For the first time since living in South Boston, we didn’t head out to watch the parade. Instead, I was being that mom at the pediatrician’s office. We got a contagious illness report from daycare this week (the dreaded conjunctivitis is going around), so when Grace started rubbing her eyes, I started becoming a nutcase. A word of advice: Don’t Google “pink eye” at three in the morning.
The nurse I spoke with this morning encouraged us to come in today, just in case. By the time 2 o’clock rolled around, I started to wonder if it was more likely Grace had accidentally squirted yogurt into her own eye, or that part of her bagel got in there or something. Needless to say: no conjunctivitis. I love our pediatrician, though (and the fact that they’ll see us on Sundays). We had no trouble getting out of Southie, but heading back in during the parade proved to be a bit more challenging.
One of the (presumably many) upsides to not being infected and being out and about? We had a little impromptu visit with my sister and brother-in-law during which Grace tried to eat a crayon and I learned that Selection Saturday is actually Selection Sunday. And I wonder why people don’t invite me to join their March Madness pools.
Oh but before I say anything else, sorry for talking about pink eye. I promise we did non-gross things this weekend too. Like the things pictured below.
The Weekend According to Instagram 32
First things first: The snow is melting… AND THINGS ARE GROWING. I spotted these little sprouts alongside our driveway on Sunday afternoon and literally shrieked in delight. I immediately emailed a photo to my husband and our neighbors. And I’m now taking bets on who thinks I’m crazier, our neighbors or Grace’s pediatrician. This weekend was great for my personal brand. Whatever that means.
Our neighborhood is ready for St. Patrick’s Day. I don’t want to live any where else. Most of the time.
A little weekend doodling. Watercolor + pen + birds.
I am obsessed with the artwork on these seed packets from the Hudson Valley Seed Library. I am kicking myself for not buying their calendar at the Flower Show.
Aaaand another photo from this year’s Boston Flower and Garden Show. Nick and I always talk about living in a tiny house one day, and I think I found the one this weekend. Technically, I think this is more of a garden shed, but I am pretty sure there’s room for Grace and Clark’s imaginary bunkbeds. And if I take after my maternal grandfather at all (which I hope I do), I’m only going to get shorter so…. I think it will work.
After the Flower Show, we ducked out of the rain and grabbed tacos across the street at Rosa Mexicana. Aren’t my lunch dates adorable?
I started Saturday morning with a big cup of organic peppermint amour and some to do list-ing. Of the 900 things on the list for the weekend, I think I accomplished 3. One of those things was “make a to do list.” Can’t win ’em all.
A peek at my art journal (you’ll find more pages here and here).
Did anyone else read Richard Scarry books as a kid? They were a family favorite of ours. I ordered a copy of Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever for Grace and seriously… it’s the best word book ever. Not surprisingly, her favorite page is the one where the bear gets dressed. She is all about her shoes these days.
Real talk: This has been a bit of a challenging week. In a good way, but also in an exhausting, nerve-fraying way. I knew spending some time making crap would help. And it did.
I worked on most of these pages in one sitting. And that sitting happened to be on the sofa, with a bowl of peanut butter cups, after Grace was sound asleep, with our temporarily disabled Frenchie snuggled close, while Nick watched the CrossFit Open live announcement.
I didn’t want to break out all of my art stuff, mostly because I didn’t want to give up any space already occupied by Clark. Or the peanut butter cups. Limiting my materials proved to be surprisingly helpful. I spent less time thinking about what to use, and more time using what I had in my lap. Also, using permanent black ink while sitting on a cream colored sofa? This is me living on the edge, people.
One of the prompts was “What would the world be like devoid of love?” I can tell you, I wouldn’t want to live in that world. I worked quickly on this one, to avoid getting depressed (just kidding… kind of). I used black and grey watercolors (I’m obsessed with this travel set) with a water brush, a white paint pen and a red Micron.
I mostly stuck with black watercolor and black ink. The result: most of these pages look tense and moody. Which, frankly, is how I’ve felt lately. Until the sun came out on Wednesday… and I became a normal person again, along with everyone else in Boston.
I started the backgrounds for these pages a few days ago before having a clue what I wanted them to become. I used a thick coat of white gesso on the left side and added very watered down acrylics along with a spritz of watercolor while the gesso was still wet. On the right side, I used a more aggressive spritz of that same green watercolor and doodled a bit with a grey sign pen. I used black ink and a detail brush to paint the abstract-map-ish design on the left hand page, and used strips from a Chanel ad for the right hand page. I believe the letter stickers are from a Studio Calico kit, but my mind is full of Raffi songs at the moment, so I could be wrong.
