A Story of Will

I was browsing in the granite aisle.  I was feeling the chill of an overly air-conditioned warehouse full of huge slabs of stone, when I stopped and closed my eyes to breathe through a contraction.  I looked at the contraction timer I’d downloaded earlier in the day, and sure enough…they were regular and about 6 minutes apart.  I looked over to Rick to relay that information.  After being induced with my first when I went two weeks late, and knowing my family history of going to 43 weeks or more, I was reluctant to believe this was really it.  We both pursed our lips and tried to play it cool, but it seemed more and more like this was labor.

We finished up our granite shopping and made our way home though late afternoon traffic on I-70.  The regular contractions were slightly uncomfortable, but not enough to  make me squirm in the car, so we talked through our plan if they continued.  My mom, who was ready and waiting at our house, would take over if we had to leave for the hospital in the night.  We had written out the information she needed to watch our older son, so we felt like we just needed to determine when the time was right.  Until I got a more sure sign that labor was imminent, I was operating under the impression that this was just a false alarm – as I’d experienced a few times with my first.

At about 11 pm that night, as my contractions worsened I went to the bathroom and found that I had bloody show.   This seemed like just the sign I’d been waiting for.  I texted my doula, told her my contraction pattern, and she decided to drive up and see us. When she arrived, Rick was pacing and antsy.  As the contractions worsened, he worried that we needed to go to the hospital.  When  Stacey arrived, however, she sat down to watch the contractions herself and after about 20 minutes of watching me as I sat on my birth ball she agreed that we should make our way to the University of Colorado Hospital, about 25 minutes away.  Rick had loaded our bags in his nervousness, so we hopped in the car and made our way there – which was a rough ride for me, as I clutched the door and console trying to ease the back labor I was experiencing in the car.

We arrived and checked in.  They took us to triage to determine whether I was ready to be checked in.  After a brief check of my cervix, my midwife said we’d need to wait a bit longer before they would check me in.  She welcomed us to pace the halls, or head home and come back later.  We were a bit confused as to why we couldn’t stay, but decided that our home, which was undergoing a kitchen renovation and housing our two-year old, would not be a restful place.  We booked a room at a hotel nearby and went there to rest and ride out the labor a bit further.  My husband laid down to sleep.  I, on the other hand, laid down to close my eyes, but every few minutes would leap up to ride out a contraction.  I couldn’t handle them lying down.   This continued for about 4 hours, until my water broke and we headed back to the hospital.

This time we were checked through with no issue.  We got into our labor room and hunkered down.  I was awfully tired because it was now morning and I’d not slept.   My doula wanted me to ride through several contraction while lunging with one leg on a chair.  I did that in an effort to bring the baby down in a non-asynclitic way.   But after a while, my tiredness was getting to me so we moved to the bath.  There, my laboring consisted of me dozing off between contractions.  It sounds insane that one could do that, but my body was in some sort of energy conserve mode.  I’d wake up as the contraction started, ride it though, and then lay my head back and sleep.  Apparently I was even snoring.  I did this for a bit in the tub and it was lovely and gave me some rest.  Then my doula suggested I start dancing.  Some people might think it a strange thing to do, but given the way my first birth went I was game for anything that would get me the VBAC I hoped for.  I had hired te best doula I could find and I wasn’t about to ignore her advice. So, we danced.  I did hula-like moves for what felt like several hours.  The hope, in all this, was to avoid what had happened with my first – a posterior and asynclitic babe, resulting in a cesarean.  My entire pregnancy had been targeted toward this goal. I’d been doing months of chiropractic, religiously sleeping on my side, taking probiotics, reading voraciously, exercsing – and it felt like it might just work.

As the contractions began getting stronger, somewhere deep down, I knew that I was experiencing back labor.  With each contraction I’d squirm uncontrollably to take the pressure off.   I decided that something to take the edge off might be nice.  I asked if they had some laughing gas, and before long  had a mask that I could use to “make the contractions not bother me as much.”  The anesthesiologist (who I maintain was a Seth Rogan doppelgänger), was very honest about the fact that nitrous does not mask the pain, but helps you handle it better.  It did.  And, before long I had made my way to a point where I was very tired, wanting to push (well, that had been going on almost since I checked in because the baby was SO low), and wondering if I had the stamina for transition.  I was starting to consider an epidural, but I hadn’t had a cervical check in several hours so Rick suggested that before I go for medications, we should see where I was.  Well, it turns out that I had gone right on through transition without too much drama and was fully dilated!  This was fantastic news!

I started to push.  I was good at pushing!  My midwife was psyched seeing the progress my baby made with each push.  She said she saw the head move nearly two inches each time I gave it my all.  They were readying me to meet my baby any minute and I was thrilled.  There was a part of me that had assumed I’d never get this far, and here I was pushing and being told the baby would be out very soon.  I was elated.  I’d heard people say that pushing felt good.  It does, in the sense that you have some agency in what’s happening, unlike in the earlier contractions, but I can’t say that the sensation was enjoyable.  I was ready to see this baby and have it be done!

