Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Can't Blame These Blues on an Ice Cream Recall

The thing about the postpartum journey is that it is wildly unpredictable. In my experience, one day is great and the next day is a disaster. One day I'm energized and the next day I'm curled up in a ball, unable to take advantage of baby's naptime to sleep or tidy the house because my brain won't shut off and my emotions are all over the place.

Daily joke/cartoon from laughter, funny, jokes, cartoon, positive, books, mental health, depression, bipolar disorder, health, women, stress, mental illness, stigma, medication, faith, book reviews, Prozac, postpartum depression, anxiety, OCD, pros, cons, therapy, roller coaster, teacup ride, emotional:

I've consulted with a therapist and I take a weekly mental health inventory to keep tabs on myself. I've been reading Brene Brown's brilliant books and have had some very vulnerable conversations with other mamas who have boldly shared their experience. I'm thankful for that tribe.

I've been struggling with a mild case of postpartum depression, There are certain things that have triggered the blues including house remodel frustrations (a project that was supposed to be done before baby arrived), the death of my grandmother two weeks after baby arrived, homesickness for Colorado and family, and what has proven to be the biggest trigger, which is talking about my birth story.

The first time I had a monstrous wave of sadness was 6 weeks postpartum when I went to a "swap" at the birthing center. These are awesome gatherings where families can bring outgrown clothes and duplicate items to swap with other families who can put them to use. It's also a chance for much needed socialization and getting out of the house.

I saw another mama there whom I had met in the prenatal yoga class. She and I were pretty regular attendees, and I always enjoyed seeing her, though we never connected outside of class. She was still pregnant at the swap, and I think she was due in about 2 weeks. She was delighted to see my baby and that she finally arrived. She recalled being anxious for me as I came to class at 40 weeks...and then 40+2...and then 41 weeks. She asked when the baby finally arrived and I told her 41+6, just under the wire of the 42 week limit when the birthing center automatically refers women to the hospital. Before I could say anymore, like how I did wind up at the hospital and finally a C-section, the other mama said "Oh good! Well the most important thing is that you had her here at the birthing center. I'm so happy for you!" To which I said something like "Yeah, it's great." and then moved on to look at the items available at the swap. I had such an overwhelming wave of shame cloud over me that I couldn't even continue the conversation. I'm sure she figured I was just sleep deprived, which I was.

I absolutely love the birthing center and wouldn't change anything about my decision to receive care there, and I was fortunate to be in a group of very non-judgemental mamas for our birthing/childcare prep class. But I think the birthing center tends to attract a certain clientele that is highly opinionated about "natural" birthing. Many birthing center mamas tend to lean heavily toward vaginal/no drug births, breast is best, anti-circumcision, anti-immunizations, pro-organic and non-GMO. Everything else is considered poor parenting.

It think it is fine for people to feel strongly about these issues and to point toward evidence-based research (so long as it isn't a Jenny McCarthy book), but there needs to be room for grace. A lot of grace. And a realization that sometimes things don't go as planned, and sometimes there is a lot that is out of our control. And maybe, just maybe, every parent is doing the best they can and making the decisions that works the best for their family.

7 months postpartum, I still get bummed out about how labor and birthing went for me. I'll occasionally see an article about how C-section babies are at risk for health problems later in life and how they might not be as emotionally bonded to mama because they didn't get immediate skin-to-skin contact.

But then I look at other mamas who have had their babies via C-section. And they're phenomenal. Some of the best mamas I know had their babies via C-section and I've never thought their children were negatively affected by their entry to the world. Then I look at my own baby and wonder what it would be like if I were anymore bonded and in love with her. I can't even fathom it. When I realize this, I find myself embracing my birth story and empowered by it. I take pride in the fact that I'm a member of a tribe that had a difficult journey but has come through stronger in the end. There are still challenging days, but reflecting on all of this has helped me out of that dark place of postpartum depression and better able to appreciate this new role I find myself in.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Baby vs Cat

I'm going to cheat tonight because my brain is too tired to write anything coherent.

Here is a hilarious comic that perfectly describes parenthood:

Baby Vs. Cat

Monday, October 26, 2015

Mamas in Ministry

This weekend I went to a Presbytery meeting where lots of interesting things happened. And lots of not-so-interesting things happened. But at least there was a cute baby (mine) crawling around on the floor on the second day, after deciding she'd do better staying with me rather than in daycare for day two. I don't know how breastfeeding mamas do it, with working full time and putting kiddo in daycare. I can't figure out how to pump on the go without making it awkward for others!

One of the highlights of the meeting was seeing a friend and former classmate advance on in the ordination process. She eloquently spoke about her vocation journey thus far and at the very end she briefly mentioned that being a woman and a mother gave her a unique perspective in ministry. I so wanted to ask her more about it, but I was nursing my little one at the time and couldn't figure out a way to walk up to the microphone without revealing one or both of my breasts in front of 250 people.

But my mind kept fixating on this idea that being a woman and being a mother does indeed offer us a unique perspective in ministry. Not to say that men and child-free folks don't make good pastors, but I think there is something wonderful about this particular social situation that informs how we go about doing ministry. I so wanted her to share more in front of everyone because it is such an important topic to discuss! Especially in a Presbytery where I have yet to hear a woman preach at a meeting...

Friday, October 23, 2015

In the Care of Strangers

Tonight I write from a motel room with baby girl asleep and rains encroaching on the town from hurricane Patricia. Thankfully this hotel has a door in between the bed area and the sink area, so the little one is tucked away in her own "room" while I'm out here trying to put words together for Sunday. My brain is so tired right now, I think I've started and stopped writing this sermon about 10 times now. Looks like it will be another Saturday night preacher party for me tomorrow.

I'm away from home at a Presbytery meeting and because baby is still breastfeeding, she gets to tag along too. Today was her first experience in a daycare setting with other kiddos. Turns out she does not nap when other kids are around, which made for a major meltdown when we got to the motel tonight. Sorry, neighbors on the other side of the wall.

This was the second time I've left her in the hands of someone whom I just met. The first was a few weeks ago when we left her with babysitter in our hotel while we went to a wedding. Today I left her with a woman who was caring for 4 other children at the same time.

I'd like to think I was pretty chill about both situations, but on the inside I was screaming "PLEASE UNDERSTAND HOW MUCH I LOVE THIS CHILD AND DON'T WANT ANYTHING TO HAPPEN TO HER!" I have to say it's pretty weird to be on this side of the exchange, after years and years of babysitting kids as a teenager. And as a pre-teen. Remember when it was acceptable to leave your children with the 12 year old from down the street? I was a pretty mature 12 year old, but still. I'm pretty sure there are 12 year olds today who can't stay at home alone without a babysitter.

I remember those nervous parents who got all worked up leaving their kids in my care. I'd laugh because with the exception of one time when a kiddo broke her arm while under my care, nothing usually happened and the kids were perfectly fine.

Today I left my kiddo in the care of this perfectly lovely woman who didn't speak English and probably didn't understand what I meant when I said I'd be back to nurse baby at 2pm, since she fed baby a 6 ounce bottle of "emergency only milk" right before I got there, causing some major discomfort for me when baby wouldn't nurse at all.

So between engorgement issues and a mind worried about baby, I had a hard time focusing at the Presbytery meeting today. I'm sure I'll reach a point where I look forward to the days of dropping kiddo off at daycare, but for now it feels a bit like I've torn off a piece of myself handed it to someone who doesn't really care about it as much as I do.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Fresh Air, Fresh Perspective

I just spent a few days in Colorado visiting family and opted not to blog while there. I didn't bring my computer with me, partly because Frontier charges up the wazoo for every item you bring on the plane. But I also just wanted to be present while spending time there. While I enjoy writing, it feels like a task, especially when I'm challenged to blog every day this month. A break from it was pretty nice.

When I was there I found myself inhaling as much fresh air as I could. I know Denver has that brown cloud of nasty pollution, but the air there just seems more fresh than here in Texas. Plus, it is fall there. Like, real fall with colors and chilly mornings. I have to admit it was a bit hard to leave yesterday.

I also found myself gaining a fresh perspective on babycare. I absolutely love my kiddo, but there are days when taking care of her is painfully monotonous. Somedays it feels like all I do is feed her and try to get her to sleep. Somewhere in there I get work done preparing for Sunday, but often that is scattered in between all of the baby needs.

I think I reached a point of being over it.

But when I watched my parents and my brother and my sister-in-law interact with my little one, I was given this fresh perspective on just how amazing she is. I was filled with wonder as I watched her play the same games she plays here at our house, but seeing other people react to them reminded me of just how fun they are. Hearing her make the same annoying noise that she currently loves was different there because there were other people to laugh at it and comment on how ridiculous it is.

