Growing

"Who is this baby and why is Mommy holding him?"

“Who is this baby and why is Mommy holding him?”

Between Frederick’s 2-month well visit and his 4-month well visit, he grew three inches in length, going from 24 inches to 27 inches. That’s pretty tall.

He gained only three ounces.

I hadn’t really given his size much thought, really – he was nursing like a champ around the clock, and seemed pretty happy most of the time. There’s a lot going on in our house, as you can imagine, and there were certainly many instances where in our rush to get out the door, I’d nurse Frederick for a few minutes and we’d be on our way. He didn’t complain that much, and since he’d recently discovered that he could shove his entire fist in his mouth, he was self-soothing just fine. Dan mentioned his “baby six-pack” one or two times when he changed his diaper, and when I bathed him, I just figured he had a different build than my other chunky babies. He was a long, lean, Freddie machine!

Who wasn’t gaining weight.

His doctor wanted to see him a week later for a weight check. During those eight days, he gained an ounce and a half. At least we were going in the right direction, but all I could think about was that I had been starving my child and didn’t even know it. Or that there was a more serious problem, God forbid, and I was too busy and preoccupied to notice. BAD MOM.

Obviously my doctor didn’t say anything to that effect. She’s a mom of four boys who works full time in a busy pediatric practice, so she totally gets chaos. And she supports breastfeeding, too, so as she asked me questions to figure out what was going on and what to do about it, I knew we could work together as a team. Her solution: exclusive pumping for the next ten days so I could measure how much milk I was producing and how much Frederick was taking at every feeding. I would need to supplement with formula if he wasn’t getting the recommended amount of milk for his age, which was being increased slightly since he wasn’t following a healthy growth pattern.

I was so disappointed. My body had failed me. My visions of exclusive breastfeeding until six months flew out the window as I balanced the three cans of hypoallergenic formula in one hand and his car seat in the other. Already in my mind I was calculating the amount of time I would need to spend hooked up to Bessie III. How was I going to pump for fifteen minutes every two hours under the watch of three other children, including one uncomfortable 6th-grade boy? Not to mention responsibilities galore both inside and outside of the home, including a bridal show that Sunday, rehearsals and a concert and…

“You can do anything for a short period of time, right? Right.” Dr. D looked at me confidently, knowingly. “Your priority is getting Frederick to gain weight. You’re going to write everything down and keep track of it, and you can do this.”

Her assurance in my abilities was supremely refreshing, I have to say, and when I got home and assessed the state of things, I decided that yes, in fact, I could do anything I needed to do to ensure that my baby thrived. So I did. I reached out to experienced friends and family members who had excellent advice on how to increase my milk supply. I prioritized my weekend – Daniel was on his own for the bridal show (sorry, honey). But I grew nervous as my small freezer stash of stored milk dwindled, then disappeared. I gritted my teeth when I broke the seal on the first can of formula, and as soon as I measured out a few scoops, a loud, somewhat obnoxious voice in my head chimed in.

“So what if he gets formula? What are you trying to prove, anyway? Your other babies all had formula. Nobody’s handing you any prizes for purity or anything. Your baby needs to grow. This is what’s best for him. Deal with it.”

Thus far I’ve managed to mostly keep up with Frederick’s milk needs. It’s fascinating to look at my notes and see that I’m pretty consistent with milk production (25-26 ounces a day), which is certainly within the normal range, maybe a little lower than I’d like, but decent. And Frederick has been HOUSING bottles, so that leads me to believe we’re on the right track. I’ll know if we can go back to nursing the day after Easter, when I’m hoping to place a naked, not-peeing baby on the scale and see that all of this hard work has paid off. In the meantime, I’ll continue to work on my own internal growth and self-awareness, as I was apparently being all judgey-judgey without even knowing it.

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Tightening our belts

Look at this picture of Adrienne playing in the snow! She bundled herself up yesterday morning and was making snow angels when I got home from the gym. Daniel took her out for a photo shoot at the Lamberton Conservatory near Highland Park, and after experiencing the tropical temperatures inside, it was time for some fresh air. Fresh, cold, seven-degree air. Hey, at least the sun was shining.

Ah, February, the shortest month of the year. Also the longest month, at least in my most recent experience. This year, I have to say that January 2015 was the month from hell (and not just because of my birthday), what with all of the illness and those long, LONG, dark, sleep-deprived days and nights. I tried as hard as I could to stay positive and enjoy my sweet little two-month-old baby boy, but MAN, it just wasn’t happening most of the time.

