Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Long, But Very Good

Sometimes at night while rocking my son I match my nose and forehead to his and sway. My neck is unquestionably cramped and my arms eventually tire of his fourteen pound frame but the smell of his breath and the rhythm of his lungs is intoxicating. I fear I will never be as close to him as I am now. He still depends on me for his nourishment, his confort; his eyes light up when they make contact with my own. His distress in being alone or being held by a stranger calms when I scoop him up and whisper in his ear. I am his person.

I am well-rested enough these days that I occasionally miss my children once they are in bed. The relief of two sleeping tiny ones is still rich, but the memory of their smiles, the pitter patter of my daughter's feet as she runs back and forth across the house, the grins and chuckles of my son from the slightest bit of interaction--I am hooked. They are such precious gifts; I can hardly believe at times my life is so full.

"These are the best days," a grandmother from my church tells me over lunch. Her daughter is due with her second grandchild any day, and I can tell she can hardly contain herself in waiting to travel to meet the new child. When I went into labor with my son, I texted my mom that morning to let her know the delivery was only a matter of time. Fifteen hours later she had packed a bag, tidied up her affairs at work and hopped a flight over to our island, where she arrived in time for dinner and met her first grandson before bed. She knows the truth of this time; it is fleeting.

At times it is good to be reminded of the gift of these moments, when the day has gone well and the connection I feel with my children is intoxicating. Some days the feelings of bliss seem light-years away, and it's all I can do to hold my tongue as my patience is stretched far beyond the limits I have previously known.  Yet at the end of the day, the roller coaster I am riding is one I will choose to ride again tomorrow--highs, lows, and everything in between. These are good days, long but good. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Thoughts mid-flight, with a sleeping baby on my lap

Perhaps as a testament to the subject matter, this was actually written nearly a month ago on May 20 while flying over the ocean, on my way to yet another meet.

The clouds have been low this week, leaving the town in a bit of a fog that holds planes at bay and travelers stranded. At times I can't help but feel a part of the fog--the product of not quite enough sleep and hardly a moment alone, let alone in silence. Despite the chaos, we have settled into a bit of a routine around here, with our son's eating falling into a bit of a rhythm and his sleeping mostly dependable.

This is a busy season for many: school is ending, seniors are graduating, plans for summer travel are coming to fruition, and many are moving along to their summertime work. We live in a town that still operates on an agrarian calendar, where clusters of men and women and set out to gather fish in season, succeeding and failing as the price and migration work for or against them. 

These days I am busy as well: wrapping up my commitments that break for the summer and venturing to the track daily to coach the athletes who are up for the challenge--testing their limits and fighting the almighty stop watch, whose truth can't be excused as biased or unfair. The push to the finish of the season is the last of my school-time commitments to end. While I look forward to afternoons where nap time need not be cut short and dinner prep isn't mandated before lunch, I will miss much about it. I love the schedule and routine it adds to my days; I love the conversations I have with the athletes. I appreciate the ways they challenge my thinking and assumptions with their acceptance of behaviors and attitudes I would have written off a long time ago. They ensure I don't get lost in the fog that surrounds me as I juggle life with a two month old and two year old; they ensure I get a good laugh and their parents ensure I remember that my little ones will be teens before I know it. They remind me to sing to songs on the radio and teach me the new lingo and trends. 

I am tired of clouds and fog; I am tired of rain. Thanks to hours on my feet and four weekends of traveling and sleeping on air mattresses while coaching and caring for a newborn, I am just generally exhausted. Yet I am also in love--with my babies, with my job, with this season of my life, which thankfully won't last forever.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Savoring the Present

Our latest addition, eight days old.

In the evenings I fall asleep to the whistling breaths of a newborn, tucked safely in my closet a few feet away. The door is mostly closed to shield me from waking to his every grunt but cracked enough that I can find solace in the rhythm of his chest. The whistle of his presence follows me throughout the day: echoing in my ear as I carry him from room to room and projecting from the back seat when my toddler finds a moment of silence, an ongoing chant that disappears in the chaos of many moments of life only to return when there is quiet.