One of the prompts for Week 4 was to describe the greatest act of love. This time of year, a lot of my work centers around families and clearly that’s on my mind (see the crop top photo below). There are so many different ways a family can come to be. I knew the second I heard Grace’s heartbeat that we belonged together. But I also know you don’t need a biological relation to belong to someone. This may not be my final answer, but I think that giving someone a place to belong, and being open to belonging to someone else, takes tremendous love.
I like how the hand-stitching from the previous page peeks through on the lower left. The stamp is from A Beautiful Mess, and I used black archival ink. Which never. Comes. Off. The ripped paper on the left is a e.e.cummings poem (supplied as one of the prompts). I can’t really decide if these pages are done are not. I’ve been trying to let them be, rather than over-work them. Perfectionist habits die hard (that’s a movie script Bruce Willis and I are currently co-writing.)
This photo is of me and my mom (I am the one wearing the hot shorts and crop top. That’s not something I get to say every day. Or, really… ever.) I am not sure if my head is actually shaped like that, or if I am scissors-challenged. The full quote is “We are born of love; love is our mother.” Preach it, Rumi. When working through many of this season’s prompts about love, I couldn’t help but think how lucky I am to have come from such a loving home, and to have such a solid foundation. I love this photo and owe so much to my parents.
I’m already itching to sit back down with my sketch book. But I think I will stick to the table going forward. I’m certain I’ve jinxed myself with the ink on the sofa comment.
I participated in an Influencer Activation on behalf of Influence Central for Blue Dragon. I received product samples and a promotional item to thank me for my participation.
Unless you’re living somewhere especially remote (and maybe especially tropical), you know that it’s snowing in Boston. And not just in a normal, Oh, it’s winter! sort of way.
We’ve run out of places to put the snow, but it keeps on falling. Our public transportation system effectively shut down at 7 o’clock last night (a few buses are running, but no trolley, subway or commuter rail service) and hasn’t reopened. Schools are closed. Again. My office building is closed. Again. Day care is closed (I’ll take all the family QT I can get). And there’s a happy Yeti roaming the streets.
All things considered, we’re faring pretty well. [Side note: I think this article, A Blizzard of Perspective, is well worth a read.] We have a safe, warm home, reliable tank-like transportation (snow tires 4 life), a stockpile of necessities (diapers, water, hot pink MagLites and batteries, tea and salty snacks), and, you know, one another.
Oh and food. This weather just begs for comfort food.
Is it me, or does being snowed in make us all extra hungry and a tiny bit lazy? Forget the Freshman 15, I’m working on the Snowmageddon 15. Just kidding. Kind of.
With the roads so messy, we can’t really order delivery in good conscience, so we’ve been enjoying some take out favorites at home, thanks to Blue Dragon and the generous package of goods they send our way.
In addition to the Chicken Pad Thai with Blue Dragon Pad Thai Stir Fry Sauce pictured above (how cute is that little take-out box?!), our Sunday night snowed in take-out menu also featured:
Vietnamese Fresh Spring Rolls with Blue Dragon Sweet Chili Dipping Sauce (vegetarian)
Stir fried tofu and vegetables with Blue Dragon Szechuan Pepper Stir Fry Sauce (also vegetarian)
I think this was my first time cooking with a wok, which Blue Dragon kindly sent me along with their delicious sauces, noodles, and rice paper wraps. Whipping up dinner was so quick and easy. I know we’ll be coming back to these recipes and sauces for busy mid-week dinners.
Blue Dragon is named after the Chinese symbol of good fortune and was founded thirty years ago to help people create authentic Chinese, Thai, Japanese and Vietnamese dishes at home. Their sauces are available in several flavors including Szechuan Pepper (my favorite), Chow Mein and General Tao.
Sauces that are vegan and vegetarian are clearly labeled (this lady appreciates that!), and include a really helpful shopping list and suggested recipes (which can easily be made vegetarian) on the back.
Blue Dragon products are available locally at Roche Brothers, Shaws, Market Basket and Stop & Shop. Several stores are hosting tastings this month, including the Demoulas/Market Basket in Revere on February 14th and 23rd.
Looking to make your own take-out at home? I’m thrilled to be hosting a Blue Dragon giveaway today. One reader will win a fantastic cooking kit that includes:
Samples of Blue Dragon sauces
A wok and spatula!
Take-out containers and chopsticks
… five feet of snow not included
To enter, please comment below. One winner will be randomly chosen on Tuesday, February 17th.