Now I am pleasantly surprised and delighted when I realize it’s five o’clock p.m., I’m looking out of my kitchen window across the fields in the backyard, and HEY! It’s still light outside! This has been the sunniest winter in Western New York that I can recall in recent years, and I’m not complaining about that one little bit.

I will, however, complain about the cold, because it’s been freezing-ass cold. -9 degrees Fahrenheit this morning when we got up. Fires in the fireplace. Slippers required before feet hit the hardwood floor of our bedroom, which is located right over the garage. Endless mugs of tea, coffee, hot chocolate, anything to take the chill (and the fatigue) away. I can’t help but worry when I hear the furnace running around the clock, because I simultaneously hear cash registers ringing with a resounding “cha-CHING!” every minute it’s on.

Money. *sigh*

This fall, I sold my house in Buffalo and was finally able to pay off all of my credit card debt (applause, whoop whoop, hooray, etc.). Aside from student loans for my useless–I mean, esteemed graduate degree, we’re doing pretty well on the debt front these days. I do NOT want to go down that demoralizing road again, so we are determined to live within our means from now on. Lesson learned, finally.

Daniel also made the decision to quit working his night-shift job at Wegmans three times a week so that he has more energy to focus solely on making photography our livelihood. Because of the Affordable Care Act, Wegmans would no longer offer health insurance to its employees unless they worked 30 hours or more per week, beginning on the first of the year. That was not an option for us, so he left Wegmans on December 31st. While it’s been great having a non-zombie for a husband around and available in the mornings and evenings, it also meant our grocery money disappeared. I always joked that Wegmans should have just directly given us our groceries every week in exchange for Daniel throwing stuff up onto the shelves in aisle 15, but that’s not how they roll.

So here we are, dearest February, and I have to say it’s looking pretty lean but quite doable at the moment. We don’t have any expensive hobbies to maintain, unless you count music lessons, which I would never categorize as a “hobby” but I might be slightly biased. There’s lots of healthy vegan and vegetarian food on our menu rotation, and we make most of our food from scratch. Gently-used clothing comes in generously from family and friends, because why buy brand-new clothes for kids that they’ll grow out of in three weeks, or even better, put an unrepairable hole in it? We utilize our local library almost every week. We watch movies on Netflix and play outside in the snow. As I look for more and more ways to stretch our money, I have found that living frugally has made me live more mindfully and waste less than ever before. And as we put every ounce of our energy and resources into family and our photography business, I am becoming even more grateful for the things I have (health, great kids, and a wonderful marriage), and the many simple ways we like to fill our time.

Less has become more.

GERMS.

For most of my adult life I have tried to maintain a healthy balance when it comes to dirt and germs. When I was growing up, bleach, antibacterial soap, and Lysol were used pretty liberally, and I was expected to clean my room on a regular basis, which included vacuuming and dusting. If hand sanitizer had been around back then, we would most certainly have used it. Disinfection was good, dirt and germs were bad, and you did what you could to eliminate them. My mom had worked as a nurse for many years before I was born, which definitely contributed to the emphasis on cleaning.

None of this was a bad thing, mind you, because when I became a mom, nobody needed to tell me that eradicating dirt and germs was an important part of my job! Look at all of the advertisements over the years for cleaning products, supplies, machines, devices, advice, hints, and suggestions. I already knew what I was supposed to do. When Connor was born, I think I had a bottle of hand sanitizer in every room. I had a housekeeping/cleaning schedule, and I stuck to it. Every room had its own day of attention, and I still remember with some fondness Thursday nights, which were scheduled kitchen nights, lovingly cleaning every surface and every appliance, mopping the tiny rectangle of ugly, torn linoleum, scrubbing the sink, wiping the windowsills and cabinet doors.

I also had postpartum depression. When you suddenly go from teaching at the Peabody Conservatory to being a stay-at-home mom in the middle of Nebraska, there’s a bit of a paradigm shift, along the lines of “I used to occasionally share an elevator with Leon Fleisher, but now I schedule my window washing!” I was accustomed to a demanding schedule, but one that revolved primarily around me and my instrument, not around a needy baby and the upkeep of our home. I didn’t really know many people in my new town, I was lonely, and I was bored. So I found some solace in germ- and dirt-busting, but it was an empty joy, because guess what I found out? Your kid (and ultimately you) will still get sick no matter how disinfected your house is, and the dirt always comes back.

