Unmedicated Childbirth Gets Zero Stars on Yelp

Unmedicated Childbirth Gets Zero Stars on Yelp

~In the realm of personal experiences, childbirth can be considered especially heinous. In the labour and delivery wing, the badass women who birth children are members of an elite squad known as mothers. These are their stories.~

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Except it’s just me and my stories.

Still reading? I didn’t think so.

Ah, the miracle of life. It’s beautiful, in theory. In reality, it is a fairly disturbing ordeal.

I’ve birthed two babies (one quite recently), both without complication. For this, I am grateful. The first birth was typical and slightly medical. It took place in a hospital, there was an induction, an epidural, and then a baby. The second babe was born at a birth centre, no drugs, and then a baby. I could stop there and insert a photo of my newborn, and we could all go about our lives, but clearly that is not what I have planned.

Instead, I’m here to commit the ultimate TMI and give you the juicy deets of my births. I’ve been called a lot of things, but “concise” isn’t one of them, so let’s break this shit down. I love a good birth story, and if you’re still reading, you probably do, too.

If you don’t, stop.

Stop now.

For God’s sake, stop.

My Hospital Birth

With my first son, my water broke at 41 weeks. If you’ve never been pregnant, I’ll convert 41 weeks into a time period you can image — a million f*cking years. Also known as one week overdue.

So, I was at the dog park, waddling like a walrus, when my water broke. I was GBS positive (google that if you’re interested, but it is not very interesting) and had no contractions. This meant that to prevent infection, the health care system likes there to be a baby born in a certain number of hours. We went to the hospital and the midwife told me I could go home and hope labour begins, and if it did, I could have my baby at home or at the birth centre. Or, I could stay put at the hospital and be induced.

What is the birth centre?

The Ottawa Birth and Wellness Centre is a midwife-led healthcare facility.  It is a birth place option for women experiencing low-risk pregnancies, who are under the care of an Ottawa-area midwife. It is beautiful, free, and comes with a catered meal. And without the option of drugs for pain. At the birth centre, you can order a meal, but not an epidural. Perfect for those who self-soothe with food, like me.

My husband and I had initially dismissed the idea of the birth centre, because it seemed too hippie and not as safe as a hospital setting. But then we toured the facility and were struck with now nice it was. It felt like a five-star hotel, and there was this lovely, calm energy that drew us in. We asked several questions to reduce our ignorance and were pleasantly surprised to leave feeling safe and positive about the idea of welcoming our baby in one of the birthing suites. That’s right, a ~suite~. Cause I’m extra like that.

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Sure, there would be no drugs, but I was hoping for an unmedicated birth, so that was fine.

Back to my decision while sitting in the triage exam room of the obstetrics wing of the hospital – should I go home and hope for contractions and a lovely, hippie birth at the birth centre, during which the sun would rise as the baby crowned and I would get through contractions by aligning my chakras in yoga poses? Or, should I stay put, be induced, and get this thing over with?

I knew at that moment that a baby today in a hospital was better than literally anything else happening that day or any future day, including at the birth centre. I looked outside and saw there was a storm a-brewing, and I was just so done with being pregnant that I requested to be induced.

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WELP… yikes. After being induced with synthetic hormones, I felt like I was being run over by a train. My contractions were two minutes long, each separated by a 30 second “break” of vomiting. I barely knew where I was, and I was roaming the room, on all fours, making this low grunting/howling noise. So fetch.

This went on for four hours. At the four hour mark, I was crawling along the floor like the creature from The Grudge, moaning and vomiting, when I finally asked for an epidural. My midwife responded, “I’ve already called for the anesthetist.”

Receiving the epidural felt like coming back to life after briefly being dead. I was finally not in pain and not throwing up. I chatted with my husband, we watched some of the baseball game on tv. And then I said, calmly, “I think I need to push now.” And I did, for 45 minutes, and then there was a baby. I felt pressure and pain, but I did not feel like I was suffering. And then I met my baby, and felt glad to be in a hospital because I thought my heart would explode.

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My Cavewoman Birth

This time around, I hoped again to have my baby at the birth centre. Why? I don’t know. Cause images of the fireplace, loveseats, sound system, massive hot tub, and king-sized bed danced in my head. I really did not want to be induced again. And I like nice things, so shoot me. But please actually shoot me if you ever see me heading back towards that building. Just kidding!……(?)

Things that go bump in the night

There I was, again 41 weeks pregnant (why must my children torture me?), sleeping at 3am when I was awoken by a contraction that felt like a moderate menstrual cramp. But at 41 weeks pregnant, I was so done with being pregnant that I had begun eyeing things like kitchen tongs for their potential ability to relieve me of my condition, so a moderate cramp felt exciting.

I handled this situation like I always do when something really good or really bad happens in my life: I watched Mean Girls. I perched the iPad on my bedside table, and let it distract me from the mild discomfort of the contractions and the swelling excitement that this could be it! But alas, the contractions went away and I fell asleep even before Regina George kissed Aaron Samuels at the Halloween party.

Whatever, I’m getting cheese fries

When my husband woke up at a humane hour, he asked me if there was anything I needed to feel more comfortable and or to help the time pass. “Pancakes,” was my answer, so we went out for breakfast. The contractions began again. I texted my doula to give her a heads-up that my contractions were 8 minutes apart but that I was eating pancakes through them so they were probably not that bad yet. Around 3pm, I started having contractions that I could not eat, or even talk, through.

Putting the Cave in Cavewoman

When my doula arrived at my house, I had become a self-proclaimed basement dweller. I had retreated into the basement and refused to come out. My doula came downstairs and sat with me.  She said that becoming a basement creature (my words, not hers) is  very common, because mammals (and humans, in times of yore) retreat to their dwellings to birth, so as to protect their young from predators.

It became clear to me that she didn’t plan to leave, and at one point she said, “You understand that there’s going to be a baby tonight, right?”

Despite being one week past my due date and experiencing low-key contractions for 17 hours, this surprised me. I didn’t want to believe it in case it didn’t happen. But simultaneously, the only thing more horrifying than not having the baby asap was the idea of actually having the baby.

My doula took the job of timing the contractions and this allowed me to let my body do what it wanted to do – hunker down in my cave and let the baby come. After about an hour, my doula said, “I’m calling the midwife, I think it’s time to go. I don’t trust second babies, they show up very quickly sometimes.”

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Highway to Hell

In a fun twist of fate, the contractions got much worse as my husband drove us down a road similar in topography to that of the lunar surface. Each dip and climb of the car into these craters felt like I was being stabbed in the vagina by a hot knife. I screamed at the top of my lungs the whole way. I screamed at my husband for driving into the cavernous potholes. I screamed at the city workers for not filling them in before I had to drive down this road with my cervix half open. I screamed that I would be writing a strongly worded letter to my city councilwoman. And I screamed at God himself for allowing the freeze/thaw/expand cycle of water to occur in pavement over the winter and spring. So, yeah, I kept my cool during labour. For sure.

Nice Digs

We arrived at the birth centre at about 9pm. We were assigned the biggest birthing suite, which Past Me would have been super stoked about. But at the time, I could not have cared less. All of my instincts were directing me to hunker down and let the baby arrive. I did not gaze at the fireplace or place my head gently on the cushions of the love seat. I did not recline my swollen feet in the arm chair, or melt my weary bones into the fluffy duvet on the king-sized bed.

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The room in which I bore my son

Instead, I silently made a bee-line for the birthing stool in the corner (think toilet seat on legs), sat on it, and began to moan through my contractions. In that moment, it did not matter to me where I was, only that I was getting through each moment.

Zzzzz

Time passed, and I began to feel completely exhausted. I deeply regretted watching Mean Girls at 3am the night before. With a heart full of regret and hatred towards Past Me, I made my way to the recliner, lay on my side, looked out the window into the night and yelled, “I’m jealous of anyone who gets to be asleep right now!”

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My midwife told me it wasn’t even 10pm, and most people I knew were probably awake. That made me feel better, for about two seconds. Then the blood-curdling scream of another birthing mother cut through the air. It was so shrill that my midwives (there are two of them at this point) left my suite to go and see if that woman’s midwives needed help. It was at this point that my husband suggested we take advantage of the sound system and listen to some music.

She Who Births the Baby, Calls the Tune

I’m not really a musical person, and we had not curated a special playlist for this occasion. My husband pressed play on a playlist we’d made during our trip to Spain last year – mostly jazzy, instrumental tunes. When the midwives returned, they shuffled to the beat and said that our playlist was a nice break from all of the Enya they are forced to listen to.

I laughed at their jokes about how the playlist was making them crave tapas, but then, without warning to anyone, was struck by a doozy of a contraction and screamed out, “Dying is probably less painful than this!”

Then it passed and we went back to talking about our favourite tapas. Kind of like being at a cocktail party with a senile great-aunt who is prone to expletive outbursts and is off her meds. You love her, but she scares you. That was me.

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Fast forward a little time and many contractions later, and I was lying on the bed on my side, holding hands with my husband while he lay next to me, dozing between contractions and breathing deeply through them. I felt more tired that I’d ever felt, and more tired then I’d ever imagined a human being could feel. Weeks later, my midwife noted this moment, the lying on the bed, holding hands, as her favourite of this birth. She said, “You looked so in love and so at peace.” I guffawed and responded, “I was in hell.”

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Spoiler alert: that bowl is for vomit.