And I don't know what it is about people in airports, but they are so gracious and kind to me as I travel with baby. As annoying as it is to lug the diaper bag and gear through the airport and as challenging as it is to keep baby contained for the 2 hour flight, it all seems worth it just to interact with strangers who marvel at her and offer to help me with my bags. It's such a beautiful glimpse of humanity at its best.

So for now, my lungs are clinging to the vestiges of Colorado air and my heart is filled with a new sense of wonderment toward this little child I've been given stewardship of. I'm hoping this lasts a while.

Friday, October 16, 2015

My Crawling Mirror

As I wrote yesterday, my body has been transformed by pregnancy and childbirth. In some weird ways and some good ways.

There are days when I get bummed out about this. My insecurities get the better of me and I fall into the body image depths of despair. I start to critique all of my features. I start to wonder how others view me. Do they see the same flaws that I do?

A few weeks ago I was in the company of a few women who had recently had children. The topic of breasts came up and one by one they each stated they have plans to get a breast lift once they are done have children and breastfeeding. They all said it so casually, as though they were ordering a vanilla latte at the coffee shop. My eyes sort of grew wide and I wasn't sure what to say. I didn't know this was a thing. Like a pretty common thing, apparently.

That night I Googled common plastic surgeries after childbirth. Here is what came up:

  • Mastopexy - breast lift
  • Abdominoplasty - tummy tuck
  • Umbilicoplasty - belly button surgery
  • Liposuction - get rid of the fat
So many options! How does one decide?

I'll admit, there are days when I'd love a little plastic surgery to touch up some of those rough areas.

But then I look at my daughter. And I realize that all of my decisions impact her. What does it say to her when I get caught in a shame-spiral of  critiquing my body? What kind of an impression will I make on her if I'm constantly criticizing myself for this body that carried a child and bore life? 

I know that body image issues are a vicious cycle, passed down from generation to generation. Yes, we're slammed by the media with images of super skinny women with flawless skin and incredible hair. We see celebrity mamas who look terrific just weeks after giving birth. But even more detrimental than the media is when we hear our own mamas and aunts and teachers and neighbors talk about how ugly they feel and how they hate certain parts of their bodies. 

I don't want that for my daughter. I don't want her to hear me talk down about myself and then turn and do the same to herself. I want her to feel proud of her body and see it as an incredible gift. I want her to be courageous and strong, not insecure and self-hating. 

When my 6 month old daughter looks at me, she doesn't see an ugly pooch of skin and fat hanging over my C-section scar. She sees this wonderful platform on which she can stand and be able to look into my eyes. We have some entertaining conversations while she stands on that C-shelf, and sometimes I imagine her doing a dance on it. In my daydream she has a top hat and tap shoes.

I'm thankful for this crawling mirror, who keeps me in check and reminds me of the important things. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Pain in the Belly

It goes without saying that pregnancy and childbirth change a woman's body. Her body goes from taking care of itself, requiring a normal number of calories to function which results in a normal amount of output.

Totally unrelated, did anyone else giggle at Clinton's potty joke during the debate the other night? She's simultaneously putting cracks in the glass ceiling AND normalizing bathroom woes for women. Plus potty jokes are just funny.

Anyway. Like I said, a woman can eat a relatively normal amount of food and expect to go to the bathroom a normal number of times each day. Come pregnancy, all of that changes. Each pregnancy is different, but most women experience bouts of extreme appetite at times and no appetite at other times. And toward the end of the pregnancy, when all of her organs are squished by the baby, she'll likely be peeing 1,000 times a day. And not a normal amount of pee, but a few drops. And then she'll stand up and have to pee again.

The struggle is real.

I don't really miss that season of pregnancy.

Even when the belly deflates after the baby comes out, things are different. And kind of weird. I know I'll never look and feel like I did prior to baby, but I'm a little concerned about the this issues that seem to be permanent fixtures now. Primarily in the abdomen region. Thanks to the C-section, that area is vexed with constant soreness and pain when my pants are too tight. My pants always seem to be too tight.

Although I now weigh a little less than I did when I got pregnant, none of my clothes fit the way they used to. My feet grew half a size and my shirts are tight in the bust. But my pants. My pants are the worst. Fitted waistbands are of the devil. They cut into my belly right where the doctor cut into me. So there's pressure and discomfort all of the time.

I think it's because I now have what is fondly referred to as a "C-shelf." It's this flab of skin that just sort of camps out right above my incision. That extra bulge adds extra pressure on my waistbands making it all so very uncomfortable. Either it's that, or someone snuck into our house and tailored all of my pants so they are just a few inches smaller in the waist. It could have happened. I was pretty out of it those first few weeks, especially when I was on codeine.

So pants stink.

And now that baby is super active and wiggly, one of her favorite activities is to stand in my lap and then crawl up my belly. The C-shelf makes for a perfect little platform for her to stand upon. It is two parts adorable and one part ouch.

I've heard from some fellow C-mamas that the pain never really goes away. The achiness becomes forever stamped on their bellies.

When I get bummed out about this, I just remind myself that it could be a lot worse. Had labor gone on for days, I could have suffered from an obstetric fistula, a condition that way too many women suffer from all over the world because they don't have C-sections as an option. I'll take an achy belly any day over that.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Crazy Bag Lady

I struggle with the amount of things I have to take with me every time I leave the house these days.

If I have baby in tow, the diaper bag must be equipped with all of the necessary things. Diapers, wipes, burp clothes, an extra change of clothes. It's a lot, but it doesn't compare to the number of things I need when I leave the house without her.

When it is just me, especially when I am going to work, I feel like the crazy bag lady with all of my gear in hand. There's the usual stuff like my computer bag, planner, various books. Plus a packed lunch which is about twice as big as it was even when I was pregnant. Breastfeeding causes a huge boost in appetite, since it requires about 500 extra calories per day. So I feel like I pack half of our pantry for every meal.

Breastfeeding humor- HUNGER!!! Bwahaha I was like that with Rocco. ALWAYS EATING!!:

And then there's the breastpump bag, which includes various parts and pieces which make the process work. This also requires a cooler of some sort with freezer packs to keep the milk cold. If I forget one tiny little valve or don't bring enough bottles, I'm screwed because I work in a town that doesn't even have a Wal-Mart, so finding extra supplies is a 40 minute trip. Not exactly how I want to be spending my time.

I have found that I'm rather good about making sure I have all of the right pieces, especially after that one Sunday when I went to work and left the entire bag, breast pump and all, on the counter at home. It's a miracle there wasn't an explosion of milk by the time I gave the benediction.

But inevitably I will forget something at home. Like yesterday when I forgot my sunglasses, Fitbit, and wallet. It made for a rather squinty day of uncredited steps and thankfulness that I had a full tank of gas.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Identity Crisis

The first time I left the house without baby was when I was asked to be a panelist at an event for graduating seniors at my seminary. We were asked questions about our transition from seminary to first jobs/calls, highlighting what went well and what we struggled with.

I couldn't even remember what I did straight out of seminary.

My brain was so fried at that point, I was lucky to string a few coherent words together. I remember listening to my 2 colleagues who were also on the panel, and I was blown away by how eloquently they spoke. They remembered details about their first months out of school and were able to speak at length about the joys and challenges of ministry. That had such sage wisdom to offer these soon-to-be pastors and chaplains and social workers.

And there I sat, wondering if I'd be able to speak that well again, hoping I remembered to brush my hair and, praying I wouldn't start leaking breast milk. When introduced for the panel, the professor did mention that I had just had a baby, so hopefully people understood why I was such a mess. If not, perhaps they just thought I was some looney pastor who fell victim to burnout too soon.

The next time I went out without baby was for my part time job demoing chocolate at Whole Foods. This was the first time I found myself in a context where no one knew I'd just had a baby. It was sort of jolting to find myself in that context, since my whole world for the past 2 months had revolved around this change to motherhood. I found myself struggling with the identity of "woman" without "mother" attached to it. It took me half the demo to find my rhythm and remember how to interact with people who weren't going through the same experience as I was with a newborn, or who didn't care that I'd just had a baby.

I am now 6 months into motherhood and still find myself struggling in situations where baby isn't present or isn't mentioned. It is such a confusing and bizarre experience to want autonomy and independence, but also finding myself really enjoying my baby and my role as her mother.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Never Will I Ever

Prior to becoming a parent, I had all sorts of notions about how parenting would go. I felt pretty confident about the decision I would make and just knew I'd stick to my guns.

Oh how things changed when baby came along.

All of those ideas seemed great in theory, but then reality hits and plans have to change. I found that some things just aren't realistic, while others just take way too much energy, which I currently don't have. Here are a few examples:

Never will I one of those mothers who is checking Facebook while nursing baby.