After about 45 minutes, the midwife voiced concern that the baby was moving back each time I pushed – more so than normal.  And, worse, the baby was having late heart rate deceleration.  This is language I’d heard before with Cody – not good news.  They called the OB team and a pediatrics team into the room where I was laboring.  Soon, it was just me, Rick, my doula and about 12 doctors, nurses, and other support staff.  About this time I began thinking how grateful I was for having grown up playing sports because without that, I doubt I’d have handled the chorus of 15 people around me yelling and urging me to bear down between contractions nearly as well.  I was also glad for my health and fitness, because it was a lot of work after already laboring for over 24 hours!

The OB introduced herself and told me that they were here to help me get the VBAC I wanted.  First, she felt for the baby’s position.  Posterior – again!  And, asynclitic – again.  She reached in and attempted to manually turn the baby but it was unsuccessful (and very uncomfortable because I was still unmedicated).  They offered two options then – forceps or a vacuum – to help move the baby into a better position.  Vacuum was their recommendation and so we went ahead with it.  A vacuum assisted delivery involves attaching a vacuum pump to the baby’s head to help pull and re-direct it during each push.  So, at the next push they attached the vacuum and I pushed with everything I had.  The OB was literally standing and pushing with one foot on the edge of my hospital bed to help her pull, but the vacuum popped off.  It was a VERY painful experience with no medications and the amount of pressure that she was exerting as she pulled down.  It felt altogether different from just the contractions and pushing alone. Apparently, many women who have a vacuum assisted delivery already have been given pain meds, but I was completely unmedicated and the nurses kept having to remind the OB team of that as they were pulling.  Though I handle pain well, it felt like they were going to rip me apart.  I can’t really even describe the feeling of being on a bed, with 15 people who I barely knew, surrounding me in a state of undress I would never otherwise be in, pushing as hard as possible, with the OB pulling as hard as she can – a sensation that feels like it will rip my insides out, akin to trying really hard to extract a cork from a wine bottle – and everyone yelling at me to push, and bear down, and curl around the baby.  It was insane. Like, definitely not the birth scenario I imagined even when readying myself for the challenge of VBAC.  A second attempt at the vacuum resulted in a pop off.  And finally, my third and last chance.  My midwife and doula both looked at me gravely before the contraction hit and said I needed to give it every ounce I had (as if I hadn’t already been doing this through the two previous attempts).  The contraction started, and I curled hard around the baby as I lay on my left side, giving over every fiber of muscle in my body to the pushing.  The contraction began to wane, and I kept pushing to keep the baby from sliding back, but as the OB pulled, the vacuum popped off for the third and final time.  The OB and my midwife slowly approached my head and said that the time had come to move to a cesarean, they asked my permission as I panted and collapsed onto the bed, exhausted, and I said yes.  In seconds I was being wheeled out of the room, too tired and overwhelmed to even realize that Rick wasn’t with me.  It wasn’t until they were prepping me for the spinal block that I realized he was nowhere to be found.

Back in the OR, I was too exhausted to be upset at the need for a c-section.  I was hanging on, sitting on the edge of the bed through the strong contractions waiting for my spinal to kick in, which took a few minutes.  Soon though, they had me on the table and pulled the curtain up blocking my view, explaining that they would move it down when things calmed as the baby was born – the hospital had a gentle cesarean option!  I was so thrilled.  But, that time never came for me…

Soon Rick was at my head, and I could tell something was happening on the other side of the curtain.  I assumed they’d tell me when they started th surgery, but they didn’t and it was underway.  It was going slowly.  Very slowly.  As I later learned, when they cut me open they found an abdomen cemented together with very bad scar tissue from my previous cesarean.  So much so that they were forced to do the internal incision higher on my uterus as the scar tissue had cemented other organs and tissue in place over my previous scar.  It was a lot of work to get in, and when they did, Will was in bad shape.  He was in the birth canal, so he had to be pushed out from below and pulled by his feet from the incision.  It was obviously not an easy birth, and it took a lot longer than my first surgery.  I was beginning to fade in and out of consciousness on the table by the time Will was finally removed.  He didn’t cry. The room was very quiet. They didn’t show him to me or Rick.  All I saw was a limp baby being rushed to the other side of the room where a table was set up for resuscitation.  It says something about my mental state that I was so sleepy and figured it would all be ok.  My recollection of this period was several people around Will working hard with a CPAP and doing CPR, Rick shaking above me and crying and sternly telling me not to fall asleep – though the drugs were saying the opposite.  I can’t give you a clear story about this piece, and whenever I ask Rick about it he gets so emotional he can’t really express how he felt.  It was very hard on him seeing Will and I in such precarious positions.