As each contraction arrived, the exhaustion messed with my head and I felt panicky and got all gaspy. My brain was asking, “When will this end?” My doula, who hadn’t left my side for a moment since she joined me in the basement of my house, hours earlier, put her cool hands on my hips and said, “Just do this one contraction. Breath through just this one.” I knew I could do each one, and concentrating on “just this one” seemed doable.

Push It Real Good  ~Salt-N-Pepa

At 11:50pm, I felt that it was time to push. Or, rather, I felt that my body was pushing. I believe my exact words were, “The baby is in my bum. The baby is in the basement of this building. The baby has decided to come out my bum. I don’t know how all the pipes work down there, but I’m pretty sure this baby is bum-bound.”

Apparently, that’s not a thing, but it’s a common feeling right before it’s time to push.

The midwives suggested I move to the birthing tub for the pushing part. Many mothers labour for hours in the tub. The tub has been mentioned as one of the main features that attracts mothers to the birth centre. It’s massive and looks like you’re own private oasis. But it wasn’t until the pushing part that it felt like somewhere I wanted to be.

Anchors Aweigh

And then I found out why. The tub is massive, and I am floaty. This was not a good combination. You’ll recall that I am in the process of expelling a person from my body, which is no small feat. And speaking of feet, floaty me + massive tub = no place to brace my feet against. I was lying there on my back, with my head in a corner of the tub resting on a pillow my doula had placed there lovingly (which I later, accidentally and unceremoniously, threw at her face), my arms along the sides, and my feet floating along the top of the water.

To combat this precarious situation, my brain decided to fall asleep. That’s right, as this floaty moment was occurring between contractions, and I was exhausted to the bone, my brain checked out and fell into a deep sleep… for about 10 seconds. But man, I swear I slipped right into REM sleep because when I woke up to the blinding pain of another contraction, my brain had no idea what was happening and decided to have the world’s shortest, and maybe loudest, panic attack. As I felt the baby descend farther down the birth canal, I screamed at the top of my lungs, “What is happening?”

Getting My Sea Legs

In the fog of pain, I heard my doula whisper lovingly but firmly, directly into my ear, “Take a deep breath in. You are safe. We are here with you. The baby is coming. You can do this. Now breath out slowly.” This doula saved my life a hundred times that night.

The contraction eased away, and I said, “Who is going to catch the baby?”

My midwife leaned down and said, “You are!”

This seemed unlikely. My legs were floating in front of me. My hands were gripping the sides of the tub. If I let go to reach down to catch the baby, I was definitely going to float away with the current. I tried to explain this to my midwife but was gripped by another contraction and instead gulped out the words, “I can’t.”

She thought I was talking about the pain of pushing, not the physical impossibility of me catching the baby whilst not drowning in the tub, and responded, “You can do this!”

Ugh, I thought, no time to explain.

I went into full cavewoman instinct mode and flipped myself around, such that my arms and shoulders were out of the tub and I was leaning on the edge with my armpits. Kinda like I was ordering a drink while in the hot tub on Bachelor in Paradise.

My husband was right there, and I held his hands.

My knees were on the floor of the tub, and though my midwife said, “Great position choice. Now, you can reach back and catch your baby.” I cocked my head back, looked her dead in the eyes and said in deep, guttural voice, “YOU CATCH THE BABY.”

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Look at our matching hair styles!

I turned back, looked at my husband’s encouraging (and low-key terrified) face. And then it dawned on me that the rest was up to me. And that the only way out of this wretched pain was through it.

I have a notoriously low pain tolerance, I have the self-discipline of a toddler, and I have cheated during every single workout I’ve ever done, so this felt very scary. But I knew that unlike secretly turning down the resistance dial on my bike during spin class, I couldn’t fake my way through childbirth. I was going to have to turn up the pain dial by pushing this baby out, and I was going to have to do it all on my own. The only way to make it better was to make it worse.

I didn’t think I could do it.

So I did it.

And after I pushed through that blinding pain, I exhaled, smiled slightly,  and felt ready  to meet my baby. But then my midwife said, “Good, good. And now, push out the shoulders and the rest of the body.”

Fuuuuuuuuuuuuck this.

That final push was powered by anger and spite for the whole birthing process. And I felt those shoulders. I felt those elbows. I felt those hips and those knobby knees. I felt every f*cking toe. Unmedicated childbirth is no joke and it shocks me to my core that humans have lasted as long as we have, given this hellish process is responsible for the propagation of the species. That is what I was thinking as my baby was being born.

My husband tells me that his first glimpse of the baby was the little guy’s arms and legs spreading straight out in the water, like a baby orangutan, flying through the jungle from tree to tree.

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Memories of our honeymoon on the isle of Borneo

Babies born in water don’t inhale until they hit the air, and he did a big inhale as my midwife pulled him up and thrust him towards me.

However, I, ever the graceful flower, had somehow gotten my leg entangled in the umbilical cord while flipping around from being on my knees to sitting on my bum in the pool.

My doula saved the day (again), by freeing my leg, so that I could enjoy my first moment with my baby without worrying that I would strangle him and simultaneously drown my own self.

For someone who used to be a lifeguard, I had many near-drowning experiences during my 10 minute stint in that tub.

As my midwife handed me the baby, I muttered, “I don’t remember how to hold a newborn!”

She pressed the baby against my chest, released her grip, and said, “Figure it out!”

Words cannot describe this moment, so I won’t try.

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Version 2

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The pain was gone, the baby was with me, and I felt the wave of euphoria of no longer being pregnant. I don’t hate being pregnant. But I do hate being 41 weeks pregnant, and that was over and it already (20 second in) felt fantastic.

But then, my midwife, aka Debbie Downer, gently cooed, “Okay, it’s time to start to think about pushing out the placenta.”

I replied with a very clear, “No.”

I spent the next ten minutes ignoring the contractions that were trying to expel the placenta from my body. I didn’t want any more pain.

I tried to negotiate. I asked my midwife if she could just pull out the placenta by the umbilical cord and she said no. I changed tacks and asked if we could let it fall out in its own good time. Again, she said no.

I asked if it was going to hurt when I pushed it out, cause I had no plans to go down that road again. She replied with an honest, but sneaky, “There are no bones in the placenta.”

What a crock of sh*t.

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I pushed it out while staring daggers at her. As I pushed, I yelled, “It’s bigger than you led me to belieeeeeve!” And it was done.

Happy Birthday, let’s eat!

Then things got fun. Finally.

The midwives and doula helped me from the pool, like the scene in which they pull Free Willy from the water tank to take him to freedom. My husband, the baby, and I snuggled up in the king sized bed. A catered meal was ordered and delivered. We settled on a name and phoned our parents, talking to them in hushed, gleeful voices.

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Once my blood pressure, etc, was in good shape, my doula led me to the big shower with the rain shower head. I sat on the a stool and she bathed me like I was Cleopatra. She wrapped me in a warm towel, and helped me put on clean clothes. She brushed my f*cking hair.

We all sat by the fireplace for a few minutes, admiring the baby. Someone from the birth centre came by and took our photo for the wall of fame, and I pretend that never happened because it was the absolute worst photo I’ve ever seen of myself. Oh yes, worse than the candid during-birth photos above. You’d think my narcissism could take a break at this moment if no other. But you’d be wrong.

I then mentally prepared to stand up again, and my husband re-packed our bag. I hadn’t needed any of the $54 worth of snacks I’d bought at Wal-mart the week before, so back in the bag they went. Pringles? What the actual f*ck was I thinking childbirth would be like?

And just like that, 6 hours after we’d arrived, and 2.5 hours after the little orangutan was born, we were heading back home. With enough Pringles to supply the food table at a frat party.

Welcome home, little one

I was tired and elated. My doula gently coaxed my weary bones upstairs and into bed. My husband slipped in next to me. We cooed at the little baby asleep on my chest. And then my husband fell asleep and started snoring. He wouldn’t wake up when I spoke, and then yelled, his name. I couldn’t reach him to poke him because he was too far away and I was trapped under this tiny baby. So instead, I lay there hating him for the remaining two hours of the night. If I killed him, I wondered, would I be acquitted? Surely a jury would be sympathetic, given I’d just gone through the ordeal of childbirth. Marriage is weird.

And then my other baby woke up, and we were four.

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“I hear you bore him in the water?” -actual question posed to me

When I tell people the key points of my birth story (birth centre, unmedicated, water birth), they seem impressed. Which is weird for me. One friend exclaimed, “You were at the birth centre, and you delivered in the tub! You had the birth we’re all told to want.”

Hmmm. On paper, yes…?

Putting aside that the birth was healthy, normal, and that I felt safe, I’m not so sure the location mattered in the end to me. Upon reflection, I truly believe that I could have been hunkered down under a highway overpass, for all I cared at the time.

My takeaways from my medicated, hospital birth and my unmedicated, hippie, cavewoman birth are as follows:

1) There is no easy way to have a baby

2) Epidurals are among the greatest achievements of modern medicine

3) It feels cool to have also had an unmedicated badass water birth (feels cool now, NOT AT THE TIME)

4) The birth centre is a beautiful place to be in horrific pain.

Just before falling madly in love.

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~Blog Love~

Ottawa Birth and Wellness Centre

Midwifery Group of Ottawa

Ottawa Birth Doula

Pregnant (again)

Pregnant (again)

Soon, we will have a new baby. It was conceived quickly and it will be born from my body in a safe setting with access to medical care. We try not to take our lucky circumstances for granted. But of course, we do. And I feel badly about it. But not badly enough to keep me from ranting publicly about how different this pregnancy has been from the last one.