I totally thought I'd be the type to use each nursing session as a chance to pray or just gaze at my precious child. Soak in those sacred moments. But in those early days, when not sleeping, I was basically nursing all of the time. I think I lasted all of 2 days before I gave in and started to check Facebook and Buzzfeed and anything else that reminded me that something else was happening in the world besides not sleeping and sore nipples.

Never will I

It's dangerous! the books said. Your baby will die! the internet forums told me. So I thought I would never bring baby into our bed to sleep through the night. During that first week home when I was trying to make up for lost contact in the hospital, I was basically giving baby skin-to-skin contact for 24 hours a day. My husband was (willingly) sleeping on the couch at the point, so I didn't fear him rolling over on her. And I was hypervigilant that there was a baby next time me, so I only really half slept to make sure I didn't crush her. Later on there were nights when it was just easier to bring baby into the bed, rather than deal with the very frequent wakeups. This practice has since stopped since we sleep trained her. Which brings us to...

Never will I ever...let my baby cry it out.

I plan to devote a whole post to this topic later this month, but for now I will say that this was one of the most surprising changes in attitude that I have had. Before baby came, I thought there was no way I could let her cry it out. I'd heard it could scar her for life. But then I did some reading. And I realized what we had been doing (nursing/rocking her to sleep and putting her in her crib super gently, only to have wake up balling the moment her head touched the mattress) was not working. She was exhausted from the sleep struggles and I was getting super frustrated with the process. So we spent a week "Ferberizing" our child and have had (mostly) awesome nights of sleep ever since.

Never will I ever...fill my daughter's world with pink.

I don't want to gender her before she's able to form her own identity, I thought. But then I realized pink is a really great color. I even painted a wall in her room a rosy pink because it looks so nice with a quilt my mom made. Now I'm much more open to pink and lace and frilly dresses. It's not that I want to force her to be "girly" it's that I want her to know she looks awesome when she wears frilly pink things and when she wears more masculine things. I hate that our society labels all things "girly" as inferior or weak or stupid. Why is it cool when we dress our girls up as Darth Vadar or Batman, but it's considered child abuse to dress our boys up as Princesses? I want our daughter to know she can feel comfortable with the choices she makes regarding gendered decisions.

Motherhood has certainly thrown me through a loop in terms of values and ideals. Before baby came along, I had a lot more control over my world and the decisions I made. Now, with baby, there are so many things out of my control, I have to change plans frequently to accommodate her needs. All this is to say, I've changed my mind on a lot of things, which makes me very thankful I have an understanding husband who partners with me on all of these things. Except the pink thing. I don't think he cares, nor does he even pays attention to what he dresses her in. As evidenced by the clashing pink top with orange bottoms she was wearing the other day.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Boobie Woes

My latest Google search was "nipples afraid of teeth." I was sort of hoping a funny cartoon or meme would appear, but I was disappointed with the results. I did the search on behalf of my nipples which are currently freaked out by the fact that baby is cutting her first tooth. When I put my finger in her mouth, it feels like there is a razor blade on her bottom gums. I can only imagine what kind of damage that can do.

Turns out there are tricks that one can use to deter baby from biting, but that means you have to experience it at least once in order to communicate the message to baby that biting is not okay. Just when I started to get the hang of this breastfeeding thing, a new challenge has come up.

Before becoming pregnant, I thought breastfeeding was the most natural thing in the world. I figured carrying and birthing the baby were the hard part. Feeding them would just happen. I thought it was weird that my birthing classes spent so much time on breastfeeding. Wasn't labor more important to learn about?

Turns out I was wrong.

I've yet to meet a woman who has had a super easy experience with breastfeeding. Either they struggled in the beginning, or baby had a tongue/lip tie, or they dealt with supply issues, or had various ailments like clogged ducts and mastitis. I've come to realize it is not the most natural thing in the world and is actually very difficult physically and emotionally. Plus society loves to bring judgment and shame upon women, whether they breastfeed or formula feed. How one feeds her baby should be no one else's business, so long as she is feeding the baby. Seriously.

My biggest troubles were in the beginning. I could not get baby to latch on. Like at all. We had three different hospital lactation consultants try to help us, and all three of them had different advice. Their help seemed to be more of a hindrance.

I later learned that C-sections cause major barriers for breastfeeding. In a "perfect birth," baby will be placed on mom's tummy after making her entrance into the world, and without intervention she will do this amazing crawl to mom's breast and start nursing. I've seen videos. It's miraculous.

But in a C-section, that milk crawl can't happen. The hospital where I had baby didn't practice family-centered C-sections. So there was no chance of delaying the cord cutting (there seems to be a correlations with delaying that and successful breastfeeding), no immediate skin-to-skin or nursing in the OR (baby has to get checked out and weighed), there are drugs pumping through mom's body and baby's (possibly impacts breastfeeding), the IV fluids cause major swelling (making it hard for baby to latch), and mom's belly has been cut open (making it very painful to hold baby and try to nurse with the widely acclaimed cross cradle hold, the only hold I really practiced in birthing class).

Various studies say various things, but they all agree that successful breastfeeding after C-section is significantly lower than after vaginal birth. In one, 71% of women in the study who delivered vaginally were able to breastfeed in the hospital before discharge compared to only 4% of the women who had a C-section. Those numbers are mind boggling, and while they can't name an exact cause, there is definitely a correlation between how soon mom and baby have contact after birth and how well breastfeeding goes.

I was really angry with how my birth experience went, so I was determined to successfully breastfeed. I needed a win, which sadly was more about my own baggage than it was about nourishing my baby.

Since I couldn't get baby to latch, I pumped miniscule amounts of colostrum and then milk after day 2, which we spoon fed to baby. It was absurd, but it mostly worked. The hospital was quite gracious in offering me support and never pressured me to make choices one way or the other. Formula was offered, but I declined, knowing how easy it would be to just give up and go straight to that solution. I now realize that was a little ridiculous of me, and now that I'm out of my postpartum haze I see how wonderful of a gift formula is. Thank God we don't have to let our babies starve because we can't nurse them naturally. Breast may be best, but formula is an amazing alternative.

The hospital probably shouldn't have discharged us, since baby had lost 11% of her body weight. 10% is the cutoff. But the doctor could see that I was stressed out and was concerned that I hadn't slept for more than an hour straight since baby was born. So she suggested I go home and try to get a fresh start.

I am so thankful for her grace.

The next day I got a visit from the birthing center lactation consultant (LC) and one of the midwife assistants. They were absolute saints who changed everything for us.

The LC had me hop in bed and show her what I was doing to try and breastfeed. After a brief attempt she said, "You need a nipple shield" to which I replied, "But all three of the hospital LCs told me not to use those!" to which she replied, "Well they were wrong. Let's put this on so you can feed your baby."

And then I had one of the most holy experiences of my life as baby successful latched on (via plastic shield) and drank the milk I'd produced for her. Tears welled up in my eyes as I finally got to feel this little victory. The LC smiled and the midwife assistant cheered. It was glorious.

The LC came back 3 days later to weigh baby and found that she had returned to birthweight plus a little extra, which means breastfeeding was working and we were back on track.

Those first few weeks were still rocky. I had to use the nipple shield for 2 weeks, which is nothing compared to some mamas who need them for months. And I could only manage to do side-lying position because my belly hurt too much to hold her on it. It was awkward and not at all like the videos I'd seen of women breastfeeding, but it did the trick.

One of the most encouraging things along the way was having friends over (who graciously brought us food!) and seeing some of them breastfeed their babies in our home. I was in awe of their confidence and how easy they made it look. It gave me hope that someday I'd be able to nurse just as easily.

And I did.

After that first month, it did get easier and I have healed from the initial chaffing and weirdness that nursing causes, just in time for them to get messed up by baby teeth. The saga continues.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Pastor Mama

I currently serve as the pastor of a small congregation about an hour away from my home. Prior to having baby, I would often stretch my 16 hour/week contract closer to 30 or 35 hours/week, going against what my seminary professors taught me about boundaries. But I loved it. I loved taking my time with sermons, actually devoting time to exegesis, writing and practicing. I loved taking my time after church to pop by the nursing home or check in on some of my homebound members. Going over my paid hours didn't stress me out.

A lot has changed now that baby is in the picture.

I keep her at home except for one day a week when my father-in-law cares for her, which has been such a gift these past few months. Most days I'm able to work when baby is napping and my husband looks after her for a few hours when he gets home from work. Most weeks it is doable and I am able to get my work done.

But the thing about my sermon writing is that it often doesn't fit into a schedule. I'm not one of those preachers that prays over the text on Tuesday, does exegetical work Wednesday, makes an outline Thursday and writes the thing on Friday. Usually it has to simmer for a few days and often inspiration strikes outside of scheduled work times. I know many preachers who write their sermons Saturday nights or even Sunday mornings. The Spirit has a funny way of moving sometimes.

