Wednesday, April 26, 2017

On moving for the 4th time in 5 years...

We're moving again, and with that always come this weird angsty energy that is also coupled with a complete lack of caring. It's all very complicated. For example, it suddenly became VERY urgent to go through all of the baby clothes, purge what doesn't work, re-fold the favorites, and re-do my whole baby-clothes-organizing system. This was important to me, although it would be considered very low on the list of Things That Have to Get Done Before We Move. But then there's things like our living room area rug, which has been noticeably crooked for about a month and every time I think about re-positioning it for room symmetry and ultimate feng shui, I shrug and think "well, we're moving it soon so what does it matter." The counters are littered with crumbs, but we're moving so...not my problem. Priorities!

I'm cleaning out junk drawers but foregoing laundry. I'm doing a significant amount of online shopping, only to return most of it because WHY am I adding things to my life while at the same time filling up trash bags worth of clothing to donate to Goodwill. I'm blogging for the first time in MONTHS while nearly every room in my house is in a mild to moderate state of disaster (or as I like to call it, "staging for the move"). We all have our coping mechanisms.

I'm also having surgery, because what better time to undergo a little hernia repair procedure than 2 weeks before the movers arrive. It will be fine. I'm fine. You're fine. We're fine.

Anyone who moves frequently, particularly military families, has stories of things that go awry leading up to or during the big move. Everything is going smoothly until it isn't. The day we were moving out of our house in Virginia, I caught a horrendous stomach bug. Vivid, terrible memories of laying on a deflated air mattress in our empty room as the power was turned off and Zach scrambled to clean the entire house alone while I was wishing for a swift death. The night before Zoe and I were set to fly home from Germany, we realized our plane tickets had not been confirmed, therefore we didn't have a seat on the flight. It's still too soon to discuss the stress of that night. For this move, the hope is that the timing of my surgery is the only bump in the road...but there's still time for more. Pray for us, yall.

In the meantime, the healthy thing to do is process the emotions of another move and help guide our little 3-year-old through all of this as well. It's very easy, as you would expect. We simply explain, with a cheery smile and lots of confidence, that we are going to a NEW house to meet NEW friends. Yay! Oh and also there's snow! And our doggy comes with us. And Eliza comes with us, too. And all our toys come with us (although I am absolutely lying to offering false reassurance to my child because you better believe there are some toys that will be "lost in the move" and I have no problem placing that blame on the movers. Looking at you, noisy toys). I was feeling really proud of how we're all handling this until Zoe looked at me and said "Mama, when do the men come to take down our house?" (like one would disassemble a tent or something). So obviously we have a very good understanding of what the move entails. Also, we went to the beach last week and there was a little bit of confusion over whether the beach rental was our new house. If only, Zo! If only...

I'm doing a lot of reflecting as we're preparing to leave South Carolina. I didn't love Lexington when we first moved. In fact, I didn't like it much at all. I take a while to warm up to things (and maybe also people). But now, as we prepare to leave, I find myself driving through town with very warm feelings and a bit of nostalgia. Isn't that always how leaving is? 

I'm feeling sad about leaving this house that we love; the first home we bought (and with the best neighbors!). I'm feeling sad about leaving the place we brought Eliza home...the place our family became four. I'm feeling sad about leaving the dear friends we have here, especially as I look back and remember the first months we were here and wondering if I would ever make connections and whether we would find "our people". We did. And I'm so thankful. I'm feeling sad about leaving the church that has become our home. I'm grieving the fact that we will no longer be a few hours away from our families...easily the best part about our time in South Carolina. I can't even talk about it right now.

BUT...good things are ahead for us. We are excited about New York, about being at West Point, about reuniting with dear friends there. We are NOT excited about the winter. Ok, I am not excited about the winter. Zach and Zoe are very enthusiastic about it and let me tell you how much fake smiling I have done when Zoe gets all amped up about the snow at our new house. I imagine arriving in the summer will be a huge letdown for her. Maybe we should do a better job of preparing her for the lack of snow in June. I'll add that to the list.