Finally, after several minutes they got Will breathing.  He had an APGAR score of 1 at birth, and 5 minutes out he was a 7, but he wasn’t totally out of the woods.  He spent a night in the NICU because breathing wasn’t coming easily for him.  Me, they stitched back up and wheeled into the recovery room.  The OBGYN took a moment to try to share with me that if I choose to have more children, I will need to have a c-section, because at this point between the new incision placement and the scar tissue it is too risky not to.

I certainly didn’t comprehend the gravity of the situation we faced during Will’s birth.  Each time a doctor visited me they asked in a low voice how I was doing because I’d had a traumatic birth.  To me, honestly, the birth had been a mixed bag.  I was incredibly happy and proud to have labored through what I did, unmedicated and without interventions.  When it came to having had the vacuum assist and eventually the c-section, it seemed to me that I had given the VBAC my all including months of chiropractic, herbs, probiotics, exercise, and working in advance with a team of exceptionally talented people.  I felt confident that under those circumstances, if a c-section was needed then it was truly a necessary intervention.  That said, it wasn’t until a follow-up with my doula that the gravity of the situation struck me.  She said “In situations like yours, we have to be glad for the option of c-section or you and Will wouldn’t be here.”

Wow.  I could have left my toddler without a mom, my husband without a wife, and died in childbirth along with my baby. Holy shit.

So, there has been much to process in the follow-up to this birth.  New life, an expanding family, potential mortality, and the higher risks of choosing to have another baby in the future.  Honestly, this has been much of the reason I haven’t written about Will’s birth. I vaccinate between feeling scared, triumphant, bewildered, and this unshakable feeling that I am a let down.  That, in the evolutionary scheme of things, I’d be a dead-end if it weren’t for surgical intervention.  It is a feeling I wrestle with daily.  As I workout and try to get back to a place of fitness and health postpartum, I wonder if this is me recovering and healing after my final baby?   Would be best if I never have any more babies?  The risk is bigger than I’d like or than I anticipated, and I sort of feel that I should just let things lie as they are even though I’ve always wanted more kids.  I am really struggling to get my head around this.  And, I think that though I know now the experience of laboring and feel proud I was able to handle it – I also feel that it is more obvious than ever that something is amiss inside me that causes my babies to be poorly positioned and therefore makes vaginal birth a real challenge.  But what is it?  Why can nobody answer that question?  And now, two surgeries in, I’ve foreclosed any previously available options where I might have been able to correct the issues…

But hey, I know that wading into these questions only causes me to go in circles wondering about things I’ll probably never have answers to.  I have two beautiful, healthy kids.  I am healthy and healing. These are the truly real, concrete, and important things.   But, man, birth really brings out a lot of dark, weird stuff – exposing your insecurities and challenging your self-confidence while also bringing these wonderful beings into your life.  What a crazy thing life is.

I wish I could say more.  As I said, I’m still dong a lot of processing internally and wondering what it all means for me and my family.  I will do my best to report of this more regularly here.  I feel it is important to share this information, though I’ve found it incredibly hard to talk about.

 

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New Year, New baby, new outlook

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First First Man 2016

Hello world.  I think as part of 2017, I’d like to resolve to blog more regularly.  I also think I’ve made this resolution before.  We’ll see how that goes…

 

I’m writing today from inside the haze of week of headcold.  I’m hoping that through my fingertips, fuzzy brainwaves will convert to clear sentences.  Wish me luck! (She purposefully pours more coffee into her slightly depressing “Bill Clinton – First First Man 2016” mug.)  Pictured here!

Well, 2017 is upon me.  With it, comes the standard malaise of reviewing your year – accomplishments, goals, progress, and all that.  I’ve found myself caught in a bit of a funk driven by the fact that my break felt like – not so much of a break.  For a quick rundown on that, here’s a recap of the last few weeks:

2016 ended at a sprint with a major FASTLANE grant application at work and several year-end close out items that kept me going right up to the end.  We called it, flew home to Milwaukee on the 22nd for Christmas and spent the next 4 days doing various Christmas celebrations there.  It was a fun opportunity to be home and see family, but the quickness of it all left us feeling a bit wiped out.  For a good mental image of this, see a few weeks back in my instagram, the photo of Rick slumped across the back seat of my parent’s car. We were a tired lot. While we were home though,  we did make a FUN announcement.  We learned we are having ANOTHER BOY!!!  Two littles under age three starting in May/June.  Ha.  If I’m complaining about being tired now, check in with me again in about 6 months.