What a disappointment.

Fast-forward almost twelve years. I’m still pretty meticulous about my kitchen being clean, and I make an effort to clean the bathroom sink and toilet at least once a week (god, what a nightmare it would be if I didn’t, with six people using it!). The rest of the house? HA HA HA HA HA. We actually ask my mother-in-law to bring her dog Maisie with her when she visits so at least the dining room floor and Eleanor’s booster seat get clean. Nothing beats a dog for keeping a high chair clean, let me tell you. I haven’t vacuumed our bedroom since we moved in September. And as far as hand washing and disinfecting and child bathing and all of that…well, nobody stinks too badly, and the kids wash their hands before dinner and after using the bathroom. Any other time is a bonus.

See, we’re emerging from a period of about 2 months where somebody in the house, or maybe two somebodies in the house, were ill. Not just sneezing-sniffling-coughing ill. SICK. We’re talking GERMS. First Eleanor had croup. Connor had walking pneumonia and some weird mystery fever-cold illness. I contracted mastitis after working a bridal show for eight hours with no place to pump (that’s another story for another blog post…). And Adrienne was sick on and off for a month; three doctor visits later she was finally diagnosed with pneumonia and is on two antibiotics. Since Frederick was born I’ve done the best I could do to stay on top of everything…and yet we all got hit, some of us harder than others. And I felt guilty for not disinfecting more, or sneaking vegetables into our meals.

WHAT.

Rather than knee-jerk run out and buy a dozen bottles of Purell along with those multiple prescriptions, though, I’m looking at other factors that I can change. We eat pretty healthy to begin with, but we can always improve in that area – less sugar, less coffee (sigh), more veggies. More sleep is never a bad thing, and we’re trying to enforce a stricter earlier bedtime for the girls (again, doing the best we can with that, what with our crazy schedule). I try to be in bed most nights between nine and ten, as this lovely little lump who’s fast asleep on my shoulder likes to snack during the night, and the alarm for school rings at six. I’m not going nuts, though. We have to live, and hovering over my kids to scrub their dry-skin hands for thirty seconds every time they blow their noses, denying treats, skipping the toddler gym and never staying up to watch a silly movie is no way to live. Because I know from experience that even if I did those things, we’d still get sick.

I’d also like to continue working on letting go of the things I cannot control. So pass the pink afghan and box of tissues when I need them.

A Few Lines a Day

My cousin Dawn got me a wonderful Christmas present this year – a “Five Lines-A-Day” diary that has enough space to write in it for five years. Couple that with the QFQA New Years’ Resolutions list that went up on the refrigerator this week, and I’m feeling a little bit of pressure to start changin’ everything up, declare that 2015 will be THE YEAR that I start reading more, writing more, relaxing more, blah blah blah blah.

Yeah, right.

On January 1st I will be thirty-eight years old. Currently sporting no makeup, braids, jeans and a sweater, I feel like a war-wounded teenager. Oh, and there’s a baby sleeping on my chest, because that’s where he would sleep today – either on me, or on Dad. He screamed for the entire duration of an afternoon grocery outing except for the twenty minutes I spent nursing him in the car. My older daughter is upstairs, sick for the second time in a month, this time sporting a 102+ fever, the same effin’ cough, bright eyes, red lips, and no appetite. My younger daughter has wet her pants for maybe the third time today, and my older son has spent the day sprawled on his bed, earbuds in his ears, emerging occasionally to make demands (“food” “snack” “dry-erase markers” “URRRGH”).

It has not been a great day.

I have little reason to believe that 2015 will miraculously become “MY YEAR” simply by filling out a list of public declarations, all repeats from previous years. I’ve been staring at that sheet on the fridge, resenting it. In the past my New Year’s resolutions have involved me trying to lose weight. Guess what? I’m tired of trying to lose weight. I just had a baby, for crying out loud (by the way, at this current moment, I’d like to declare that NO ONE is crying. Miracles do happen!), I’m nursing him around the clock, and I am living on chocolate, peanut butter and caffeine to make it through each day. I don’t want to lose weight, I just want to survive. Yet at the same time I remember that last winter, my pants didn’t fit this tight, and I was running four miles several times a week, and when you are training to run a half-marathon, there is no TRYING to lose weight. It just happens.

For once, I would love to welcome the advent of a new year without thinking that my body weight will have any bearing whatsoever on my level of happiness for that year, whether those thoughts are conscious or not.