Contest entrants are only eligible to win once per sweepstake, per household as part of a campaign sponsored by Influence Central. To learn more about Blue Dragon, you can find them on Facebook and YouTube, or check out their online cookbook, Chop To Chopsticks, for authentic Asian recipes and inspiration.
Technically, it’s been a year and five days, but hey.
Grace turned one last week. And what a fast, happy, wonderful, challenging, beautiful year it has been. I snuck into her room at 12:16 last Thursday (she was sound asleep, a rare occurrence) just to see her and watch her and think about that first time we met her at that very same time, on that very same night.
Yes, that barrette is for real.
Becoming and being a mother has been overwhelming in the best possible way. It has made me tougher and it has made me softer. It has made me infinitely more in love with the Universe, and it has made me infinitely more worried about things I never paid attention to before. Like electrical outlets. And the measles (don’t get me started). Being Grace’s mother has made me so proud of myself, but it has also put my ego firmly in check.
Being a parent has made me appreciate my own parents in a way I wish I could have before. Because I would have been a more grateful, more delightful, better behaved (maybe) child. I am hopeful that whole “better late than never” thing applies here. My parents are just the best.
I used to wonder why people called their children 13-month-olds and 17-month-olds and whatever. Mostly, I have no idea how people keep track (so math challenged). But when I think about how much Grace changes each day, let alone each week or month, I kind of get it. When you’re nearly 33, you really shouldn’t give your age in months. Because whether you just turned 32, or you almost 33, you’re pretty much the same person developmentally. In my case: still bad at small talk, still pretty great at color coding, still hate most pants and cooked vegetables, still love checking the mail and taking naps on my yoga mat.
Our 1 year old/12 month old, on the other hand, has become such a person since being the born. All the changes are both amazing and a tiny bit bittersweet.
She started talking a few months ago and seems to know new words every few days. Right now the b-words (not the b-word, not ever I hope) are her favorites: bath, bubbles, books, baby, and bye. We’ve practiced some baby sign language (this book has been a great resource) — Grace has mastered the signs for more, eat, milk, all done, and book.
She has 3 teeth (and 4 on the way), 900% more hair than even two months ago and the teeniest, cutest feet that fit in precisely zero pairs of shoes. The only thing more confusing than women’s jeans sizing is baby’s shoe sizing.
Grace is starting to let go of our hands and the furniture when standing up, but hasn’t started walking yet. She likes to dance, climb, crawl, and sneak her way over to the printer and cable box. She can point to people when we say their names, turn pages in her books, nod when she says “yes,” and wag her finger when someone says “no” (I still don’t know where she learned this — it’s both hilarious and kind of strange).
She is obsessed with Clark and recently started feeding and kissing and hugging him… and trying to take naps on top of him. He likes the first three, and tolerates the fourth.
Grace loves to eat. She likes being fed, and really enjoys feeding herself. She has mastered drinking water through a straw, and will soon stop taking a bottle at daycare. I am still breastfeeding her in the morning, evenings, at 2 AM or 3 AM or 4 AM (or whenever Grace feels like it) and on the weekends, but I’ve stopped pumping at work (hallelujah). I never imagined we’d make it this long (and it hasn’t been easy), but I am grateful.
We chose to name our baby Grace because we loved the name, but she really is such a grace in our lives. What a year it has been.
Oh and P.S.: If you’re in the early part of the first year of parenting (or really any time, but especially in the beginning), be gentle and kind with yourself. You are doing a great job.
Also On Tap for Today:
Ordering prints from Grace’s birthday party (photos to come, my friends!)
It’s Friday. Which means it’s almost the weekend. Except that I am working all day tomorrow, but… let’s pretend I’m not.
My Weekend Essentials
What I love to do on the weekend
The minute Grace reached six months, we became those bad 21st century parents who over-schedule their children signed her up for a baby/parent swim class at the YMCA. While the class is more singing The Wheels On The Bus and splashing than actual swimming, I knew it would be important for us to get Grace comfortable in the water (and even in some small way, start working on water safety) as early as possible. We live across the street from the ocean, my parents have a pool, and I am, like, at least 16% mermaid. So… It’s important. Also: It’s really fun!
Along the lines of over-scheduling, Grace and I take a child development class every Sunday (the session runs 12 weeks, I think) at the same place where we did our First Connections/moms’ group. The first few weeks were a little slow, but I’m learning so much and Grace seems to enjoy each session. There are five or six other families in attendance, and our facilitator leads us in all kinds of songs (there is a lot of singing going down on the weekends) and activities designed specifically for 6-9 month old babies and their cognitive and language development, as well as fine and gross motor skills. Each week, I leave with something new to research or practice (baby signing, new foods to try with Grace, edible finger paint). It feels good to be able to keep adding to my parenting tool kit. And I fully acknowledge I am a tool box for having just said “parenting tool kit.” (But seriously, if you’re in the Boston area and want to learn more about the program, let me know.)
