Welcome, Jude!

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I’m really, really tired as I write this.

Alas, after many attempts at cobbling this together in countless small shifts at the keyboard over many caffeinated weeks – I’ve actually completed a writing assignment! (self-imposed, but nonetheless…). I now present you with a sleep-deprived, sugar-buzzed account of our first weeks with Baby Jude, beginning with his entrance into the world…

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I was 39 weeks and 4 days pregnant… 3 days shy of our due date. I was SO ready to meet our second baby boy and for Aaron and me to start our journey as parents of two. I had been pregnant the entire calendar year, up until late September. It had felt like a loooonnng, loooonnng pregnancy – more challenging than my first with the added responsibility of chasing after a toddler while I waddled through my days, heavy, sore and slow. The last few weeks were tough and I was really, really ready to go into labor! I had been induced with Anderson so had never experienced going into labor spontaneously. There were days I thought it was never going to happen… that this baby was never going to come out on his own!

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Enter: Old Wives Tales.

I had heard stories of people who swear (among many other things, like jalapeno lemonade, and jumping on trampolines) that a good brisk walk launched them into labor. I’m always skeptical of these “It worked for me!” claims, but feeling exceptionally motivated that pre-due date Saturday morning, I thought to myself, “it couldn’t hurt!” and Aaron and I set out to tackle the hilly sidewalks of our neighborhood. About a half hour into our walk, it was clear something was happening – I was pretty sure I was actually having true labor contractions! By the time I got home I was on my couch timing them at 5 minutes apart, and the rest is history…

Aaron and I checked into hospital triage like we were moving in – with overnight bags, slippers and pillows in hand. Though contractions were still getting stronger, my body still wasn’t far enough along to be admitted. I was so disappointed and couldn’t imagine having to return home and wait it out… The doctor told us to try walking the hospital halls for two hours to trigger stronger contractions and more labor progression. Boy did that do the trick! Two hours later after enduring staggering, much stronger contractions everywhere imaginable (the elevator, the bathroom, the cafeteria, the street corner…) to what I’m sure were either concerned or confused audiences, we were given the green light for admission to our birthing suite – sweet indeed!! I burst into tears of relief at this news and exclaimed, “Praise the Lord!” I would have joined a gospel choir at that moment had a sign-up sheet presented itself. I was THAT happy. This baby was officially on his way.

A few short hours later and after a lightning quick delivery (thankful what they say about second children being quicker was very true in my case!) Jude Emerson Morris emerged at 9:50 p.m. a big and healthy boy, weighing in at a hunky 10 pounds, 2 ounces!

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*A quick note about his name:  As you know, we struggle/borderline obsess with deciding on names.  I wish I had some story about the magical moment we decided on this name, or some amazing significance it has played in our life, but I don’t.  I think Aaron suggested it, possibly over breakfast, sometime in the last month of pregnancy.  I honestly don’t remember. We liked that is was rare, yet rooted in some history (Bible book, Beatles song), and short to Anderson’s long.  Emerson is a main street in the part of Seattle where we live, and the street Aaron lived on in college, when he first moved to Seattle.  We actually went to the hospital with two names:  Emmett Blaine and Jude Emerson.  We had been leaning toward Jude, and our British nurse helped push it over the edge.

Proud papa.

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He was placed on my chest right away – so soft and warm, his skin was like butter and radiated heat. We spent another day and night in the hospital, and then we were sent home, to start real life as a family of four…

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^^This was our first outing as a family of four, to our niece Margot’s birthday dinner.  This felt like a huge accomplishment at the time!

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^^This was one of the two times I’ve worn my hair in something other than an unwashed bun.

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And now we’re home! And the highs and the lows and the lessons and the learning curves and God’s mercy….they are all new every morning. EVERY morning…

I try to keep a sense of humor about it all. When Jude pukes down my shirt during a particularly silent portion of a church service (yep, this happened), I may think to myself, “Maybe he wishes we were Catholic?” When he cries incessantly through extra innings of the final game of the World Series, I’ll say, “Must be a Mets fan?”

Anderson has found his sense of humor with Jude as well, while learning babies can double as human canvases:

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But humor aside, there are parts of raising a newborn that are just undeniably HARD. Oh the sleep deprivation…it’s so real. No matter how many books you read or preparation you try to do or kids you have, I don’t think it will ever feel natural to be yanked awake countless times throughout the night, sometimes for hours at a time. But you just do what you have to do and make it through, one day and one night at a time… As I write this Jude is eight weeks old, and I don’t think there have been more than five nights since he’s been born that I’ve scrapped together much more than six total hours of sleep. On a particularly torturous night when Aaron and I were up for hours and hours through endless cycles of feeding, crying, burping…feeding, crying, burping… I described the experience like this:

“Waking up almost every hour most of the night to a screaming baby is kind of like…..taking a long confusing cab ride through deep headache-inducing potholes with death metal blaring on the speakers, only to be thrown out of the car while it’s still moving. And the driver is surprisingly commanding though he speaks no English and is only 20″ tall…”

It’s hard you guys. The nights are soooo crazy sometimes. But you get up, you get coffee and you get through it. One of the silver linings as I learn to juggle caring for two kids, is I’m truly so much BUSIER, that the days fill up and fly by and I simply don’t have the time to sit around dwelling on how tired I am or should be. So, in a way, the busy-ness has been a blessing. Its sink or swim and you just have to keep on swimming.