Three weeks ago our son arrived, and he is beautiful. A pound and a half bigger than our daughter, he immediately seemed large; it had taken her a few weeks to reach his size. After introducing him to our two year old however, he was immediately dwarfed. Such gentle limbs and soft skin, such tiny features: I had forgotten what a newborn felt like. And as the visitors cycled through our hospital room and the women of the church passed him around the following Sunday, they all commented on how he smelled--that captivating fragrance that is enchanting, especially to those women that have given birth. He was bathed within me for months and exited my womb carrying a smell that faded every hour he existed outside.


Life with two children feels so different than one. As I expected, I didn't quite know what it would feel like until I arrived in the midst of it--shell-shocked by the level of chaos that descended on me in my sleep-deprived state.  A moment of quiet like the one I am in right now, where both babies sleep and I'm not immediately grasping for rest myself, is a rarity. There is so much I want to record from this time, and few moments to do so. 

Consequently I settle for glimpses:
...the memory of the constant grunting that newborns make, eliciting emotional glances (perhaps even longing?) from so many everywhere we go
...the stacks of books my daughter carries to me to read the moment I settle in to feed her brother. She has discovered I'm bound to my seat for the time being, and commandeered that feeding time to her benefit--a reading session that won't be interrupted except to burp and adjust her sibling. 
...the striking similarities in appearance between my daughter and son, while personalities thus far could not be more different. Many comment on his dark hair and complexion, a trait she shared for the first several weeks of life before shedding it for fair skin and hair that grew in blonde. Many remember my daughter's need for movement and the generous amount of crying she shared with us for months of her life. Meanwhile he enjoys being cuddled, will sit awake and not crying (a reality that still amazes me), and --for now-- sleeps very well at night. 
...his consistent napping during track practice, a reality that is undoubtedly leaving all the high schoolers with a very rosy glimpse of what having a newborn is like. 

She was different. He is different. I am different. The 23 days since his birth have been challenging at times, but such a contrast to the first 23 days of my daughter's life. It is impossible not to compare. There is something so empowering about knowing what is coming--the constant feeding, the pain of recovery, the sleep deprivation, the feel that it will all never end. 

It does end. It does get easier. It happens all so fast. 

This time I feel more free to savor, lingering in the rocking chair after he has fallen asleep, holding him selfishly while others around covet his tiny frame, leaving the dishes and laundry and cleaning for a moment that doesn't feel quite so fleeting. This time the crying doesn't bother me quite so much, the feeding schedule doesn't feel so rigid. 

A new rhythm is far from established in our chaotic little world, but every day brings us closer to this feeling a bit more normal. And so we press on. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Anticipation {Nearly 40 weeks}

Taken on Saturday in the midst of a glorious, sunny day...

This past summer I took on a furniture refinishing project that I worked on many rainy days while my little one napped. It started with a wooden rocking chair which I had found used in town. I sanded it and primed and painted it, and was quite proud of my refinished handiwork--something I had never done before. After that I set to work on a bookshelf, a piece that was well-worn and sitting unused in Curtis's childhood bedroom, something our own daughter could use. Again I sanded and primed and painted the piece, thrilled with the bright white piece that emerged from the ashes from something so dark and scratched. 

Next on the agenda was an even bigger project: the bunk beds Curtis and his brothers had used as children, a well-made, sturdy set with lots of wear but lots of life. I began to sand the pieces as I had the furniture before, and then I found out I was pregnant.

After several weeks of exhaustion and nausea, I emerged from the fog recognizing the need to get back to the bunk beds soon--for my days of being in any position to sand and paint were numbered. Thankfully at this point Curtis took over the project, with the hope that with his unhampered physical state they would be finished before the new little one arrived. And with three days before my due date to spare, they are.