We made it back to Denver on the 26th in time to catch Rick’s dad, stepmom, and step sister here for their holiday celebration.  They stayed with us and it was lovely to have the company and help as we did some preparation for some upcoming things.  First, we switched over Cody’s room to a “big boy bed” and moved his crib and other nursery furniture to what will be the new nursery.  This transition actually went remarkably well – at least in the immediate aftermath.  Cody took to his new bed and now we are 3/4 of the way there with a new nursery set up.  I also was able to go through all our infant clothes, toys, and other stuff and begin to organize – fill the drawers,set up the monitors, and figure out what holes needed filling that might make up a registry for our upcoming shower in March (with my sister Max!).  We also cleared out our mudroom and began preparing to clear our kitchen because …da da da DAH…after 2 years of permitting gymnastics with the City and County of Denver – we finally got a building permit to renovate our kitchen/mudroom, and pop the top to expand our upstairs bathroom and put a laundry/utility room up there.  It has seemed like the project that would never actually be real, but lo and behold, as I sit here today our contractors are putting down foundation for our kitchen expansion and I’m praying to all the powers that be that we can get this thing most of the way done before we have baby number 2.  Demo began on the 27th of December and we have a 4-6 month renovation schedule tentatively in mind.  For more on this, follow my instagram where I’m documenting the remodel.

Speaking of that, we burst a pipe in our kitchen last week when temps dipped down to single digits.  Our remodel is less than a few weeks in and already we have issues… and that isn’t even the beginning.  Just wait until we tear down the walls to uncover the unaccounted-for spaces – we have already discovered an drywalled-over bathroom.  What’s next!?!?

The goal of this post was a year-end recap, mostly as an exercise in testing my memory and pulling myself out of a year end funk.  So here’s a quick recap of major 2016 things:

  • I rediscovered a semblance of normality after a harrowing postpartum year in 2015.  2016 saw new work opportunities, got me back into a (sort of) groove with fitness, and my brain started functioning again.  Hooray!
  • I started a group at work to discuss/ and promote family friendly policies in the workplace.
  • I wrapped up my year as a member of the EnGen Leadership program through the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.  It was a fantastic year of working with other young leaders in the Denver area, networking, and learning more about the industry.  I’m so glad to have made some great friends through the program and to have been exposed to high level executive leaders from the C-suites of some major E&P’s here in Denver and nationwide.  What an amazing program!  I’m already volunteering as a mentor for next year.
  • I gained 3 new mentors – they are fantastic and I’m so thankful for the time they spend working with me and helping me progress as a professional.
  • I finished year 1 of a 2 year internal HDR leadership program.  Our cohort has gotten to know each other, interviewed managers across the company, and are gearing up to write a white paper on improving our company’s management training practices.
  • I led an awesome, and first of its kind,  “school ambassadors program” at work to facilitate outreach to non-english speaking populations in Denver.  We worked with high school students who are also bilingual (in this case they spoke Somali, Spanish, or Vietnamese) and trained them to conduct surveys about infrastructure needs in their immediate communities so that we could get input from sources that are typically hard to reach.  It was a total success and a really fun way to connect with the community.  The program ended up being promoted internally across HDR’s company website and the American Planning Association wrote a newsletter piece about it!
  • I went back to Mac for my 10-year college reunion.  I wasn’t sure what to expect but really had a fantastic time.  College, in the moment, can be a weird experience but as we have moved on from our time there I’ve realized just how amazing and unique my peers at Macalester are and I felt very invigorated by seeing so many of them in St. Paul this past summer.
  • Rick, Cody, and our support crew of family and friends rode the better part of the circumference of Lake Michigan this summer on our bikes.  It was a fun and wild adventure.  We learned about some new challenges of traveling with a toddler and we also got nearly two full weeks on our bikes just talking to each other …about life, stuff, our dreams and plans, to think out loud and muse about our surroundings.  As new parents our conversations are often in the weeds of logistics and the time we shared together this summer was magical and renewing. It reminded us both of all the things we love about being together.  It helped remind me of how much I love Rick.
  • We got pregnant with number 2!!  My sister is also pregnant and our due dates are 9 days apart.  It will be a wild ride!
  • I traveled to Belfast and saw Van Morrison live with my family.  It was a special trip as Van has been the soundtrack of so much of our lives together.

There are parts of the 2016 year that I certainly wish had gone differently.  I won’t dive too deep here, but I will say that a close family friend passed unexpectedly this year which left a cloud over me in surprising ways.  It was an honor to share so much of my growing up years with Jo, and when I think about her now it always serves a reminder to live life with enthusiasm, generosity, and with gratitude for what I have.   More than anything, her passing made me think hard about my attitude towards life’s challenges and helped me better evaluate where I want to have spent my time and energy when my time comes.

2016, I bid you farewell and look forward to riding the waves ahead in 2o17.

Alone Time

I’m coming to you today from my bed at 8:30 pm.  Let me set the scene.  It’s dusk outside, and so hot it makes my ears ring.  I have a fan pumping air at me on medium, so I can still feel relatively sane but I’m not in a wind tunnel.

