Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Something Right

It started at the park.

Ellery went down the slide, normally one of her favorite things, but must have bit her tongue when she landed.  She came up screaming, inconsolable, and when I saw the blood in her mouth, I knew she had reason to cry.  She's generally a pretty tough kid, and doesn't cry when she falls, and we try not to make it too dramatic when she takes a spill, especially since she's inherited my klutziness.  But this time I knew she was in pain, and she needed some comfort and extra love.  As I held her close, I realized how cold her tiny hands were, and felt an extra rush of guilt that I hadn't dressed her in more layers.  The bright sunshine today was deceptive - as is our second-floor apartment that always stays really warm.  I hadn't realized just how cold it was outside and now knew it was time to leave the park, since my toddler really wasn't dressed warmly enough.

But you can't explain that to a toddler, who just wants to keep swinging and chasing the friendly bigger kids she's met at the park.  Her bleeding mouth, along with her desire to stay and play longer outside, made it very difficult to get her into the car.  She protested loudly, giant tears spilling down her cheeks, and I felt even worse.  She hasn't had much time outside recently, thanks to her pregnant, sick mom and the rainy weather, so I wished we could have stayed longer, but I also knew it wasn't good for her to be in the cold without warmer clothes.

So we headed home.  We played for a little while, then had dinner together.  Sam had a work dinner, so I knew he wouldn't be home until after the baby was in bed, which was fine.  We're no strangers to Sam having to work late.

But suddenly, after dinner, everything was wrong.  Everything I did made her scream in frustration, and I couldn't figure out what she wanted or needed.  She asked for milk, but then when I gave her milk, she started crying because I realized she wanted the empty milk carton to play with.  She started putting pipe cleaners into a water bottle, then started screaming again when her little plastic cow from her farm set wouldn't fit through the tiny opening of the bottle as well.  When I tried changing her diaper to get her ready for bed, you'd have thought I was performing a root canal on her.  It wasn't normal for her; she can tend to get whiny, but never has these full-on scream-cry tantrums, especially not one right after the other.

I didn't know if she was just having a bad day, or if it's her age and her desire to express her autonomy, and if we are ushering in a new phase of our sweet little girl turning into an independent, defiant, (dare I say stubborn?) child.  I'm praying it was just a bad day, because I'm not sure I'm ready to handle the terrible twos this early, especially with a new baby coming along next month.  Whatever it was, it was rough.  And to feel hugely pregnant with a stupid, lingering head cold, I didn't feel up to the task of being a gracious, patient mother.  I finally got her into her pajamas and declared we'd start our bedtime ritual half an hour early, because her grumpy demeanor meant it was time for bed.

Once we were settled into the glider, reading her books with her milk and blanket, she was fine.  She calmed down quickly, and sweetly snuggled in to me as I read several of her favorites.  I turned off the light and started singing a few songs while we rocked, as is our routine, and then told her goodnight and laid her in her crib.  Minutes later, she was screaming again.  Frustrated that she hadn't quieted down and gone right to sleep (but recognizing that it was earlier than her typical bedtime), I went back in her room to rock with her a little longer, hoping she'd soon be sleeping, because I needed a break, too.  As I rocked in the dark, holding my sweet babe, I went over the details of the day, thinking of all the things I wished had gone differently, the ways I wished I had reacted differently, all the while growing more and more irritated that she still wasn't sleeping.

And then, all of a sudden, into the darkness, Ellery spoke.  "Four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten!"  No, the words weren't perfectly clear, but I knew that "Fo, fie, si, se-en, eight, ny, ten!" equaled her counting to herself.  As my eyes adjusted to the dark, I realized she was holding up her ten fingers.  My frustration quickly melted into pride and overwhelming love, as I realized how fast she's growing up and how unbelievably smart she is.  (Yes, I'm that parent that has no idea how smart other kids are, but I'm convinced my kid is brilliant.)

"Ellery, do you want to practice counting?"

"Yeah!"  (Her "yeah's!" are currently one of my favorite things.)

For the next few minutes, we counted to ten over and over, and I was shocked by the fact that she knew all the numbers.  When did this happen?  She counted from one to ten all on her own (only once, and I'm sure I won't be able to get her to do it again for awhile), but I still couldn't believe it.  I realized that she's learning and growing more every day, and observing and picking up far more than I realize.  It reminded me that time is fleeting, and that she won't be my tiny baby for much longer.  And that, though I often feel the opposite, I must be doing something right.