Receiving the Happy News

Then: I crept into the bathroom at 5am, eager to get that hormone-filled first morning pee  to achieve the most accurate reading on my expensive digital-display pregnancy test. My husband waited outside the door, we set a timer, and excitedly flipped over the stick to the happy words, “Pregnant – 2-3 weeks.” We hugged and we made pancakes before going to work with a special twinkle in our eyes.

Now: I knew I was pregnant (sometimes, you just know). We were heading to a wedding that weekend, and I wanted solid proof to help me stick to soda water while chatting with strangers. Cause strangers are the worst. I took the test in the office bathroom, played sudoko on my phone while it processed, saw the second line appear (non-digital drugstore brand test this time) and then went back to work. I was happy, but it wasn’t like Dorothy opening her eyes in Oz and seeing colours all around her. There were some different types of fear this time – my existing baby was still young. He wouldn’t even be two when this one showed up. That felt scary at the time (still does).

Disseminating the Happy News

Then: To announce my last pregnancy, we told our parents and a handful of very close friends in person wherever possible, and practically right way. At the three-month mark, to create a more general announcement, my friend and gifted photographer, Nina, came over and we orchestrated an artsy photo incorporating bibs my husband and I wore at our wedding to protect our finery from rib sauce (and a newly-made bib for the baby). We dug up a ladder from the basement for Nina to perch upon to get the perfect angle. It wasn’t the most elaborate announcement I’ve ever seen, but I’m the first to admit it was slightly ~extra~. It was a lot of fun and I’m glad we did it.

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Now: This time around, we told our parents and very close friends a little later. Not that we are big into keeping our own secrets, but we were in the process of moving and just didn’t get around to it.

Somewhere around the fourth month, when I was already showing my bump like I’d just eaten a turkey dinner (a turkey for dinner), I started thinking about announcing the pregnancy with a photo. I was at home sipping a fake beer, and realized it was Friday and I was using my fav (TGIF) glass. It just felt right, so I snapped a picture, slapped some hashtags on it, sent it out far and wide, and badda-bing, badda-boom, the pregnancy was announced.

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#cheers #nonalcoholic #pregnant

My Maternity Wardrobe

Then: Ahhh, maternity clothes. Yes, they are comfortable. They are also expensive, and not well made. During my last pregnancy, I considered this “a cost of becoming a parent.” I had colourful blouses, several pairs of pants for work, and dresses for when I wanted to switch things up. Dresses required maternity pantyhose, which is somehow more expensive and less durable than regular pantyhose. But I didn’t care – it was important that I looked good to feel good! I was big and I was stretching out and I wanted to feel good about myself and how my body was changing. I shopped far and wide – malls, boutiques, websites. My maternity wardrobe was on-f*cking-point.

Now: The thing about spending a small fortune on shitty clothes is that they do not last. I knew the pantyhose were disposable, but I thought the blouses and pants would carry me through another pregnancy, should I choose to have one. No such luck. That stuff was tattered. Yes, there’s something to be said for buying quality, but I didn’t know that then. And now, because daycare and home ownership are not free, I find myself without the funds for a pregnancy wardrobe. For the past 9 months, I have lived my life in one pair of black work pants, one pair of maternity jeans, and a rotation of seven shirts (including weekend shirts). Three of these are not maternity shirts, I’m just stretching the hell outta them #sausagechic.

Hilariously, at 8 months preg, I found a box in the garage with some of my maternity dresses in it. They were more costly purchases, from a boutique, and are still in good condition. But I have mustered neither the time, money, nor gumption to buy the necessary maternity pantyhose with which to wear them. And they fit differently than they did last time. Even if I dropped major coin on pantyhose, I’m not sure I’d get that magical glow feeling I had last time from my special outfits.

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While wearing this orange shirt, I’ve taken to entering rooms yelling, “Ohhhhh yeah!” like the Kool-Aid Man.

Last time, I bought a beautiful wool maternity coat for the winter. This time, it didn’t fit nicely in the shoulders, so I spent the winter in my recently-deceased grandmother’s XL parka from Northern Reflections. Was it cute? No. Did I think twice about it? No.

I believe in self care – as money allows – but I have not felt as driven to put effort into my outward appearance as I did during my last pregnancy. I’m big and I’m stretched out and I’m okay with that. This time, it feels like the glow comes from knowing I’m going to get to be the mom of a new little one, not from showing off my bump in a perfectly tailored dress. And the glow comes from the feeling I get when my toddler rests his head on my belly and kisses the belly goodnight. I like to like how I look – I just care less about it.  And the money, good lord, the money.

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I am the third wheel.

Taking it Easy

Then: Last time, I was treated (and thought of myself) as some kind of cocoon, blessed by nature to bring forth new life. A miracle had taken place in my womb, and I was to become a mother. From me would be born a child for my husband, a grandchild for our parents, a cousin for my niece, etc. I was a sacred vessel, to be treated gently and with love.

If I became tired on weekends, I was encouraged to lie down.  It was important to everyone that I rest, and friends and family worked to make me comfortable, especially near the end. People went above and beyond, which I think I expected… and certainly embraced.

Now: Whoa, Nelly, this time has been different. You know who doesn’t care that I’m pregnant, or give a rat’s a** if I’m comfortable? My toddler. If I am tired on weekends, I just keep going, because there is no option. If my back hurts, and he says, “Mummy, pick up, peeeas?” I friggin’ pick him up cause he’s cute and I love him and I want to be close to him.

Weekends are no longer a time to recharge after five days of working hard. Weekends are exhausting. During this pregnancy, there were no Netflix and feet-up days.  Instead, there was a day I fell asleep during toddler gymnastics class. And there was a day I puked in a snow bank and then walked into a museum (and walked around for 2 hours). There was a lot of snowbank puking, come to think of it.

Overall, it’s been less about monthly pre-natal massages and more about lying on the living room floor while toy trucks are driven over my belly.

“How are you feeling?”

Then: People care, and they ask pregnant women how they are feeling. Last time, I would say (honestly) that I was feeling well, and thank them for asking.

Now: This pregnancy has been more difficult in several ways. Carrying my existing baby-come-toddler on one hip for the past 21 months and now being pregnant has caused me to experience somewhat constant back pain. It hurts a lot, and it hurts a lot of the time. I’ve been seeing a chiropractor, which has helped. But getting to the appointments has been annoying, and there continue to be things I want to do but can’t. And things I don’t want to do and can’t, like empty the dishwasher.

It’s funny to say that I’ve puked in snow banks while en route to a museum. But it’s less funny to sit and cry after putting my toddler to bed because I’m so incredibly tired, work is hard, my back hurts, and I’m worried about the change that’s going to befall my little guy’s world when the baby arrives.

As an over-sharer by nature, it’s been tricky to answer the “How are you feeling?” question from well-meaning folks when sometimes I feel really gross, physically and emotionally. I say I’m fine, but often times, the smile doesn’t reach my eyes. Or, I unload on a few lucky people, and they stare in horror, because it’s not the answer they expected or wanted to hear. They are kind, but concerned, and then I feel guilty for burdening them.

I’ve generally been fine. But sometimes I haven’t been. And it’s been a struggle to feel okay about venting that feeling. Feeling not okay about how you are feeling is yucky and meta and I hate it.

Babymoon

Then: I’m not ashamed to say that we went on a babymoon. I was not allowed to call it this, because the idea of something so self-indulgent made my husband feel physically ill  (he and I are very different). We went to Mexico with the sole purpose of relaxing together in advance of the baby arriving. We lay under umbrellas for hours, frolicked in the waves, had long conversations over beachside dinners, and slept in every day. It was a babymoon, plain and simple.

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It was my birthday and I played that card all day, including insisting we have photos taken by a roaming beach photographer.

Now: Challenges with money and logistics (saving for a maternity leave trip, Zika avoidance, needing to find care for our toddler, etc) pretty much stopped this conversation before it started. But then I got tagged at work to attend a conference in New York City at 8.5 months pregnant (also over my birthday), so I invited my husband to join me. He was able to work out of his company’s NYC office for those two days, and my parents came to our house to look after the toddler.

We had a fantastic time. And it was a lot like the 7 days we’d spent in Mexico for our first babymoon. Except it was only two days, we both worked both days, and the week prior, I had had minor foot surgery and couldn’t really walk. But we loved it. The conference itself was great for me, professionally, and we had the afternoon of our first day, and both evenings, to explore the city.

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We did this slowly (I was using a cane and my foot was too swollen for any shoe except a friend’s size 13 men’s Croc). And painfully, as the physical exertion of the limping caused me more than once to experience bouts of Braxton-Hicks contractions while leaning over mailboxes. But we explored, and we spent time together, and we weaselled our way into a few notable restaurants (Croc and all).

In some ways, it felt more restorative and memorable than Mexico. More likely, we are just that much more appreciative of child-free travel.

Preparing for Baby

Then: Come the 6-month pregnant mark, we had procured nursery furniture. Come 8 months, my aunt had visited and painted a gorgeous mural on the wall of the nursery.  Not long after, the newborn clothes were washed and folded, the book shelves were arranged just so. All that was missing was a baby.

Also around 8 months, my incredible friends threw me an incredible baby shower. My mom came to town, my mother-in-law flew in from across the country. I bought a new dress and had my make-up professionally done. We ate beautiful food, played dignified baby-themed games, I opened a pile of gifts from a pile of loved ones, and it was one of the happiest days of my life.