I’m worn out.  This seems like the story of my life.  So I won’t bore you with the specific details right now.

Let me instead tell you about yesterday.

Yesterday I camped above treeline on wide, lush, flower-speckled piece of earth that made my heart happy.  I ate dinner from a mug, swatting mosquitoes off my cheeks in the fading light of evening.  I felt the cold air descend as the sun dropped below the massive mountain above us.  I crawled into a small green tent, and put my son into grey fleece pajamas. My husband read aloud to us from my book until our eyes were all droopy.  Then he closed the book, and the last of the evening light faded. We snuggled together – a man, a woman, and a little fleece-covered cherub.  The cold evening air infiltrated the tent slowly, and we pulled our sleeping bags tight up around our shoulders to stave off the cold.  Only Cody’s feet remained uncovered, because they get too hot.  Because he is more than just baby now – he’s a small person with feelings and thoughts – laughter and frowns.  He has answers to questions.  He has urgent need for kisses.  He has to throw rocks.  Right now.  He is id embodied.

I was exhausted and fell into a deep sleep.  I recall nothing until I was awoken around midnight to the sound of a human voice yelling ” Aaaargh!”  My eyes opened and I whispered urgently to Rick.  “What was that!?”  He explained it was two, possibly drunk, hikers coming by.  I sat int the heart-pounding space that one sits in when terror awakens.  I realized that as an individual I’d never been afraid to camp.  I assumed I’d figure out the right move in the moment if anything went wrong.  Now, with a gray, fleece-covered cherub to take into account, my fear was palpable. Things change so quickly.

The gray, fleece-covered cherub fervently held me in the cool night – asleep but still vigilant to stay close.  I nestled him in closer and checked his feet for cold.  I evaluated plans for fighting off unwelcome nighttime visitors with a grey, fleece-covered cherub by my side.  I fell into a new sleep – guarding him closely.

He is my everything.  I fear I don’t know exactly how to protect him – both in the night when strangers yell – or in the world when things feel very dark, and good news feels like a rarity.

I sit here alone tonight, and even in my excitement to be unattached for a few days while the cherub, dog, and husband are away  I am reminding you and myself of how urgently and unquestioningly I love this small being and the others too.  I remind you of the exhaustion, the sweet kisses, the tissue-soft cheeks, and the deep fear that he is too sweet for the world and that I can’t do enough to make the world better.  I remind you of my sadness that our reality will unquestionably dampen the joy he exudes today. I remind you that motherhood is a thankless challenge and also my highest honor.

Sweetness to me

Light filters softly through our bamboo blinds as I slowly became aware of myself enveloped in grey flannel sheets, curled on my side, warm in the embrace of a thick down comforter.  My eyes flutter open, and I look down to see, nuzzled in the hollow of my  body, a perfect nearly bald head pressed against my chest, delicate hands and arms loosely grasping my shirt contentedly in sleep.  I stare for a moment — at times the adjustment to this reality takes a second — and then I listen for the soft gurgle of his breath.  There it is. There he is.  This little, delicate human, snuggled into the hollow of my chest and belly, next to my heart – a spot he’s already called home for many months.

Our mornings look like this. Rick leaves us early in the dark, often as I feed the baby.  We say sad parting words, for it really is a tragedy that Rick must leave us each day to be with other children.  We finish our feed, and snuggle into a short morning sleep for a few more hours.  Addie curls in the crook of my bent knees, Cody curls in the crook of my body.  Soon we fall into a rhythm of slowed breathing and drift to sleep for a few more blessed hours, joining legions of other women through the ages who, exhausted and in love, collapse into a sweet delicate sleep curled around their babies. Now, as I type, he inhabits the same space in a different form.  Tied snugly to my chest in a wrap, he sleeps peacefully. Looking down I am struck, as always, by the perfection of his skin – a pink and ivory expanse, criss-crossed with pale blue veins on his skull.  I know his future will be filled with sun-soaked days and that this perfect ivory skin will soon be populated with hundreds of freckles.  Now, it is a doll’s face I look at – utter symmetry, wide cheeks, a button nose, beautifully curled rose lips.  The palest of blond eyebrows, and slightly darker lashes, growing longer by the day.  In sleep, his perfection absolutely stuns me. I wonder often, how two normal-looking people could create what lies here before me.  Awake – his perfection morphs into something more like wonder.  I stare at his bright blue eyes.  Since the day he was born, they have tracked on people and objects displaying an alertness that I think both his parents lack.  He wrinkles his nose, or raises his eyebrows over and over as he breastfeeds with each gulp. He smiles when you scratch under his chin or make a silly face.  He cries when he is hungry or needs a diaper change, but rarely for any other reason.  In fact, I’ve noticed he seems mainly to cry when he is left alone – almost out of boredom or loneliness.  And I’m both proud and touched that these seem to be the main reasons he needs me – entertainment and the simple act of loving and touching him, holding him to my body where our breathing and heartbeats are closer together as they were before he was born.

