One.

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“When he looks back to the child, the eyes are open, staring up at him, unblinking, as dark as the hair on its head. The face is transformed; Ashoke has never seen a more perfect thing. He imagines himself as a dark, grainy, blurry presence. As a father to his son. Again he thinks of the night he was nearly killed, the memory of those hours that have forever marked him flickering and fading in his mind. Being rescued from that shattered train had been the first miracle of his life. But here, now, reposing in his arms, weighing next to nothing but changing everything, is the second.”The Namesake

Happy birthday, baby boy. Every day since then has been a gift

This is what maternity leave looks like.

This is what maternity leave looks like.

 

I go back to work on Monday after 3 months at home with my little family. To say that I have mixed feelings is putting it lightly.

I’ve always wanted to have a family, but for a variety of reasons, it didn’t happen in previous relationships. For the last decade, my career was one of those reasons. I could NOT imagine being happy as a stay-at-home parent, and I could NOT imagine giving up the career I’ve worked pretty hard to attain, and I could NOT imagine  (or afford) putting my child in daycare. And so in those relationships, we chose to not have children. That changed with this relationship, obviously.

Family leave in this country is ridiculous in comparison to pretty much any other developed nation, so I feel incredibly grateful to have had as much time as I did: 6 weeks paid, 3 weeks cobbled together from vacation, personal, and holiday time, and 4 weeks unpaid. I kept my benefits during this time, and was able to space out the unpaid weeks so as not to break the bank. We are very fortunate.

But I find myself at the end of my 13 weeks at home with a cooing baby on my lap, wondering how to make it all work. It physically pains me to think about leaving him next week to go to the office. I’ve been crying about it every day for weeks. While it’s been very hard at times, I’ve so enjoyed this time at home with my guys, and I can’t imagine what it’s going to feel like being away from them all day, particularly with the baby growing and changing so quickly.

I haven’t suddenly had a change of heart about being a stay-at-home parent, but I have missed work a lot less than I expected. It’s been a wonderful gift to just turn that part off for a few months. I’ve been checking my email, but haven’t had to really think about it for a long time – which has been good because it’s not like I’ve really been able to think all that much. While I’ve been home, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about what we’d like our future to look like, and where we might go next, and I’m excited about the directions we’ve plotted out together, however far off they may be.

On Monday, there will be a new normal, one that doesn’t allow for extended mornings in pajama pants or cuddled up post-nursing naps. No long walks to the park, or mid-afternoon coffees before a trip to the lake or the zoo with a sleeping baby in the carrier on my chest. It will be hard. But it will be OK.

Beginnings

39 weeks

We walked to Palmisano Park Thursday night to see the latest installation in the Ten Thousand Ripples Project. I stood in the center of the circle of Buddha heads as the sun went down in the west. We had dinner at a neighborhood Italian place, then stopped at the bar where we had drinks on our first date. We’d stopped in for dinner a few weeks earlier and saw another expecting couple due a a week and a half before me – they were there again that night, now at least a few days overdue. When we crossed the bridge on the way home, we walked through a film set, the crew warning us to protect our eyes from the kleig light shining down on the river.

It was our last night as a family of two.

In the morning, some kitchen disaster left me in tears, bent in half at the sink as my contractions started, the first around 6:30am. It was Friday, and I had a day-long webinar ahead of me, and an important final meeting that afternoon, and a case study and documentation to finish before I could go on leave. There was no way I could miss work, so I went in, resolved that this would be my last day.

I started timing my contractions around lunchtime, thankful that the chairs in the meeting room reclined enough to give me some relief. I had a ham sandwich with avocado. By the end of my 3pm meeting, my contractions were regular and 5 minutes apart. The last 90 minutes of my work day was a blur, and probably the most productive 90 minutes of the entire year. Some women “nest” when they’re in labor – I wrote documentation, registered for two conferences, compiled and double-checked statistics, and saved files in multiple locations.