There have been many markers in the course of this pregnancy that have given me reason to be glad the baby hasn't come yet. At 24 weeks, a pregnancy is viable. Though it will take many weeks in a NCU and lots of medical care, a baby can survive at that point--but needless to say I was glad our child was still safely in utero. At 34 weeks, a baby has lungs that are developed. Though a child may need some medical care, some of the most vital development has taken place--but I certainly didn't wish for that early of a delivery. At 36 weeks, pregnancies are no longer "shipped off" the island we live on, and deliveries are considered far enough advanced to care for locally. This is an important milestone for the women where I live for obvious reasons, and one I was very happy to pass. At 37 weeks I was considered full term. At 38 weeks I reached the furthest I had progressed in a pregnancy. 

In the nearly two weeks since then I have continued to find reasons the time wasn't quite right to birth our second child. There were still other markers I managed to find to justify not having a baby quite yet: finishing organizing baby supplies, changing out and updating pictures hung around our house, waiting for a break in Curtis's work schedule when a colleague unexpectedly left town, and of course finishing the bunk beds--the project that has bookended the pregnancy. Every day that I've gotten a good night's sleep or had the chance to lay down to rest during our daughter's nap has felt like a bit of a bonus. I know how exhausting the first few weeks, or more realistically months, can be.

Yet, here I am at the predicted end, approaching the beloved due date, still with child and nary a project to finish. Two friends due within days of me this week have delivered their children, leaving me and my very large belly alone to gestate another day or two or ten. Everywhere I go I collect stares and constant comments. At this point I should wear a sign on my belly that reads "March 25", because that is what everyone wants to know--irrelevant information that it is.

So we wait, and I find myself recognizing how the time of birth and the time of death hold many similarities: life changing events that are hardly planned and mostly unpredictable. We speak in church of never knowing the hour of Christ's return--a call to be ready at any hour. I think for the first time in my life I have a better understanding of what that means. I watch for signs; I ready my affairs. I wait.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Content {39 Weeks}

Every night this week, Curtis has worked. Tonight it is scheduled, but the past two he has been called in to deliver babies, admit patients, deal with medical issues that can't wait for morning or a scheduled visit in the clinic. Many weeks I enjoy a singular night to myself. I read, take a bath, drink tea, or write. I put our daughter to bed and listen to her talk and sing herself to sleep, before settling in to rest--sometimes immediately, sometimes hours later. With a week like this, where every evening has found me with hours to read and think and write in silence I find myself embracing it a bit less. I miss my partner, the one I debrief with at the end of every day, the one who shares in my delight at the silly things our daughter did and said, the one who cares so much about his work and cares so much about mine too.

I ran into a friend on my way to track practice this afternoon who has two children close together. Unlike me, the delivery of her second was scheduled and she was remembering the night before she became a mother of two--a precious evening that she and her husband embraced and celebrated as the calm before the storm. Every night feels a bit like that to me these days--borrowed time, cherished silence, sacred sleep. Yet not sharing these moments makes me and my hyper-hormonal self sad--I want him to be in the quiet, the peace with me. After all, he too will get to experience the crazy. 

Today was my due date for our first child, our daughter who came two weeks early against all my planning and wishes. When the pregnancy test came back positive for this second child last July and we calculated a due date, I assumed that I would neither make it to that date, or even my first--the day marking 39 weeks. After all, who delivers their first child two weeks early and then goes over 39 weeks with her second? As if predicting such a feat, four good friends in the last three months whose first (and sometimes second) children came early have been met with second (or third) children that have moved along at a much later date. I wonder if my body knows how to handle the stress better; I wonder if I am better at resting. 

In the meantime we continue to take care of details: a (last?) load of laundry, a (last?) meal in the fridge, a (last?) clean-out of baby gear never sorted through after our first. Soon and very soon we will meet this new child. This time we are ready. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Complete {38 weeks}

Exploring Curtis's grandmother's farm where he spent many a summer in his childhood; photo taken the day before we found out we were pregnant.

