days I try to keep up with it, and spend pretty much all day following her around putting things back in their places. Other days I just sit back and let it happen, because trying to stop a toddler is like trying to stop a hurricane. Ain't gonna happen.
6. The tantrums/arguments.
You know what a toddler does when she gets bored and restless and can't go outside and mommy has run out of shiny things to distract her and cannot bring herself to watch Moana for the 398th time? She throws tantrums. Epic, flailing, red faced tantrums. For us, about 90% of our "fights" are over snacks. You guys. I am so done with this whole toddler snack fixation. It is never ending, morning until night. Because we have an open floor plan, the kitchen is always just right there, and inevitably Ryland will get bored of what she's doing, take my hand, lead me into the kitchen and not so politely demand a "nack." If it is not "nack" time I say no. Ryland gets a confused look on her face, like she must not have heard me right. Nack, she says again, only louder this time. She leads me directly to the pantry or fridge. No, I say again, firmer this time. She takes me hand and puts it on the pantry doorknob or fridge door and gives me a look of pity, because clearly mama is a little slow. "Nack," she repeats. "No," I repeat. Cue her throwing her entire tiny body on the floor like I have just decapitated her lovey. I have clearly ruined her life. I am the meanest mom who ever lived, because I will not supply her with an endless stream of "nacks," mostly because I do not want to have a morbidly obese 2 year old.
It is a constant, constant battle, and some days I just want to install one of those automatic food dispensers and fill it with goldfish, only so I won't have to deal with it anymore.
7. The bundling.
If we do get motivated enough to go outside, I am soon reminded how much of a process it is to get two babies ready to go outdoors in winter. There is inevitably a diaper change (or two) involved, then the removing of pajamas, the putting on of real clothes (which means chasing down and tackling a naked Ryland is streaking her way through the house like she's a college freshman who has had a few too many tequilas). At this point I'm already sweating, but we're not even to the shoes and socks yet. I'll finally get these on Ryland, turn around to put Bobby in a warm layer, and then by the time I turn around Ryland has taken both her shoes and socks off and is halfway out of her pants. Cue more wrestling, more sweating. Finally it's time for the coat and hat and mittens for her and Bobby, and at this point we're all red faced and on the verge of tears and frankly exhausted enough that we no longer even want to go for a walk. It's a lot. I really miss when Ryland could just go outside naked.
So yeah, this all must sound like a whole lot of complaining and belly aching, and quite frankly, it is. I know my winter confinement is not a real problem in the grand scheme of life. I know there are worse things. But that doesn't mean that I haven't cried once or twice when looking at weather.com. It doesn't mean that I don't have fantasies about springtime, when we can go to the park again and the Children's Museum and actually venture back out into the world once more.
To be fair, there are some good things about winter. I love my kids. Of course I love spending time with them. I wouldn't choose another kind of life, no matter how tempting it is to run off to Hawaii to fulfill my long dormant dream of being a hula dancer.
And before you send me hate mail I also realize that I'm lucky in so many ways to be able to be at home with them and not have to work. But I also don't think it makes me a bad mother to admit that this winter has been really cold and really long and really hard. Any mom who stays home with her kids knows that it's not all sunshine and smiles and loving moments. Sure, those things happen, but there's also a lot of messes and tears and boredom and times when you have to step into the garage and yell at your water heater so that you don't scare your toddler.
There are a lot of days when even 4 cups of coffee don't do it, a lot of evenings when you really need that glass of wine in a way that is probably not 100% well-adjusted. It can really be a struggle with teeny little ones in those long, dark days of winter, where the days are at their shortest but feel so very long.
But the good news is that spring will be here, eventually. Life will pick back up with all of its distractions and activities. And until then we'll get through it with some help from each other and our moms and giant mugs of coffee and some really big glasses of wine.
And if I have a third baby, I may try to plan a little better where they're not born in November ;)
Hello friends. So today I actually have some rare kid free time to write, so I thought I would take advantage of that and finally write down Bobby's birth story. Considering it's been almost three months, this is a little on the late side, but I figure better late than never. I love everything about birth stories. I think they're such a great narrative tradition for moms to share their experiences, for the purposes of their own memories, and with each other. If you want to read Ryland's, you can find it here. Bobby's is a little less exciting, but no less important of course :)
So let's go back to November 16, 2017 (just insert that little squiggly flashback sequence animation here). I was 38 weeks and 2 days pregnant, and had a checkup with my OB in the morning. At this point I had been having Braxton Hicks for weeks and weeks (like they seriously started around 20 weeks with Bobby). I had also been having some more legitimate contractions for a couple of weeks, and at my last check-up was dilated to 3cm and 80% effaced.