It's hard to be in this transition state...this is always the hardest part for me, the part between staying and going. The weeks leading up to the move...the preparation, the goodbyes, all of the emotions, the stress, the details, the big picture. I know now, with a few moves under my belt, that it's ok to be a little bit of a mess during this stage. Once we get there, once we settle in, things will regain the balance of our normal life and we will find our groove and make this new place yet another place to call HOME. But for now, we press through this uncomfortable part, we do our best to be honest about how we're doing and what we're feeling, and we take lots of deep breaths. We also consider upping our meds, whether our meds be of the prescription variety or of the coffee/wine/chocolate variety.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

2 months in: The greatest and hardest days

These are simultaneously the greatest and the hardest days.

I sit on the front porch with Zoe, watching the sun filter through our neighbors' sprinklers and the shadows grow long. Our neighbors come home from work and Zoe waves and yells "HI NEIGHBORS!" before turning to me and asking "Can our neighbor come over to play with me?"

Two-year-old girls are truly delightful.

I smile and tell her the neighbors are going to stay at their house tonight and Zoe turns back to her task at hand: picking "berries" off our bushes and throwing them into the yard yelling "COME HERE BIRDIES!" because I told her the birds eat those berries (a fact that cannot be verified).

She is all heat-flushed and sweaty and wild-haired and bug-bitten and curious and easily amused and the perfect picture of summer innocence. She runs to the garage and comes back lugging two watering cans (one kid-sized, one roughly the same size as she), eager to help out as her daddy comes to turn our sprinklers on. I take a deep breath and settle into a place of contentment.

These end-of-the-day moments are necessary. Sometimes I sit alone, ignoring the mosquitoes and the heat because I just need a minute alone (and maybe also some Vitamin D; I don't get out much these days), sometimes I'm jiggling a fussy Eliza, sometimes Zoe joins me while Zach stays in with the baby...whatever company or solitude I'm allowed in those 20-30 minutes is perfect. Those minutes are the time to breathe deeply and remember these are the greatest days. To step out of the house, the mess, the lovely and harsh air conditioning, the "whatever" that made moments (or the entire day) challenging...that's the nice word for it, right? The "I don't want to complain" word. How are things? Oh they're...challenging. *Strained smile* But then...to step outside for a minute, to exhale and release the hardest moments or revel in the greatest moments and realize it's actually ok because we made it and tomorrow is a new day. Who doesn't love a good reset? 

If it was a good day where naps were long and synced, where obedience won the fierce battle in the 2-year-old's heart, where nursing was easy and the baby was simply fat and full of dimpled smiles after eating well, where communication with Z was effortless and laced with inside jokes and quick laughter...then yes, YES! The day is ending and we get to do this again tomorrow. Thank God.

If it was a hard day where naps ended early and with the entire contents of the dresser blanketing a certain toddler's bedroom floor, where consequences for disobedience were dealt over and over, leaving everyone a little tense and frayed, where nursing was a struggle that ended with a screaming, frustrated baby and a mom on the verge of tears, where feelings are hurt because "seriously I JUST said that, were you not listening at all?"...then yes, YES! The day is ending and we get a new one tomorrow. Thank God. Take 5 to 45 extra minutes on the porch, as needed. 

These days are the greatest because Zoe is absolutely precious. She loves her "baby Liza" and wants to be involved in every part of Eliza's day. She is full of questions ranging from "can Eliza talk to me?" (not yet, but just you wait) to "should we dance in the kitchen?" (always) to "will you play with me?" (as much as I can) to "can I pour my water on Ollie?" (only outside...or if she deserves it) and anything and everything in between. We are teaching her about sin and forgiveness and grace and she said to me "gotta watch out for sin" and followed that up with "Can I touch your sin, Mama?" (So yeah, send help. How do you teach a 2-year-old these things on an age-appropriate level?) She is full of laughter and smiles and songs and questions and it is the greatest.

These days are the hardest because Zoe is two and she is discovering her independence and pushing her boundaries. She's learning how to navigate her new place as "big sister" in the family instead of "only child". She's learning the hard and never-ending lessons about sin and consequences and love and forgiveness. She's learning that mom and dad are not around primarily for her entertainment, which is really distressing to her I think. We're all adjusting to this new life with 2 kids. Z and I sometimes look at each other at the end of the day and feel overwhelmed and inadequate, unsure if we're "doing this right", all of it...the parenting, the disciplining, the adjusting...