Go to Mass. Confession (how very Catholic): I don’t go as often as I would like, but when I do… it’s just the best. We have such a warm, welcoming community at our parish.
Be even a tiny bit social. I feel that it’s important to strike a balance between being a lazy blob on the sofa (that would be a fun business card) and being on the go all weekend. But with our weekdays spent either in the office or soaking up as much family time as possible, it’s nice to pop out and see friends on the weekend.
Think about our meals and snacks for the week (sometimes I even make a plan and go food shopping). I often bring Grace with me to the market on Sunday mornings while Nick is at CrossFit. A few weeks ago, we were cruising down an aisle when I heard a crash behind us. And then I noticed that my daughter had somehow clotheslined a Wheat Thins display. Can’t blame her. Salty snacking is in her genes.
A new fitness tracker. I don’t even want to think about how many fitbits I ruined by accidentally sending them through the washer and dryer. I wore a fitbit flex and then a Polar Loop for a while, but I felt like I was forever charging both devices. And neither were exactly fashion forward. I’d often stash them in my bag (mind you, I never wore both at the same time… I hope that’s obvious) during work events or meetings. When I read Caroline’s review of the Misfit Shine, I was like, Finally! The Misfit Shine runs on a watch battery and looks like… a watch. Bonus: The related app is great.
What I love to watch on the weekend
I am obsessed with The Amazing Race and have this deluded idea that I would win the show (obviously) if I were ever a contestant. Nick refuses to be my partner, which is probably saying something (I don’t know exactly what… but it’s something). It’s one of only three shows I’ve watched in real time (the others being Jeopardy! and 60 Minutes) in recent memory (Hulu+ for life). I find myself assessing the likelihood I’d succeed at each task or challenge, and weighing the pros and cons of my abilities (and lack thereof).
Potential Amazing Race Contestant Strengths and Weaknesses
Weaknesses: My own husband does not want to be my partner; Claustrophobic; Tendency towards motion sickness; Picky eater; Wears contacts; Allergic to wool (I feel like this could be especially problematic in Nordic countries)
Strengths: Knows lots of words in lots of languages; Pretty great sense of direction; I remember everything; Strong fight and flight responses
Sort of obvious disclaimer: This post is about breastfeeding. If Google brought you here because you searched for “breasts” and now you’re sorely disappointed and regret clicking through, that’s okay. You do you, boo… no judgement.
Slightly less obvious disclaimer: I am not, like, a breastfeeding specialist. I am grateful to be able to breastfeed my daughter. It is what I hoped for, and it is what works for our family. With that said, it is not the only way people care for and feed their children. And I feel like that’s important to acknowledge. Something I think all parents need to hear more of: You are doing a good job. You are making good choices. In other words: You do you, boo… no judgement.
Real talk of the day: Being a parent means being on a permanent learning curve. (I guess that’s true for all humans, though, right? Life is one long learning curve.) Now that we’re past the newborn phase, I figured I’m semi-qualified to share a bit about what I’ve learned along the curve.
I was very fortunate to have access to great lactation consultants when Grace was born. Expectant mother friends, if you have access to lactation consultants while you’re in the hospital, I think it’s totally worth meeting with them. I was hesitant, I thought it would be weird, and I kind of just wanted to stay in my Craftmatic adjustable hospital bed. It wasn’t weird. It was actually quite, well, normal. They taught me very helpful things like how to hold my tiny baby like a football (but first, I needed to learn how to hold a football), how to tell if she was actually eating, and what hunger cues might look or sound like.
Someone’s ready for their 22nd meal of the day.
It didn’t long for us to establish a BF relationship (in this case, I like to think BF stands for both breastfeeding and best friends… but I guess that last part is sort of up to Grace). Because Grace was born with jaundice (I initially thought she was just super Portuguese…) and lost weight rather quickly, our pediatrician encouraged us to feed Grace at least every 2 hours during those first weeks. Needless to say, by the time she was a month old, I felt like a seasoned BF pro. I also felt like my bum was permanently attached to the rocker in Grace’s nursery, but hey.
I rarely had time to pump when I was on maternity leave, so when I went back to work, I felt acutely aware of being on that learning curve again. I stared at the woman on the package of my pumping bra and wondered, Who the H looks that casual and yet perfectly put together while pumping? Why is there no spit up in her hair? Why does she look so well rested? When did she have time to get a manicure? And those were just my questions about a bra. You can only imagine the inner monologue about the actual pumping process.