I felt enormous and felt that all of the baby's weight was insanely low in my pelvis. There was so much pain and pressure in my lower back, sacrum, and entire pelvic region that I knew things were probably close. Every movement hurt. Rolling over in bed was almost impossible because of the pain. I was peeing about every 30 seconds. I usually felt the urge to pee again while I was still peeing. Things were certainly in motion, but I also knew that the last thing you want to do with childbirth is try to predict it, because inevitably you end up being wrong.
I went to my OB appointment and she told me that I was now 4cm and 100% effaced, and that this could mean labor was hours away, or still weeks away. (I resisted the urge to throw something at her when she said "weeks away") She did say that my cervix (if talk of cervixes bothers you or makes you uncomfortable, clearly you are reading the wrong blog entirely but also really should not read the rest of this post) felt very "favorable" for baby. She went on and on about how favorable my cervix was. To which I didn't really know how to respond. Being complemented on your cervix is one of the many strange things that happens when you are pregnant. And I mean what do you really say to that? Thank you? My cervix thanks you? We've been working on it together?
But anyways she sent me and my favorable cervix on our way. I stopped in the hallway bathroom to use the restroom (because 10 minutes had passed since I last went), and felt some pretty strong contractions. At this point they were still menstrual cramp like, along with a tightening of my entire stomach, but they were really strong, enough to take my breath away. I wasn't too surprised though, because this had happened after my last cervical check as well. (Sidebar, with my first pregnancy at VCU they didn't do routine cervical checks at the end of pregnancy, because they don't really predict anything and can make women think they are either farther away or closer to labor than they really are. And also because ouch. Now, based on the fact that I'm pretty sure this cervical check sent me straight into labor, I think it's probably a really good idea to just skip these entirely).
I drove home, cramping on and off, but nothing too crazy. I stopped and got a ginormous egg and cheese biscuit for lunch from Rise (these are better than McDonald's biscuits, which from me, there is no higher praise). I called my mom and told her she should probably be more or less ready to come over, because of my insanely favorable cervix (at this point obviously it had gone straight to my head and now I couldn't stop bragging about my cervical superiority).
I went home and ate lunch with Rob and Ryland, and all the while I was having contractions. But they weren't really regular. They would come in clusters and then peter out, then come back. And so it went for the early part of the afternoon.
I tried to nap while Ryland was napping, but the contractions were strong and regular enough at this point to keep me awake. She woke up and we went outside, because it was a warm November day. And I remember that as she was playing, I noticed a change. This was around 3-4pm. I glanced at my phone whenever a contraction came and noticed they were pretty darn regular, about every 10 minutes or so. I also started to panic because I realized that last time I did this whole shebang, I never actually went into labor (they induced me because my water broke). There was never any of the "Am I in labor? Am I not in labor?" uncertainty with Ryland. There was just a big old gush of amniotic fluid while I was vacuuming the house that made it pretty crystal clear a baby would be arriving post haste.
It dawned on me that most people have to do some critical thinking when they have babies. You don't want to be the nervous Nellie who runs to the hospital when she's days away from labor. But you also don't want to like have your kid in the garage on the way to the car.
I hemmed and hawed for a while, called my mom and said she should be on even higher alert. And then (warning, things start to get a little more graphic now, so again, if that bothers you, wrong blog entirely, but especially don't read the rest of this post), I went to the bathroom and there was some blood. Which is pretty normal, especially after a cervical check, but things just felt different. I called the OB triage number and left a message explaining what was happening. I also told them what my OB told me, that because of my extraordinary, incredible, extremely "favorable" cervix, I shouldn't dilly dally or fart around (okay she may have not used those exact words) when it came to getting to the hospital.
The triage nurse said, "Yup, go to the hospital." And I had a brief moment of pure and total panic. It's amazing that you can grow a baby inside of you for almost a year, and yet I don't think you ever fully process the end result until it actually happens. Like darn, I'm not just getting super fat, I do in fact have to push a child out of my womb now. It's terrifying, no matter how prepared you are, no matter how many baby books you read. It's terrifying the first time and actually more terrifying the second time, because you don't have the mercy of ignorance. You KNOW how this all happens. The curtain has been drawn back. There are no illusions, no gentle ideas of what labor really looks and feels like. You have been there before, and you know what your body is about to go through.