Right now that resolution list is still blank under my name, but in my mind, and now on my blog, a few ideas are taking shape. I would like to write in that “Five Lines A Day” book every night before I go to sleep, even if it’s just the word “URRRGH.” I want to run the Rochester Half-Marathon in September again, which will require a regular commitment to running several times a week, and increasing the length of my runs. I’ve done it before, and I can do it again. And even though I can argue that when I’m staring at my phone screen, I’m often looking up recipes or reading news articles, I’d like to spend more time reading an ACTUAL BOOK (or better yet, stay current on those New Yorker magazines that like to pile up, dogeared, on my bedside table) than my phone.

That could be easier said than done, however. I recently started delving full-speed ahead into Pinterest.

2014 – Nailed it!

(Ambiguity intended.)

Frederick’s Birth Story

Hanging on for dear life.

Hanging on for dear life.

On Wednesday morning, November 5th, at about three o’clock in the morning, I woke up with contractions. These were not the same contractions that I’d been having for the past several weeks; these were painful. Regular, but not – I’d have one, then wait fifteen minutes, then I’d have another one, then wait twenty minutes, etc. Right away adrenaline coursed through my veins. Could today be the day? I wasn’t ready! I was sick with a rotten cold that my kids so kindly shared with me; my first cold in months. My throat burned; my nose was congested. I was miserable. I couldn’t fathom going into labor while sick.

I waited about an hour and a half before calling the midwifery answering service. I couldn’t stay in bed since I wasn’t sleeping, and pacing around the house felt better anyway. The midwife on call rang back about five minutes later and asked me a few questions, yawning between sentences. “Well, it could just be dehydration from being sick,” she said, and suggested I take some Benadryl to help ease me back to sleep. I don’t even think I had any Benadryl in the house, but it was clear that she didn’t think there was anything serious going on yet. Still, she reassured me that I could call back any time if things changed, or if I was concerned at all. We hung up, and I heaved myself back into bed to try and catch a few more winks.

My alarm went off at six, as is customary for a school day, and in a zombie-like state I moved around the kitchen, handing a banana to a grouchy toddler, finally enlisting Daniel for some assistance. I was still in pain, and running a low fever, and though I didn’t have much of an appetite, I thought it would be wise to eat just in case I needed the energy later. Connor and Adrienne boarded their respective buses and I switched on Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood for Eleanor, and promptly conked out on the couch for the next several hours, dozing intermittently. I was keeping track of the frequency, duration, and pain intensity level of the contractions, and they seemed to be slowing down quite a bit. My biggest fear was being left alone – Daniel was supposed to leave for a photo shoot in Skaneateles, over an hour away, and was scheduled to work his Wednesday night shift after that. “You can’t go,” I told him, and so he didn’t. For most of the afternoon and evening, I stayed on the couch, sleeping, drinking water, watching episodes of “Chopped” on Netflix and catching up on New Yorker articles, all with a looming sense of fear and dread. I wasn’t ready.

At bedtime I was restless; I was still contracting, and a few of them were intense enough that I had to stop and breathe through the pain. Around 11:30pm I got out of bed and decided to put a few things together for the hospital, just in case. I threw a jar of peanut butter and a package of rice cakes into a bag; I printed an information sheet for my mother-in-law Kathie who would be staying with the three kids, and quadrupled-checked to make sure there were baby clothes in my suitcase. I can’t say I was thinking particularly clearly at this moment, but in retrospect my actions were certainly heightened by the true onset of labor. After a little while I settled back into bed, only to be awoken around 2:30am with a contraction that made me leap out of bed. It lasted almost five minutes and when it was over, I was shaking from head to toe. Once again, I timed the next hour of contractions, which came regularly every fifteen minutes or so – not quickly enough to warrant jumping into the car, but enough that I started thinking this was really it.

I called the answering service again. It was the same midwife on call (?!) who phoned me back. This time she told me to fill up the bathtub with warm water and see if that would stop the false contractions. For some reason this annoyed me tremendously and I fought back the urge to holler at her. I still didn’t have much of a speaking voice, though, and I figured indignantly squeaking at her wouldn’t have the desired effect, so I mumbled something about giving it a try, maybe. The last thing I wanted to do at four o’clock in the morning was lower my whale-like self into a bath. I hung up and crawled, defeated, back to bed. During all of this I was reluctant to wake my slumbering, oblivious husband, because I knew he needed rest, too, for what was about to come.