At 5pm, my contractions were 4 minutes apart. I called Nicolas to talk it over, then called Labor and Delivery, who told me I might as well come in. I packed everything up, walked to my car, and drove around the corner to the hospital, parallel parking between contractions. By the time I checked in at 6pm, my contractions were 2 minutes apart. Three other women arrived within 10 minutes of me.

N hopped in a Lyft car and arrived shortly after I was admitted to triage, my labor well underway. I was hooked up to a bunch of machines, which made climbing around to get comfortable difficult. N massaged my back and calmed me during the contractions, just as we’d practiced. Nurses were in and out checking my vitals and taking my blood. One nurse bumped my foot with the table I was leaning on during contractions. When the contraction passed, I asked for a bandage for my bleeding toe. She was apparently so mortified that she couldn’t come back into the room.

A resident scanned my belly and confirmed that the baby was still breech, and still high up. Over the next two hours, they checked my cervix several times to make sure that my labor was actually progressing before making the decision to send me to surgery. Each check was more agonizing than the last. At some point, they determined that I was staying, and the baby would be born that night. N texted my family as I went into surgery, and was given surgical scrubs to cover up. In the rush to surgery, I was asked to take out my tongue stud; I forgot all about it until several days later, by which time it was too late to put it back in.

I don’t remember exactly how I got back to surgery – did I walk? I must’ve walked. We were at a teaching hospital, and the one time this was problematic was during the epidural when the physician critiqued the resident’s work in placing my epidural – not what I wanted to hear while hunched over waiting for the pain to stop. I could still feel more than I expected to feel, and when I said that I go through anesthetic fast, the doctor said, “this will be interesting.”

My doctor was out of town, so a doctor I’d never met performed the surgery. I was strapped to a table with the drape raised when N was brought in. He sat by my head and talked to me about the baby on the beach, about how we were about to meet our child. I felt a lot of pressure, pulling back and forth, and then they told N it was time to stand up and see the baby. The doctor said, “you grew a lot of baby!”. Our son was born at 10:49pm.

The aftermath of surgery is a blur. It wasn’t clear to me what was happening, but N and the baby went to an adjacent room for the newborn procedures, and I could only occasionally see the baby through the crowd of people attending to him. I kept asking what was happening, whether his eyes were open, what color they were. I could hear him crying, and wanted to hold him, but had to be put back together first. The doctor assured me that if I waited two years, I would be a good candidate for a VBAC.

We spent a long time in recovery. I was very sick, and N was very worried. The nurse was very kind. The baby was with us for part of the time, and then we waited a very long time for transport up to our room. There are a lot of things I don’t remember. I think we were both in shock. I think it’s best that I don’t remember.

I wanted so badly to have a natural birth, no drugs, no interventions. The birth I had was the opposite of that. I’m glad we had time to make our peace with this change of plans. Given the way my surgery went, and the way the baby was positioned, it was the safest option for both of us. I’m grateful that I went into labor on my own, and that I had the opportunity to labor before surgery. I’m grateful for the care I received, even though I don’t remember much of it.

Most of all, I’m grateful for the healthy and safe arrival of our son, who we named after our grandfathers. He’s beautiful, and we couldn’t be happier.

Introducing Kleintje, born via c-section at 10:49pm last night. He's perfect, and we're so happy. #100daystobaby

The Third Trimester

Oval Beach

We went to Michigan for the July 4 weekend. On our last night there, we made it to Oval Beach just in time for the sunset. A young family was taking photos and playing just down the beach from us, their small son all white blonde hair and confidence, strolling up and down the beach like he owned the place as the sky turned to purples and pinks. We laid together on our blanket and imagined our own family in the future, our own kleintje confidently exploring. I would return to those moments on the beach many times in the coming months.

We took childbirth classes in the Bradley Method. I had intended to blog about our experience, and maybe I still will. 2 hours a week for 12 weeks seemed like a lot, and sometimes it was a chore to go, but we both felt like it was a valuable experience, even though we didn’t have the birth we’d hoped (more on that later).

Based on kicks, the baby seemed to like blueberries and pineapple, World Cup commentary, and N’s presence and voice.