I’m not sure that motherhood changes people.  I think motherhood brings out what has always been there, by putting a face and name on something that probably has long been latent in many of us.  For me, it is a softness that I don’t always show.  It is a sweet, protective, caring side that only those close to me ever really see.  I have always been an older sister, a caretaker and teacher to my siblings.  I have always deeply loved animals. The logical leap required to know I’d take to motherhood is small.  But yet, I am amazed by the whole thing. Amazed at the naturalness of it – the instinctiveness that comes from within, and also the memories that come back to me of my childhood and helping my mom with my two younger sisters.  I’m amazed at the joy I take in staring at Cody as he sleeps.  I’m amazed that Rick leaves in the morning and comes back in the evening and my day has disappeared between diaper changes, feeds, and snuggling with my snoring baby.  Nothing gets done, and though it bothers me, I don’t want to put him down to do something else.  (Thus, the hiatus in my blogging.)

I sing him all the lullabies I know.  I have revisited every camp song I’ve ever sung.  On my trip back from Telluride with him, he cried for the last hour, despite multiple stops to feed him and change his diaper.  He was bored and sick of driving, so I sang to him.  It was all that would quiet him down.  And soon I ran out of songs.  So, I sang the Star Spangled Banner over, and over, and over again until I nearly lost my voice.  Each time I stopped, he would slowly begin to fuss again.  And so I sang on.  And this is motherhood.  It is truly giving up yourself in so many ways, but I hope to do it with grace.  At times I struggle to accept all the changes – I have had a hard go of it, physically: 47 hour labor, a C-section, 4 days in the hospital to recover, then a blocked duct, mastitis, and abscess, breastfeeding pains, my C-section incision got infected and re-opened. I have had to go on two courses of antibiotics. My teeth are suffering, and I may have broken a bone in my foot while walking. Pregnancy is no joke.  It is HARD on your body.  Bringing someone new into the world is, I suppose, a responsibility not to be taken lightly or underestimated.

When I first saw Cody, held above me on an operating table – a slimy, wriggling little thing – I didn’t immediately fall in love.  But when I looked into his eyes as Rick held him near me while they stitched me up, and saw this little guy just trying to make it, he touched my heart.  Each day as we have built our relationship together, I fall more in love with the little man he is turning out to be.  A bright, alert, smiling child who wants to be held and loved and snuggled.  He makes me happy to come home, and gives me drive and renewed purpose.  He is sweetness embodied.  When I hold him, he holds me back and I know he needs me.  I am his mom.  It is the most special, exultant thing I could hope for.

Getting there

It’s hard to believe that mid-November is here.  This week we’ll hit the mark of being one month out from our guess date!  At times that one month seems interminable, while at other times I think it will fly by.  Knowing that priceless value of each moment now, Rick and I are trying to take it a day at a time and savor the last precious days of our relationship as a couple rather than…a family.

I must admit that having a baby around the holidays does present some interesting logistical and emotional challenges.  The first, which presented itself to me this weekend, is the challenge of dressing a bump in cocktail attire.  We hosted an engagement party for a dear friend, and it was a fancy event.  I spent the week before planning food and decorations, but the one thing I chose not to focus on was my outfit for the night.  I knew I’d spend the first part of the evening in and out of an apron, and moreover, I have reached my threshold on buying new maternity clothing. I chose to dress up a non-maternity work-dress and it was fine.  But, had I really cared about it and not felt I could be a little slack as a pregnant host, it  would have been a serious challenge.  And it’s not just cocktail attire presenting a challenge now! I made it through the summer on versatile dresses, which carried through to fall, but now that snow is covering the ground I actually feel the need to wear pants – leaving me with two options: leggings and real pants.  Leggings are awesome.  They make me very happy and comfortable.  But they have limits – I really don’t think they are super work-appropriate.  And, when I wear boots and leggings, I recognize that by the end of the day my legs have swollen such that my boots have a calf-muffin top which is not my ideal of attractiveness.  On the other hand, I can’t bring myself to buy any more maternity pants.  I have two pairs and that seems like plenty to me.  I can still fit in some of my normal-ish pants if I wear a belly band, and I have been doing that…but there are limits.  I may have to give in and buy some more pants to house my orb-like belly through the next month.