Once again I was reminded of how lonely the birthing hours are, and I stayed half-awake for the next couple of hours, having semi-regular, strong contractions every 10-15 minutes. The kids got up for school, and I could tell Adrienne especially was worried about me, so I decided to keep my pacing restricted to the bedroom and bathroom. Food was not going to be an option today, which was a big red flag. After Connor and Adrienne were gone, Daniel went ahead and filled up the bathtub and helped me into it, thinking it might at the very least distract me from the almost constant pain. Eleanor found this hilarious.

“You taking a bath?” she inquired, and proceeded to spend the next several minutes offering me bath toys. I’ve gotta say, nothing beats being in the stages of early labor and having your two-year-old throw a rubber duckie at you.

It was marvelous. I stayed in the tub for over half an hour, and while I was in there I decided that no matter what, I was going into the hospital that morning. I might not be following the textbook “contractions every five minutes lasting 60-90 seconds,” but I just had this gut feeling that it was time to go. Not to mention I had an overwhelming fear that if I waited too long, I’d be afraid to get into the car. Kathie came over shortly to collect Eleanor for the day, and we told her it was time. I called the midwifery office again, and they said to head on over to Highland Hospital.

As a side note, car rides when you are in labor are probably the worst thing ever, besides the actual labor.

At my request, I asked Daniel to drop me off at the door. No medals for bravery this time – I wanted the damn wheelchair. A very sweet gentleman took me upstairs to the Labor and Delivery unit, where I was left at the admissions desk in front of a not-so-very sweet woman. I wasn’t in the system, she told me. My pre-admission paperwork hadn’t been received, the paperwork I’d sent in nearly two months ago.

As another side note, there are few things more discouraging and downright inhumane than paperwork and medical bureaucracy when you are in labor.

Off to triage, where I was met by a very nice nurse named Mariah, and Daniel arrived shortly thereafter laden with bags, his camera, and the f@$&ing clipboard containing a new admissions form. I was five centimeters dilated, HOORAY!, which meant I was staying put. Once again I experienced the joy of having tiny veins while poor Mariah struggled to get an IV inserted (“Do I really need that?” “Yes, just in case.” *sigh* “Fine.”) and drew some blood, which took multiple tries. I started feeling dizzy and nauseated, which was enough to get her to stop poking at me for a little while. It was approximately 10:30am by the time I entered the delivery room.

Now, at this point things started to get somewhat hazy. I was having regular contractions, not super-close together, but they were painful. And I was terrified. I asked Melinda, one of the midwives who had met me in triage, what my pain options were. Please understand that in my previous labors, I had never even considered drugs for pain. I was strictly ALL NATURAL, thank you very much, so don’t even try to talk me into it. But here I was, asking for drugs. She mentioned some narcotic that could be administered, and with my usual nosiness I asked what the pros and cons would be.

“Well, it will take some of the edge off of the pain…but won’t eliminate it entirely. You’ll probably start feeling some dizziness right away, and you’ll feel pretty out of it. Oh, and it might slow down your contractions…which are pretty irregular anyway…”

Yeah, no thanks. I couldn’t imagine feeling any more out of it already. Bring on the heating packs, cold compresses, and counter-pressure against my lower back. Once I’d planted myself in the bed, I had no desire to move ever again.

I breathed. I groaned, in my hoarse cold-wracked voice, and tried to focus on the Brahms sextets that Daniel had put on for me to listen to. “They’re out of order,” he told me. “Spotify won’t let you play the movements in order.” I assured him that was the least of my worries at the moment.

There were a couple of interesting things I remember from the next few hours. I decided that the last thing I wanted on my skin was a hospital gown, so VAVOOM! there’s a pregnant, laboring mama in her birthday suit on the delivery bed. If you’ve ever given birth before, I think it’s pretty safe to say that modesty flies out the window. I also remember consciously trying to stay in the moment, because I was acutely aware that this was my last birth. Don’t get me wrong – I didn’t necessarily want to remember the excruciating pain, but I wanted to be as present as possible. I wanted to talk to my baby boy, hanging out down there with his heart beating as strong as ever, absolutely no distress at all, and tell him I was working as hard as I could to get him out. I told myself over and over again that my body knew what to do, and I pictured every contraction as a way to help with that process. It didn’t make it hurt any less, but it really helped me cope with the pain. And I don’t remember being able to do that with my previous three births.

