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.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Final Month

{Selfie} Taken the day I went into labor with our daughter...

Today I bought nursing bras and newborn sized diapers. Because the purchases were made online, it didn't have the same thrill as picking out products and putting them in a shopping cart, wheeling them to a checkout clerk who knowingly eyes the products and my oversized belly with a smile. It's a bit less climactic picking them up at the post office wrapped discreetly in boxes, loading up a cart full of mail before loading up the back seat and eventually bringing it all home. 

With our daughter I wasn't totally prepared when she arrived two weeks early. We had one package of newborn diapers--provided by the hospital--and another package of size 1 given to me at a baby shower. With her delicate weight of less than six pounds, we hardly had an outfit that fit her, and I totally forgot to pack one to take to the hospital anyway. I took a trip to Target with my four day old baby to buy nursing bras, a task I was planning on taking care of that week, just without a baby in the changing room with me. I chuckled to myself as I struggled to try on the different sizes without leaking all over them, ever aware of the sleeping time bomb resting on the bench next to me. 

I have been warned not to expect the same delivery scenario as last time; a first child born two weeks early hardly ensures that the second child will do the same. It seems presumptuous in some ways to plan on having a baby at all. Sure, at 35 weeks the baby is viable, more than able to survive outside the womb, but I know so many people whose babies don't survive thanks to genetic issues unforeseen, delivery complications, or even spontaneous death before labor and delivery even start. Many would say it's morbid to even acknowledge or consider that these possibilities even exist, but I tend to believe that they are good reminders to appreciate what you have--every day, every week, every month. Nothing is guaranteed.

Lately one of my daughter's favorite toys has been a metroishka doll my sister gave me after a trip to Russia. When she can't find it, she walks around looking in the usual places, muttering to herself "Baby, mama, baby, mama". If she can't find it, she will come up to me proclaiming the same thing, hoping I can offer some insights as to its whereabouts. A couple weeks ago when I gave her the doll, I was hopeful that this might help enlighten her 23 month old brain about what is about to happen in our lives: a baby with pop out of a mama and then exist out in the world out on its own. I am hopeful that I won't be completely split in half (as the doll does) in order for the smaller version of myself to make an exit. I am also hopeful that the baby won't be lovingly thrown down the stairs by our toddler, and then retrieved with a squeal to repeat the exercise again.

It is impossible to prepare for a life changing event as an adult, even more impossible to impress upon an almost two year old how her life will shift dramatically. Our house will turn into a regular host of visitors from in and out of town, and while everyone gleefully celebrates the entrance of a new child into the world, she will undoubtedly struggle to process what exactly is so great about this mini-human that cries and sleeps and grunts. 

Perhaps the preparation we do in advance of delivery is more of a comfort to us than a practical plan of attack. We can freeze meals, wash clothes, and stack diapers, but nothing will hint at the temperament of our child: whether he or she will sleep or cry or eat well or rest contentedly in the swing. Until the details come to light, in a glorious influx of data met with sleep deprivation and exhaustion, we wait, ever thankful that the data comes alongside a precious, tiny bundle that smells delightful and inspires gentle care and deep attachment--even in the most discouraging moments. 

Stretching {35 weeks}

Taken at 32 weeks...
I have always been very aware of my body. As a runner engrossed in training, I constantly assessed aches, pains, strains, strength. My shoe wardrobe has never been particularly fancy, mostly practical more than anything--a testament to the desire to support my joints and not add any additional strain to a body that I put to work--sometimes in gut-wrenching ways--challenging and testing and seeking to create new limits.

Pregnancy feels very similar at times, a rigorous, daily workout that I have no say in. I wake in the middle of the night and feel my spine adjust to the weight imbalance. I crouch to pick up a fallen Cheerio and sense the extra weight I have to bear as I struggle to stand. I walk and I bend and I groan, weighing the activities I desire to accomplish and my body's ability to realistically do them. 

My daughter sensed this shift in ability the minute I stopped carrying her as frequently. It's worth noting that she is generally very independent and enjoys being off to enjoy her freedom. With that said, when in the company of large groups of strangers (or in the company of good looking food decidedly out of her reach), she seeks to be held. And about two weeks ago, my ability to hold her--while also carrying her sibling--was fading. Thanks to my large belly, I was unable to hold her in a neutral position out front any longer, and hoisting her on a hip out to the side created a strain on my back that wasn't sustainable for long. 

Her persistence in asking to be held was admirable, and she wouldn't take anyone else for a substitute. At times I would sit on the floor and offer my lap as a peace offering. Other times I would be forced to ignore her please for my arms as she expressed her dissatisfaction at being held by someone else. In some ways this is good practice for the near future when she won't be the only child I'm caring for, when her needs won't be met quite as quickly. Perhaps this is good practice for me, conceding to the reality that I cannot be everything to everyone--now or ever.

This new child, still happily in the womb, challenges and stretches me already. His or her growing body is pushing the limits of the space I have available--head driving down, feet in my ribs, torso arching against my stomach creating an arch that grows by the week and sometimes by the day. My shirts are getting shorter; my meals are getting smaller. Shallow breathing plagues me when the child settles just right, cutting off the expansion of my lungs. 

Even still, I find myself content with the status quo---one child that sleeps within me, the other in the next room. My nights are far from peaceful, thanks to restless legs and hormones that cause my mind to race. Yet the quiet is something I cherish, knowing these evenings are numbered. One night, not so far from now, this child will stretch my body to the breaking point and emerge an independent (and oh-so-dependent) human being, and our lives will be changed. And though my body will begin to recover from the strain it has experienced in pregnancy, we will be stretched in different ways beginning the minute the child emerges. It is coming, ready or not.