My dear friends threw me a baby shower at the end of July – nothing ridiculous, just friends and food and gifts in a sweet park on a beautiful afternoon.

We picked up furniture on Craigslist and from my former roommate. I hung the garland from the baby shower on the wall above the bookcase. We decided to wait on any other decorating until the baby moves into the room after the long Chicago winter.

I stopped biking in late July after a close call on my commute home. I’m glad I was able to bike as late into my pregnancy as I did, but felt completely OK stopping when I did.

None of my workout shirts fit, and my gym is barely air conditioned, so my fellow gym-goers were treated to my sweaty belly while I read parenting books on the exercise bike. Few directly applied to new babies, and the one that did beat me about the head with the concept of THE FOURTH TRIMESTER.

I had to go to Seattle for work in August, and N came along. I was exhausted and overheated for most of the trip, and tried to blame it on altitude, which was totally incorrect. We took long walks, ate a lot of delicious Belgian food, and did our best to soak up our last pre-baby vacation. Flying at 32 weeks wasn’t as miserable as I expected, but I’m very glad I didn’t have to fly after that.

I read Expecting Better and wished I’d read it much earlier in my pregnancy, as it made me feel dramatically more sane about the choices I was already making.

I worried for awhile that I had pre-eclampsia. My blood pressure was higher than usual, and I felt dizzy and tired. My doctor wasn’t worried.

In mid-August, my family threw me a shower which ended up being an afternoon of babies and girl talk in the best possible way. I got to Rockford early and spent 15 minutes cleaning the pool in order to have a few minutes of delicious weightlessness. I had so looked forward to swimming all summer, but it was just too cool.

All told, I gained somewhere in the area of 50 pounds.

Sleep was hard. I was very warm, and very large, and up every 2 hours like clockwork to use the restroom. I couldn’t sleep under anything heavier than a thin muslin swaddling blanket, or wearing anything more than a sports bra and shorts.

I had a lot of pain in my ribs, and sometimes it felt like my solar plexus was made of broken glass.

I felt a lot of urgency to make time with friends, and for relaxed solo time with N. I felt overbooked in the last few weeks, but got to see nearly everyone and also take care of the sorts of personal errands that just wouldn’t be a priority after baby.

At 36 weeks, we learned that the baby was breech. I was hysterical, and frustrated by the lack of information from my doctor, and by the pressure to schedule a c-section without trying other interventions. In the following weeks, we tried the following to encourage the baby to turn:

  • inversions
  • strategic application of hot (coffee mug) and cold (frozen peas)
  • N talking to the baby through my belly
  • N shining a flashlight at the bottom of my belly
  • chiropractic adjustments (side note: why hadn’t I ever been to a chiro before?)
  • acupuncture (which I also hadn’t tried) and moxibustion
  • walking sideways up the stairs

At 38 weeks, the baby still hadn’t turned, and I decided I could either keep running myself ragged driving all over the city trying things that weren’t working – or make my peace with the surgery. I worked on the latter, and we scheduled the c-section for September 24.

The Second Trimester

27 weeks. Belly to infinity. 90/#100daystobaby

It was fun to drop the news on friends and family. My roommate didn’t believe me at first. I sent the ultrasound photos to friends via chat, and 2/3 of them thought it was a photo of snow. (In fairness, the weather was TERRIBLE that day.) My mom said it was an answer to prayer – not at ALL the response I expected.

I spent entirely too much time running around looking for apartments before we finally found a great place in a great location in our price range. We moved in when I was just starting to show. It was very weird to not be able to help move furniture or carry boxes. After an exhausting day of carrying the things I could carry, I went to Simone’s and ate a giant pile of nachos and felt sad that I couldn’t have a beer (Lent, not pregnancy).

My last really great run was 7.5 miles with a coworker on the day we signed our lease. Nagging back pain led me to change my registration for the Illinois Marathon weekend from the half to the 10K. It was hard to let go of the idea of being able to PR when I had been getting SO MUCH FASTER before I got pregnant, and then it was hard to let go of the idea of racing, and then it was hard to let go of the distance. Instead, I felt fantastic running a solid 5K, and then N joined me (with Annette’s race registration) to run the 10K.