So for all you other moms out there in the trenches, in that phase when your children are small and still require so much help from you, you moms who feel like most of your time and energy is devoted to these tiny people, who have precious little time to yourself, and who feel that you are messing up, making mistake after mistake in your care for these little ones?  You're doing something right.  

If you love your child and do whatever you can to help your child become who she's meant to be, you're doing something right. 

If you're a stay-at-home mom, putting your own dreams on-hold while your children are young, you're doing something right.

If you're a working mom who is trying to balance work life and home life, all while doing the heroic deed of helping to provide for your family, you're doing something right.

If you're a working mom who loves her job and works because she knows she's happier and healthier, and consequently a better mother because she works, you're doing something right.

If you're a mom who daily tries to make the best decisions for your child based on what you believe is right (not what the books say is right, or what your friends say is right, or what your mother or mother-in-law* says is right), then you are doing something right.

So relax, sweet mothers, because it's too easy to blame ourselves for these bad days.  Sometimes bad days are just bad days.  It doesn't mean we're failing, or we are doing everything wrong.  We just gotta keep loving these babies, and loving ourselves, and most importantly, trusting in God through it all.

If we do that, we're doing something right.

*By the way, I'm lucky to have a mom and mother-in-law who are both amazing and gracious and have never interfered in the way I parent.  The above was just a blanket statement that I thought some people might relate to.  Love you, Mom and Noreen!

Monday, November 10, 2014

the big bad c-section monster (and why it's not that scary)

I'm getting closer and closer to having another baby, and it looks like it will be another c-section.  I really wanted to try for a VBAC (and I still may get the chance!), but the odds are looking like I'll have another huge baby.  My gestational diabetes puts Abel at more risk, and so we can't wait around until 42 weeks to see if he'll come out on his own.  Additionally, my doctor can't use certain induction drugs, so if he comes out on his own, before 40 weeks, it'll really have to be a miracle.  (And believe me, I'm still praying for a miracle and think it's possible!  But I'm also preparing myself for another c-section.)

Lately I've been thinking about women who were like me, who never wanted a c-section, but for medical reasons, were forced to have one.  Unfortunately, many of these women end up dealing with postpartum depression because the birth of their child didn't go exactly "as planned".  I am so grateful that I didn't deal with PPD at all, but I know that when you really hope for a certain type of birth, it's hard to let go of that mental image and let something else happen.

Because of this, I wanted to write a little about my experience so that people aren't so afraid of c-sections.  It doesn't have to be the worst thing in the world.  In fact, it can be the best thing in the world if it saves your baby.  I don't want any woman to feel discouraged or like a failure because she had to have her baby cut out of her.

*Disclaimer: Obviously a natural, vaginal birth is ideal.  If someone can safely deliver a baby, then they should never choose a c-section.  All I'm saying is that sometimes, a c-section is necessary for the health and well-being of the mother and baby, and in those cases, it is the best option!  And it's time for women to stop feeling bad about that.*

These are the misconceptions about c-sections that I want to correct, ideas and beliefs that scare pregnant women when the possibility of needing a c-section presents itself.  I used to be naive, so I used to think these same things.  But then I experienced a c-section for myself, and so now I'm experienced and educated.  Here's the truth about c-sections, from someone who has actually had one.  (Don't listen to people who've never had a c-section - they have no room to speak!)

1. Doctors and hospitals encourage c-sections when they aren't medically necessary.

This may be true for some doctors in certain hospitals, but that was in no way my experience.  In fact, my doctor tried to encourage Sam and I to do one more day of labor induction before resorting to a c-section.  I think the only reason she even agreed to the c-section was because of my diabetes, and the fact that it became more unsafe for Ellery the longer she was in the womb.  If I hadn't had GD, she would have never agreed to do the c-section.  It is unfair and untrue to insinuate that doctors want to do c-sections, and do them when it's not necessary.