As much as I would have liked to pretend it wasn't happening, I knew we did need to go to the hospital if I didn't want to give birth on the side of the highway. I called my mom to come over and then went around the house, showering and making sure everything was in my hospital bag that I needed. I made Ryland a pancake for dinner. I tried to breathe and act totally cool and relaxed. My parents got there around 5pm, and I gave Ryland a big kiss and hug and tried not to think too much about the fact that the next time I saw her she wouldn't be my only baby (Because if I had I would have legit ugly cried, there's a lot of anticipatory guilt with a second child that you are completely ruining your first child's life, and maybe you are? I am the youngest child so I would not be able to speak to this. Ask my brother and sister. They may tell you that I did, in fact, ruin their lives. If so, this is 32 years late, but my apologies).
And then we set off into the evening. It almost felt like a date night, only a really terrible one that involves a lot of screaming. We got to the hospital, parked, and walked inside. It felt very surreal. In the movies, having a baby is this big dramatic event, with everyone running around and shouting and rushing women in wheelchairs up to the L&D suite, but in real life, at least in my experience, until you get to the business end of things, the lead up is pretty anti-climactic. You literally walk yourself to the labor and delivery floor, ring a doorbell, and say "hey guys, here to have a baby."
We got into the room, and I put on a gown and was checked out by the triage nurse. I was only dilated 5cm at this point and my contractions were still not crazy or any closer together. Whomp whomp. Was I one of those nervous women who went to the hospital way too early? I kept wanting to tell everyone about my favorable cervix as a way of explanation, but then thought better of it, because normal people don't talk incessantly about their cervixes. The nurse told us that basically they'd check me again in like 2-3 hours, and decide then if I would stay or not. Until then I was welcome to put on normal clothes, walk around and eat.
So we headed to Starbucks and I chowed down on a bagel with cream cheese. About half way through the bagel, as we were sitting outside the Starbucks in the hospital lobby, I noticed a change in my contractions. Where before I could talk and joke through them, I felt one that made me go silent. And again, that moment of panic, like oh yeah, labor really, really HURTS.
So we headed back up to the L&D suite and by the time I got back and changed into my gown again, I knew that things were on. An OB from my practice came to check me and I still wasn't dilated much further, but everyone could tell that things were moving. The nurse said there was a noticeable difference in my demeanor, and I would have told her I agreed with her, but I was having a contraction and trying not to let out a string of expletives.
So now I was "officially" checked in. At this point I was still on the fence about an epidural. I was still pretty sure I wanted one (had one with Ryland, best decision I could have made), but I was also curious what labor was like without Pitocin, and if I would better be able to go epidural free with this kind of labor. And for the first few hours I did fine. The contractions hurt, like really, really, really hurt, but there were breaks between them.
This, my friends, is the BIGGEST difference between labor with pitocin versus labor without, at least for me. When I was induced, there were no breaks. As soon as one contraction was fading, another one would ramp back up. It was like being smacked in the face with waves, over and over again. The pain wasn't so much different, but without breaks, that pain is literally unendurable (or again, at least for me). The pain with non-induced labor was awful, but I could catch my breath in the lulls between contractions. I wasn't drowning in it.
Our nurse was awesome and showed Rob some techniques to help with the contractions. (I think she took pity on us because clearly we had not prepared one iota for this labor, or with Ryland's to be honest, no childbirth classes, no Lamaze, no visualization, no playlists, none of it. We are at best like D+ students when it comes to laboring) The best one was literally him just kind of using his knuckles to squeeze my palms really hard. I think he thought it would hurt, but I told him the harder he squeezed the better it felt. I tried to sit on the big bouncy labor ball, but I didn't love that. I preferred to sit cross legged in the bed (which I know, I know, is like the worst position, "natural" childbirth proponents encourage you to walk or bounce or stand in the shower or do cartwheels down the hallways versus sitting in a bed, but I've done this twice now, and both times the only positions I could tolerate were either sitting upright in bed or lying sideways and squeezing on to the handrails with a death grip).
It went like this for a while. The nurse came in and out, but mostly we were by ourselves in the room. The TV was on, and I watched House Hunters in between contractions. I put on some music from my phone. It was near midnight when I finally made the decision to get the epidural.
Here's the thing. Kudos to the women who birth children without epidurals. Y'all have my admiration. I think it's great. I understand the impetus to do so for some women.
But for me, with both of my labors, I've reached a point where the drawbacks of the pain start to eclipse any benefits I feel like I would gain from continuing to labor in that way. I also reach a point where I know, deep down in my soul, that I just don't have the commitment, or frankly desire, to have a drug free childbirth. And make no mistake, if you are going to have a drug free labor, it needs to be a HUGE commitment. You need to prepare. You need to take those classes and do the exercises and breathing and affirmations and trust falls and whatever else they tell you to do. You cannot just wing labor without an epidural. It would be like just deciding out of the blue to run a marathon and then finishing it without a day of training. Not. gonna. happen.