These days are the greatest because an 8-week-old baby is pure sweetness. Eliza is all soft skin and rolls and coy smiles and sweet coos. We are delighted by nearly everything she does and there's no shortage of kisses directed at her round belly and chubby cheeks. Watching Zoe love Eliza and Eliza respond to her big sister is one of the greatest things I've ever witnessed. I can't wait to see their relationship grow. Eliza is sleeping well for a 2-month-old, all things considered. She's healthy and (usually) happy and impossibly squishy and snuggly. These days pass so quickly and I am soaking them in, letting dishes and laundry (and sometimes showers, if we're being honest) wait while I hold her close and breathe in that newborn sweetness, working hard for smiles and sweet baby noises. It is the greatest.

These days are the hardest because newborns are so. hard. For every night of good sleep there is a night where the hours roll by and we are still awake, walking the halls or rocking in her nursery, wishing I had a Fitbit so I could figure out how many miles I was logging. But maybe I don't actually want to know. I'll just go ahead and slap the 26.2 sticker on the back of my minivan. There is stress and anxiety, wishing this little baby could just tell me what is wrong so I could fix it. Praying she would fall asleep. Feeling alone and frustrated and above all, guilty...for feeling those things, for struggling with those while at the same time bursting with so much love for this tiny little treasure I'm holding in my arms. How do you reconcile those polar emotions in those 3am moments in a dark, quiet house? Maybe just reminding yourself that they are emotions, and emotions cannot be trusted and should not be the boss of us. And maybe also with Oreos. There is guilt over attention that is split between two little girls. There are tears and short tempers. There is the constant nagging question "Is it this hard for everyone? Or am I just especially weak and sensitive and unable to handle this great upheaval, this massive tidal wave of both positive and negative emotion?"  Part of me really wants to know the answer to that question. And part of me is terrified to know because what if...what if it really is so much easier and comes so much more naturally to everyone else? But if not...if this is normal, if this is actually this hard for everyone else, what a huge relief. How comforting and encouraging! We are in this together, moms of little tiny ones. We're going to be ok. Above all, there is the understanding and the reminder that this season is so short, even though sometimes it feels like it will never end. But it's still hard, in the meantime. And I still feel like a cranky zombie when my sleep is cut short.

The greatest days. The hardest days. I recently told a dear friend that I felt like I was perpetually playing catch-up in every area of my life and she responded with "it's more like drowning...in the best way possible! Drowning in stress and love and anxiety and happiness..." Yes. That is probably a good way to put it. I know it won't always feel like this, so I'm trying not to let it get the best of me. Instead I do my best to pause and soak in the great days, the great moments...and as for the hard days, the hard moments...those pass quickly and a little front porch time does wonders for a weary mama.

And also, Oreos. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Eliza's Birth Story

I've sat down about 400 times to write this and found that I either get too emotional to finish or something more pressing requires my attention (a baby, a toddler, a dog, a husband, a cookie, a glass of wine...) But I feel a sense of urgency to get this down on paper now, before time starts to blur the memory and emotion of Eliza's birthday. So here it is.

May 25th, the day I posted about being pregnant forever, I had an early morning routine OB appointment. For whatever reason, my doctor suggested I have an ultrasound before I left the office, mostly to check on the size and status of the baby. I was going to get the ultrasound and head home; we would discuss "options" at my appointment the next week (my doctor really wanted me to have the baby before she left on vacation, and while I was hoping to avoid induction, I appreciated her enthusiasm and desire to be the doctor who delivered our girl). During the ultrasound, the tech found that my amniotic fluid was low...not dangerously low, but low enough that she called my doctor back in to talk to me.

The doctor expressed concern that the low fluid level could mean the placenta was no longer functioning properly and requested I come back on Friday, May 27th to check the levels again. She told me that no matter what, she wanted the baby out in the 38th week because the risk of her staying in with dropping fluid levels outweighed her making an appearance 2 weeks early. She asked me to talk to Zach and call back that afternoon to schedule an induction for either Sunday, May 29th or Tuesday, May 31st.