2. C-sections are bad for the baby.

This might be the misconception that pisses me off the most.  Because it implies that the mother has allowed something to happen to her child that is not in the child's best interest.  (That untrue, guilt-ridden thought would send any new mother into a depression!)  Obviously a vaginal birth is the best option, but the next best option is a c-section.  In some cases, the only other option left is brain damage or death.  To me, that sounds less appealing.  People seem to forget that prior to modern medicine, childbirth resulted in the death of lots of laboring mothers and infants.  And often it was because of complications during birth that could have been avoided if a c-section had been an option.  Once Ellery came out, my doctor realized that she had been too big to possibly fit through me, and that if we'd tried laboring, Ellery probably would've gotten stuck in the birth canal, which would've resulted in terrible issues, possibly even death.  After speaking with the staff at the hospital, I learned that in many cases of oxygen deprivation and major problems at birth, it was because the mother was so adamant against having a c-section, that the baby suffered.  Issues can often be avoided if people listen to medical advice and let the doctors do their job of safely delivering a baby.

Additionally, Ellery has never experienced any side effects from the c-section.  She's completely healthy, and has always developed perfectly normally, even being advanced in most areas.  If you've ever spent time around my child, there's no way you could insinuate that she suffered any long-term affects from the c-section.  (And if she has, she would have been some magical wonder child if I'd had her naturally.)

3. You're too drugged up during a c-section to remember anything about the birth.

This is ridiculous.  I remember every single detail about Ellery's birth, vividly.  I remember being scared, alone in the operating room while they administered the epidural, before Sam was allowed in.  I remember the anesthesiologist at my head, walking me through what was going on, speaking in gentle tones.  I remember Sam at my side, alternately looking at me and then at the surgery, watching as the doctor cut me open.  I remember the pressure I felt as my midwife pressed on my chest to help the baby out while my doctor pulled her from me.  I remember her first cry, and the complete rush of relief that flooded over me, and the tears that immediately came.  They held her over me for a moment so I could see her before they weighed her, and I remember exactly what that view was like.  I remember thinking she had the cutest little eyes.  I remember my doctor exclaiming, "You're heavy!" when she pulled Ellery out, and all the nurses commenting on how big she was.  I remember Sam being fascinated by my being sewn up, and my anesthesiologist telling me that I'd be back in bikinis in no time (and thinking that was really funny, since I've never had a pretty, flat stomach).  I remember asking for her APGAR score, and, upon hearing how big and long she was, asking the nurse to repeat it because from what I knew of babies, 22 and a half inches was really long, and 9 lbs, 14 oz was really big.  So no, I wasn't too drugged up to experience everything fully, and I remember exactly what happened, down to the smallest detail.  (Like I remember the complete mortification of being totally naked and pregnant, lying on the table, while a male anesthesiologist and another male nurse were in the room.  Obviously that whole "mothers have no shame after birth" thing wasn't true for me, because to this day I still remember how embarrassing it was!)

4. You can't bond immediately with the baby, like in a natural birth.

To be fair, this probably depends on the hospital you deliver at, as well as your doctor.  I was lucky enough to be at a hospital that was very baby friendly, and they placed Ellery on my chest right away.  As soon as they pulled her out, they held her over the partition so I could see her, then took her to be cleaned and weighed and measured, and to make sure there was nothing wrong.  She was on my chest in less than two minutes of being pulled from my uterus.  Sam was right next to me, and we just watched her look around, her sweet little face so close to mine.  She stayed right on my chest while the doctor put me back together, and then we were wheeled into the recovery room.  We were allowed plenty of time as just a family of 3, as I breastfed Ellery and she slept on my skin.  I'm not sure what the protocol is for most hospitals, but they didn't even let my mom come in right away because they knew how important that bonding time was.  The hospital in Portland where I'll deliver Abel is even more baby-friendly.  I'll get immediate skin-to-skin time with Abel, even with a c-section, to encourage mother-baby bonding.  (Apparently this hospital is so encouraging of breastfeeding that they don't provide formula unless medically necessary, and they don't even provide pacifiers.)  So even with a c-section, the staff at this hospital has a goal of doing what is best for baby, which includes immediate skin-to-skin, mother-baby bonding, and breastfeeding.

If you can safely deliver your baby vaginally, that's wonderful!  I'm truly amazed, because my body hasn't worked that way for me.  But if, during your labor, something happens and your doctor suggests a c-section, please be open-minded.  I really hope this post can help people realize that c-sections don't have to be something to be feared.

Yes, the recovery is painful.  But so is labor, right?  At least the pain from a c-section  happens after you've had your baby, so your sweet little person can make everything better!  (And at least it's your abs that hurt, and not your lady parts.)  I'll admit, I did have a particularly good experience with my c-section, and not everyone recovers as quickly as I did.  But just as there are c-section horror stories, there are vaginal birth horror stories as well.  Some vaginal births go super smoothly - so do some c-section births.

