Two months

Clara is two months old today.  Things are still going well.  It’s the third week of school and we’ve settled into a routine.  A couple adaptations to make life easier are that I am making a point to plan meals that are easy to prepare (since I am sometimes interrupted by a fussy baby), and Don has been getting up to see that Peter makes it outside to catch the school bus in the morning so that I can sleep in when Clara does.  I don’t have a lot of time to get things done other than taking care of kids and what I call my “core areas”: dinner (which includes meal planning and shopping in addition to preparing food), dishes, laundry, lessons (Simon is doing homeschool junior kindergarten this year).  I recite that list of four things often during the day to help me focus on what I need to get done; as long as I keep up with my core areas reasonably well, other tasks can slide a bit.  I’m working hard and putting in long days, but I feel like I’m back to full strength and keeping up as well as I used to.

Clara reliably sleeps for a good 5-6 hour stretch at night, which starts anywhere from 7 to 10 pm.  When she wakes up, it takes about an hour to change her, feed her, and settle her back to sleep; some nights it’s closer to an hour and a half.  Then she sleeps again until morning, waking up anywhere from about 6 until 9 am (usually between 7 and 8).  A few days ago, she went to sleep quite late (around 10:15 pm) and didn’t wake up until 6:10 am.  Although it was earlier than I would prefer to get up in the morning, it was the first night of uninterrupted sleep that I’ve had since she was born, so it was a nice treat.

Clara started smiling a couple weeks ago.  Her smiles are fleeting, but I caught one on camera today.  She has been making eye contact and smiling more lately, which warms my heart.  Babies are more rewarding when they pass the newborn stage and become more social.



More wardrobe woes

I previously complained about maternity clothes while I was pregnant.  Now I think clothing in the postpartum period is worse.  Most of my regular clothes don’t fit yet, but I don’t want to wear a lot of my maternity clothes either.  It’s fine to wear form-fitting clothes when you’re pregnant, but in the postpartum period, you don’t want to draw attention to your bulging belly.  Plus, if you’re breastfeeding, you need clothes that will accommodate that (so no dresses).  For the moment, for clothes that I will leave the house in, I’m basically operating with one pair of shorts, one pair of pants, four t-shirts, one long-sleeve t-shirt, one slightly dressier shirt, and a couple sweatshirts.  Fortunately, I don’t have a very high-falutin’ life, so I’m getting by with this limited wardrobe.  I just have to keep up with the laundry because Clara spits up on me regularly.  This too shall pass.

One month

Clara is just over a month old now.  She’s doing well, and I’m doing remarkably well, considering that I generally don’t deal well with sleep deprivation.  I’m getting two or three blocks of sleep a night, totalling about five to six hours, and some days I get a nap.  Considering that I usually need eight to nine hours of sleep, and remembering how desperately tired I was when Simon was a baby, I’m amazed at how well I’m functioning.  I do get headaches, but I’ve learned that they’re worse when I haven’t eaten.  I’m trying to treat them with a healthy snack before reaching for the ibuprofen, and that’s working pretty well.

I can think of a few possible explanations for why I’m doing as well as I am.  One is that I’ve been eating lots of healthy food and minimizing my consumption of unhealthy food.  In general, I find that how well I eat and sleep have a great influence on how I feel.  Since I can’t control the sleeping right now, I’m working hard to eat well.

Another possible explanation is that it’s summertime.  The sunshine, longer hours of daylight, and temperatures more conducive to spending time outdoors are almost certainly helping my mood.  Both boys were born in February, when it was dark and cold, and I mostly stayed holed up in the house when they were newborns.

My final explanation is the perspective that I have as a more experienced parent.  I am not being very ambitious in my day-to-day plans, because I know that it’s hard to get things done with a baby, and planning to do too much will just lead to disappointment and frustration.  I also know that this phase will pass.  It’s easier to handle the challenges, knowing that they are only temporary.