I don’t think I ever had what would be considered those “textbook” contractions, but I do know that I started feeling the urge to push, and when Michele (new midwife – it was a busy, full moon delivery day, I guess) checked me again, I was 9 1/2 centimeters, which is basically saying GO FOR IT. So I did. And for the first time I felt like getting out of the fetal position I’d been in for the past three hours, and decided I needed to be on my hands and knees. I’m not gonna lie – for a split second I felt very bovine-like, but hey, cows give birth all the time, right?

There wasn’t much humor here, honestly, and I realize my attempts to be funny are simply efforts to mask the enormity of what was happening to my physical body at that moment. When you are being told to push, and you push harder than you thought humanly possible, and you can feel that baby’s head dropping down where it’s supposed to be, and then suddenly the contraction is over and he’s still not out and you’re dripping with sweat, and breathing like you’ve just sprinted a mile, and know that you have to muster up some more energy in another minute or two and do it all over again – that’s labor. I kept moaning “I can’t do it…I can’t do this…” and Michele, Mariah, and Daniel would all immediately respond in perfect unison “Yes, you CAN!” The half of a banana I’d managed to choke down at 8:30 was still sitting in my throat; my mouth was drier than it had ever been, despite repeated sips of water. It felt like hours, but in reality I pushed for about twenty minutes. Out he came, in a surge of earthly goop and flailing arms, one of which was nestled up next to his face. I heard a raspy little cry (not too unlike the sounds I was making at this point), and there he was!

Frederick Charles Fischer was born at 3:01pm, about five hours after I arrived at the hospital. Good thing I hadn’t waited for those “regular” contractions.

He was perfect. I was spent. Daniel cut the cord, I think; someone placed a hat upon Frederick’s head and laid him upon my chest. He was about thirteen different shades of skin color (peach! red! purple! blue! grey!), but what stood out the most were his bright red, pouty lips, like he’d been sucking on candy. The nurses took him briefly from me to weigh and measure him – 9 pounds, 2.2 ounces, 22.75 inches long. He didn’t seem that big to me at all; he seemed tiny and helpless and other-worldly. We settled in for our first nursing session; it took him several tries to get a good latch going, but once he was on, we were good to go.

Daniel's smitten.

Daniel’s smitten.

For the next several hours, we did the usual postpartum routine – Mama got cleaned up, Frederick was wiped down a bit, footprinted, pricked, given the slimy eye ointment, and handed back to us. We were brought to our room in a timely fashion, and as soon as it was humanly possible I started shoving calories into my gullet. I was RAVENOUS. Who cared if the graham crackers had honey in them? Who cared if ginger ale is one hundred percent pure sugar? FEED ME. My nurse brought me peanut butter, saltines, and a dinner menu. As far as hospital food goes, Highland isn’t terrible; I could have eaten four of the black bean burgers they brought me.

DSF_0126

The evening dissolved into nighttime; Daniel was exhausted and kept dozing off. I was wired. Frederick and I continued our breastfeeding lessons; Merideth, my night-shift nurse, was a dear and made her presence known without being the least bit intrusive, though she kept politely refusing my repeated requests to remove the IV from the back of my hand, saying that it had to remain in for twenty-four hours “just in case.” I finally convinced her to take it out around three o’clock in the morning because it was interfering with my sleep. Which was a total lie, because I couldn’t really hunker down and SLEEP if I wanted to, and I’m sure she knew that, but she smiled at me and did it anyway.

"Sleep? Who needs sleep?"

“Sleep? Who needs sleep?”

I was already set on going home the day after Frederick was born. I was in virtually no pain, which was no small thing, and a strange anomaly I’d experienced after Eleanor’s birth as well. Frederick had a clean bill of health, and aside from needing a weight check over the weekend, he was good to go. I also knew that I would sleep a thousand times better at home, in my own bed, with my Bewley’s Irish Breakfast tea and soy milk to greet me the next morning instead of crummy hospital coffee. Most of all, I was anxious for Frederick’s siblings to meet their new baby brother.

"That a baby!"

“That a baby!”

The introduction did not disappoint.

So here we find ourselves, Daniel and I, the parents of now-four wonderfully energetic, bright, and beautiful children. I’m under no false pretenses – these next several months are going to be nothing but exhausting. Yet I catch a glimpse of the joys it will bring as well, on a day like today where the school kids are home, the sun is out and the temperatures are warm, and Frederick must be having his first growth spurt, because he’s done nothing but sleep and eat for the past twenty-four hours. I’ve been able to write this, and I EVEN GOT TO TAKE AN UNINTERRUPTED SHOWER.