So there’s that.

It’s interesting – in some ways having a second child, so far, is all I expected it to be – overwhelming and exhausting, but rewarding, super chaotic at times, but so sweet seeing siblings interact (the boys’ initial meeting was indescribably precious…).

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^^Anderson fawning over his brother the day they met.  He still does this daily.

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It is all those things people told me it would be, but at the same time, nothing could truly prepare me for my own unique experience I’m having. And sometimes I feel like no one else could totally understand it – but maybe everyone feels that way about their own particular lot in life?

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^^Jude has THE funniest pouty little fish lips.  We love them.

I see Anderson differently now as he’s growing so much, both independently and within the new dynamics of our household. So much newness with him alone – he is suddenly enormous! (at least compared to Jude…), he is defiant and opinionated and can make me want to pull my hair out when he simply Will. Not. Listen. (hello, age 2½!). But he still has his sweet moments and it’s all so confusing – is he still my sweet baby, or 2 going on 12?? So he’s different, and the way I see babies is different. I’m more confident in my parenting abilities this time around, which is a plus, but also don’t have the luxury to just sit around and bask in that confidence, because I’m so BUSY! The bonding and connecting with Jude comes more in bits and pieces throughout the day when I’m not trying to entertain a toddler or make dinner or take the world’s fastest shower (I think I’ve properly dried and styled my hair twice in the last two months…).

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^^A typical “work day” for me.  At least my bosses allow for a pretty lax dress code…

I don’t think I could have quite imagined how vastly different my entire life feels from the life I had two months ago. It has taken me MANY attempts to sit down and finish this blog entry. Free time is so precious and hard to come by with a toddler that will get into anything and everything, and a baby who just wants to be held, held and held some more (dirty dishes, be damned).

So that’s where I’m at. I’m tired and tested, but I’m also really proud of myself. I’m doing a hard thing every day and it’s given me perspective and grace for myself, and for every parent who does this work of raising children. And if it wasn’t hard at least some of the time, it wouldn’t be rewarding, right?

I could write an entire book called “I don’t know how single parents do it.” Earlier this month I was sick with a nasty head cold for exactly as many days as Aaron was out of town, waking up almost every two hours at night to a baby making his needs LOUDLY known. Thankful I’ve had support to pitch in and help me – I think I’d barely be standing if I had to do this completely alone. So true how they say it takes a village… I’m so thankful for mine!

And the journey continues…one cab ride at a time.

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**photo credit for some photos: heleyna holmes photography

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While You’re Still My Baby…

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I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a Tuesday afternoon when I was admitted to the hospital to begin the last leg of the long journey to your birth. Giddy with anticipation, in near disbelief I was finally going to meet YOU – I didn’t sleep a wink all night. The next morning, the long and winding road of pregnancy was over. YOU were in my arms.  AMAZING!

I would never be the same again.

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Anderson, you’ve been my baby for the last two and a half years. The only baby I’ve ever raised, and the one who will always get full credit for making me a mom – the proudest title I’ll ever wear. You’re the one I’ll compare any future babies with. How could I not? Your sleep patterns, how soon you rolled and crawled and walked, your laugh, your cry, your way with words…it’s the only ‘normal’ I’ve ever known.

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If you were the only child I ever had, surely I have already been blessed far beyond what I deserve. That I get to experience the magic of brand new life again, all those “firsts” through a brand new set of eyes, and give you the gift of a brother to grow up with, is an extravagant gift.

Your little brother will be here in our home and in our arms, in just a matter of days. I am SO excited for us all to meet him and smother him in love. But before we do, I just wanted to pause and pay tribute to YOU.

YOU are still the baby of this family, for however many more hours or days that may be. YOU are an amazing boy, with a heart of gold, a razor sharp mind, a joyful sense of humor, and an infectious zeal for life.

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300You remind me to greet each day with excitement, and end it with gratitude. To see the possibilities in a box of blocks, the joy of running with nowhere to be, the peace that comes with going with the flow and trusting your instincts.

We’ve taught each other so much.

I’ve spent the last weeks putting together your baby book, tearfully re-watching video of your first cries and first bath, washing and folding tiny clothing that used to be yours. The fact that I even have time to write all this right now is due only to you being at PRESCHOOL, for exactly 52 more minutes.  I still can’t believe it, and am so proud of how you’ve grown.

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Thank you for making me a mom, for making your dad a dad, and for teaching us more than we could teach you. I can’t wait to see the incredible big brother you are going to be. Even though you won’t be the littlest around here for much longer…you’ll always be my baby. When I go to pick you up soon, and you run out to greet me with that big smile, your art project of the day proudly flapping in the breeze, I’ll remember that.