And then there are the days when baby decides not to nap well, or we have too much going on for me to get consistent time in the evenings to work. This usually means pushing work time into the hours when I should be sleep, which furthers my sleep deprivation problem.

My baby is not too far from being capable of this. 

And now with my time being stretched thin, I'm forced to be faithful to that 16 hours/week contract, which is probably a good thing. But it means I'm super limited in what I can do and it means cutting down my sermon prep time. Any good public speaking instructor will tell you it is important to spend one hour preparing for a speech, or sermon in my case, for every minute that you're going to be talking. I tend to preach 12-15 minutes, which would mean nearly all of my hours would go toward preaching. Add in 2 hours for Sunday morning and there's no time for anything left. So, my preaching prep time is cut to make room for pastoral care and all of the administrative duties that go with being a solo pastor.

There are days when I feel like I'm not doing anything well. And wonder if I'll ever care about work as much as I did before baby came along. I still enjoy it, but I find myself blissfully distracted by this little creature that has taken hold of my heart.

Friday, October 9, 2015

A Few Hours of Freedom

I just put my baby to bed for the night and am breathing a huge sigh of relief. Don't get me wrong, I love my kiddo. But I also love the time between when she goes to bed until I go to bed. They are the only predictable hours of the day. A sure bet that I'll have time for myself and time to spend with my husband.

We have slowly worked her bedtime back from 9:30pm and are currently hitting 8:20pm. The extra hour has done wonders for my sanity and so has her decent sleep pattern overnight. Those nights of waking up every few hours seem but a distant memory. I remember reaching a point when I never thought I'd sleep more than 3 hours at a time again. I think that was during the 4 month sleep regression which was a doozy. It's all sort of a blur at this point.

So here I sit on a Friday night, with a glass of wine and my Netflix ready to stream. My husband is at the Austin City Limits Music Festival, where I would be if baby weren't in the picture. This is the first year I've not attended ACL since I moved here 6 years ago. A little piece of me is sad to miss it, but then my introvert side is happily avoiding the crowds and enjoying a night in. 

The funny thing is I was a homebody before baby came along. I'm not one for crazy nights out on 6th Street, so the adjustment to nights at home with baby wasn't terribly dramatic. I'm actually sort of glad for the excuse. 

But realizing my time is no longer my own has been my most difficult adjustment. I can't just go about my day, free to do whatever I want anymore. Now baby's needs are a priority and oftentimes they interfere with things I'd like to be doing or need to be doing. Like weeding the front yard, which has become a disaster zone, much to my neighbors' dismay.  I've already had to give up a part time job that I loved, simply because the logistics of childcare and pumping breastmilk got to be too much of a pain. I know there are other things I'll have to set aside as time goes on. 

Motherhood is a joy, but it isn't always fun. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Birth Plan Part IV

Holy smokes, I did not plan to type this much about my birth story. Apologies for the details, but I'm finding it very therapeutic to recall the experience and continue to process it. Hopefully this is my last post on the matter.

The hospital experience was just as I'd expected. Clinical and cold. I got to the room and was immediately handed a hospital gown. I pulled it on, with Jim Gaffigan's voice running through my head, wondering if anyone had died in this particular gown. I got in bed and was immediately strapped to the monitor. It wasn't lost on me that my freedom to move about was now stripped away and I'd be stuck on that bed until baby arrived. Next came the IV in my arm, with the nurse trying three times to stick me and finally having to call in another nurse to try. Four painful pokes in my arm later and I was getting further and further from my original birth plan.

The nurse and midwife checked things out, and all looked good except I was still at 5cm. They suggested an epidural to try and help me relax and get some sleep. I hesitantly agreed. The anesthesiologist arrived and was rather gruff, even shoving me one time when the nurse thought it was okay for me to lie back down. If I'd gotten his name, I'd write a letter of complaint. Still might if I get around to obtaining my hospital records.

With legs numb and my body relaxed, the midwife suggest pitocin, a measure that I knew she didn't offer unless necessary. My labor had stalled and unless I wanted to labor for days, putting me past the 42 week threshold, we needed to get things going. So the pitocin began to pump through my body and I began to think about all of the drugs that were now being introduced to my baby, but I tried not to think about it too much.

And then I slept. It felt like days, but it was only a few hours. My husband and in-laws went in search of breakfast and showers. A new midwife came on at 8am and because she has privileges at the hospital, she stayed by my side for the rest of the day. I occasionally woke to look at the monitor and see the contractions on screen that I could no longer feel. I felt so detached from my body and the whole experience, but tried not to think about it too much.

They did periodic checks and I was still at 5cm. The pitocin wasn't doing anything to help things along. By 11am, the C word was brought up. I resisted, but gave in, seeing the look in my midwife's eyes. She and I both knew this was the best course of action. Three doctors came in to explain the procedure, and I listened as tears streamed down my face.

We had to wait for an OR to open up and then it was our turn. Donning the requisite scrubs, my husband walked alongside until we reached the OR doors and he was told to wait in the hall. Spouses aren't allowed during the prep part, but my midwife was able to stay with me and keep me calm.

I'll spare you the play-by-play and opt for the bullet points of what I remember from the surgery:

  • While prepping me for surgery, the surgical team talked about a new bar that was opening in the neighborhood
  • The lights overhead were uncomfortably bright
  • My arms were placed on boards that extended from my bed, making me feel like I was being nailed to a cross
  • The midwife at my side was the most comforting presence I've felt in a long time
  • As the doctor cut into me, I couldn't help but think about the woman in Longmont who responded to a Craigslist add and was met by a very sick woman who cut her baby out of her. My grief for her in that moment outweighed my grief for myself
  • I got a little weirded out knowing my internal organs were now sitting on the table next to me and I hoped they'd put them all back where they belong
  • I could feel tremendous pressure as they started to pull baby out
  • I was shivering uncontrollably the whole time thanks to hormones and the anesthesia 
  • The first time I saw my baby was when they stuck a huge tube down her throat to suction the blood that she swallowed
  • The first time I held my baby, I could barely hang on to her because I was shaking so badly and I couldn't see her through the tears in my eyes
  • At one point the doctor poked her head around the curtain and asked if she could take a picture of my fibroid tumor
  • Soon after, my husband was being rushed out of the OR with our baby, and I knew something was wrong, having been a chaplain escorting people out of rooms in similar situations 
  • I became super nauseous and on the verge of passing out as the anesthesiologist offered more drugs to "take the edge off"
  • When I woke up again, the anesthesiologist was wiping blood off my face and I noticed blood had spattered the curtain and the overhead light
  • The doctor let me know they were stitching me back up and I was lucky, though I didn't know what she meant just then
  • They rolled me to a recovery room where my husband and baby got to join me. I was trying my hardest to stay awake, but had never felt so weak and tired in my life
Pretty accurate. 

Needless to say, this is not how I'd hoped things would go. I recognize that there are women out there who have much more painful experiences, but as a chaplain, I know better than to compare my experience to theirs. Mine was traumatic for me and I had to grieve the birth I didn't get to have. 

Baby was born at 8lbs 9oz, not over 10 lbs as the doctor predicted. It turns out the problem was the fibroid tumor which they thought was out of the way, but was actually preventing baby from descending. It had grown to 8 cm and was causing the sharp pain in my side that I felt with every contraction. I named the tumor Adolf the Asshole. He was part of the reason the doctor called me lucky. During her post-op rounds, she said it's pretty amazing I was able to get pregnant and that baby wasn't' affected by the tumor. She also said I was lucky I came in with a high blood count because I lost 2 liters when I hemorrhaged during the surgery. That's what all of the spattered blood was about and the reason I could barely stay awake in the recovery room. I asked her if I could see the pictures she took of the tumor and then asked if I could keep a copy as a souvenir. She gladly handed me a few prints of it, which I now keep in my journal.

The worst part of this whole experience were the hours and days following surgery. I was so loopy from the pain medications, and in pain when they wore off before the nurse could come give me another dose. We had techs and nurses and doctors in our room at all hours of the day and night, and never at the same time to give me and baby a few hours of uninterrupted sleep. I had one of those beds that inflates and deflates to help avoid bedsores, which was terribly difficult to sleep on. I hated the experience and at one point I wanted to hand the baby over to the staff and tell them to take care of her and maybe I'd take her back when she's ready for college. I very seriously wanted a re-do, thinking I'd messed up this child from the start with all of the drugs and the swallowed blood. Who knows what kind of mistakes I'd make as mother from here on out. Clearly I wasn't fit to care for her and she'd be better off in someone else's hands. 

Those first few days were very dark.

The turning point was when the doctors discharged us after 3 nights and I was able to go home to my familiar surroundings. Everyone said things would get harder once the 24/7 nursing care was gone, but I found being at home significantly easier and more comfortable than being in the hospital. Had I given birth at the birthing center, I would have gone home a few hours after giving birth, so for me, being home meant the jump start I needed to refocus and figure out this motherhood gig. 