Labor. Work, indeed.

Scary Stuff.

You’d think that by baby number four, I’d have this labor & delivery business down like a pro. “Been there, done that!” you say? HA!

Connor was almost two weeks early when my water broke on June 30th; he was born the next morning. Adrienne’s due date was December 21st; I went into labor around 5:00 the morning of the 20th and she was born about 7 1/2 hours later (I made it to the hospital an hour and a half before she was born). Eleanor was several days late and I chose to go ahead with an induction, thanks to her potentially gargantuan size. So as you can see, three babies, all completely different. I have absolutely no idea what to expect.

For the past 2-3 months, almost every night without fail, before I fall asleep, I lie in bed on either my right side (common) or left side (not common; Baby F likes to hang out in the left womb quadrant, and he’s too heavy at this point for that position to be comfortable), and I have flashbacks. I have vivid recollections of what labor pains feel like – the seizing grip of contractions, being completely powerless in the moment, waiting during the moments of respite for it to begin again. And there’s the terrifying fear that my body will betray me and something will go wrong and I’ll wind up on the operating table, machines beeping and oxygen flowing and “THE BABY!” and…and…and…

Part of me says “You know, you COULD have an epidural and save yourself some agony.” Yeah. I could. I have contemplated the use of painkillers in labor more during this pregnancy than any other. Maybe I feel I’ve “served my sentence” in a way, with three previous drug-free labors (well, Pitocin counts as a drug, I guess, but not in a pain-killing sense, as Pitocin is a terrible, horrible pain-INDUCING drug and I never, ever, EVER want to experience the horror of Pitocin-induced labor ever again, but I digress). Why suffer? this voice wants to convince me. Yet I’m not convinced. Everything I have read about epidurals suggests that I want absolutely no part of a needle anywhere NEAR my spinal column, and anything that will suppress my ability to feel what’s going on down south, especially when it comes to pushing, seems like a terrible idea. I’m not saying they’re bad for everyone; many women I’ve talked with have had tremendous relief during an exhausting labor after an epidural placement. But I just can’t do it.

Another fear I cannot shake – what is life going to be like after Baby F arrives? With my other pregnancies, my children were older. There’s 4 1/2 years between them – age 11, 6, and 2. Connor and Adrienne could dress themselves, grab a bowl of cereal if needed, take care of their bathroom needs, and entertain themselves (albeit briefly). Now I’ll have a 2-year-old who still takes naps, wears a diaper at nap time and bedtime, and requires assistance going to the bathroom, getting clean and dressed. And she needs cuddles and constant attention, too. The two older kids children need rides to music lessons and church activities, help with homework, and constant conflict mediation. Add to the mix all of the chores and daily routines of running our household plus a photography business on broken sleep at age 37 and I’m starting to have heart palpitations. HOW AM I GONNA DO IT ALL?

I’m not even going to pretend that I or anyone can resolve these fears. I know that tonight, after the kids are in bed with their tummies and teeth full of Halloween sugar, I’ll get into my bed (clean sheets, YAY!), turn out the lights, close my eyes, and it will all rise to the surface again like some undead ghoul. My husband can hold me and tell me he’ll help however he can, but he feels that any attempt to help me during labor will be inadequate. I’ll try to reassure him that it will be enough knowing he’s there for me…but how lonely those birthing hours can be, despite being surrounded by people who are there to help. All I can do is reach into my strength reserves; the same ones that pushed me to finish a half-marathon a little over a year ago (which is a slightly different scenario, because if you REALLY MUST QUIT a race, you can!). I have done this childbirth thing three times before and survived, and I have the proof in two things: these three-almost-four wonderfully perplexing creatures that call me Mom, and this belly that will never, ever be flat again no matter what I do.

Won’t be much longer now.

Children in Church

This is an open letter to a woman who sat in front of us in church this morning; a woman whose name I do not know, and quite possibly will never know, but who managed to change the entire tone of our otherwise pleasant Sunday morning with just a few words.

In the moments after the church service, when the benediction response has been sung and the organ postlude begins, it is customary for us to greet those who are sitting around us with a handshake and a “Good morning.” We shook hands with a few other folks, and I extended my hand to you as you turned around. Instead of the expected “Good morning” or “Hello,” you said the following words to my husband, my daughter, and me:

“I wish you’d use the child care room. I couldn’t hear anything when she was talking.”

That was it. Nothing else. Daniel and I stood there, speechless, while we tried to think of a response.