I was mildly concerned about the low fluid, but mostly feeling a mixture of relief and apprehension over knowing we would have our baby within the week. I also had to take some time to come to grips with the fact that I would probably need to be induced, something I had REALLY wanted to avoid. Zach and I settled on the Tuesday induction date with the hope of me going into labor naturally before then.

With the induction scheduled, I felt a sense of urgency to get things pulled together before we had this baby, so I went into full-on prep mode...I cleaned the house, did laundry, finished packing my bag, got my nails done (priorities), did last-minute errands, etc. Friday rolled around and I headed back to the doctor, sure that the ultrasound would find that my levels were holding steady and I would simply come back on Tuesday to have the baby. I walked out the door with a quick "bye, love you!" to Zach and Zoe, thinking I'd be back home in under an hour.

The ultrasound revealed that my fluid levels had dropped even further, bordering on "danger zone" level. The tech left to get my doctor and sent me back out to the waiting room. A few minutes later a nurse came and asked me to come back to a little private sitting room where she took a deep breath and said "The doctor would like to go ahead and do a C-section; there's a 12:30 slot available so we'll need to get over to the hospital now. Go ahead and call whoever you need to."

I think I must have just stared at her for a second before saying something eloquent like "Ok. Whoa. Wait a minute. Why do I have to have a C-section? Can I try to labor? Is the baby ok?"

The nurse didn't have any answers (super reassuring) so she left to consult with my doctor while I was left hyperventilating in this tiny little room. I called Zach, but I don't remember that conversation. I called my mom, and I only remember her telling me to breathe (helpful and necessary). In the meantime, I kept being interrupted by 3 different nurses popping their heads in to take my water bottle away (no more liquids before surgery), ask me if I'd eaten, ask me when I ate, and ask me what I ate (yes, 7:30, donuts...just kidding, it was oatmeal. I wish it was donuts). Finally the original nurse came back in and said "Come with me, the doctor will talk to you about what's going on".

I nervously entered the examination room and my doctor greeted me with a profuse apology for the confusion and explained in the fly-by conversation she had with the nurse, she confused my situation with another patient (she had 4 patients set to deliver that weekend). She reassured me that I could definitely labor safely and we would avoid a C-section unless absolutely medically necessary. We talked through a few more of my questions/concerns and she confirmed that she did indeed want me to be induced that day, but she left the final decision up to me whether we would risk waiting another 2-4 days. Zach and I agreed it wasn't worth the risk of my fluid dropping even more and potentially putting our sweet girl in danger. We were having a baby...that day.

My mind was racing at this point and I asked my doctor if I at least had time to go home and get my bag, drop off the car seat, eat a donut, etc. She said she would prefer I didn't and wanted to get started right way. I then voiced my concerns about being induced with Pitocin and requested we try the gel instead (this is what was used to successfully induce with Zoe in Germany). I had been adamantly against the use of Pitocin and had voiced this to my doctor throughout the pregnancy. She looked at me and said "Don't be afraid of Pitocin. I won't abuse it." and that kind of closed the door on that conversation. I wasn't upset, just more disappointed and a little afraid. I trusted my doctor, even though things weren't going the way I had hoped.

Everything started moving really quickly then. They got a wheelchair (so unnecessary) and wheeled me from the doctor's building to labor and delivery where I was checked in and given a room. I was left alone for a few minutes to call Zach and my mom back and talk logistics about my parents' arrival, Zoe's care, and getting Zach (and my bag) to the hospital. In those few solitary moments I broke down in tears over the fact that our family was about to be forever changed and I hadn't had a chance to say goodbye to Zoe. It sounds so dramatic, but I tear up even writing about it. All I wanted to do was scoop up my first baby girl in my arms and squeeze her so tight, tell her how much I loved her and how excited I was to see her be a big sister, and kiss her goodbye. I was heartbroken over not having that opportunity.

At around 10am my nurse (Nancy) came bouncing in, handed me a gown, hooked me up to my IVs and said "Ok, do you have a birth plan?"

I hesitated, slightly annoyed at her chipper-ness and desire to discuss my "plan" when everyone knows that things rarely go according to plan when giving birth, before saying "well...not really. I wasn't planning on being induced...or any of this..." and she didn't miss a beat before replying "Ok, but that means you had an idea of how you wanted this to go, so let's talk".