Clara’s birth story

I had a hard time getting comfortable enough to fall asleep on Wednesday, the 20th.  I got no more than an hour and a half of sleep before I woke up with uncomfortable contractions at 1:30 am on the 21st, which was my due date.  After determining that the contractions kept coming every 3-5 minutes whether I was lying down, sitting, or standing up, I figured I was really in labor and told Don it was time.  While I called the hospital to let them know we were coming, he went out to our RV to tell his mom (who was sleeping there) that we were leaving.  It was a warm and muggy night when we left at a quarter to 3.

We got to the hospital at 3 am and they wheeled me up to the birthing center.  As I previously wrote, I was hoping to have a water birth, so I was disappointed when they put me in a room without the tub.  I knew that the hospital only had one tub, so it wasn’t guaranteed that I’d be able to use it, but they only have 12-15 births a month and not everyone uses the tub, so I figured that the odds were that it would be available for me when the time came.  Within the first fifteen minutes after we arrived, we heard a woman screaming.  It was quiet for a while, then we heard her scream again, followed shortly after by a baby crying.  We learned later that the baby was a girl, the fifth girl in her family.

My midwife had told me previously that the hospital would want me to be hooked up to a fetal monitor for 20 minutes when I arrived.  With all the activity going on with the other delivery, it took them about half an hour before they hooked me up, and they kept it hooked up more like 30 minutes.  They also hooked me up to an IV, because I had tested positive for Group B strep and needed IV antibiotics for that.  It was bad enough being stuck on the bed, with two straps on my belly hooked up to one machine, with an IV in my arm, not able to move into a more comfortable position during my contractions, and not able to look forward to getting in the tub.  Then my water broke in a huge gush and I was stuck there lying in the warm wetness.  I was so miserable, I cried.  I wanted my midwife to come—I trusted her, whereas the hospital staff were preoccupied, didn’t know me, and didn’t have a sense of urgency in dealing with me (getting the monitor off, getting the antibiotics started)—when I knew that my previous labors had gone quickly and expected the same again.  I kept thinking about how much better my home birth experience was.

Finally, they got the monitor straps off.  I still had the IV, but at least I could get up and move around.  I stood next to the bed for a while, then went to the bathroom.  Finally, the midwife came.  She offered me a birthing ball (a big inflatable exercise ball) with a cloth pad on it.  It was comfortable to sit on between contractions, but I preferred standing during contractions, and after a few contractions I gave up on the ball and just stood.  The IV antibiotic finished and they unhooked me, leaving the port in my arm.

They moved the other woman from the room with the birth tub and were cleaning the room so I could use it.  Because my labor was moving right along, they were trying to get the cleaning person to hurry up.  When the tub was cleaned and re-filled, we were told we could move over there, even though the room wasn’t entirely ready (the bed wasn’t made).

As I started walking, another contraction started and I grabbed onto the edge of the door to the room I was in.  I knew I had to be getting pretty close to delivering.  The midwife told me I had to make a decision—either get to the tub or go back to the bed.  I really didn’t want to go back to the bed, but I wasn’t sure I could make it to the tub.  One of the nurses offered to grab a wheelchair, so I got a quick ride to the next room.  As I stood up from the wheelchair and the midwife was pulling my hospital gown off, I could feel another contraction starting, so I climbed into the tub as quickly as I was capable of.  I knelt, leaned forward, and gripped the sides of the tub (the tub was sort of triangular and I was facing one of the points of the triangle); I didn’t put any thought into my position, I just did what I could as the contraction hit.  When it was over, the midwife told me the baby’s head was out.  With the next contraction, I felt the baby come out.  The midwife told me to get ready to reach down and pick up my baby.  I looked down, saw my baby in the water below me, reached down, picked up the baby, and held it on my chest.  I sat down, holding the baby.  As the midwife was doing something, I looked down and realized that I couldn’t see if the baby was a boy or a girl, because of the way I was holding it.  I wasn’t up to trying to look; I knew I would find out soon enough.  The baby was purple and quiet.  The midwife announced that she was going to cut the umbilical cord and prepared to do so, then turned to Don and asked if he wanted to.  Don told her no, go ahead; both he and I had picked up the note of urgency in her voice.  The midwife cut the cord and took a moment to turn the baby towards first me and then Don so that we could see that it was a girl.  Then she took the baby to a table with bright lights over it, where she and the nurses rubbed the baby, suctioned out her mouth and nose, and gave her oxygen.  After a few tense moments, she came around and started crying.  I relaxed in the warm water while they were focusing on her.  Then they helped me to the bed, where the midwife delivered the placenta and stitched me up.  They brought Clara to me and we spent some time snuggling and initiating breastfeeding.