I know this is a statement some will disagree with, but I think epidurals are fantastic. If you really look into current, quality, evidence based research, there are not a lot of downsides (I know a lot of people will disagree with this as well, but I really don't want to debate the pros and cons of epidurals, I'm just speaking for my own experience). Maybe because I'm a nurse, I just have a hard time with the idea of suffering when there are fabulous, safe interventions that reduce that suffering. And again, that's my personal view point. I know there are very different opinions on the matter, and that is awesome and totally fine too. Every woman should just do her own thing, and anyone who wants to judge needs to really evaluate why they feel the need to do so.
Okay, off soap box. So by the time the anesthesiologist gets into the room I've reached the bad place, the place where I almost choked my husband last time, the place where you can't talk or move or really even breathe during contractions.
I did manage to hold still for the anesthesiologist, and my God, this man was a hero amongst men (and no, this has nothing at all to do with the fact that he pumped my epidural space full of sweet, sweet Fentanyl, how dare you suggest that!). He did his work quickly and efficiently (R, who is a physician himself, commented on how lovely his work was). By the time he finished cleaning up his space, the epidural had kicked in.
And I cannot adequately describe what this is like, to go from pretty much the worst pain you've ever experienced in your life, pain that feels like your uterus is trying to rip itself out of your body, pain that you feel explode inside of your stomach and radiate to every muscle and nerve fiber you have, to sweet, blissful relief.
It is like someone turns off a switch, and that someone is God and the switch changes your surroundings from hell to heaven (this may also have been the fentanyl talking, but only slightly). I could breathe. I could talk. I could smile. I could move. Most importantly, I could focus on House Hunters again (priorities people!).
The anesthesiologist left the room and I told R that if we hadn't already picked out Bobby's name, we would have been naming him after that man.
And so for a few hours after this, I was seriously just chilling. Like at a cocktail party. Hanging. Life was good. Life was beautiful.
My legs were numb, but much less so than with my previous epidural. I could still move and shift my weight pretty easily. Also, the last epidural I got definitely was a little one-sided (this can happen if the drug doesn't distribute evenly), but this one was perfectly balanced (because the man who did it was an angel on this earth, and no I am not exaggerating, and if you ever get an epidural during labor, you will probably feel the same irrational and completely inappropriate love for your anesthesiologist).
It was early morning around this point, 2-3ish, so we figured we should try to get some rest (another AMAZING thing about an epidural, you can sleep, or at least try to sleep, and your body will just keep on laboring without you). Basically you'll know when you're close to pushing because you'll start to feel a lot of pressure down there. And as I learned last time, even with an epidural, that pressure is still very noticeable and VERY uncomfortable.
And it was this pressure I started to feel as soon as I closed my eyes to try to sleep.
I also still hadn't broken my water at this point (pretty much the opposite of my first labor experience). And accompanied by one of these pressure surges was what sounded like a massive water balloon popping. I literally looked around the room for a second, like what was that sound? But then I realized my bed was soaking wet. And there was my water breaking. It was just like it happens in the movies, like a big comical explosion of water. Thank goodness that didn't happen at the hospital Starbucks! Those poor baristas would have been scarred for life.
The nurse came in, checked everything out, and helped change the bed. And then she checked me and said I was fully dilated. The baby wasn't quite far enough down though so it wasn't pushing time. So she did what they had done with Ryland, which is basically put a giant foam peanut thing between your legs. I found an image on Google of one, because it's kind of hard to imagine if you haven't seen it.
And then she inverted the bed so that my head was lower than the rest of my body. And I hung out in this bizarre position with a giant peanut between my legs for a little while. The pressure was definitely growing and growing, to the point where it was pretty uncomfortable (although nowhere near as bad as contractions). I still kind of had to breathe through it though and do a little bed rail clutching.
Finally after I'm not sure how long, it was decided the baby was far enough down to start pushing. So here's another way that an epidural makes for a very different labor experience. I imagine that pushing without an epidural is very much like it looks in the movies. Lots of screaming and yelling. Very intense and dramatic and red faced and sweaty. But when you have an epidural, you just sort of shrug, let the nurse and your husband hold your legs, and push, at least in the early stages.