Looking back, this was the greatest gift she could have given me. To push past my initial response and dig deeper...she didn't have to do that. She could have accepted what I said and moved on. Nancy was a God-given gift and I will never forget her.

I took a deep breath and thought about how my ideal situation would be to go into labor naturally, labor at home as long as possible, and arrive at the hospital with plenty of time to have options about how the rest of the labor and delivery went. My "plan" had been pretty similar to my plan with Zoe...just see how it goes, keep an open mind, stay flexible to all options. I had an epidural with Zoe and I wasn't opposed to getting one again, but I also knew what I could handle after my experience with Zoe and I was comfortable with trying to see if I could deliver without pain meds or an epidural. After giving birth to Zoe my midwife had said to me "Your next delivery will be a piece of cake", and I chose to believe her.

With this in mind and the reality of my situation in front of me, I said "Ok, well based on my experience giving birth to our first, I would prefer as little medical intervention as possible" (which is laughable because at this point I'm in a hospital bed, wearing a hospital gown, with an IV pumping antibiotics and synthetic oxytocin into me whilst hooked up to a blood pressure cuff and fetal monitors. But no, let's keep it as natural as possible you guys.) But Nancy, God bless her, didn't laugh or raise her eyebrows or show any sign of skepticism. She simply said "Ok, then that's what we'll do. Here's my rule: if you want to talk about pain medication, you have to ask me twice. The first time you ask, I will not respond. You must ask twice. I will not offer it or bring it up to you. Otherwise, I'm here to help you get this baby out. Let's get you on the exercise ball, keep you moving, try to get things going." I agreed, we talked about a few other things that were important to me (delayed cord clamping, immediate skin-to-skin) and that was that. She said she'd be back in 20 minutes to check my progress and up my Pitocin. 

In the meantime, Zach was getting Zoe settled with our dear friend Laurel who dropped everything to come watch her until my parents arrived, and then got a ride with another friend to the hospital, where he stayed with me for about 30 minutes before taking the van (with carseat) back to our house and returning with his own car. (He also had to leave me at the hospital in Germany as labor was starting, so this felt normal to me). In the short time he was at home switching out cars and grabbing last-minute things I forgot to pack, he FaceTimed me with Zoe so I could have my moment with her before she became our oldest instead of our only. This was the most precious gift and I choked back tears and laughter as she asked me "You gots PJs on? You gots a shot?" and I told her how much I loved her and how I couldn't wait to see what a great big sister she would be. I felt so much better after having that chance to talk to her...it really helped ease my mind and quiet my emotions as the contractions started to pick up. Shortly after that call I texted Zach and said "get here please, these are starting to hurt!"

At the 40 minute mark, a new nurse came in and let me know that Nancy was on a break and she was here to check my progress. She looked at my monitors and said "Well I'm not going to up the Pitocin because you seem to be responding well and I know you wanted as little intervention as possible." And she walked out. Again, Nancy...amazing. She had spread the word and they were all working together to be as supportive as possible. (Side note: for Pitocin, they start you at a 2 and it can go all the way up to 30, as needed, to help move labor along. For me, from start to finish, they never went past 6. I'm sure this is partly because I was responding well, but also because I had voiced my desire to have minimal intervention and Nancy took that seriously. Based on how fast and furious my contractions came on, I'm very very thankful I wasn't given a higher dose than I had.)

Once Zach arrived, I told him "I remember this pain. I'm already scared knowing how much worse it's going to get..."

Side note: Zach is a champion when it comes to support during labor. From that point on, he was the voice in my ear that talked over the voice in my head, offering me encouragement and support when the pain started to overwhelm me. He got ice chips, sat with me, rubbed the cramps out of my calves, offered to massage my back, and kept a close eye on my every move, ready to offer support in whatever way he could. He later said to me "Hey, through all of that you only cursed once!" and I, having a very foggy memory, asked when (after congratulating myself on this personal victory). The blood pressure cuff that checked my BP at 20 minute intervals was a huge nuisance and in a moment of pain and frustration I apparently said "Get this damn thing off me" (which he did, and we were scolded by the nurses. Woops).