As we were hanging out in that room, a thunderstorm hit.  I couldn’t see out the window because of the position of the bed, but Don could.  There was thunder, lightning, torrential rain, and high winds (the airport recorded gusts up to 47 miles per hour and over an inch of rain in just one hour).  Then the power went out.  Although we expected that the hospital would have emergency power, something malfunctioned and the emergency power didn’t work on our hallway.  It reminded me of when the power went out in a thunderstorm during the Navy flag ceremony at my grandfather’s funeral; it was dramatic.  Clara was the name of my grandfather’s mother, so I thought that was an interesting coincidence.  I did get to see out the window after they moved us to back to the first room we had been in, and it was quite the storm.  The entire Keweenaw Peninsula (and more) lost power for the majority of the day; our power at home didn’t come on until around 6 pm.  They moved us out of the birthing center to a part of the hospital where the emergency power was working, but we still had no lights, telephone, or air conditioning for several hours.  The nurses kept commenting how good it was that both babies were delivered before the power went out.

I’ll end her birth story there and add a few comments.

I can’t speak to whether or not laboring in the tub provides pain relief, as I didn’t really get that opportunity.  According to what I heard when one nurse was filling in another at shift change, I got in the tub at 4:59 and Clara was born at 5:02, so I had all of 3 minutes in the tub before she was born.

Each of the three times I’ve given birth, it has felt like a new accomplishment.  With Peter, it was my first time having a baby.  With Simon, it was my first unmedicated birth and a successful home birth.  This time, it was a water birth (though barely), but my real sense of accomplishment was that I wasn’t coached through pushing the baby out.  My body just did it.  I really believe that it helped that my midwife let me be noisy (and I know I was loud!), rather than telling me to be quiet and focus, like when Simon was born (after pushing for 58 minutes and changing positions multiple times).

It was a successful birth and I’m satisfied overall, despite the disappointment of not getting to use the tub right away and the extra stresses of the hospital environment.  It was just my rotten luck that someone else was already in labor when I got there; I suspect it would have been a better experience if I’d gotten the tub room right away and the nurses weren’t trying to care for another woman at the same time.  In any case, it will have to do; we’re not planning to have any more babies so I don’t expect to have another opportunity to see how it goes.

On her birthday 1

Waiting to give birth

Here I am, a day short of 39 weeks pregnant, waiting for my life to change dramatically at any time.

June was a busy month, trying to get a lot of things done, because I didn’t want to schedule anything in July.  We had the end of the school year for Peter, dentist appointments for the boys and me, a trip to the vet for Malou’s annual check-up and shots, two weeks of Monday-to-Friday swimming lessons for Simon, several Scout events for Peter, appointments with the midwife, an almost week-long visit by my dad and my brother (who came up on their motorcycles–note that this is not the brother I wrote about recently), Don was out of town for a week (during part of which my mom came up to help–she helped me stay sane), and my birthday at the end of the month.  Whew!  That’s a lot to keep up with even if you’re not huge, uncomfortable, and moving slowly.

The idea was that our July schedule would be pretty wide-open, so we could handle having the baby whenever it showed up.  However, things have changed so that we now have a fairly narrow window of optimal time to have the baby.  My midwife has been on vacation for the past week and a half and doesn’t return until the evening of the 15th, and I would prefer to have her at the delivery, so I hope not to go into labor before then.  I have met the doctor who is filling in for her, and she seems nice enough, but I’ve only met her once, whereas I’ve been seeing the midwife for many months, so I have more trust in her.  Then Don’s mom is coming up to help out for a week, from the 17th to the 24th.  My due date is the 21st, so there’s no guarantee that the baby will even be born before she has to go home, but obviously her trip would be more useful if the baby were born at least a few days before she leaves.  Peter was born two days before his due date and Simon was born five days before his, so there’s a reasonable chance this baby will follow suit and come a little early, but we’ll just have to wait and see.