So now that my initial shock has worn off, and my emotions have run the gamut from embarrassed and ashamed to angry, I’d like to say a few words to you. Unfortunately I couldn’t think of anything to say to you directly, as is often the case when a person behaves in such an unexpected manner, and since you were candid about your feelings towards our presence in church, I’d like to let you know just how hurtful and thoughtless your comment was to our family.

We sat behind you and your husband, and though we arrived a few moments late as usual, there was nothing particularly disruptive about our entrance. The older kids went off to the newly-placed quiet table underneath the balcony, and our two-year-old daughter Eleanor stayed with us, as is quite customary. We have tried taking advantage of the nursery care that is offered most Sunday mornings; however Eleanor spends the majority of the time crying for us until we return, one time to the point where I had to be called during a service to come and get her. So we’re taking a break from the nursery for a little while, since she’s at the age where she’s usually quiet enough to be in the sanctuary for the duration of the service. We feed her crackers and juice and use the provided crayons and clipboards to keep her occupied, and for the most part, she’s awesome. If she gets noisy or fussy or rambunctious, one of us takes her outside, but it is our firm belief that kids learn how to behave in church by BEING IN CHURCH, not by being shuttled away to some hidden room far away from the sanctuary, to be seen and heard during coffee hour afterwards but most definitely not during services.

Eleanor was fantastic during the service today. A little bit of conversation, but she didn’t cry once, and she wasn’t nonstop-chatter like she can be sometimes. I think this is why your comment was so jarring to us, because in my mind, our two-year-old just sat through an hour-long “boring” church service without any fuss. Instead of rejoicing in our presence, you essentially told us that she was not welcome there, and by default, WE were not welcome. At church. At a Morelight Presbyterian church, no less, which defines itself by insisting upon the acceptance and participation of all of God’s people.

Well.

I’m afraid that you and I must strongly disagree in how church and reality are integrated, for one thing, and with a rift that severe, I’m not sure that anything I have to say will make much of a difference. I understand that for many people from older generations, children in church are a nuisance and distract from the important goings-on at the altar, and spiritual focus, and heartfelt prayer, and so on. I understand that for many people, church on Sunday morning is their respite from the busyness of everyday life; a chance for quiet, uninterrupted reflection and meditation on the word of God. Because I am aware of this, and because I’m not completely insensitive to those sitting around us, when my child/children are being noisy or disruptive, I remove them from the service, just as I would remove them from a concert, or a play, or any other venue where they are expected to sit quietly. I am not the parent who lets their child run around the sanctuary, dropping bibles and hymnals and screeching for this and that while turning a blind eye, so for that, be thankful. But I’d also like a chance at a few quiet moments of respite from worldly matters, too, and I want to attend church with my family. So I think we have every right to experience the same spiritual offerings as everyone else.

I am sorry that you have difficulty hearing what is being said during the church service, and it must be awful to feel what I can only surmise as helpless in that situation. Since you felt obligated to tell us what we should have done with our daughter, I could have retorted that there are plenty of closer pews in which you could have sat so that you could hear the service better. Or I could have, in the spirit of your words, said something like “I wish you would use hearing aids, so you were less grouchy about having a family sitting behind you in church.” But that would have been equally unkind, and wouldn’t have served any purpose other than to continue the negativity that was spun in the air this morning.

This is not the first time that we have been reprimanded by someone in the congregation for having kids present during church services, but it was the first time where we were treated with outright rudeness. I love our church and everything it has to offer; one of the reasons I knew it was the right place for us is, ironically, the outstanding children’s ministry program. I doubt that you folks who complain about noisy kids are the ones who are saddened over dwindling church membership, but I must ask you: where do you think the future of the church lies? In the hands of our children, that’s where. In order for them to be passionate and excited about church, they need to BE THERE, participating, learning the ropes, so to speak. They need to know they are welcome, always.

What if we had been a new family, visiting for the first time? I think we would have turned on our heels and never returned. Maybe that’s what you want, and if so, that is so completely opposite of what Jesus would have wanted, and, frankly, what the rest of the body of the church would want. Fortunately(?), we aren’t going anywhere, so if you do find yourself in our proximity again, I hope we have a second chance for a more Christ-oriented greeting.

Most sincerely,
A soon-to-be-even-more-frazzled mother of four, doing the best she can to keep it all together, especially on Sunday mornings during the summer where everyone has to be out of the house an hour earlier.