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That glint in your eye when you are feeling your look and are also about to receive several dozen extravagant gifts.

Now: As I write this, I am “near-term,” meaning if the baby were born today, it wouldn’t be a preemie, just a baby. It could come at any moment. As I write this, the nursery is still an office. As I write this, we possess one pack of newborn diapers (given to me yesterday by a friend). As I write this, I’m staring at the bassinet that my husband dug up from our storage room. It smells like dust and needs to be cleaned. Yesterday, we installed the infant car seat, and that felt like a huge win. Thus concludes the extent to which we have prepared. *takes bow*

The baby needs some stuff, obv. But the baby doesn’t need very much, and now we know that. It needs us, a car seat, a safe place to sleep, a few pieces of clothing to keep it warm, and a few diapers.  So that’s pretty much what we’ve prepared. Everything else, we can jimmy-rig as needed.

Last weekend (9 months pregnant), a few besties took me to brunch to celebrate the upcoming arrival of the new baby (with my insistence that it be very small, and there be no gifts).  We ate breakfast sandwiches, talked about baby and non-baby things and it was intimate and perfect. I didn’t buy a new dress, but they gave me a flower crown and I felt like a damn queen, and it was another one of the happiest days of my life.

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Two hours before my first baby shower, I was having my make-up professionally done. Two hours before this brunch, I was buying a hose at Home Depot.

Preparing for Labour

Then: We toured the hospital and the birth centre. We read Ina May Gaskin’s books. We had intellectual discussions about the pros and cons of epidurals, catheters, and other potential medical interventions. We formed carefully-researched opinions. And then the baby came in it’s own way, with twists and turns of events that led to his own birth story.

Now: Recently, a first time mom friend explained how her priority for her upcoming labour was a water birth at the birth centre. On this, she was not willing to compromise. She asked me where I wanted to labour and deliver and I shrugged. I have preferences, theoretically (not in the car) but nothing I’m going to mourn if it doesn’t come to pass. I now liken childbirth to a kiss on New Year’s Eve: you know it’s going to happen, but you can’t know or plan for the minutia of the experience itself. And I feel perfectly comfortable with that.

The baby will be born. I will love it. It will graduate high school some day. These are the broad strokes in which I’m thinking about childbirth this time around. And I’m not about to question why, for the first time in my life, my brain has chosen to take a zen approach to a major life event. Just trying to enjoy the lack of anxiety.

My doula says you earn the first birth and you deserve the second. Here’s hoping. But if not, that’s okay. It might be awful, but then it will be over.

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How the Mighty Have Fallen

Overall, despite the back pain, the puke and rallying, and the extreme lack of preparedness, I have preferred this pregnancy to my last.  I do not need another reason to be self-focussed or self-congratulatory, so having this pregnancy march along quietly has been a blessing. There has been less glamour, but also less fear.

This pregnancy, like everything since the last one ended, and probably all things to come, has not been about me as a sacred vessel to be coddled. It’s been about us, as a family, growing bigger and stronger.

Yes, the mighty have fallen. But sometimes, the fall makes us mightier.

This Little Piggy Went to [the Real Estate] Market

This Little Piggy Went to [the Real Estate] Market

Disclaimer: What’s that Smell?

Oh, it’s that this post reeks of privilege. We happen to live in a city with a housing market that is accessible to young professionals. We work full time in our fields, have health and dental benefits, and have been able to save money. This is not the case in every city or for every family, and we try not to take our good fortune for granted. If this doesn’t annoy you too much, I invite you to read on.

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It turns out that houses are expensive. You heard it here first. Having recently purchased a house (pause for shock that a licensed financial institution lent me a large sum of money), I am now a seasoned expert on house hunting. So pull up a chair next to my soapbox as I yell some unsolicited advice at you.

Find a Realtor you Trust (and like)

I know adventurous folks who’ve purchased houses without a realtor. But this was never going to be us. I generally believe that if you are embarking on a large, costly, and important purchase, receiving guidance from someone who has made this product their life’s work is probably to your benefit. And since we were buying our first home and not selling anything, it cost us a whopping zero dollars to have a professional on our side. But though they would be free, we didn’t want just anyone. We wanted to find someone who could put up with our shit was a good fit. We interviewed two who came recommended, and then really wanted to see a house that hit the market the day we were to interview the third. She agreed to a trial by fire, and showed us this house as her interview.

It’s not so much that Daria parked her car, got out, and shook our hands. It’s more that angels carried her from heaven and set her gently down in front of us and a semi-detached house… which she then tore to shreds using her extensive knowledge of foundation integrity, electrical wiring, and landscape sloping.

She told us she used to be an accountant, and that she tends to take an analytical approach, which is not a good fit for everyone. This nod to not being willing to compromise her style made me want her even more. Plus, the style itself seemed like a great fit for us. We thanked her for showing us that tire fire of a house and I told her we would decide on our realtor soon and would let her know either way.

That night, in a scene not dissimilar to every season finale of The Bachelor(ette), I emailed the other realtors, saying we enjoyed meeting them but have decided to work with someone else. Then I stood on a windswept cliff at sunset [in my imagination] and proposed to Daria by writing, “I feel like the Bachelorette – I broke up with the other two. Will you be our realtor?” She said yes, and showed up for our next meeting like this.

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Daria Kark reviewed this post for glaring factual inaccuracies, but has not endorsed or sponsored it. As per ush, all views expressed are purely my own rantings.

Search High and Low

We looked at many houses. This is a major luxury of being a first time home buyer – the length and depth and timing of your hunt is not constrained by selling your current house.

No one will be surprised to learn that we didn’t quite know what we wanted. We expanded our search area, and then shrunk it back up again. For us and with us, Daria braved one house that was literally on the verge of collapse (the sellers didn’t even bother locking the door because there was nothing of value, including the house itself). And another that was 100% haunted.

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Closet in the attic of the haunted house

Dress for the House you Want – Not the Scumbag you are

If you have seen me outside of my office at any point over the past 18 months, chances are high that I was wearing a certain pair of pants. Okay fine, “pants” is a stretch. And speaking of stretch, I’m talking about off-brand active wear leggings that I bought during my maternity leave for mom & baby fitness class. I put them on for an exercise class in mid-2015 and on they have stayed.

But when we started house hunting, and took the step of actually going to a house to look inside of it, I thought that the sellers might be there, and that they would relinquish their prized home only to the poshest of the posh, so I’d better look not like that guy from the Big Lebowski (which is what my hair looks like if I do nothing to it). I got fancy. Straightened hair! Eyeshadow! Blazer! Oh my! And then we got to the house and no one was there, and I was like, “Ugh, this waistband sucks.” I went home and put the pants on and never looked back.

My house-hunting “style” remained stagnant at that – leggings and an oversized t-shirt. Once, coming directly from the splashpad with the baby to view a house, I wore a wet bathing suit under a sundress which I had purchased from a dollar store. I’ll admit that that was questionable even to my extreme level of casual dressing, and certainly objectionable to both my husband and our realtor.

Me, to them: “Oh, I’m sorry! Is this Buckingham Palace? Is the Queen in residence? I didn’t think so. Relax, I’m not gonna sit on any couches.” [I totally did.]

Moral of this story: No one cares what you look like while you are house hunting. You probably won’t meet the sellers, and if you do, they only care about your money.

Don’t Get Distracted by Shiny Things

Show me the person who doesn’t get excited over the sight of a sparkly new kitchen faucet with a pull down swivel spout and stainless steel protector coil and I will show you a liar. New shit is ~nice~. 

Well, Daria had no time for my dreams of being the proud new owner of a full rain shower system with adjustable body jets.

Often, she was a big old Debbie Downer when I got excited about shiny new shit. She was quick and ruthless as she crushed my dreams in house after house with her declarations of the sparkly features being “lipstick on a pig.” Meaning, the house was a crumbling pile of garbage with some nice-looking stuff on top.

But… the shininess!  Who needs modern wiring when you have a backsplash that DREAMS ARE MADE OF?

The things that made Daria’s heart beat more quickly were boring as f*ck. She swooned over  maxi vents, new electrical panels, and properly insulated cold storage rooms. Snore.

Of course, she was right. And I now know that the shiny shit can be added later, and usually pretty affordably. Just like every 1990’s teenage make-over movie taught me: better to buy a sturdy uggo and add your own sparkle than to chase something shiny and learn later that it is actually crap on the inside.

Try Not to Lose Your Mind

At times while house hunting, it was tempting to get caught up in the dreamland of “what could be.” Maybe house-hunting is like tripping on hard drugs (from what I’ve heard): you need someone there to keep you from making a huge mistake. Daria was that person for us. During our house-hunting career, we went to Crazy Town a few times and considered, even briefly, the following HUGE RED FLAGS, to be something we could manage.

The Fixer-Upper

A “cozy” house in “original” condition – it would have needed a massive addition, and until we could save up several hundred thousand dollars, we would live there with only half a kitchen, no dishwasher and no shower.

The Silence of the Lambs Basement House

I don’t have much to say because I’ve repressed my memories of this experience.

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Leo & Kate beckoned us down the crumbling stairs
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Nothing like a 6′ ceiling covered in news clippings
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The knife was a nice touch
The Walk on the Wild Side House

There was a house that had a racoon living in the attic. I know this because I saw it.