If this is what it looks like to pump “in style,” I can only imagine what the pumping while frumpy version looks like. Also: Thank you, Obamacare.
Eventually, I figured out how often I needed to pump in order to have enough milk for Grace while she is at daycare. I (mostly) learned how to avoid spilling milk all over myself five minutes before a meeting. I even managed to pump in an airport bathroom while a work colleague tried to engage in conversation (I have a strict no talking in the ladies’ room policy).
And so, of course, just as soon as started to feel comfortable pumping, it was time to introduce solids. I think solids warrant a post of their own (Cliffhanger! Just kidding… but seriously… stay tuned.), but I will say this: I was terrified of feeding Grace anything that didn’t, like, come out of my boobs. Everything new is scary. It’s been about two months now, though, and our little lady loves to eat. And we’re having quite a bit of fun with it too. OK. But back to best friends breastfeeding.
I am really happy that I was able to exclusively breastfeed Grace until she started solids at approximately 6 months. (I am still nursing her, but we started supplementing with one bottle of formula a day at 8 months, just a few weeks ago.) I was worried I wouldn’t make it to 3 months, so when we made it 8 months I nearly erected a breast-shaped statue in my own honor. For the most part, I’ve had a very good supply. There have been days, though, where I’ve had to pump at home in the early morning or late evening (when I’d much rather be doing, well… anything) in order to have enough milk to send to day care. Without fail, those have been days when I’ve slacked on water, eaten like a bird, stressed too much, or slept too little.
I am obsessed with Ball jars. Like, I would live in one. If I could fit in there.
Which brings me to this:
How I’ve kept my supply up
Drink water. And then drink some more.: It’s so important to stay hydrated while breastfeeding. Your body needs fluids to, you know, make fluids… plus it needs fluids to perform its normal functions. In other words, you need to drink more. I keep a giant mason jar on my desk (complete with an adorable drinking straw #targetdoesitagain) and refill it every time I pump and every time I get up from my desk. At home, I make sure to drink up after nursing Grace. It’s helped to associate the two (feed the baby, hydrate thyself).
Eat more, not less.: While I’ve felt the same pressure I am sure most new moms have felt to get back to their pre-pregnancy weight, restricting calories seems like a surefire way to decrease milk supply. I’ve tried to focus on eating healthy, quality food, but I am still eating more rather than less. One day, I’ll fit into my skinnies again. But in the meantime, I’m busy taking care of my girl.
Nurse often.: We’re fairly scheduled on week days. We’re like a cellphone plan during nights and weekends, however: unlimited texting and minutes breast milk! It’s the best. Come Monday, I definitely see an increase in how much I am able to pump.
Think positively.: I find that when I focus on Grace and the health benefits we both receive from breastfeeding, that milk flows like water. (Or is it wine? How does that saying go?) When I worry about having enough milk, however, not so much. I’m no scientist, but I don’t think this is a coincidence.
Supplement with herbs.: This may sound a little hippy-dippy, but several people recommended herbal supplements when I first started breastfeeding (the facilitator of our moms’ group swears by fenugreek). I worried that my supply would drop off when I went back to work and stumbled upon Delta Labs Postnatal formula during some late night Instagramming.
In addition to fenugreek, their postnatal formula also contains glucomannan, white kidney bean, and marshmallow extract (herbs proven to help enhance lactation, and in a combination safe for babies and mothers as determined by the FDA’s current Good Manufacturing Practice guidelines). An added bonus: The capsules also contain decaffeinated green tea, CLA, L-Carnitine and vitamin B6 to safely and naturally increase energy and promote weight loss (though it’s not a substitute for a healthy diet and exercise… if only obvi).
I’ve used this product for several months (and was running low when Delta Labs kindly sent me a complimentary bottle) and would definitely recommend it for mothers looking to increase or sustain their supply.
Giveaway: Delta Labs Postnatal formula
Fellow new moms: Would you like to try Delta Labs Postnatal formula for yourself? I’m happy to be hosting a giveaway, thanks to Delta Labs and FitFluential. One winner will receive a bottle of Delta Labs Postnatal formula. This giveaway is open to US residents only (sorry, neighbors to the North). To enter, please leave a comment below ANDLike @DeltaLabsUSA on Instagram. A random winner will be chosen and contacted on October 20th.
Delta Labs Discount Code
Use code FitFluential to save $5 on any item from DeltaLabs(one time discount; no expiration date).