I feel calmer anticipating this labor than I felt before the previous two.  With Peter, it was my first pregnancy, and no matter how much you try to prepare, you don’t really know what it will be like.  With Simon, I had given birth before, so I trusted that my body could do it.  However, I had an epidural with Peter and I was planning an unmedicated delivery with Simon, so I was somewhat apprehensive about how I would deal with that, since I hadn’t experienced it before.  I had confidence in my midwives, but despite my preparatory reading, I didn’t have a good mental image of how a home birth would go for me.  It had been seven years since I had given birth, so the experience wasn’t very fresh in my mind.  I also wondered how much Simon’s birth would be like Peter’s–with Peter, my water broke before I went into active labor (which only happens about 10% of the time) and from that time until he was born was only 6 1/2 hours, much faster than an average first labor.  In the end, my water did not break until I was in labor, my labor was fairly quick (4 1/2 hours from the time I woke up with contractions until Simon was born), and the home birth experience didn’t go as I had even dimly imagined (mainly because Simon was born in the living room, when we had originally planned to use our bedroom).

This time, I have the confidence of knowing that I’ve given birth twice, that I’ve had an unmedicated birth and lived to tell the tale, and that my most recent birth experience was only four years ago instead of seven.  This birth will be different from the previous two, but I think I have a reasonably good idea of what to expect.  Although I found the experience of having a home birth with Simon to be incredibly positive and much better than my hospital birth experience with Peter, I am not planning another home birth this time, for the simple reason that the closest certified midwife who attends home births is about a two-hour drive from where I live.  Although she does attend births in this area, with my history of fast labors, I am not comfortable with the idea of relying on someone who has to come from such a distance.  There is at least one local person who attends births, but I am also not comfortable relying on someone who is not certified.  I need to trust that whoever is attending my delivery has the knowledge and skills necessary to handle whatever might happen.  Fortunately, there is one certified nurse-midwife in the area (who does only hospital deliveries), and I have been seeing her.  The hospital where she delivers is apparently the only one in the Upper Peninsula that has a water birth tub, which is pretty cool.  It’s rare enough for a hospital to have a tub that women can labor in, and even more rare for them to allow deliveries in the tub.  I meet the criteria to use the tub and I hope to do so.  I don’t know for sure how it will go, but I like the idea of it, and I’d like to at least try it.

Don joked that we need to stop having kids because we’re running out of different ways to do it.  Assuming all goes well this time, I will not have given birth by c-section, which is a significantly more common way to give birth in the US or Canada than having a home birth or a water birth, but I can live without having that experience.  We do plan for this to be our last baby.

Peter’s last day of fifth grade was on Friday, the 10th.  When we celebrated the end of Simon’s preschool year, Peter indicated that he wanted a celebration for his end of elementary school, so I agreed to come up with something for him.

I put up streamers and blew up some balloons to provide a festive atmosphere.  I intended to put the balloons in our mini-van to surprise him when we picked him up from school (not something I usually do, but his bus ride home is an hour long, so I picked him up as a special last-day thing).  However, Peter only had a half day of school, I forgot to blow the balloons up first thing in the morning, we went to Simon’s gymnastics class, and then we went to Peter’s school right from there.  I was disappointed that I forgot, but Peter didn’t know the difference, so I guess no real harm was done.

I had a special lunch for the boys (Spiderman macaroni and cheese with broccoli), but we did the actual celebration after dinner so that Don could participate (he was at work during the day).  After searching the internet for inspiration, I had bought a few special snacks.  I decided to put each one in a paper lunch bag and wrote on the bags.  The first said, “Congratulations, fifth grade graduate!”  Inside were Fruit Roll-Ups with ribbons tied around them to make them look like diplomas (except that they were bright green).  The second bag said, “You’re o-fish-ally done with elementary school!” and contained Goldfish crackers.  The third bag asked, “Orange you glad you’re done?” and had orange Powerade.  The fourth bag proclaimed, “You’re one smart cookie!” and had chocolate chip cookies inside.  I should have checked my notes instead of working from memory because I forgot to do one of the snacks I planned (the only one I didn’t have to buy anything for)–the bag was going to say “Elementary school is toast!” with a piece of toast inside.