There were fewer acrobatics involved with pushing Bobby versus Ryland. With Ryland I feel like it was literally a pilates class (a pilates class from hell that is) with the amount of positions we tried and equipment used. There were bars brought out at some point. I pushed on my side for a while (granted that was when she was showing fetal distress so that was a medical necessity).
This time was a little more relaxed and old fashioned. A contraction would start and I would push three times. For the first 20 minutes or so it was just me, R, and two nurses. This was also very different from my first labor, when literally 567 people were in the room. Between the residents, the nurses, the NICU team, and all the assorted students of different disciplines, pretty much the entire staff of VCU witnessed Ryland's birth. I'm pretty sure the housekeeping and nutrition staff were in there at some point. Random stragglers from the street may have wandered in. We must have exceeded the fire martial's maximum capacity for that room. It was like a rave minus the drugs. And with a lot more fluids. Things were crowded.
The room at St. Mary's felt empty by comparison, but it was nice not to expose my lady parts to half of Richmond. I felt like I was making zero progress but the nurses and R kept telling me they could see more and more of Bobby's head. I didn't believe them because I know for a fact that I was blatantly lied to with Ryland's five hour marathon pushing session (and I needed to be lied to, because otherwise I may have just quit and decided Ryland was going to stay inside my uterus until she turned 18).
I do remember feeling really, really tired, somehow more tired than I had felt during Ryland's pushing session, partly because it was 3 in the morning but mostly I think because I had been having serious contractions for almost 24 hours at that point (btw, in case you weren't sure, contractions are exhausting). With Ryland I didn't start contracting until the pitocin, versus with Bobby I had been having natural contractions for a while. So I know my pushing with him kind of was a C effort, just because even with the epidural my body was totally exhausted.
At VCU there had been multiple doctors in the rooms most of the time (because there are residents all over the place), but at a private hospital the nurse doesn't call the doctor in until the very, very end of the whole process (unless something is wrong of course). So I knew when the doctor came in, that things really were at the business end.
The doctor set up and put on her gown, mask, goggles, shoe covers, and hazmat suit (I barely exaggerate, they really get prepared, but in fairness labor is really, really gross and messy). R and the nurses encouraged me with each push that the baby was right there. There was a lot more pain and pressure at this point (an epidural can only do so much when a human is coming out of you).
Everyone kept saying that he was there, only one more really good push and he'd be out. I thought they were all bold face liars, but I pushed anyways.
There was a big surge of pain and I knew he was out in the world before I could see him. And then he was on my chest like he'd been there all along, blue (not in a scary way, they're all a little blue) and gunky and warm. There is no weight you will ever feel like the weight of your new baby on your chest. You feel the physical weight and presence of their little bodies, but it also imprints on your soul, fills a space that you didn't know existed but now couldn't imagine being empty again, a space made specifically for that tiny little person. I held him and cried tears of relief and joy and gratitude.
Like with Ryland, there was a lot of activity that continued after delivering him (another upside to an epidural, you don't have to feel all of the stitching and placenta delivering and can just enjoy your baby instead). I tried to memorize Bobby's face, his huge eyes, his little lips and nose and chin. I let him rise up and down with my breaths and knew that any fear I had about not loving him as much as Ryland was completely unfounded. After one child it seems impossible that your heart could love another baby as much as you love your first, because that love is so powerful and cracks you so wide open it seems impossible you could be so lucky twice.
But then you have a second and realize that your heart grows and adapts instantly, and you can love a second baby just as fiercely and completely.
When Ryland was born she became my sun and moon and stars, and when Bobby was born he became another perfect, intrinsic part of that same galaxy. He fit so beautifully and so instantly into our lives.
I am so lucky and grateful to have had two healthy pregnancies, two relatively straightforward childbirths, and two perfect, healthy babies. Both times I've given birth I've never, not even for a moment, taken for granted how privileged I am to give birth safely, with all of the tools of modern medicine at my disposal.
I am so thankful for the wonderful nurses and doctors (especially certain tall, mustachioed anesthesiologists, kidding! kind of...) who helped bring Bobby into the world. I don't think any woman ever forgets her L&D or Mother Infant nurses, and I know I won't forget mine.
Nearly three months have passed, and it is hard to remember a time before my Robert Boyer Becker. I know that in a blink of an eye he will be running around with his sister. But no matter how much time passes or how long I live, I will never forget the moment I first held him, and how I learned for a second time what it feels like to fall into a love greater than yourself, a love that rearranges every fiber of your being and fills your entire universe with dazzling light.
I'm a thirty-something mom of two, wife, pediatric RN, and writer with a passion for all the big and little things in life.