I spent most of the next 4 hours on the exercise ball, bouncing and rocking and breathing through the contractions, which were painful but still manageable. At 2pm my doctor came in and said it was time to break my water since my first round of antibiotics was successfully complete. I really didn't want this to happen either, but after some more discussion, Zach and I agreed to move forward with it. So my water was broken and I moved back to the exercise ball and asked Zach to pull up Netflix so I could distract myself with some episodes of Fixer Upper (thank you Chip and Joanna).

In a matter of minutes my contractions got much, much more intense. I looked at Z and said "this was a terrible idea." I'm not sure if I meant having a baby in general or having my water broken or not having pain meds, I just know I was in pain and a LOT of it. Zach buzzed the nurse and Nancy came right in. I said something like, "I think I want to talk about pain management..." between contractions and she quickly responded with "Ok, how about we check your progress? You'll have to move to the bed for this."

Once I was on the bed I immediately was in much more pain. Laying down while having contractions was agonizing and I wanted nothing more than to get up out of the bed. Nancy checked me and said something like "whoa, ok you're ready! This is the part where you will want to give up; just listen to me and we'll work through it" and I remember saying something along the lines of "I can't do this!" as I fought to keep control of my breath through each contraction. I could hear Nancy telling me that I was in transition and everyone hits the "I can't do this" point and I just needed to hang in there, and I could hear Zach saying "when you got to this point with Zoe, she was here in less than an hour. You can do this." (when I got to that point with Zoe, I got an epidural...) Nancy got down in my face and looked me in my eye and said "Ok, I need you to turn on your side and lay this way for 3 contractions, and then we're going to turn on your other side for 3 contractions. That's going to move the baby down. You can do this."

Those 6 contractions...there are no words. I held Zach's hand as tight as I could, closed my eyes, and counted my way through each one. By the 6th contraction, I had forgotten all about the rule to ask twice for pain meds (I'm on to you now, NANCY) and was ready to push. This was simultaneously happening so, so quickly and lasting forever. It was incredibly intense, and that is an understatement. At some point my doctor had arrived and I realized "oh my gosh, this is happening". I remember again saying "I can't do this, I can't do this" and hearing reassuring things from everyone in the room (none of which registered with me). The next few minutes were a blur of pushing (which was actually sweet relief from the pain of the contractions) and desperately wanting to be done pushing. I remember at one point looking up and saying "WHY ISN'T SHE COMING?!" and then she was delivered in the very next push.

That moment was the sweetest moment of relief and joy...when they put that naked little screaming sweetie right on my chest where she immediately peed and then stayed snuggled in my arms for the next few hours (this was such a gift as I was only able to hold Zoe for a few minutes before they took her to the NICU). When Zach and I had talked about meeting Eliza, one thing I told him was that I really wanted to be present for the moment when we met her, because with Zoe it was such a blur that I felt like I "missed" the experience of seeing her and holding her for the first time. With Eliza, I was given the opportunity to fully soak in every part of those moments and I am so thankful for that time.

Eliza Rae entered the world at 3:34pm on May 27th, about 5 hours after induction began (not a bad way to go, all things considered). She weighed 7lbs and was 19.5 inches long. She was (and is) absolutely perfect, with the longest toes and fingers and the sweetest dimples from her daddy (the moment I realized she had dimples...oh my gosh).

Shortly after delivery my doctor asked me "Ok, having given birth naturally and with an epidural, what will you do next time?!" and I'm all like "THERE WILL BE NO NEXT TIME." but that's probably not true...just maybe it's terrible timing to ask a woman who has JUST GIVEN BIRTH to consider doing it again, regardless of the experience.

My experiences giving birth in Germany and in the States were vastly different, but I wouldn't say one was better than the other and I'm not ready to say what route I'll take if/when we have another baby. At the end of the day, we held a precious, perfect baby girl in our arms and that really is all that matters.

The past two weeks have been filled with immensely sweet and incredibly challenging moments, which I think is probably par for the course when adjusting to life with a newborn and toddler. I am soaking up every sleep-deprived moment because I know just how fast it will go. My heart is so full when I look at our little family of four and I am so very, very thankful. Welcome to the world, adorable Eliza Rae. We are already so crazy about you.