When It’s Right, Say Yes To the Dress [house]

When we first saw the house that became our home, there was no harp music playing in our minds, no rainbow crowning over the roof like I thought there would be. It was exactly what we wanted, but lacked some of the “wow” that we had dreamed of. We had just come from a house across the street that had a wicked open layout, a massive walk-in closet, and an ensuite bathroom (never thought we’d have one of those) that would have been the wet dream of interior designers in the 1980’s… but not much else going for it. I loved it. My husband and Daria told me I was looking at it through beer goggles.

When we crossed the street into what is now our house, I was still lusting after the 1980’s ensuite and wasn’t giving this house much attention. Daria was eerily quiet during our tour. I asked her when she was going to drop the hammer on this pile of bricks, and she said, “Guys, there is no hammer. It’s in fantastic condition.” Then she got all squealy when she saw the properly insulated cold room. I snapped out of my funk, we looked at the whole thing again, got excited ourselves, and we decided to put in an offer. It was like we were on Say Yes To the Dress and Randy showed up and jacked-it-up with a veil and a bouquet and everyone fell in love with it.

Make Them an Offer They Can’t Refuse

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Me, putting in an offer

Daria came over that night, and I opened a bottle of wine. She was a total narc and said we can’t be inebriated when we sign the offer. But then she let me pick a font for my electronic signature, which was super fun, so I forgave her.  We submitted our offer, drank the wine, and we went to bed all buzzed and dreaming of our new house.

The sellers had 24 hours to respond, but during that time, they received another offer.  We were then transported to the bizarro land of multiple offers. In case you’ve never had to visit this strange planet, I’ll tell you about my brief stay there.

When a house receives multiple offers,  the sellers may elect to “receive offers in person” at a specific date and time. Buyers’ agents go into a room and give an oral presentation to the sellers and the selling agent. I’m not kidding. This is real life.

But it’s a total prisoners’ dilemma for the potential buyers (yeah, I took Econ 101), because you don’t know what the other people offered, and or if they revised their original offer. And they don’t know sh*t about your offer(s). Maybe your first offer is good enough. Maybe it’s a lot lower than the other people’s, maybe it’s much higher. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

We banged our heads against the wall for a few hours and begged Daria to be the adult and tell us what to do. She talked us through various potential outcomes, but insisted that we make the decision ourselves. She advised us to think of a price at which if the evil “other guys” got the house, we wouldn’t be crushed, because it would have been too high, and then offer a bit below that, while still in a range we could afford.

When in Doubt, Flirt

Daria suggested we also write a note to the sellers, introducing ourselves, to humanize our offer. This I can do, I thought.

You want me to schmooze ’em, D? Here, hold my beer.

I wrote a letter so sappy that nearby maple trees became jealous. I described specific things I loved about the house. I complimented how well certain features were maintained (that damned cold room got its time in the spotlight, that is for sure), and I waxed poetic about watching our kids grow up in the large, bright bedrooms (currently only had one kid, not yet pregnant with the second). I did not dot the i’s with hearts, but I might as well have.

Was it all true? Yes. Was it all a bit much? Also yes.

Daria took our revised offer and my love letter over to the dog and pony show (my words, not hers), and we waited anxiously for her return. It was then that my body decided to produce my first migraine headache in 5 years. #blessed

Daria returned and excitedly told us that our offer had been accepted and that the sellers loved my note. Uh, duh.

Take Time to Process, then Celebrate

We popped a bottle of champagne (this time Daria let us drink because the paper work was signed). We toasted to our house-hunting journey together and to the new house. Everyone took a big swig. And then I burst into tears.

Guys, I’m really fun at parties.

In retrospect, I was probably coming down from the adrenaline, and that plus the migraine led to tears on tears on tears. Daria said she understood, and that it had been a big day for everyone. Which is something you say when a child melts down at the county fair as their sugar high becomes a sugar crash. Daria was very kind, but left soon after and no one blamed her. I didn’t even want to hang out with me.

 But do celebrate!

Getting our keys was both fun and anticlimactic. I went to the lawyer’s office, the receptionist handed me an envelope with a key in it, and that was it. We bought a house.

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More precisely, a bank bought a house and we owned a fairly small percentage of it.

That night, we ditched the toddler with a friend and headed over to ~our~ house with a pizza and a bottle of wine. We cuddled up on a blanket in the dining room and chatted about the different places we had called home since we first shacked up together 8 years ago.

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We snuggled and did some horrifying mental addition of how much money we would have saved on rent if we had stayed in our first sh*thole apartment for 8 years.  Never do that math.

Enjoy The Spoils of your Search

When we signed on the dotted line, Daria said to us, “Now, stop looking for houses. There will always be others, you’ve found yours, you’re done looking for now.” So f*cking wise. Again, similarly to wedding dress shopping, I wasn’t sure if I would want to stop looking. The FOMO in me is strong, and I thought perhaps I would be pulled back into online searches or neighbourhood drive-bys for “what could have been.” Turns out, this was not the case.

We put our life savings into this place, and five months later, we have no furniture, there is nothing hung on the walls, and the kitchen remains 1990’s-tastic despite our plans to revamp it. Furthermore, on our third night in the house, my husband slipped on the basement stairs and spilled an entire bottle of red wine on the cream coloured carpet.

But it still feels pretty damned perfect, and we are thrilled that it is ours.

At least until we eventually trash the place and have to move.

Then we’ll call Daria and she’ll tell us what to do.

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Everything I know about parenting, I learned from my dog

Everything I know about parenting, I learned from my dog

Technically, he is my parents’ dog. I do have a dog, but she’s fairly useless and has taught me nothing. Love her! But she’s no rocket scientist.

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Back to the smart one.

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Frankie came to be owned by my parents after he was found trying to board a commuter bus. He was picked up by a rescue organization, and ended up being adopted by my parents. He is named after Frank Sinatra because of his one blue eye, and general cool dude persona.

Frankie is the the Danny Zuko of the animal kingdom – a tough exterior with a heart of gold. He does not seek (or appear to enjoy) human affection, yet he is always within spitting distance, constantly underfoot.

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In a crowded room, he settles next to the weakest link. He prefers to park himself at the feet of grandparents, great-grandparents, huge pregnant ladies (hollerrrrrrr), or babies.

My parents travel for long periods of time during the winter, and Frankie stays with us. It’s a shared custody arrangement, because when my parents are back from global gallivanting, they take both dogs. But please excuse me while I sharpen the short end of this stick because winter where I live is f*cking brutal, and these dogs need a lot of exercise, so our outdoor time triples while we are operating the K9 hotel.

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All of this is to say: we have the dogs right now, as we have every winter for the past 4 years, and I am learning a lot. After a week of ice pellets falling from the sky on my head at 6am, I am learning how to pull my wet, icy hair into an Elsa-style side braid [is what I tell myself] and be ready to leave for work at 8am.

I am also learning about parenting. From a dog. Because, as you may have gathered, I’ll take whatever help I can get. Here is what I’ve learned.

1) Assess Threats as They Emerge, and Calm the F*ck Down

Parenting a toddler is like being assigned to handle a Tasmanian Devil while it trips on bath salts.

Toddlers are magnetically drawn to do things that can maim or kill them. As their handler parent,  you have to out-move and out-think these critters as they scurry from one potential disaster to another. And while not all of the stops on their treasure hunt of doom are life-threatening, all are inconvenient and messy at best.

Here is a window into their madness:

Rational human being: Oh look, a bin of blocks.

Toddler Tasmanian Devil: MUST DUMP ON HEAD.

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Rational human being: I would like to read this book.

Toddler Tasmanian Devil: MUST PULL ALL BOOKS OFF SHELF AND SCREAM “BOOK! BOOK! BOOK!”

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Rational human being: It would be nice to look out that window. 

Toddler Tasmanian Devil: MUST STACK STEPPING STOOL ON ROCKING CHAIR TO OBTAIN MAXIMUM VIEW AT MAXIMUM DANGER LEVEL.

These are all things my toddler did. Today. Within the span of 10 minutes. Before 7:45am.  At the time, I felt annoyed, and thought, “Why can’t you just be cool and let me drink my coffee?”

Then I looked at Frankie.

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He was unfazed.  He was watching, but was 0% perturbed by the pile of books that had been placed where he was sleeping. And he didn’t flinch when 100 wooden blocks rained down next to him, or when his rest was again interrupted by having sticky hands thrust a necklace over his head.

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He conserves his energy like one of those fancy washing machines I can’t afford. A few loud noises and some extra clutter in the living room weren’t worth the energy expenditure of getting annoyed. I believe that this dog had the wisdom to know that it was in his own self-interest to stay calm and save his energy until/unless an actual threat emerged. Which in his mind probably involves a stray racoon wandering into the house. I don’t know, I’m not Dr. Dolittle.

From Frankie’s lack of reaction, I am learning to let the blocks rain down and let the books be strewn about, because now is the time for play and later we can sing the “tidy up time” song and get the shit sorted back where it belongs. In gauging threats, I’ll try to wait until there is 30 pounds of toddler in actual physical danger before I put my coffee down or let my blood pressure raise a single millimeter of mercury.

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Threat of bodily harm: low. Back to my coffee.

 

2) There is no Bad Weather

Before you punch me in the face, hear me out. It is late January and the view from my window right now shows a frozen hellscape. There are 4-foot high snow banks bordering my street, the street itself is sheer ice, and ice pellets continue their relentless descent from the grey sky. But we can’t stay indoors.

We used to! Before the little guy arrived, we would hunker down for winter weekends and hibernate for hours, then pop out for groceries and resume our cozy postures in front of the fireplace.