We’re heading into Labor Day Weekend, so why not talk about having a baby? (I couldn’t resist.) I know the holiday is technicallya tribute to the American workforce (and feels mostly like a symbolic end to summer), but it’s nearly impossible for me to hear Labor and not think of… labor.
It’s been nearly seven months since we welcomed Grace. I’ve come this close to sharing about her entry into the world several times now, but always stopped short of clicking publish. (Can I just say, the expression “birth story” creeps me out? It reminds me of that TLC show that one of my college roommates always watched. Terrifying.)
My labor and delivery were rather uneventful (which was sort of the goal), but ultimately, I think that’s why I want to share it with you. I can’t tell you how many horror stories I heard while pregnant. So-and-so was in labor for 89 hours.My friend’s cousin’s yoga instructor’s neighbor delivered a 16 lb. baby. That woman that I sometimes see at the dog park, her sister had a really great birth plan… and it went completely to hell. My uncle’s third cousin’s dog groomer got a flat tire on the way to the hospital and delivered her triplets in the back of a Subaru. (It’s always a Subaru.) Sound familiar?
At one of my postpartum check-ups with my midwife, I told her that I felt sort of awkward when people asked about our experience with childbirth — that I felt a bit guilty (and yes — grateful, most of all) that things went so well. She told me that people need to hear the good stories too. And I think that’s true. Remember when I talked about fear being unproductive? Those horror stories produce a lot of fear. I hopeful that hearing a good story about childbirth will have the opposite effect.
So, with that longwinded intro aside, here’s one of the good stories.
Oh, important note: I’m not going to talk about body parts, really, or like measurements or anything that might make you (or me) faint. That’s just not my style. And I’m 103% certain I’m wrong about at least a few times and timing and hours, so please don’t check my math. And I’m sure you understand my desire to maintain at least a bit of mystery privacy, especially when it comes to my family.
My first Labor Day and welcoming Grace
About two weeks before Grace was born, I was sitting in my office with our auditor (which is one of the 45,000 places I didn’t want to be when I went into labor… and yes, I had spent 9 months fine tuning that list) when I started getting sharp pains in my lower back. They were bad enough that I couldn’t stay seated, but when I stood up, they sort of got worse. It’s a life goal of mine to not to be shady (especially in the presence of an auditor), but I had to keep coming up with excuses to duck out and attempt to walk waddle it off.
Grace at 1 month
After a couple of hours of coming and going, the pain subsided. I figured I was dehydrated. Or maybe my maternity pantyhose was too tight. Grace wasn’t due for over a month, and I assumed what I was feeling was normal for late pregnancy. Truth be told (with the exception of dragon-level heartburn), I felt really good during my second and third trimesters. (The first trimester was sort of a blur of morning all-day sickness, sleeping for 20 hours at a time, subsiding on a diet of crackers and lemonade, and feeling extremely frumpy.)
The next day, though, I just felt off. The back pain had returned (it turns out these were actually contractions and not random back pain… evidence that I did not read any childbirth pamphlets), my feet were swollen, and my appetite was gone. I stupidly waited all day to call the doctor, and instead Googled things. If I can impart any wisdom to future parents (or just, people in general) it is this: When it comes to pregnancy or childbirth or labor or really anything medical or important or not related to cute dog photos, don’t Google it. Just don’t.
I spent the following day hooked up to a fetal monitor, drinking gallons and gallons of water, calmly reading US Weekly one minute and freaking out about the big work event I had coming up the next. If Grace arrived today, what would my colleagues need to know? What was left to be done? What imaginary scenarios could I cook up and then create solutions for? Again, the contractions subsided and I was sent home with strict orders to relax. (Bhahahahaaha)
The work event went off without a hitch the following Thursday. I wore sequins. I wore heels. I did not go into labor. I did eat 5 desserts. For the next few days, it was business as usual. I still had a feeling Grace might come early, though, so each night before heading home, I cleaned up my desk and laid out detailed “just in case” instructions (which I would then promptly recycle the following day, only to begin again).
On Monday night, I woke up in the middle of the night with a start, and sat bolt upright. I vividly remember this moment in particular, because for the previous month or so, sitting up was nothing short of a workout. I must have gone back to sleep, because the next time I looked at the clock it was 5 A.M… and my water had broke. (Is that grammatically correct? I have no clue. But I am sticking to my own rule of no Googling body part things.)
I have never seen Nick bound out of bed so quickly. In the span of three minutes, he was somehow dressed, his teeth were brushed and his contacts were in, and he was assembling our co-sleeper/mini crib. Meanwhile, I followed our midwife’s instructions and called the office’s after hours number. They told me to call back at eight. Um… what? Knowing me (and I do, quite well), I am still surprised at how calm I remained. I took a shower. I blew out my unruly curls. I painted my nails (yes, really). I ate a snack. I un-packed and re-packed our hospital bag (which is good, because we didn’t exactly ace it the first time around).