All in all, it was a success–a fairly simple, inexpensive celebration that recognized Peter’s big day and made him feel special.

Peter's celebration

“So the news is out, I’m transitioning.  In the last year I have found who I truly am and that I’m much happier living a female life.”  Thus began a message that my brother posted on Facebook about a month ago.  I stared at it in disbelief, along with the photo of him in pigtails, wearing a low-cut purple top.  Was this really my brother—who rides a motorcycle and shoots guns as a hobby?  I was shocked by both his news and the way I learned it.  Courteous people in this day and age share major personal news with close friends and family before announcing it on social media.

Reaction to his post was swift and positive.  The “likes” and “loves” added up.  Comments included “I’m so proud of you,” “It takes a lot of courage to do what you’re doing,” and “I’m glad you found yourself.”  Our aunt who lives in North Carolina wrote, “You are welcome to use any bathroom in my home.”  I “liked” her comment, but I couldn’t bring myself to “like” his post.  When I was 7 years old and my mom was pregnant, I wanted a sister—but 29 years later, it’s a different story.

I am reasonably open-minded.  I support gay marriage.  I attend a church that is intentionally welcoming of LGBT people.  I figure other people’s sexual preferences and practices are none of my business as long as they aren’t hurting anyone.  However, being transgender goes beyond what happens behind closed doors.  Gender is a fundamental part of a person’s identity.  I’m having difficulty adapting to calling the person I knew as my brother by a different name and using different pronouns to refer to him (I know, I should be saying “her,” but I’m not there yet).  I suppose that I shouldn’t think of him as my brother anymore, but I can’t think of him as my sister.

It would be easier if he were just gay.  If he were gay, at least he’d still be my brother.  Now it seems like he has an entirely different identity.  I don’t know who he is or how he fits into my family anymore.  I’m worried about his future.  Although society seems to be moving in the direction of greater acceptance, being transgender is still not easy.  I’m sure that’s why, although he started hormone therapy last summer, he didn’t go public about his decision until now.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve spent too many hours in the middle of the night reflecting on what it means to be female.  It’s more than just wearing a skirt or pigtails (I rarely do the former and haven’t done the latter in decades).  It’s more than wearing pink and purple (I’ve never been a fan).  Part of the experience of being female is being perceived as female by society—which is where the pigtails and purple come in—but that is not the whole story.  One of the major factors of being female is living in a female body.  Even a post-surgery transgender female won’t share some of the most common physical experiences of women—menstruation, using birth control, or being pregnant.

At the personal, psychological level, I am concerned about the long-term effects of trying to live out of accord with one’s biological reality.  While hormone therapy and cosmetic surgery can make a biological male seem quite convincingly female, an artificially-created female will never be the same as a natural female.  What does it do to a person to try to live as someone that person can never really be?

Family members have asked how my husband and I are going to tell our kids.  We are delaying that conversation until it’s necessary.  Our 4-year-old does not have rigid conceptions of gender roles—he told me the other day that I was the king and he was the princess—but he is actively trying to make sense of them, for example, asking why road construction workers are men.  The preschool sex ed book I’ve been reading to him starts, “From the moment your life begins, you are either a boy or a girl.”  How do I explain that sometimes that might change?

In an ideal world, everyone’s gender identity would match their biological gender.  Life would be simpler.  There would be less confusion, fear, and hurt.  However, there are transgender people and we need to deal with that reality.  I recently saw a meme on Facebook about the appropriate Christian response to various categories of people—straight, gay, bisexual, black, white, rich, poor, etc.  For every type of person, the response was, “Love them.”

I’m trying to figure out what it means to love my sibling in this situation.  While I don’t whole-heartedly support his choice to transition, I also don’t want to hurt him.  I am striving to be respectful of his experiences and decisions.  Maybe the day will come when I can comfortably use a feminine pronoun to refer to the person I knew as my brother for almost three decades.  In the meantime, I am trying to keep an open mind as I wait to see how this story plays out.