We do not do this anymore. You will recall that a Tasmanian Devil now lives in our home.  In a fun joke that God plays on us, the little guy gets extra squirrely without frequent doses of fresh air. And so, out we go.

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And it’s cold. And it’s windy. But you know who doesn’t care? Frankie. He maintains an armour-like shield that prevents bad weather from permeating his skin and bothering him on an emotional or spiritual level. In fact, he seems to lack that doggie instinct to shake off snow. It just piles up on him and we have to wipe it off with our arms like he is a car windshield.

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He just does. not. care.

In learning from Frankie, I have decided that if we do not embrace winter, it will destroy us. Every Saturday and Sunday morning, we sing the “socks and shoes” song I made up (hoping for a Grammy nod this year) that sends the little guy racing to the door to be suited up in his socks, snow pants, coat, boots, scarf, hat, and gloves. We put on the same gear, schlep to an off-leash dog park and roam the wilderness while trying to trick our minds into liking winter.

 

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Are we cold? Yes! But usually only at first. With our warm clothes and following in Frankie’s footsteps (often literally), I’m becoming one of those annoyingly chipper people who says, “There is no bad weather, just bad winter clothing choices!”

FML. Is it spring yet?

 

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Just not the yellow stuff, k, bud?

3) Eating is a Social Activity

If you have never fed a toddler, then your face is probably missing a few wrinkles that have recently appeared on mine. You can’t make a tiny terrorist eat, and they know that. So, they often like to use meal times to exert their newfound free will.

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“I will eat this bite and then nothing else! Muahahaha!”

Also, timing can be a b*tch. From the time we get home from work and daycare pick-up, we have 15 minutes to get our coats off, put food on the table, get the toddler to the table, and get food moving in the general direction of his mouth before he starts to get sleepy. It is a feat worthy of reality tv competition: Top Toddler Chef. Except no one would watch because it would be incredibly tedious.

My husband and I aren’t always in the mood to eat the early bird special, so often times we sit with the little goober while he eats and we make conversation with him and with one another. This is fine, unless it isn’t. Sometimes, toddlers are a**holes. They just don’t want to eat.

Medically, this is fine. No toddler has ever chosen to starve itself. But, unfortunately for me, I am not a rational being and instead my mental health is directly correlated to the quantity of healthy food that my toddler eats. It ebbs and flows like the tides. When he is fussy or doesn’t eat much, it drains me. When he eats well, my spirits soar.

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At Christmas, he ate an entire turkey breast and I was so happy, someone asked me if I’d been doing shots.

However, I do know, and Frankie reminds me, that eating is a social activity and we all eat best when we eat with others. Frankie eats only while lying down. And only while someone is sitting next to him.

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Is this weird? F*ck yes. Is it kind of genius? Also yes.

Having to lower myself onto the kitchen floor early in the morning and late at night to promote the consumption of food by a large dog who isn’t mine is a solid reminder that eating should not be rushed, and instead should be treated as sacred family time.

So now we eat a little snack while our toddler has his supper. And he eats better and I’m less of a hangry monster come normal adult supper time.

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My toddler can’t pronounce Frankie’s name, and it comes out souding like “Pretty.” It is not inaccurate. Frankie is a very pretty dog. It’s also pretty neat having him around to teach us how to take a chill pill, how to not let winter crush our souls, and how to take the time to eat peacefully together. Everyone wins. Except me sitting on the floor twice a day.

I guess it’s the least I can do to repay my latest parenting role model –  a stray dog  who appears to care about nothing, and yet has taught me so much about caring for my young.

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My Baby Has His Own Ensuite (and other ridiculous things I’ve said in the name of sleep)

My Baby Has His Own Ensuite (and other ridiculous things I’ve said in the name of sleep)

[Disclaimer: In parenthood circles, there are few spicier topics of conversation than sleep. It’s great to have a baby who sleeps well. And telling people about it is a great way to make enemies. I am not here to advocate for a specific method of sleep training (or the use of methods at all). We did a thing and it worked well. Other people do different things, or nothing, and that works. You do you.]

My name is Madeline and I’m a baby sleepaholic.

I’ve been addicted to all things related to baby sleep for about 10 months.

It started innocently enough. We brought the baby home, he slept through the night (because he was exhausted from entering the world).

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24 hours young

The second night was like a horror movie. He would not sleep. My husband ended up walking him around the neighbourhood on what may have been the hottest and most humid night ever experienced on Planet Earth. I sat in the glider while they were gone, riding the see-saw of new motherhood that involves intermittently crying and dozing off.

When they returned, I put the baby on my chest, lay down, and we all slept for a few hours. The next morning, I told my midwife that I’d fallen asleep with the baby on my chest and now he was probably going to die of post-bed-sharing complications. She talked me off the cliff and said that in some places in North America, they send new mothers home with a pamphlet on safe bed-sharing, because they know it happens… because it works… and it’s how about 85% of new babies around the world sleep.

We discussed risk factors, and I felt elated with this new found sense of (relative) comfort in knowing how to (more) safely bed-share. And so we did, on and off, for the next few months. And if you have anything bad to say about that, then you can eat a bag of d’s.

See? I told you it’s a spicy topic.

In those first months, our evenings involved nursing, cuddling, and the baby falling asleep on me on the couch while we binge-watched Scandal (as a family! Awwwww!). I would place him in his bassinet, and later we would lug it into our room.

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In the background: “It’s handled!”

 

If he woke up in the night, I rocked or nursed him, sometimes in bed, sometimes in a chair. Then I would put him back down to sleep or bring him into bed with us. This seemed normal.

Around 4 months, he night-weaned himself (woooosh! <–The sound of me dodging a bullet), and the half-nursing, half-rocking back to sleep became all rocking. Again, it was fine.

Then a friend told me about a book she was reading to help her baby learn to fall asleep on his own. On his own? What sorcery is this? She recounted her experience that began with months of intermittent bed sharing, shoulder pain, and two nights on a train that she claims to have significantly shortened her lifespan.

All of this led her to decide to attempt some kind of sleep training – a journey that began with her crying on the floor of a bookstore, holding baby sleep books in her hands, trying to absorb the tips through osmosis.

She settled on one book and had a positive experience with teaching her little one how to fall asleep on his own, and subsequently to stay asleep longer. I felt like my kid should be able to do this. So, I did the same. Meaning: I visited a bookstore, became overwhelmed, and cried in the aisle. They should put a chair in that aisle or at least a box of tissues.

I bought the same book, obv. It advocated a gentle method of sleep training, which I now know belongs in the “sit and support” camp of strategies.

I read the first few pages, and learned that sleeping through the night actually means knowing how to fall asleep again… because human babies (and human adults) wake up often during normal sleep cycles, and babies who sleep “through the night” are really just waking up and then falling back asleep by their own damn selves.

I immediately cried because this meant we’d be doing everything so very wrong with rocking or nursing him to sleep, and thus he would never sleep alone and we might as well build a top bunk over our bed where he would sleep for the rest of his life.

Based on the 3 pages of ~expertise~ I had gained by cracking the spine of the book, I decided this method would never work for us. I then did the most logical thing: I stayed up really late, curled up in a ball, and dug myself into an internet black hole of despair by reading a bazillion “articles” about sleep training, and got totally overwhelmed by the contradictory approaches, and the overall smug and patronizing tone of most of the advice-givers.

Back to bed-sharing as desired for us.

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I subscribe to the theory that nothing’s a problem until it’s a problem. Well, the old failsafe of bed-sharing at whim became a problem. Over time, I developed wrenching pain in my shoulder from lying on one side with my arm circled around the baby.

I began to take on two personas: Morning Me and Nighttime Me. Morning Me vowed that some kind of sleep training was a priority for our family. Nighttime Me was less concerned, and was paralysed with fear of the crying that might be involved. Nighttime Me was all about bed-sharing. Crippling arm pain? Psssshhhaw…that’s Morning Me’s problem – whatever works right now is the best thing to do!

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Morning Me vs. Nighttime Me

I reluctantly picked up the sleep training book and looked at it anew. The book begins with chapters for advice on early habits for newborns, followed by “you might want to start” for 3-6 month olds, and then walking into the dark forest of, “by now you should have…”

I felt personally attacked by those statements. I also had no time for the book’s anecdotes. Who cares if little Cayden never slept more than half an hour, and after 5 nights of this technique he slept perfectly for the rest of his life until he died peacefully in his sleep at age 125. I’m not his mom, I don’t give a crap.

I wanted someone to tell me I’m perfect, and then gently offer ideas on how to be slightly more perfect. Is that too much to ask of a sleep training book?

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Just give me a sleep training book that sees me the way this snapchat filter sees me.

So then I entered the awful, lonely land of Sleep Training Limbo. I was intellectually aware of methods to try to help my baby sleep better and longer, but at the same time, I was too afraid of any crying to actually employ those methods. Instead, I randomly gathered more/different advice. It was like conducting research towards a thesis called, “These are the ways in which you are failing.”

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Limbo: how [emotionally] low can you go?
At rock bottom, I found myself in the arms of a cashier at the liquor store when I made a joke about needing wine because we were considering doing some sleep training. She said, “Oh honey, just enjoy the snuggles while you can.” She saw my anxious face turn into a little side smile and brought me in for a hug.

Coincidentally, that night, a friend who lives across the country told me she had hired a sleep consultant and they were going to try their first night of sit-and-support sleep training. Knowing I needed a push to get the f*ck out of Sleep Training Limbo, and ever the joiner, I texted her, “Me, too?”