More holiday maternity dilemmas include: alcohol-less Christmas parties that wrangle your weekends away from you.  Over the next few weeks, I can’t think of a weekend where we don’t have any events planned, except for the weekend right before my Monday due date.  So, though the third trimester is renowned for being uncomfortable and producing fatigue, there will be little weekend resting for me.  I am not so much concerned about the rest, but with a busy work schedule, birthing classes, and other obligations life has felt so full that I have struggled to make the time in my mind to really sit down and think hard about the major changes happening in my life.  I want to approach this milestone mindfully, and therefore I hope to find the space in these busting weekends to meditate on the upcoming changes in our lives.  The feeling of being busy as I approach our birthing has made me feel emotionally disjointed – on the one hand I feel physically fine, with only minor discomforts to complain of, so I treat my life as though nothing has changed and stay busy – that’s all good.  On the other hand, my physical limitations have not really hit me, so there has been little to incite me to slow down and give full credence to this very special and unique time in life – something I think I’d really like to do more of.

I find that planning for life post-baby is also interesting.  We have a trip to Mexico planned in February.  I have no idea how it will feel at that point to leave the baby and I worry that I will be distraught.  But, on the flip side, I think we could probably both benefit from some beach time to ourselves to recall some of the magic that may be lost amidst breastfeeding, sleepless nights, and the chaos of a newborn.  Then, looking further out onto the year, we have a trip planned to visit Rick’s brother in the UK and to make it a larger trip by spending time in Iceland either on the way there or back.  This is one trip we will definitely be bringing baby along for – so it will be interesting to discover the ways that travel changes with an infant.

I find that the process of trying to anticipate these scenarios is extremely exciting, but it takes me away from my present moment:  here on a couch with a sleeping puppy and a belly moving around of its own volition.  It takes me from the sweet back massage that Rick gave me during our four-hour birthing class today.  It takes me from the wild observations that come daily with a belly that has now eclipsed any views of my feet, legs, or hips.  It takes me away from the novelty of a playing with an inside out belly button, or the sweet exchanges that go along with the imaginings Rick and I share about how our baby will look and act.  I want to focus on these small moments – to observe them and write them down.  I want the steps of this life-changing journey to be documented so that when I have a house full of chaos and little wild children I can look back and recall the beauty and novelty of these hours, days, and weeks of unknowing anticipation.  Like your first time, your first love, your first travel – THIS time in life merits a pause to stop, reflect, and recall who you were before and after.  I want the time to internalize these feelings and to understand that we’ll never have these moments back.

 

 

Learning to Cope and Leaning In

Sometimes when you care deeply about things, it can be hard to reconcile work and your personal principles.  In fact, when you work in environmental consulting, it can be a daily challenge.  So, today I want to share an email that my boss shared with me.  She wrote it to a young sustainability coordinator in our company who is struggling to find a balance between her work and her beliefs. Reading it, I am reminded about my calling to this work and my belief that change needs to have internal champions.  Names have been changed, obviously.

Dear Hillary,

I spent some time with Rebecca after the conference and she shared a little bit about how hard it was for you to make peace between what we do as a company and what you personally believe from a sustainability perspective.  This is a topic my colleagues  and I talk about frequently and I thought you might like to know our perspective.

I have worked on many projects that were frightening and unfair to impacted landowners – especially when eminent domain is involved.  There was one project a long time ago that particularly sticks with me – I was working with Bob Anderson on a storm water solution for the greater Omaha area that would involve flooding a huge area of farm ground and relocating a small community north of town. Bob and I spent several days meeting with landowners one-on-one, some whose houses would have to be relocated for a planned recreational area adjacent to the lake, and many who were third-generation on the land.  Good, honest people sat down in front of us and cried because they understood that if the project was approved they would lose their home or post office or farm ground.  On the drive home, Bob and I were silent for a long time.  And then I asked him if he ever felt like we were on the wrong side of the issue.

“Every day,” he said, “and that is exactly why you and I need to be leading this project.”

His point was that if we weren’t on the inside, who would be fighting for the little people?  Who would be pushing to do the right thing?  Who would be working to find a solution with the least impact?  Who would be working to make sure the community’s voices were heard?  Who would be there to make sure the people weren’t bullied?

Over the years I have realized that is exactly what my job is.  My job is to get on the inside of our client organizations and swim upstream as far as I can to influence the decision-makers to do the right thing for the public.  Sometimes I can influence them to do great and amazing things.  Sometimes I am powerless to do anything at all.  Sometimes I can nudge them a fraction of an inch, sometimes I can push them miles ahead of their time.  What is important to remember is that my career – my quest to make a difference – is a marathon, not a sprint.  My success isn’t measured by one or two projects, rather it is measured by hundreds of projects and professionals I have influenced over many years. 

I offer this perspective to you because I know that every word in bold above can be replaced with the word ‘environment’.  I know that without people like you on the inside of our firm working to make a difference, bit by bit, every single day – without people like you championing the earth, our society would continue to destroy it.  I also understand that there is a tremendous industrial momentum in our society right now that is not going to turn on a dime – it could take another decade or two or three to get it to fully embrace renewables, recycling, and smaller footprints.  You work for a company who is in the middle of that and not only believes in sustainability but invests in it heavily.  It’s a good place from which to make a difference.