Ultimately, I just encourage all pregnant women to be flexible with your birth plan.  Remember that this is one of the first lessons in becoming a mom - that you have no control.  You may have the illusion of control, but you really have no control.  It's a great thing to have an idea of how you want things to go during labor, but if things change, you'll be happier if you can go with the flow and adapt.  Because as any mother will tell you, those babies don't always cooperate out of the womb, either.  And the more flexible you can be, the happier you'll be.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Ellery and Halloween

A tutu, handmade by a friend, a simple white onesie, and white tights.  Fairy wings from the dollar store, and a ribbon crown bought at Enchanted Forest around her first birthday.  Total cost about $10, a simple DIY Halloween costume.  But on this little girl, it sparkled.  My little fairy princess.

The other kids were much bigger and faster.  Repeatedly they were told to slow down and wait for Ellery, who was running the whole time, laughing to herself, glancing up at her dad excitedly as we made our way from house to house.  The first house included some confusion.  She didn't know why she was carrying the empty Starbucks paper bag, or why the door was opened for her, so she just tried to walk in.  At the next house, she meekly held out her bag, as the kind inhabitants placed a small piece of candy inside.  By the third or fourth house, she'd figured it out, and was unabashedly reaching in to the bowls of candy to pick what she wanted.  Granted, she had no idea what she wanted, having never tasted any of this candy before.

The joy was impossible to contain.  She was giddy, and when I asked her if she got more candy, she yelled out, "CANDY!"  She struggled any time Sam or I tried to carry her, saying, "Down, down," until we set her back on the sidewalk.  She would then obediently reach out her hand for ours, and wrap her tiny hand around our index fingers while she raced to try and catch up with her cousin and friends.

It was a very family friendly neighborhood, and most houses were well-lit, with kind people inside who constantly commented on what a precious little fairy she was.  One house was dark except for a glowing red light, and three people dressed in very scary looking skeleton masks were sitting on the porch, handing out candy.  We skipped that house and I clenched my teeth, wondering why some people have to take it too far, and make a day that could be fun into something on the verge of evil.  When you know you'll have young children coming to your house all night, what makes you think it's a good idea to be very scary?  Not just creepy in a fun way, but scary?  And similarly, why would you allow your child to dress in such a scary costume?  We saw lots of Princess Elsas and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but occasionally there was the little boy in the demon mask, or the freakish-looking zombie makeup, and I can't help but wonder what these parents are thinking.  I don't typically like to judge other parents, but in this case, I judge.  Parents, quit dressing your kids up in such evil costumes.  Who cares if that's what the child wants?  You're the adult; say no.

Yes, there were some annoyances, but for the most part it was just a fun night.  It was the sweetest thing to watch her experience something new, to figure out that most of the people were simply excited to see the children in costume, and to happily hand out candy.  Personally, I got numerous comments about whether or not my belly was a costume.  Yep, I really am pregnant, and no, I didn't strap on a fake belly just for Halloween.  Sam and I just laughed and laughed at our little girl, who daily gets more entertaining and fun.  It's the perfect age, and if I could, I'd freeze time right now.  I want to keep watching her learn and explore and discover, to laugh when she realizes that she can fake a laugh, and that when she does, we laugh with her.  I want to keep her at this age where she gives us sweet kisses and hugs, her little voice raspy as she repeats every word she hears.  (I also prefer this age where we can dump her candy back in the bowl for more trick-or-treaters, and she is none the wiser.)

Last night was the first time in a long time I had fun on Halloween, and it was all because of Ellery.  She really does make every experience better.  The only thing I can think of that hasn't gotten better with Ellery around is sleeping, but I've slowly learned to live with far less sleep than I ever thought possible.

I'm going to relish these years when Ellery is still young enough to enjoy the simple, fun parts of the day, where it still feels okay and safe to go trick-or-treating.  I still won't decorate my house, though I'm sure when Ellery is a little older she might want to carve a pumpkin.  But I am going to enjoy these years, when I get to see everything through Ellery's eyes, and be reminded again of how fun and special life is, a wide open world ready to be discovered.  This little girl has taken her cynical, somewhat jaded mother and made me softer, happier, and more content.

Thanks, baby girl.  I don't think we could have picked a more perfect name for you, little Ellery, our "bringer of joy".  You bring joy to everyone around you, every day.