We did it together: me, my friend, our husbands, and our babies. By the grace of God, this wasn’t 2004 when you had to pay for each text message. Because I think I texted her more words than I cumulatively spoke allowed that week. Before bedtime, during bedtime, middle of the night, crack of dawn, nap time. Text, text, text, text, text.

Was there crying? Yes. Was it mostly me? Yes. Was it mostly confined to the hour before we started on the first night? Yes.

It was one of the most anti-climactic experiences of my life. It. Was. Fine.

I wish I had a more exciting tale to tell, but we just… did what the book told us to. And he learned to fall asleep. He cried a little, and it took him longer to fall asleep than if we had been rocking him. We were occassionally haunted by self doubt, and there were tough moments when we knew our little one was sad, and that we could take away the sad if we just picked him up (which we did, the one or two times he actually seemed distressed). But we were right there next to him, and he was not distraught. And he did learn. And he did sleep (a lot).

And we slept. And my shoulder healed. And I got really, really good at Sudoku by sitting in his room while he babbled and settled and taught himself (with me a few feet away) to fall asleep. It wasn’t fun. But it was fine.

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Even though the book was annoying, it had some great advice, like offering a lovey for comfort. Or, as my dad calls them, “expensive rags.”

Did we hit the jackpot with a “good sleeper”? Probably. But I like to take some credit (as I’m prone to do) for how TOTALLY OBSESSED I am with prioritizing baby sleep. Our days are structured around naps and bedtime. I never thought I’d be one of those parents (I was so judgy of parents before I became one), but here I am, a card-carrying member of the Sleep Above All Else Club. You know why? Because it f*cking works [for us].

Here is a window into my madness:

  • My baby has his own ensuite: When we were in Madrid, the Air BnB owner showed us the second of the two bedrooms in our rented apartment and said, “and here, off the living room with these sliding doors and all this natural light, is where the baby sleeps!” My husband and I side-glanced at each other, knowing full well that the baby would sleep in the other, pitch dark, back-of-the-apartment room and we would take this open, brightly lit space. And that is how my baby came to have his own ensuite for 3 weeks.
  • Room with a view: In a beach town we visited, we gave the baby the only ocean-view room in the three bedroom apartment. Why? Because it was far away from the kitchen and living room, and had blackout blinds that I now have titillating dreams about installing in my own home. You want an ocean view? Go outside. And don’t slam the door; the baby is sleeping!
  • Put him in the dungeon: Recently, while staying overnight with other guests at my parents’ house, we set up a pack n’ play in the laundry room – quiet, dark, warm, and out of reach of anything lethal. And the baby had all naps and slept 12-hour nights, comforted by the sight of my dad’s gym shorts hanging nearby. Again, he’s good at this, but we help him by making complete asshats out of ourselves to provide him with dark and quiet sleep environments.

Sometimes I see parents out with little ones late at night and I briefly wish we were more adventurous. And then I remember that for the past 10 months my babe has napped reliably and slept 12-13 hours at night. And as a result, my husband and I have cooked, hosted parties, gotten busy, watched tv (let’s be honest, it’s mostly tv), and basically done whatever we wanted from 6pm to 7am.

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Yes, we have a video monitor. To the surprise of no one.

I admit it: I’m batshit crazy about baby sleep. And if I could apply this level to discipline to literally any other area of my life, I could rule the world.

If you’re sleep deprived and you’re reading this, please know that while we are catching some solid z’s at night, we aren’t doing it from atop a high horse. I try to stay humble because chances are our next kid will have colic and I’ll be back to my old tricks – seeking comfort and affection from randos at the liquor store.

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I Work(ed) Out

I Work(ed) Out

As I write this, I’m eating lasagna. So if you’re hoping for fitness inspiration or – dear God – advice,  it’s best that you leave now.

If you’re instead hungry for whining and ramblings about failed weight loss attempts, you’ve come to the right place and I welcome you with my soft, doughy arms.

It’s not that I gained a ton of weight during my pregnancy. I mean, I did! But ever the keener, I actually started gaining weight before I got pregnant. I had a weird couple of months, including breaking my elbow when a suicidal groundhog ran infront of my bike. And then we went to Europe and drank heavily ate beige food with reckless abandon.

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In Prague, my husband and I made our own pub crawl… which is just a turn of phrase to make our day-into-night drinking sound like it was organized.

I tend not to get hung up on my weight. Sure, I ate only saucy carbs while pregnant, but my weight gain was within my midwife’s recommended limit, and I had a baby for f*ck’s sake… I’m okay to be jiggly after achieving the most incredible thing my body has ever had to do. Baby weight seemed normal and expected. And leggings are super comfortable, so really, what was the problem? Buuuuuut, then I started to realize that the “baby” had become a toddler.

And I began to wonder: when is “baby weight” more appropriately categorized as “bad decision weight?”

I had burned a few calories here and there since becoming pregnant and since having the baby. I went to Strollercize once a week during most of my mat leave. And always cut the last half-km of the 5 km stroller walk to instead inhale some pancakes at the diner with my friend. What am I, training for the Chinese Olympics team?

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Swinging burns calories, right? And selfies are like a bicep workout.

While in Spain for 6 weeks near the end of my mat leave, I did exactly 4 exercise band workouts <<pause for applause>>, and totally slayed the ropes course we found in a park in Madrid. WAIT! HOLD EVERYTHING. It turns out that the past-tense of “to slay” is slew. I totally slew the ropes course.

I’m generally more of a team sport person. I excel at drinking wine and watching reality tv in small groups. But I’ve had a few gym memberships over the years.

These experiences usually involved me going to a spin class or a bootcamp-style session every now and then. During those classes, I spent most of the time figuring out how to cheat without being noticed. It was a workout for my mind and body! I became adept at fake stretching and slowly turning down the RPM’s on the bike.

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The last time I worked out.

Recently, my husband and I went temporarily insane and took advantage of a corporate membership rate and a discount package of personal training sessions at a nearby gym. I knew then that my days of faking it through workouts were probably over. Or at least on hold.

I began my relationship with my personal trainer by aggressively screening his calls. Because I’m an adult. One time, I even tossed the ringing phone across the room and onto the couch and hid my head behind a pillow. To which my husband responded, “You know he can’t see you, right?”

When I finally answered, it was worse than I feared. He was peppy. Lines like “Let’s get cracking!” came out of his mouth as I felt bile rising up into mine.

He continued with, “When you come in for your first session tomorrow, we’ll talk about your goals.”

I responded, “My goal is to be less of a fat ass.” He sort of coughed/laughed and I decided we would never be chummy.

He then said, “We’ll also see how you move.” And I said, “Slowly, and poorly.”

The next day, I walked into the gym and felt like a vampire crossing the threshold of a church.

I had the baby with me, and dropped him in the child minding area. Oh yes, this is a ~fancy~ gym. It has a massive daycare space, and for $5 they will take care of your spawn. But you have to stay in the building. Trust me, I checked.

I found myself sitting with my trainer in a little office. I realized this would be even more difficult because, ugh, he was hot. He was approximately 7 feet tall, and his shoulders were approximately 4 feet broad. His posture was as straight as the side part in his hair and the sharp lines of his beard on his olive cheeks. I later learned (through aggressively asking him personal questions) that he spent 7 years as a professional model in his native India. FML.

I am sorely tempted to put a link to the modelling shots of him I found online, but I don’t have his permission and I try to get ppl’s permission before associating them with the ramblings of my blog. So I’m taking the high road and leaving him anonymous. It’s my first time on the high road and I’m not sure how I like it.

Midway through this initial consultation, my PT gently inquired about my postpartum exercise experience. I told him I’d signed up for a mini-triathlon. His perfect eyebrows arched and he smiled and said, “Right on!” And then I had the sad duty of telling him I went to Spain and missed the event, and that knowing I would miss it, I also decided to skip the training. To be efficient. He looked sad and I mentally took a snapshot of the first of many times I would disappoint him.

I decided not to tell him that I had done a weekly swim class for people training for triathlons, starting when I was 6 weeks postpartum. I omitted this detail because the class involved me huffing and splashing my way through countless lengths, while trying not to pee in the pool with every mild exertion. And I was mostly there for the long, uninterrupted shower anyway.

I also didn’t tell him that I had a Fitbit. It was really good at making me feel superior to my 5 Fitbit friends while we were in Spain and were walking 18,000 steps per day. It motivated me to take the dogs for longer walks, but hadn’t been the weight loss silver bullet that I had hoped for. What’s that you say? There is no silver bullet? Well, I plan to allocate my energy away from proven weight loss methods like eating less, and channel it directly into finding a silver bullet, thankyouverymuch.

Our interview over, my trainer then had me step onto a machine and asked if I would like to see my body fat percentage.

Okay, guys. If you find yourself in a position in which someone poses this question to you, I highly, highly recommend saying, “No thank you, kind sir.” Because it is a number you cannot unsee.

Feeling light-headed from this jarring experience, I followed my PT to a fenced in area of the gym reserved for trainers and their clients. I made a joke about heading into solitary confinement, instead of kicking it in gen pop. He didn’t laugh. I thought maybe he hadn’t heard hear me, so I said it louder. But no, he heard me, he just didn’t think it was funny. AS IF THIS COULD GET WORSE. I guess this guy puts the PT in uptight.