By 8:30, I was back on the fetal monitor at our doctor’s office, but not before riding an elevator with a bunch of gentlemen in sharp suits headed to work, while my water continued to break. There’s nothing quite like the sensation of actively peeing your pants (that’s kind of what it feels like) in public. I wasn’t sure what the protocol for being in labor in a rush hour elevator in the Financial District was. Should I press the alarm button and make an announcement? Instead I tried to be cool (wholly impossible), but continued to look at Nick like, Oh my word, I am sort of peeing. And he continued to look at me like, This is the greatest day ever. And it was.
We checked into the hospital around 10:30 and when the attending midwife asked if we had a name picked out for our daughter, I cried as Nick answered, Grace. Saying her name, one we had kept secret for so long, made her pending arrival feel more real than any contraction (or awkward elevator ride) could. Saying her name made everything feel so holy and sacred and good.
Once we knew for certain (I mean, I knew that at 5 AM, but it helps to have the hospital bracelet to prove it), we called our parents and siblings and let them know that we were at the hospital, that we were all doing well, and that Grace would likely be born today.
Our birth plan was pretty much this:
We will be open minded
We will trust our our midwife, doctor and nurses to help us make the best decisions
In other words: We didn’t really have a birth plan. I wanted to labor without medication, but um… I had never been in labor before, so I didn’t want to rule anything out. We spent the next six hours managing my painful (real talk: they were painful, but I survived… obviously) back contractions by taking short walks around the labor floor, getting checked by the midwife and nurses, and sitting and standing and leaning and bending and bouncing. We never broke out the deck of cards we packed, nor the crossword puzzle book.
At the nurses’ encouragement, I gave the shower a try. I had heard that many women find showering during labor to be really comforting. Meanwhile, I spent about three minutes in there before throwing in (and asking for) the towel. It was sort of the opposite of comforting for me.
All I could think was:
Great, now my hair is frizzy again
The shower curtain is touching me
Why is this shower so small?
And why is there so much plastic furniture in here?
Everyone can see my bum
By now, I was uncomfortable enough that I was having trouble relaxing between contractions. Our labor was progressing, but it could still be hours before Grace was born, so we talked with our midwife about options. An anesthesiologist joined us to answer any questions we might have about an epidural, which we decided was the right choice for us.
As with all things labor and delivery related, I’m not sure how accurately I can describe what getting an epidural feels like, or how it feels after. I could still feel everything (including my limbs), but the pain was much less intense and I was able to relax between contractions. I hadn’t eaten more than a few crackers (I was nauseous much of the day), so as soon as the nurses told me I couldn’t eat after getting the epidural, I basically wanted to eat everything in sight. I started getting restless, but going for a walk was no longer an option, so we watched a little TV. I could barely contain my jealousy (nor my lack of sensitivity, apparently) as a Biggest Loser contestant devoured an entire pizza in his “before” footage. TV was a bad idea.
Grace at 2 weeks
At some point (and this one is entirely on me — Nick now has a firm “no voluntary studies” policy), I agreed to participate in a study about epidurals (how they are administered, and if that affects their, well, effectiveness). At some regular interval, a doctor would come into the room and ask me about pain and nausea and then (this is the absolute truth) poke me with one of those little cocktail swords (not something that looked like a little cocktail sword, an actual little cocktail sword) to determine where I did or did not have feeling. Being in labor is surreal on its own, but this sword thing? It was really bizarre. The nurses (and my husband) kept reminding me that I could opt out of the study at any time. Meanwhile, I had developed a strong craving for maraschino cherries.
Nick went to grab some coffee and as 11 o’clock approached, I wondered if Grace would, indeed, be born today. I talked to my parents and siblings (and was denied my requests for an entire pan of baked ziti and two bags of cool ranch Doritos) and focused on the affirmation that seemed so silly a few days before, but that helped me so much during those last few hours: Grace will come at the perfect time.
I repeated this over and over in my head and soon enough, I felt like that perfect time was upon us. A new midwife had just come on shift (I feel like I could write a whole book about how wonderful these women are) and she and the nurses started preparing for Grace’s delivery. She got sort of close to my face and said, “You have carried this baby inside of you for nine months. Are you ready to bring her out? Are you ready to get started?” Part of me was like, Um… I don’t think I could stop this if I tried and the other parts was like, Yes! I want her here so badly! In my emotional memory (which is likely not fully accurate), Jock Jams started playing and Nick and the midwife high-fived.