I developed temporary sensitivities to foods I previously ate all the time – specifically dairy. I cried when I realized I might not be able to have ice cream or a good cappuccino for months. Lactaid helped for a month, and then I decided to just live with the side effects of eating dairy because the side effects of Lactaid were worse.

I felt the baby move for the first time around the beginning of week 19, while we were sitting in traffic on Lakeshore Drive. I wasn’t sure, but there it was again, a tiny plink in my lower abdomen. I forced N’s hand onto my belly numerous times over the next week and a half until we were on a long walk and I stopped dead in my tracks near the Adler Planetarium, grabbed his hand, and he felt the baby for the first time.

I had to stop running around week 25. I had cut way back due to what I later identified as Braxton-Hicks contractions (and just being tired), but I’d kept up with a couple of runs per week until a 4 mile run  to Bridgeport and back left me in tears. I wasn’t ready to be done, but I was done nonetheless.

We made up for the lack of running with long bike rides on the weekends. N hadn’t ever biked in the city until last fall, but he picked up a Divvy with me and we rode to the far south end of the Lakefront Path, up north for coffee, all over. I found a safe route to work, and was able to ride in five days in a row during Bike to Work Week.

After one of those rides, I got my first pregnant lady privilege – I stopped for a pastry, and the woman ahead of me let me take the last chocolate croissant.

We went to Neo for what would turn out to be the last time – after knocking two items off my Chicago Bucket List, we went to New Wave Prom. The regular bartender gave me a once-over, asked “Is there a baby in there?”, and congratulated us. The last time we’d been was for my birthday, days before we found out.

I got defensive about being touched without permission, but it turned out that the only transgressive belly touches of my entire pregnancy came from two friends, and I didn’t mind at all.

I went to Vegas for work at 27 weeks. It was 115F, and I literally swooned on a street corner from the heat, and then again in a fancy restaurant after too much walking. I hated Vegas and hated being away from home, and so spent as much time as I could in the pool or eating frozen yogurt. My flight home was canceled due to severe weather. That’s what happens when you curse Vegas.

We watched a LOT of the World Cup. Baby and I bet for Belgium to beat the US, which they did, and now we have a debt owed to us by Vegas bookies.

Until halfway through the trimester, I was barely showing. By the end of it, my belly was unmistakable.

A Change of Plans

35 weeks 35/#100daystobaby

A lot of things about this year, and this pregnancy, haven’t gone as expected. I thought I’d be running a marathon this fall; instead, I’ll be recovering from giving birth. I looked forward to lots of beer and soft cheeses and mussels in Belgium; instead, I had one amazing beer at the best beer bar in the world, and will have to hope I’m not pregnant the next time we go back. I hoped I’d be able to continue running for most of my pregnancy; instead, I stopped a little more than half way through. I hoped to be able to have a crunchy hippie natural birth with a midwife and minimal interventions; instead, my affordable health insurance plan limits us to a mainstream medical establishment birth with few choices.

Last week, we learned that the baby is breech. Another expectation blown away by circumstances beyond our control. Instead of having a natural birth – what we both wanted, what we’ve been preparing for over the last 10 weeks of childbirth classes, the only birth I could ever imagine for myself – it’s more than likely that I’ll be delivering by c-section.

I was heartbroken. I am heartbroken. It’s taken me nearly a week to be able to talk about this without crying.

I know that having the birth we wanted isn’t the most important thing. My health and the health of the baby are far more important than our expectations. But changing expectations is hard.

So over the last week, we’ve done our research, and started to make our peace with this. We’re trying everything we feel safe doing to encourage the baby to turn, and some day I’ll tell you all about it. We’re grieving for the experience we probably won’t get to have, and trying to make the most informed choices we can.

Most importantly, we’re holding onto our joyful anticipation of our baby’s birth, whether baby is forcefully pushed or gently pulled into this world. Because however it happens, we know that it will be worth the fear and excitement and sadness and anticipation and pain and recovery.