He asked me to do some basic movements (his words, not mine) so he could see (and document!) all the ways in which I was a blubbery disaster. After a few squats, a plank, some kind of pulling motion, my hilarious attempt at a push-up, and some other bullshit, I was dripping with sweat and officially done my first session. He gave me a robust high-five and, in the understatement of the year, declared that there was “room for improvement.” I think the volume and length of my ensuing laugh scared him more than a little bit.

He told me that like many moms, I overcompensate with my arms and am not using my big muscles effectively. I told him I probably just don’t have big muscles and again, he didn’t laugh. Was he a robot? A sexy fitness robot?

He said my homework was to track my food and to show it to him next time.

I said, “Or I could just shoot myself in the f*cking face.”

I told him that while the baby always eats according to nutritional guidelines, my husband and I either eat grilled fish, broccoli and quinoa… or greasy shawarma and there is no in-between.

He gently suggested that I consider putting as much effort into my own health as I do the baby’s. Buuuuuuuurn. Apparently, he also puts the PT in perceptive. But I put the PT in sceptical, and responded by leering at him.

I headed towards the daycare area, but spotted my baby across the gym. A gym employee was carrying him around as he smiled his hillbilly half-toothed grin, waving at people on the cardio machines. The worker said it was the only thing that kept him happy. Go figure that my kid goes to the gym and cries unless he is chatting and cracking jokes with strangers.

During the next PT session, I asked my trainer how many times he works out in a week. He said, “Six, and if I miss a workout… oh man…” His face contorted like someone watching for the first time the scene where Bambi’s mother dies. I said, “That is how I feel at the prospect of missing a meal.”

He later mentioned that he doesn’t have a TV and that when he goes home, he reads books from the library… about fitness. He and I are very different people — another massive understatement. But he loves his job, and I respect how dedicated he is to helping his clients.

A couple of weeks later, many squats, and a few lost pounds, I completed my last PT session. This involved sitting through a high-pressure sales pitch about continuing with personal training. Putting the PT in bankrupt, am I right?

I’ve kept going to the gym, against all odds and expectations. My time with the sexy fitness robot got my sorry ass to the gym, got me doing basic exercises safely, and got me tracking my food and thinking about what I shovel down my throat. These are the building blocks for becoming healthier, and my trainer helped me put those in place. It wouldn’t have killed him to laugh at my jokes, but he’s hot so I forgive him.

Will I ever do a chin-up? Unlikely.

Will I ever run a 10 km? Not unless I’m being chased by a bear. But that would last maybe 10 feet so I revise my answer to no, never.

Will I ever do more PT sessions? Maybe, but not immediately.

I know enough(ish) to workout safely for now. I’m motivated by getting closer to being able to do badass sh*t like push ups, or whipping those big ropes up and down without hyperventilating. The extra weight is budging, and I continue to be pretty “meh” about it either way. It’ll come off. Or it won’t. But I’ll get healthier bit by bit. And until then, I’ll put the PT in voluptuous.

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The best part about going to the gym, including the health benefits, the endorphins, and the long shower, is the free massage chair. 

Yesterday at the gym, I waved to my trainer as I passed by the solitary confinement area. He was in there with a client and I noticed that she was in a wheelchair. He was guiding her through a movement with resistance bands and she was smiling. And I realized how far his job goes beyond gently telling me I shouldn’t eat pulled pork 4 meals in a row, and not laughing at my stupid jokes because it would distract me from keeping safe form during a kettle bell swing.

He did a good job of launching me into a somewhat healthier phase of life. And if I have to lift some heavy junk in order to get rid of some of my heavy junk, I’m okay with that. Just don’t ask me to miss a meal.

It’s my Birthing Day, and I’ll Cry if I Want to

It’s my Birthing Day, and I’ll Cry if I Want to

And just like that, my baby is one year old.

We had a little gathering on the weekend. Family came into town, some friends came over, furniture was moved, decorations were hung, a kiddie pool was bought, inflated and filled, champagne was popped, gifts were  opened, cake was smashed.

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We picked a “twinkle, twinkle little star” theme because no one liked my “mom gets drunk” theme and because my husband sings that song to the baby every night. Making the decorations helped keep my mind off my upcoming return to work, and instead focus on how shitty I am at making decorations.
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We accidentally bought an olympic sized kiddie pool. In other news, my dad is a really good sport.
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Do not challenge my mother-in-law to a themed dessert bake-off because you will lose. So much love went into this and every star-shaped detail.

Later that evening, we sat around, relieved a few balloons of their helium and rehashed some of Donald Trump’s best (worst) lines in chipmunk voices. The whole day was a riot and it felt like we marked the occasion well with our little group of guests, our crazy decorations, our inappropriately (and dangerously) over-sized kiddie pool and our multiple desserts.

But today, three days later, the floor has been swept (by someone else, clearly) and the remaining balloons bob awkwardly at shoulder height. And I’m at work, shoving kale salad into my mouth while hunched over my iphone, jotting this down in the Notes app, wondering if I will have time later to copy and paste and post it or if I will be too sleepy from trying not to feel like I’m missing out by not being with my kid on his first birthday.

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Here’s me today at work; the poster child for FOMO.

And let me tell you, I’m feeling lots of feels. So either close your browser now or humour me by continuing to read, cause this right here… this is gonna be a sappy one.

Here are some of the feelings I’m a-feeling:

I’m feeling reflective about the experience of my son’s birth.

Childbirth is a wild ride, no matter how it unfolds. His was not exactly as hoped for in that we didn’t get to go to the hippie birthing centre. I was induced at a hospital but it felt safe, it was not a prolonged process, and we felt well cared for.

The experience of meeting my baby was beyond what my mind had been capable of imagining.

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Our meet cute. Except more like meet sweaty/bloody.

And the experience of leaving the hospital 3 hours after giving birth, driving home on the slowest possible streets in the middle of the night, and spending the remaining hours before sunrise staring at him are memories I hold tightly in my heart.

Another highlight of that day was later eating an entire pizza by myself. It was a great day for many reasons.

I’m feeling some relief that the first year is over.

For me, the conclusion of Year One is not like that feeling after a vacation where you cast your mind back and think, “I wish today were the first day and it was all ahead of me.” I don’t feel that way. Probably the only thing I’m not feeling today.

The first year was a bit of a mindf*ck. Everything is so foreign. Doing anything for the first time is exponentially more difficult than doing anything for the second/third/etc time. Swaddles and SIDS risk and soothers, oh my! Stumbling blindly through “gentle” sleep training, fretting about weigh-ins (our guy is on the slim side… against all odds), worrying about choking on solid foods, and on and on.

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Slept through his first bath, so that was a freebie.

We chose to cart our tiny human to far-flung ports of call. His first plane ride at 3 months and going cross-country at 5 months were pretty chill. Begging my mom to drive 45 minutes in rush-hour to spend a million dollars on zinc-based baby sunscreen the night before we flew to South America was less chill. Six weeks in Spain was glorious but at times required a level of planning and mental effort that I’m pretty sure pre-qualifies me for a job at NASA.

Obviously, there will be a great many firsts ahead of us as parents. And some are probably going to be a lot harder. But will any given year include so many damn firsts? I doubt it. Firsts are exciting. They can also feel exhausting. I’m glad we’ve got the first year under our belts.

A few days ago, a family friend asked to borrow my copy of the Baby-Led Weaning book and asked for some tips on getting her 6-month old started with solid foods. And you know what? Giving her that advice made me feel like f*cking Gandalf. Cause I’ve lived through that first year of parenting and I know some shit and that feels good.

I’m feeling loved and supported by my mom-fia.

I don’t like to be exclusionary, and I am eager to note that I have felt supported by people from all walks of life over the past year. But… other moms have given me a special brand of support that requires no request or explanation. These other moms are my mom-fia. My theory goes that each mother is the Don Corleone of her own mom-fia.

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This is Claire. Our sons were born 10 days apart and neither of us has a threshold for TMI. She lives 1400 km away and our daily texts number in the dozens. She is the “consigliere” of my mom-fia.

Dads get it… 95%. But it’s that last 5% that is the kicker. It’s the last 5% of understanding that makes you feel less alone when you are crying in a glider at 4am, trying to cast a sleep spell on your teething little one because you’ve just realized he’s too old to be soothed by nursing. Dads will understand that this is the loss of a convenient trick. But moms will understand in their bones that this also marks a change in your bond as mother and child. And that maybe you need to mourn that loss a little.

I’m feeling lucky to get to be the mother of my son.

My guy is a wild one, and I cherish that about him. Every morning, after lying in bed with me to nurse, he crawls to the end of the bed, turns around so his feet are over the edge and he’s on his tummy facing me. Then he repels down the side of the bed, making gleeful shrieks along the way. Upon landing, he often reaches up over his head and claps his hands, ever his own biggest fan. #hegetsitfromhismama

He also has a sense of humour. He pretends to chase us and then laughs so hard that he has to stop and be still while he catches his breath. He takes dance breaks (whether or not there is music playing) while he’s crawling around the house. I feel lucky to get to spend so much time with this funny, quirky, fearless little man.

 

 

So, to my boy: Happy birthday!

You are a spirited little maniac and I’m thrilled to be your “ma-ma-ma,” as you call me. You are loved immensely, deeply, and oh so fiercely.

But back to me.

I heard somewhere that being a mother is like wearing your heart on the outside of your body. I have felt that to be true during each one of the past 365 days. And living one year, moderately successfully, with your heart wandering around outside of your body like a f*cking medical miracle warrants some celebration. And maybe some tears for various reasons that I declare to be valid.

Gonna go eat an entire pizza. Cause it’s my effing birthing day.

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