Nick and Grace
Remember when I told you that a blizzard prevented us from completing our childbirth class? This is where that missed information would have been helpful. One nurse asked if I remembered my breathing. I had no clue what she was talking about (it turns out, you kind of just… well, breathe). We were similarly surprised to find out just how active a role Nick would be playing in Grace’s delivery. I guess we sort of imagined he’d gently stroke my perfectly coifed hair and tell me I was amazing, but instead he was holding one of my legs and coaching me through the pushing (and telling me I was amazing). Another surprise (sorry, this is kind of unpleasant, but I am feeling like it might help to know this): some people throw up, like a lot, when they’re delivering. Apparently I am one of those people. Also, I somehow managed to get a (clean and very much empty) bed pan stuck inside my hospital gown. So there’s that.
Everything felt so charged and intense during the delivery. I remember melting into the hospital bed between pushes, and asking Nick to cover my face with a cold cloth. I have never prayed like I prayed that night. I felt weak and exhausted, and at the same time, stronger and more powerful than ever. It was nothing like the movies (and I mean that in the best possible way). There was no yelling or screaming (though I did kind of involuntarily roar at one point), no real dramatics.
It was very fleeting, but I did have a quick rush of panic that I might not be able to do it. That I was too tired. Or too weak. I thought (this is so, so ridiculous… but also so, so funny to me), Maybe I can skip this next contraction and rest a little. Nick saw right through that one and encouraged me to be a normal person keep going. Our midwife calmly whispered, “Don’t be afraid.” Just then, the miniature sword wielding doctor entered the room for our next round of the study, and Nick (politely) told him to hit the road. For a million reasons, I am so grateful for my husband.
I am sure the nurses and midwife were talking to me, but at this point I kept my eyes on Nick and watched his posture change as the energy in the room intensified. I hadn’t noticed that a baby nurse had come in, and that the midwife and nurses had put on masks. “She’s coming so soon,” he said. “She’s really coming.” It was 12:16 A.M. on Wednesday.
Grace (and her adorable nose) at 6 hours, Elizabeth in need of a flat iron
I used to think that if I had a baby, I’d want him or her “cleaned off” before holding them. I thought I’d be squeamish about all the, you know, stuff. I thought I’d want everything to be neat. In reality, I couldn’t get my hands on her fast enough. I reached for her and Nick, desperate to have our little family together for the first time. I kept saying “I love her so much” over and over, and then turned to Nick with the biggest smile of my life (he just reminded me of this – I wanted him to read this whole thing before I sent it out into the Universe) and exclaimed, “I would do this a million times!” So… there’s your proof that happy, pain-killing hormones are real. Or, that I am delusional.
Once Grace was on my chest, and I could see her tiny nose and eyes and fingers and cheeks, I cried for the millionth time since first knowing I was pregnant with her. I felt like my heart was outside of my body. I couldn’t see anyone else, I couldn’t hear anyone else, I couldn’t think about anyone or anything else. I had no idea my love for her would feel like that. And still, when I think that love can’t get any bigger, it somehow grows.
Grace at 6.5 months
Just this week Grace started putting both her hands up and reaching for me. I can’t help but think, every time, about that night when I first reached for her. That night is my favorite story.
It’s the story I tell myself when I miss her during the day, or when feel discouraged about my “body after baby” (whatever that means), or when people ask if she’s sleeping through the night, or when I have to pump in an airport bathroom while traveling for work (the glamour of life abounds), or when I find spit-up on the back of my dress halfway through Mass, or when there is not enough time to do it all or be it all.
Because that story and how it ends and what it gave us, that is it all.
Six months ago, we were waking up (from–maybe–an hour of sleep, but waking up nevertheless) for the first time as a family of three. Grace’s basinet was wheeled up against one side of my hospital bed, and Nick was on a cot on the other side. My arm was stiff from having slept with it draped ever so carefully across Grace’s tiny, swaddled body. We had only know her for a few hours, but I couldn’t bear to not hold Grace, even for a minute. I peeked over at her little round cheeks, her button nose, and dark lashes and cried the happiest tears of my life. I couldn’t believe she was ours.
Six months have passed, and I still can’t believe she is ours. She’s sleeping (more like, cat napping) in her own room. She’s rolling from one side to another and trying to scoot. She’s got three teeth on their way. She’s eating solid foods. She can babble and yell and squeal. She’s sits up on her own… until she tips forward… and then she tries again.
She makes us happy, she makes us whole. These have been the best six months of my life.