There were challenges during those first few weeks, especially when it came to breastfeeding, but things began to improve daily and the dark days of my hospital stay were becoming a distant memory, rather than suffocating reality. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Birth Plan Part III

The time I spent laboring at the birthing center was actually quite pleasant, or as pleasant as an experience can be while experiencing labor pains.

When we got there, the midwife checked me and found that I was 5 cm dilated. Not bad, but not quite where I ought to have been for arriving at the center. I worried that we'd gotten there too early and should have held out a bit longer, but I was experiencing a weird pain in my side that told me we should stay under the watchful care of the midwife. Every time I had a contraction, a strong pressure emerged from just above my hip, making it feel like baby was trying to make her exit the wrong way. It hurt a lot more than I would have thought for only being 5 cm dilated, but I figured I'd never been in labor before, so maybe this was normal.

I decided to take a walk on the nature trail outside of the birthing center, hoping some fresh air and exercise might help keep me calm. My husband notified his parents and my parents about the status. I was hoping to wait for company to arrive until we were closer to the pushing stage, but I think a miscommunication led my in-laws to arrive almost right after we did at the center. I was glad to have family there, but felt like a watched pot, adding to my anxiety.

For the rest of the afternoon I continued to labor at the birthing center, with contractions getting a little bit stronger, but not much. I tried to eat some dinner but didn't have much of an appetite. We did another check and I was still at 5 cm. I tried not to get wrapped up in the number, knowing anything can change and I could go from 5-9 in no time. Or I could stall at 5, but I didn't want to think about that.

The rest of the experience is a bit foggy in my mind. I think that's nature's way of helping us cope with trauma, because details make it harder to move past the painful experience. I'm sure my husband would recall the rest of this story differently, but I'm going to tell the version that my brain has decided to hold onto because that's what I've got to work with as I sort through this postpartum journey.

At one point I got in the shower to use warm water to help through the contractions. We did another check and I was still at 5cm. I walked around. I draped myself over a birthing ball. Still 5cm. The midwife mentioned the idea of breaking my water, an intervention that is only used as necessary, so I knew she wasn't offering it lightly. Frustrated with how slowly things were progressing, I agreed to the procedure. It hurt a lot. Especially since baby was still sitting high and the midwife had to be a bit more aggressive than she usually would be. If nothing else, this mentally gave me the encouragement that things were going to happen now that the amniotic fluid had departed.

I got into the birthing tub, which was simultaneously the most wonderful and exhausting part of the night. I managed to sleep in the water in between contractions which was heavenly. But then the wave of pain would come on, still throbbing from above my hip, not from my who-ha like I would have expected. I threw up at one point, the first time I'd ever done so in front of my husband.

I got out of the tub and tried to lay on the bed, but no position felt right. Somewhere around 2am, the midwife saw me giving in to fatigue and suggested the drug Nubain as an aid. We did another check and I was still at 5cm, so I thought perhaps the drug could help me relax and allow further dilation. It didn't seem to help. Somewhere around 3am she offered the nitrous oxide, which I tried for maybe a minute and decided it wasn't for me.

And then at some point, I looked at my husband and said, "This isn't working." I was experiencing too much pain from that spot above my hip and after about 23 hours of stalled labor, I wasn't willing to see how far I could push it. I asked to be transferred to the hospital. At this point, I didn't care about my birth plan. I was too exhausted to fight for those ideals I'd had. I just wanted baby to be safe and the route we were going did not feel safe to me.

We packed up and my husband drove me to the hospital, as I muttered several expletives, clutching the car seat as the contractions started to stack up on top of each other.

The midwife met us there, although the admissions staff was confused, thinking she was the one being admitted since she was about 8 months pregnant herself. I still don't know how she had the stamina to stick with me all night.

And then they rolled me into the hospital through the Emergency entrance because all the other doors were locked. We got to the labor and delivery department and I sucked in a deep breath, thinking of the handful of times I'd walked through those doors as a chaplain, saying a prayer as I headed to care for a family who had just experienced a tragedy. This time I prayed that would not be my story.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Birth Plan Part II

I really didn't intend to tell my birth story during this Write 31 Days challenge, but I'm finding myself struggling to talk about the transition to motherhood, without telling this part of the story. My experience with labor and childbirth got me questioning whether or not I was cut out for this motherhood gig, since it appeared my body was not doing what it was built to do. So it seems important to share this bit of the story to help explain the struggles and fears I had during those first few weeks and even still 6 months into this new role.

One of the best pieces of advice, and like most pregnant women I got plenty of (unsolicited) advice from people, was to make a birth plan and then tear it up. The idea being don't set your mind on how your labor and delivery will go because there is a lot out of your control and it isn't going to go exactly how you plan.

It seems more often than not, childbirth does not go as a woman planned on at least some level. Perhaps something relatively minor went ary like her labor went too fast for her to experience laboring in the birthing tub like she'd hoped. Or something major like she wanted to have her baby vaginally without the assistance of drugs, and wound up with a C-Section.

The latter was my situation.

I had done all the research, prepared for months using pain coping techniques, and felt very ready and confident to have my baby at the birthing center without any help from an epidural. As I said in my last post, I don't believe this is the superior way to have a child, but it was the way I wanted to have my child.

Everything seemed to be shaping up nicely with my relatively low-drama pregnancy. I did have a few fibroid tumors, but the midwives kept a very close eye on them with monthly ultrasounds, a more invasive form of prenatal care than they typically give. The standard practice at the birthing center is one ultrasound at 20 weeks for an anatomy scan, one later in the pregnancy for a positioning check, and if necessary, they will do more after 40 weeks to make sure baby is doing okay. My monthly scans were a bit unusual, but all looked well and I felt confident in the care I was receiving.

40 weeks into pregnancy came and I officially went on maternity leave, ready to have the baby any day. I felt really good and managed to weed the entire front yard and assemble birth announcements that got more elaborate as I put them together. 40 weeks went and baby was still comfy cozy.

41 weeks came and I was still quite energetic, able to make daily hikes up Mt. Bonnell, and doing my best to stay calm and avoid people asking, "Is baby here yet?" I went to my prenatal check up and things looked really good. But at that point I realized I needed to start thinking about the "what-if" situations in case my birth plan didn't go as hoped. I even asked the midwife what I should expect should a c-section be necessary. She told me not to worry, those are rare instances for birth center clients. So I didn't worry. But they did send me to get a biophysical profile at the hospital, just to see what baby was up to.

At 41 weeks and 2 days, we ventured to the hospital where the scan would be done and ended up with the first sign things were going to happen differently than I'd hoped. According to the ultrasound measurements, baby was weighing 10lbs and my amniotic fluid was very low. The doctor nonchalantly offered to schedule me for a c-section, saying it would be best since the baby was so large. This is when the tears began to flow. All of sudden I was going from peaceful labor and childbirth in the birthing center which looks like a bed and breakfast, to the opposite extreme of surgery and removal of my baby.

I didn't respond to the doctor and said I'd have to consult my midwives.

Through tears, I called the birthing center and told them what happened. They told me to come over immediately and they'd talk me through a plan of action. They told me to chug some water, thinking maybe I was a bit dehydrated and causing low fluid on the scan. At the birthing center they did another ultrasound and determined that my fluid level was just fine, but must have been low earlier because it was first thing in the morning and I hadn't had much water yet. So that wasn't a concern. We talked about the baby's size and they reminded me that women have large babies all the time. Even tiny petite women can heave 10 pound babies out, so I thought surely my larger than average hips could handle it. They told me to go home to rest and come back tomorrow to try some labor inducing techniques. Nothing invasive, just some methods to try and get things moving.

I went home and did manage to get some good rest. I was tremendously comforted by the midwives who cared for me that day, and decided to trust that things would turn out fine. The next day we spent a few hours at the birthing center, doing rounds on the breast pump and drinking a rather disgusting herbal concoction. It was perhaps one of the weirdest experiences, but I was ready to try any natural techniques to get baby out.

Saturday was a day of rest. I went for a long walk, did my best to relax. Went out for eggplant parmesan, in hopes that my it would be the old wives' tale that actually worked.

And then, at 4am Sunday morning, the contractions started. Labor had begun on its own!

They were strong enough that I couldn't sleep through them, so I wandered out to the living room to watch a few movies and let my husband get more sleep, knowing he'd need to rest up for what was about to happen.

By mid-morning we called the midwife to give her a heads up of what was happening. She said to hang tight and wait until the contractions were 4 minutes apart. That time came around 3pm, when we called her up and headed to the birthing center excited for what we were about to embark upon.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Birth Plan Part I

During pregnancy, I spent a ridiculous amount of time reading and researching childbirth. It was a topic that fascinated me, and since I was going to go through the experience in a few months, I figured I better read up on it. It occurred to me that the decisions I made for childbirth were some of the first important decisions I'd be making as a mother. I got a bit anxious about this, not wanting to mess up my child because I opted for a certain treatment or declined another. It doesn't help when you read the internet comments that blast women for just about everything.