Do not be daunted by the full task at hand.  It will take hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people just like you to change it.  Feel empowered by the small space you have to make a difference and just keep doing it.  Over time, you will realize how much of an impact you are having.  Also remember that you are just getting started – your power will be much greater in 10 years after you have tried things and witnessed things and soaked every possible thing in that you can.

It was fun to spend a little time with you at the conference this week.  Thank you for your deep commitment and tenacity.  Both are a great service to the earth.

Open Hearted Confession

I have been struggling with whether to share a very personal story here, and after about a year of laboring over whether and how to broach the subject, I feel the need to share this story publicly.  I think it is in part, a reconciling for me of the past as I try to unburden myself of pieces of my history which I no longer need to carry as I enter the journey into motherhood.

This time about a year ago, just before my wedding, I received an email from an old boyfriend with a link to a google document titled “Growth Curve Data.”  Unsure what it was, I opened the link to find several pages of his writing about the ways he had grown and changed in the three years since we had parted ways.  It reflected on whether true love was something we each find only once, and asked whether I too, felt a “cold wind blow” through my soul since we ended our relationship.

My stomach dropped when I read the words.  He had cut me out of his life, and then his new significant other had barraged me with messages full of accusations and lies that I could only assume originated from him.  I was warned never to contact him, and here he was sharing with me this slice of his heart that I can only assume he had been forced to hide away for years.  I felt terrible for him and sad.  Then I felt angry that he had the nerve to throw this mess of feelings at me just a few days before my wedding.  I considered whether to reach out to him in response to share my reactions.  And, finally, I called him.

It had been a long time since we’d last communicated by phone and it was hard to come up with words to span the years and dramas that had intervened.  Despite the strangeness of the context it was still clear that we connected deeply and both had felt a sense of uneasiness with the way our story ended.  Our talk was cut short when my husband walked into the room.  He asked who I was talking to, but it was clear he knew.  And it hurt him. And seeing the flash of anger and hurt in his eyes I knew that the unresolved issues of my previous relationship were not going to be resolved on the phone, or in person, or ever.  I reminded the ex that having any kind of relationship with him was too hard on our significant others and reminded him that I had never reached out to disturb him when he married his girlfriend – and that while it was good to hear from him, I wished he’d have done the same.

Though the conversation was intense, it was relatively benign at the same time.  Subsequently, I have heard several stories from other women who have had exes reach out to them right before their wedding. So, I know it wasn’t even unique. It was a commonplace situation.

My husband emailed the ex, asking that he not contact me and not share these types of feelings.  He responded and apologized. It was awkward but resolved.  But, then,  my ex’s significant other responded with a final email where she accused me of several indiscretions that were entirely untrue – including telling my husband that I had plotted to leave him in Australia.

Obviously we saw the accusations for what they were – a lashing out of someone who was very hurt.  I felt so much empathy for this woman at the time that it was almost hard to be mad at her.  In some ways I still feel a strong sense of sadness for the way it must have hurt her heart to read what he wrote.  But, unfortunately, for me – over the last year occasionally, and against my better wishes, an anger has come up within me against this woman and my ex for their callousness.

I wonder often if they would have felt a sense of satisfaction if their actions had ended my relationship or created a rift that could not be healed.  It makes me wonder how they would have felt had their behavior truly and significantly impacted two other souls who love each other.  And, it sometimes really bothers me that they can go on with their lives merrily after attempting to cause such a disturbance in mine.  Moreover, it bothers me that a year later the lies and immaturity of that situation still get under my skin.

I’m not an angel and I have done things I am not proud of.  But, the way I see it, when two people have committed their lives to one another then it isn’t my place to attempt to intervene in their relationship. Before there are rings and commitments, perhaps it is open season, but afterwards no.

I often wonder why my anger over this lingers.  I guess perhaps it is simply that the event made me question people.  My husband is a rock – my rock.  He is the most stable and calming influence in my life.  He lights fires for me in constructive places in my life, and helps quell those other flames in me that burn without purpose.  I loved my ex dearly, but he was exactly the opposite type of influence in my life – sowing unease and rebellion in me. I think of the little man I am bringing into the world, and more than anything I want him to be a force for good.  When I reflect on the situation that happened a year ago, it reminds me of the tenuous nature of our fleeting lives and how in an instant the course of our lives could change dramatically.  It threatens my sense of peace.

I hope that voicing these thoughts allows me to get them off my chest and helps me to let go of them before I move into the next phase of my life.  As I read about and explore the steps ahead of me, through labor, delivery, and the early stages of motherhood I know I want to enter into this phase of my life without lingering stressors from my past.  I also know that clearing my soul of these things may not only make me more present in my life, but may allow me to open up to the process of delivering a new soul into the world more gracefully.  I hope this small step will help me to look this new challenge in the face and approach it with an open heart.