With my first, after 37 weeks and five days of pregnancy, my water broke. I labored all through the next day, delivering my daughter with a grateful and exhausted heart on the first day of my 38th week of pregnancy at 3am on a Monday morning. I was not mentally ready to deliver a baby two weeks early; I still felt like I had a lot more to accomplish. Even as had I left my desk that previous Friday night in perfect condition--all papers graded, all grades entered, all stacks of copies meticulously organized in the event that someone else needed to take over--I assumed I would be back. I wanted to finish the third quarter; I wanted to rest over spring break. I took my due date as a date of completion; it wasn't.

I find myself ordering the details of my life in the same way as I did before this time around--with a larger sense of expectation that I seek to guard. I buy an extra carton of milk at the store, and wash towels and sheets a bit sooner that I might otherwise. I feel like a kitchen of dirty dishes can't be put off quite as long, and every morning I can workout represents a last bit of alone time that I might not have for a while. We make plans to host our usual Bible studies, and to attend the community play. 

As much as my body is feeling the strain of a baby preparing to make an exit, my mind is straining to appreciate the last moments of our life as it exists right now: a bit more simple, more relaxed, more quiet. 

Yesterday evening we had dinner with Curtis's parents after the first day of track practice. I had been outside, standing in the 30 degree sunshine for two hours observing and critiquing drills and stretches. When I returned to Curtis's parents, where our daughter had spent practice singing songs and coloring pictures and laughing and playing with Nana, Curtis had already made it over from work and they all were lounging around the living room talking and laughing--my daughter in her prime with three people who couldn't love her more hanging on her every move. I was exhausted from the physical demands of practice and from the cold, but I was so content to just observe life as it is right now. 

When a woman is in labor, she is deemed "complete" when the baby is ready to exit, when the pushing can begin, when the body has fully dilated. This takes a different amount of time for every woman, with every birth, and the experience is never the same and rarely predictable. Though I know that there is no sign that my pregnancy is complete until we are entering full-blown labor, I find myself simultaneously looking for clues and distracting myself from desiring them. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Breakdown {37 weeks}

     23 weeks, the golden stage of pregnancy

The first time I was pregnant, I was enamored with the weekly updates: how was the baby growing, developing? When did its eyes start to blink? When were the lungs fully developed? I was equally intrigued by the changes in my own body: the slow and steady expansion of my belly, the weight that increased with every doctor visit, the shifts I could feel with the baby growing larger and stronger, the way I could feel the baby descend as we neared the end. 

All of this is discussed with glowing faces among pregnant mothers--especially those that are delivering their first child. The faces of those who have delivered before know the reality: all of the build-up--the creation of a child and a vessel that grows and supports that child for nine incredible months--comes crashing down with delivery. While the baby exits with a rush of adrenaline incomparable to anything I have ever experienced, the vessel of this baby's existence is left a shell of a near-martyr. Stretching, working, spreading, often tearing--the body turns inside out as the baby exits. 

For weeks following the delivery the transformation continues, as milk is produced, as the uterus shrinks down to size, as tears heal and stretch marks fade and skeletal shifts all seek to return to their original positioning--all with growing pains of their own, all with very little sleep.

The last few weeks of pregnancy foretell of this breakdown as muscles become pinched and strained and one body prepares for another body to exit. In medical school a professor lectured Curtis's class on why the skeletal structure of a woman allowed for birth to happen--complete with a small skeletal baby on a stick that slid through a larger skeletal woman's frame. Curtis said it was all presented in a very comical fashion in this lecture to first year medical students, but the humor is quite absent when the reality takes place. An OBGYN that worked with him in residency once commented "pregnancy maims and kills"--an adage meant to be both blunt and sobering in an event that stretches women to the limit. Only in our modern age do we see it as an event that is somewhat domesticated, in a setting where safety precautions have created an assembly-line-like process where women are watched and monitored from beginning with the attempt to try and foresee potential threats.

This transformation that allows for a delivery is one that brings some women to the edge of survival, and the exhaustion that follows speaks of the depths from which she must recover. Yet this child that emerges, the product of chance or dreams, brings us beyond this breakdown, our bodies miraculously surviving and even thriving on the other side of the trauma--for we have no choice but to do so.