From the start I never thought there was a superior way to approach childbirth. Sure, there are healthier ways to go about it, but this idea that one way is better than all others is absurd. It seems to me that the fact that a woman carries a child inside of her and then that child leaves her body and survives is nothing short of a miracle. Seriously. It is the weirdest and most amazing thing I can fathom.

But, I did believe that there was a best way for me to go about childbirth.

For me, giving birth in a hospital was the last thing I wanted to do. I don't have anything against hospitals, I think they're pretty great. I just had a hard time viewing myself as a "patient" in need of treatment.  My primary experience in the hospital is as a spiritual care provider, tending to the spiritual pain of those who are ill and dying as well as their families. My understanding of the hospital may be a bit skewed, but I view it as a place where people go when they are sick. I didn't see myself as sick while pregnant, and I was told I was a low-risk pregnancy, so it didn't seem necessary to give birth in the hospital. The comedian Jim Gaffigan has a poignant joke about his wife choosing to give birth at home, partially because she didn't want to give birth while wearing a hospital gown that someone probably died in. I totally get that.

So I was hesitant to give birth in the hospital, plus I had two experiences to further steer me away.

The first was my experience with my OB/GYN. Nice person, but super busy and I never walked away from appointments feeling like a whole person. Maybe it was the fact that she'd have her hands up my who-ha while talking about her morning commute, or maybe it was the fact that I'd ask a question and before I finished she'd spout out some generic answer that didn't really have to do with what I was asking. The whole experience felt very impersonal and it made me hesitant to continue with her services once I got pregnant. I know not all OB/GYNs are like this, but if the hospital experience was going to be anything like that, I wanted none of it.

The second experience was hearing stories from other women who gave birth in the hospital and felt like their decisions weren't honored or they were pressured into actions that they didn't want to take. I knew I didn't want to be strapped down to the bed with a fetal monitor, because being able to move around is comforting to me. It helped me get through those nearly 42 weeks of pregnancy, as I hiked Mt. Bonnell over and over toward the end. I also knew I didn't want drugs to numb the pain because I believed I could do it on my own. I've heard some women say they'd rather give birth again over running another marathon, after having experienced both. I'd completed a marathon before, and it was the most grueling physical experience I'd had so far. If other women said childbirth was more doable, I thought I could handle it.

So I didn't want to have the baby in the hospital, but home birthing was a bit too granola and risky for my husband to agree to. Having her at the birthing center was a lovely negotiation.

I have friends who had their babies at the birthing center and had phenomenal experiences there. Even the ones who had to transfer to the hospital in the end spoke about how thankful they were for the care they received. The prenatal care goes above and beyond what I'd heard about elsewhere, as they take their time with each family, going over physical, emotional, and spiritual elements of their pregnancy experience. I was fortunate to participate in a Centering group which added to the experience and gave me insta-friends in the other mamas who were expecting around the same time. I'm a sucker for community building, and so I can't speak highly enough for the opportunity.

All this is to say, the birthing center experience felt like home to me, with the added bonus that once baby was born we could go our own home and not have to clean up after the birthing experience. I look back on that prenatal care as one of the most formative experiences for me thus far.

And then I became one of those mamas who rave about the birthing center, even though I didn't get to have baby there in the end. More on that tomorrow.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Liturgy of Baby

Call to worship: The little one cries from the crib, ready to be picked and start her day.

Prayer of Adoration: Those first snuggles of the day seem to be the strongest. Baby tightly clings to momma's neck, thankful to be rescued from her crib. Mother takes a deep breath and hopes this feeling will linger throughout the day.

First hymn: "Oh, good morning, good morning! Sunbeams will soon shine through, good morning, good morning to you!"

Call to confession: Diaper smells dirty. Mama and baby acknowledge the need to be cleansed of that poo.

Prayer of confession: Dirty diaper is removed and disposed of.

Assurance of pardon: New diaper is placed on. Fresh, clean start.

Passing of the Peace: Baby offers a sweet smile, thankful for the fresh diaper.

Prayer for Illumination: "Oh please, oh please let me figure out what this weird new quirk about breastfeeding is all about. Just when I think I have it down, something changes or hurts or doesn't work. Amen."

Scripture Reading: Chapter 3 of Ina May Gaskin's Guide to Breastfeeding.

Sermon: Nursing the baby. There are a few rough patches, like all sermons, but in the end grace is proclaimed and baby's belly is full.

Prayers of the People: "Dear God, don't let this baby choke on anything or stick her finger in an outlet or fall off of something or crawl into something or anything that will endanger her in anyway. Amen"

Offering: Mama decides to play with baby rather than watch more Netflix. A noble sacrifice, indeed.

Closing hymn: "Rock-a-Bye Baby"

Charge and Benediction:  "Ok, dear child. You are clearly tired. Please take a nap. And let it be more than 20 minutes. In the name of the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit. Amen."

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Two Bedroom Airbnbs From Now On

Three days into this 31 day challenge, and I'm already behind. Traveling has thrown me through a loop, and unless I want to go sit in the hotel bathroom to type (I don't), I have no choice but to write later and backdate the post. Cheating? A little bit.

Here's the thing. We'd gotten baby on a great routine and she was finally putting herself to sleep. It was a thing of beauty. And then we had to go travel and completely destroy that routine due to sharing a hotel room. Worth it? Yes and no.

When it comes to things like traveling and attending weddings and in my case officiating at weddings, I'm torn between loving these opportunities and dreading having to care for baby at the same time. When I'm at home doing the day-to-day routine, I don't really notice that my life has taken a major shift. It's just the new norm. But when I'm presented with the opportunity for something out of the ordinary, I'm blatantly reminded that I once had the freedom that comes with being child-free and am no longer able to enjoy that freedom.

Like this weekend as we traveled out of town for a family member's wedding. This is one of those activities that we've done before, a few times. Without baby, we could fully jump into the fun that comes with weddings and hanging out with family. We could stay until the bride and groom make their grand exit, and even stay for the after party if there is one. We could drink without much of a care. We could sleep in the next morning and take our time getting back home.

But with baby in tow, all of that changes. While part of me wants to dive head first into the festivities, the mother side of me says "Nope, you've got a little one to care for. If you stay out too late, you'll be in for a world of hurt when baby wakes you up several times before the sun comes up." And so I hold back. I play the responsible parent who refrains from fully engaging in the fun and I sit in a dark hotel room at 9pm, trying to make as little noise as possible while baby sleeps in the pack n play. Meanwhile the rest of the family is out having a blast.

There's part of me that longs to have that old life back. But then my feelings are overridden by joy for this little creature that has entered my life and changed everything. Suddenly sitting in a dark hotel room trying not to wake that little creature doesn't seem like such a bad gig.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Commencing Motherhood

When is the moment motherhood starts? When the positive sign appears on the pregnancy test? The first time she sees her baby and holds her? The moment CPS drops off the foster child and wishes you luck? When the adoption papers are finalized?

I suppose the beginning of motherhood is as ambiguous as the beginning of life. And it probably various for everyone.

For me, the first time I realized I was a mother was when I was five months pregnant. It sort of felt real before then, but it wasn't until I was in a minor car accident that it dawned on me that I was responsible for this little being inside me. Not only was I pregnant, I was a mother.

Like I said, the accident was rather minor. Another car turned in front of me as I was going down a busy road here in Austin. Fortunately, I'd already slowed down because I knew people had a tendency of turning there without being able to see oncoming traffic. So the incident really was minor and the damage to my car was pretty small.

But in that moment, as I sat there in the road after the collision, my brain was telling me that we were in a serious car crash and that the car was totaled and my baby was injured. It was the weirdest experience. The other driver signaled for me to pull into a nearby parking lot and all I could think was how ridiculous he was for believing my car could still operate. I took a few breathes and frantically clutched my belly waiting for baby to kick and show signs of life. She finally did and I was able to come back to reality and pull off the road.

I remember getting out of the car and feeling furious toward the other driver. "How dare you endanger my child!" I thought. I wasn't even worried about the damage to the car or myself or the other driver. It was all about this baby whom I was supposed to be protecting.

As I got back in my car to drive home, it hit me that I was now a mother. Not just a pregant woman, but a mother. All of the responsibility and challenges that come with that role began to swirl around my head.

And I realized this feeling of abundant love and anxiety wouldn't cease for as long as I live.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Transition to Motherhood...written over 31 days

My first time running after giving birth was rough. I'm not even sure you could call it running, more like fancy limping. My body had completely transformed thanks to pregnancy and the aftereffects, so my stride was not what it used to be. Everything felt odd and different. My belly was still super squishy and I'm not sure my organs had returned to their proper locations yet. My legs were carrying 30 fewer pounds than they were just two months before, yet they were somehow weaker than they were two months before. But I was determined to get back out and do something I loved to do pre-pregnancy.

I opted for the cushiony track at the local middle school, hoping it would soften the impact on my oh-so-sore body. There were several other people out there and I tried not to feel self-conscious. But I was slightly mortified to think about how I looked. Almost to the point where I wanted to tell everyone who passed me (including walkers who were walking faster than I was "running") that I had just had a baby 6 weeks before and I was still recovering. Surely they need an explanation for why I looked so ridiculous out there.

By lap 3 I was exhausted and looked at my watch to see if I could head home without feeling like it was a complete fail. I decided if I'd been at it for at least 20 minutes I could call it good. Just as I was about to check the time, a guy came running behind me. "Don't worry about your watch. You're looking strong, runner. Keep at it," he said. He then cruised past me, looking like a gazelle with his built-for-running-and-never-carried-a-baby-body.

At first I was offended. "How dare he!" I thought.

But then I caught myself smiling. I actually felt encouraged by his remarks. He wasn't being offensive. He wasn't sexually harassing me. He must have seen me doing my fancy limp around the track, looking rather dejected and ready to quit. So he spoke up and gave me the encouragement I needed to stop thinking about how I looked. Stop worrying about the clock.

I decided to put one foot in front of the other and do a few more laps. They weren't pretty, and I was sore for days afterward, but the experience was exhilarating. I was finding my new stride with this postpartum body. And I was reminded that I shouldn't compare myself to others or worry about what others think. Because I was just doing the best I could on that track.

The gazelle-man has no idea how much he helped me that day. His words still stick with me whether I'm running, or doing the motherhood thing, or being a pastor. I find myself repeating his words when I feel discouraged:

"Don't worry about what all the parenting books say. You're looking strong, mama. Keep at it."

"Don't worry about the church. You're looking strong, pastor. Keep at it."

This transition to motherhood has been hard. So I've decided to write about it in hopes that someone else doing their fancy limp through motherhood might relate and say, "You too?"

I've taken the Write 31 Days challenge and will be spending a bit of time each day this month reflecting on the transition to motherhood. I'm going to do my best not to talk about my kiddo, although she will inevitably come up given the topic, rather I want to focus on what the past few months have been like for me as a new mother. My aim is to write about my experience.

I hope I won't offend anyone, but I inevitably will. I loathe the so called "Mommy Wars" that seem to dominate all internet forums related to pregnancy and parenting and children. I don't want this to be a blog touting my superior parenting decisions and why someone doing it a different way is ruining their child. Because I don't believe that's the case. I'm not doing things the right way because there is no one-size-fits-all right way to do parenting and motherhood. I think we're all just doing the best we can for our particular situations and we should all just stand back in awe that anyone survives childhood.

So, thanks for tagging along with me this month as I Brene Brown my way through this vulnerable experience. It's going to get messy.

1. Transition to Motherhood
2. Commencing Motherhood
3. 2 Bedroom Airbnbs From Now On
4. The Liturgy of Baby
5. The Birth Plan Part I
6. The Birth Plan Part II
7. The Birth Plan Part III
8. The Birth Plan Part IV
9. A Few Hours of Freedom

Saturday, April 11, 2015

41w 4d Playlist

The following is a playlist I made for my walk today. I've tweaked a few titles and lyrics to suit my situation.

"Wide Open Spaces Cervix" by the Dixie Chicks

She needs [a] wide open spaces cervix
Room to make her big mistakes entry
She needs new faces
She knows the high stakes

"How Long Must I Wait" by Dr. Dog

"Waiting on a Woman  Baby" by Brad Paisley

"I Will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor

"Sitting, Waiting, Wishing" by Jack Johnson

I sing ya songs I dance a dance go for walks, eat spicy food
I gave ya friends all a chance I'm not trying to be rude
Putting up with them wasn't worth never having you But I want you out, out real soon
And maybe you been through this before
But it's my first time
So please ignore
The next few lines cause they're directed at you

I can't always be waiting waiting on you
I can't always be playing playing your fool
I keep playing your part
But it's not my scene
Wont this plot not twist?
I've had enough mystery.
Keep building me up, then shooting me down
Well I'm already down
Just wait a minute
Just sitting waiting
Just wait a minute
Just sitting waiting

"Magic Dance" by David Bowie

"I Can't Wait to Meet You" By Wynonna Judd

I do my best to do right, got to get to the way up high trying not to get forlorn
Oh, my Lord baby I can't wait to meet you
Love the life I'm livin' though
I'm looking forward to the day I fly you're born
I can't wait to meet you

"Push It" by Salt n Pepa

"Waddle" by Gorilla Zoe

I walk with a waddle
Walk with a waddle 
My jeans hang low cause my pockets fulla guapa belly full of baby
My chain yoga pants hang low cause my ice fulla water waist has disappeared
I walk with a waddle
I walk with a waddle
A whole lot a swagga
I'm a young dun dodda big ol' preggo lady
I walk with a waddle
I walk with a waddle
See us in the spot
We don't dance we just waddle
Walk with a waddle
Walk with a waddle

Monday, April 6, 2015

A Watched Pot...

I feel like a ticking time bomb, walking around making people feel very anxious. I've stopped telling people when I was due, having learned that telling them "last week" fills them with a mix of terror and pity. I really freaked out a city parks employee at Mt Bonnell last week, when I told him I was a few days past my due date. He nervously laughed and said he wasn't trained in delivering babies, and that I ought to try not to go into labor on top of Bonnell. I chuckled at him and continued with my hike.

Our culture has a hard time with estimated due dates. We Americans live by chronos time, so when we hear due date, we assume it's a sure thing and baby should come right around then. Anytime after and you're treading into dangerous territory.

The truth is, unless medically induced, half of all pregnant women will go beyond their due date, delivering closer to 41 or 42 weeks. There are some who are advocating for that to become the new norm, the new time frame for setting a "due date."

But since we're not to the point of embracing a longer gestation period, our society still struggles to know what to do with an "overdue" woman.

The weird thing is that I don't feel stressed about this, until someone asks me if the baby is here yet. Then I feel this odd pressure to get this baby out, as though it is something under my control. Believe you me, I've done everything I can to prepare the way for labor and childbirth. Yoga, walking, eating healthy, drinking red raspberry leaf tea, visualization and meditation.  I'm ready. But I can't force baby to be. She's the one that has to release the signal that all systems are a go.

So for anyone who has inquired about the baby, I understand you're excited for us and ready to meet Lil' Longino. I am too! But those inquiries are filling my hormonal head with unnecessary anxiety. If I've been ignoring you, don't take it personally. I just need to create a relaxed environment without outside pressure to force this baby out.

I found this poem that has helped my heart and mind trust in God's and the baby's timing:

Dear Baby, here beneath my heart,
I thought that you might come today;
The timing seemed just right.
But the stars are out
And the moon is high
And sheepishly I wonder why
I try to arrange the plans
Of God.
For now I know
You will not come
Until the One who holds eternity
Rustles your soft cocoon
And whispers in tones that I will not hear,
“It’s time, precious gift.”
“Now it’s time.”
-by Robin Jones Gunn. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Baby Book, Not Facebook

I hesitate to write about this topic, knowing if falls in the "mommy/parenting wars" realm. I have already found myself in conversations and interactions where awkwardness comes up around certain choices we are making as parents. For example, every time I tell someone I am hoping to give birth at a birthing center without the assistance of drugs, there's always this tension (real or perceived) that arises. I know this choice is not the norm, and I know there's a heated debate about the best way to labor and give birth to a baby. I don't think my choice is the best or right way to do it, but it is the choice that I believe is best for me. This is basically how I feel about all decisions regarding parenting. There's no right way to do it. It seems to me that we as parents just have to figure out the best way for ourselves and our children and try to avoid shaming or being shamed. We're all just doing the best we can.

So when it comes to my thoughts about internet privacy and parenting, I don't necessarily think this the right way for everyone, and I wouldn't dream of judging others for choosing a different stance.

Here's the deal: my husband and I don't plan on posting very many updates or photos of our children on Facebook and other social media sites. There will be a birth announcement, likely with a photo, but after that we plan to limit the presence of our kiddos online until they are able to consent to those posts and choose for themselves what they want the world to see. We will likely have an online photo album which requires a password, and we will selectively choose who gets access to that.

It isn't that we're paranoid about online predators.  It isn't that we don't want to share the joy of our children with others. We just don't want to overly expose our children to the world without their permission. Ours will already live in the fishbowl known as church, growing up as pastor's kids (PK) with church members watching their every move. Not necessarily a bad thing, but they don't get to enjoy the anonymity that other children do.  Sort of like children of celebrities, PKs are put in the spotlight, whether they like it or not. I hope our children don't resent that experience.

There's a lot we won't have control over as parents, but the level of exposure on social media, at least for the first portion of their lives, is one thing we can control. So we will choose to give our children privacy for the sake of their security and autonomy.  If you would like to see pictures of our kids, come over and take a look at their baby books. I know, those things are nearly obsolete, but I'm old fashioned in that way.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Diary of a Mad Pregnant Woman

One of the symptoms of pregnancy that I've not been able to grow accustomed to is the emotional swings. I've been told that pregnancy hormones change just about everything about your body, including eyesight and dental health, but I wasn't quite prepared for the emotional impact I'd go through.

The first time this took me by surprise was before I even confirmed I was pregnant. I was working with some folks on a church project last summer, which should have been a fun experience. But there were disagreements about how things should go, and while normally I would shrug off small disputes like that, I got mad. Like, really mad. I drove home from a day of preparing for the event and felt a rage I'd not felt in a long time. I was so irrationally mad about this situation, that I had to pull over to a gas station and take a few deep breaths. I remember questioning myself about this rage, and jokingly wondering if I was pregnant.

Funny how anger was my first clue I was pregnant.

I've been angry more than usual lately. I've gotten mad at the wetter than usual winter we've had. Even though it is helping with drought relief, it is delaying our house remodel by weeks. I've gotten mad at church politics and how after thousands of years, we still can't figure out that mutual forbearance thing. I've gotten mad at the Gospel writer Matthew and his need to add fire and brimstone to the end of stories, just for kicks and giggles. I've gotten mad at my husband and muh dawg for completely irrational reasons. And I've gotten mad by comments people make about my pregnant body.  I find it so bizarre that pregnancy creates an open season for people to say the most inappropriate things about your weight or insisting that you're having twins.

Funny Friday: 6 Foodie Memes To Make You Smile

The weirdest exchange happened in the grocery store: I walked in and approached the produce section. A woman came up to me and asked if I knew the secret to getting pregnant. I wasn't sure if this was leading to weird joke or if she was serious. I was about to say something about sex being  a good place to start, but then she revealed that she and her husband have struggled to get pregnant and are giving up hope. She asked me for advice because she said I look about the same age as her. She then said, "You're about 45 years old, right?"

Cue the anger.

Not only did she make me feel awkward and guilty about being pregnant when she is struggling with infertility (or maybe just going through menopause?) but then she had to overestimate my age by 16 years. This mad, pregnant woman could have gone bananas right there in the produce aisle, but fortunately the chaplain/pastor side kicked in and I told her I would keep her in my prayers and wished her the best. I then spent the rest of my grocery shopping experience, angrily trying to avoid her as we weaved up and down the aisles in a similar pattern.

Pregnancy memes - game of thrones

Other than anger, I've experienced a range of emotions. Mostly extreme joy and extreme sorrow. It's like pregnancy takes your hormones and injects a bunch of steroids into them to play with your head. I've learned that unless I'm in need of a good cry, I have to avoid certain things like watching Steel Magnolias or reading the news. Pretty much all of the news. Topics like ISIS or child abductions or black children being killed by police will all set me over the edge. I don't like that I'm avoiding the news, especially as a preacher who needs to do her congregation a favor by staying informed about the world. But it just gets to be too much.

Like last week when a pregnant woman in my hometown was stabbed and her baby stolen from her womb. The tears just kept rolling. I have been so angry and sad for this mother whose child was stolen from her body. I have been so jolted by the reality that my hometown isn't Pleasantville, a safe and utopic refuge from the world. I have been back and forth emotionally regarding the woman who committed this act, realizing that she has her own trauma and grief which likely led her to do such or horrendous thing. And I've had Gloria Estefan's "Get on Your Feet" stuck in my head because in 2nd grade I stayed the night at a friend's house, which is located down the street from where this stabbing took place, and I have a vivid memory of dancing to that song with my friend on her parent's coffee table.

I can't say I've done the best job of processing all of these emotions, but I have found that pulling weeds and going for long walks are conducive for getting some of it out. I'd like to believe this will all be relieved by childbirth and the end of pregnancy, but I've heard parenthood brings on a whole new wave of emotions.

Guess I better get used to this for the next 60 or so years.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Preparation for Labor

As I prepare and hope for a drug free childbirth, I've discovered that just about anything can be turned into practice for labor. The key is to turn frustrating, painful, or challenging situations into learning opportunities and a chance to test your perseverance. As Kimmy Schmidt would say, "Take everything 10 seconds at a time. If you can make it through the next 10 seconds, just start another 10 seconds.

Or, one minute, since that's how long a typical contraction lasts.

The following is an account of a date night at an Italian eatery. I used this opportunity as preparation for labor. Oh, sweet honey on a rock, you better believe this story is full of first world problems.

Our date started with an early movie and then we ventured over to the nearest Italian restaurant for dinner.  The parking lot was massive which should have been my first clue things would not go well for us there. The key to dining out in Austin is to pick a place that has bad parking. Others will be discouraged by the parking spot hunt and will head to the 'burbs where urban sprawl caters to their parking needs. At this particular restaurant, on the cusp of suburbia, we found a spot right away, up close. Bad news, bears.

We checked in with the hostess and she said it would be about a 30-40 minute wait. Not bad, we thought. So we made our way to the waiting area where I sat in the only available chair. Being 9 months pregnant, I didn't feel at all bad about taking the only chair.

We waited and waited and waited. People with reservations breezed past us. We waited some more. 50 minutes later our name was called. 50! That's 10-20 minutes longer than we were told. I realize this isn't that big of a deal. But when you have the pregnancy hanger, every precious minute counts. As I sat there waiting, I tapped into that labor preparation tactic. I realized the hostess just gave us an estimated time when our table would be ready.

This is a lot like estimated due dates.

40 weeks after you conceive a child, an estimated due date is given. The key here is estimate, since very few babies are actually born on their due date. So it is very possible to still be pregnant beyond your due date. This is where many women start to get anxious and desperate and give up on keeping those hormones under control. Understandably so. It's not the funnest thing to carry the weight of a bowling ball on your pelvis.

So as our wait time to be seated extended beyond the hostess' estimate, I reminded myself that this is good practice in case I go beyond my due date. I needed to invoke patience and perseverance. And, to tide me over, I ate a few mints from the lovely bowl on the table next to my chair.

Once our name was called, I was washed with a wave of relief. I eyed the plates of other patrons as we made our way to the table. Our server greeted us and asked us how long we had to wait. I thought about giving her my honest answer, but decided not to go there. However, I was irritated that she asked. It was obvious that we didn't have reservations, so we obviously waited a long time. Don't ask, Italian Eatery server. Just thank us for dining there and take our drink order.

This felt a lot like the question "Have you had your baby yet?"

Let me tell you something. Pregnant women do not like this question. Especially if you are asking it to her face. Clearly you are trying to be cute because you can see that she has not had her baby. But when you are that pregnant, it is really hard to find any humor in the question.

Moving on.

The server took our drink order and said she would bring out a fresh bread basket. I began to salivate thinking about that bread basket. I was so excited to gnaw on some food to calm my rumbly belly.

But the bread basket never came.

I could have asked her for it, but my midwife's voice popped in my head reminding me to watch the carbs. So I decided I could live without the bread basket.

This felt like good preparation for being in labor and not being able to eat anything but ice chips. At the birthing center, I can eat whatever I can/want during labor, but I still want to mentally prepare for the possibility of a hospital birth where eating isn't an option. I may still sneak some GU in just in case.

I'm guessing labor and childbirth will be like running a marathon, where the nasty taste of GU is irrelevant. 

The server took our food order and we waited a seemingly longer than necessary time for the food to arrive. This may have been my pregnancy hanger talking, but it felt like a long time. Especially as we watched other tables receive their food.

This felt a lot like stalled labor.

I've heard things can progress in labor and then stop for a while, or even altogether. Labor progression doesn't always happen in linear fashion, so when the restaurant manager brought a tray of food to us that wasn't ours, I told myself, this is just preparation for those stops and starts that may occur.

Once we got our dinner, it was fine, but nothing to write about. Our opinion of the food was probably tainted by our unimpressive experience.

When all was said and done, we didn't waste anytime paying the bill and getting out of there. We headed to another restaurant to pick up a slice of cheesecake to take home, hoping that sweet goodness would redeem our evening.

You know what? It did.

It was like that incredible moment when the baby is finally born and you've got her in your arms and you totally forget the brutal experience you just went through. Babies are lot like cheesecake in that way.

There are a plethora of ways to prepare for childbirth. I prefer a little humor. And a lot of cheesecake.