I love you Anderson, and I will always treasure these years of you and me.

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TAKEN: Why Choosing a Name is Scarier than a Liam Neeson Movie

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At my baby shower last month, each guest submitted a “name suggestion” in this cute little keepsake jar, hoping to spur me along on the journey toward solidifying this first permanent piece of my new son’s identity. Great names abounded, and for almost every one my obsessive, skeptical mind immediately came up with a reason why that name couldn’t possible work. It’s too common! It’s too rare! It’s the name of my neighbor’s dog! It’s DIAMOND! (Incredibly, that person and I are still friends.) ; )

As my due date looms closely overhead, a mere 15 days away (which could really mean one day away, or almost 30, but who’s counting…), it is inescapably sinking in that we still don’t have a name for our child. And sometimes it feels like we’re actually drifting further away from a decision than getting closer. We have about a zillion options of course – many, many fine, acceptable, lovely options. The world is our oyster, right? We can choose ANY name we want!

Or can we? And if we can, why do I feel more restricted than a size 2 bride-to-be at an all-you-can-eat buffet?

In today’s parenting world, there seems to be this intense, mounting pressure to come up with not only The Perfect Name, but The Perfect Name that no one in your family, friends circle, school district, zip code, book club, PEPS group or social media stratosphere has already – brace yourself – laid claim to.

It’s exhausting. And bordering on impossible. And there’s no rulebook! I thought deciding on Anderson’s name was hard, but this is double duty, semi anxiety-inducing business. I am not in school, speak toddler for a living, am 8.7 months pregnant barely waddling around, and should not have to think this hard.

In addition to the normal criteria one must dissect when choosing a name (Are the initials embarrassing? Will people latch on to obnoxious nicknames? Will this naming trend be So. Over. by the time this kid hits kindergarten? Will he really be taken seriously when he’s 40 years old if I name him Rudy?), the second kid naming process brings with it its own unique naming dilemmas, as outlined by my own personal obsessive criteria:

1) Can’t start with M. All of Anderson’s Morris cousins have ‘M’ names. They got there first, and they chose great ‘M’ names that work beautifully for their families, but I feel it is our family’s turn to branch out a bit and diversify beyond the M.M. I began this branching out with Anderson and feel compelled to continue.

2) Can’t start with A. I just don’t like the idea of three of the four names in our family starting with A. Plus, let’s face it – there is an undeniable convenience factor to being able to text your husband mid-day and quickly write, “Need help with A tonight, J is sick” instead of having to spell out, “Need help with Anderson tonight, Augustus is sick.”   Yes, this is what my level of technical laziness/time efficiency has come to.

3) Can’t rhyme with/be too similar to Anderson. We like the name Emerson, but “Anderson and Emerson” is just too much “erson” for any one family.

4) Can’t be too dissimilar to Anderson. I think of Anderson as this clean cut, familiar all-American name. To each their own, but that’s how I personally think of it. To go with a name for a second child that is too exotic, Old Testament, oddly spelled, or edgy, just doesn’t jive. I need the names to feel like a cohesive set. Like we pre-purchased them as a bundle from a cute little everything-is-name-embroidered Pottery Barn catalog and just had to wait 2.5 years to unveil the second one.

So. These are JUST SOME of the factors that go through my mind with every single name we deign to consider for our second child.

And I haven’t even gotten to the biggest, most tedious and exhausting hurdle we face with (almost) Every. Single. Name.

THEY’RE ALL TAKEN!!!

So friends, please help aid me in maintaining my sanity by joining me in a discussion over what “taken” does or should mean. OK? OK.

Obviously, a name is “taken” if it is being used by one of Anderson’s cousins, or closest friends, or one of our closest friends’ kids. These are all people who are a regular part of our life and parenting journey. These kiddos’ names are safe. I’m not some brazen name thief.

Now here’s where it gets tricky. Say we were considering the name Henry. I have multiple Facebook friends who I haven’t seen in person in years, who named a child Henry. Will they feel like I’m stepping on their toes if I dare to give my son the same name? Will it upset our civil, if rare, Facebook chatter? What about the parents of the two older Henrys in Anderson’s preschool? Will they be like, “Don’t they know this preschool has enough Henrys? What are they thinking?”

Now, Henry isn’t actually on our short list, but it represents many, many, many names that are, have been, or could be – but are clouded by this self-imposed, oversensitive, ultra-accommodating conviction that thou shalt not consider any name that anyone you have ever brushed shoulders with has bestowed upon their child.

This sounds so ridiculous when I actually say it out loud. But it’s a true feeling, and I’m guessing I’m not the first second-time parent of our generation to experience it. When you’ve been immersed in the parenting community for a couple of years, you have so much more exposure to kids’ names than you did before you became a parent. You learn the other kids’ names at church, in your neighborhood, at the playground. The names of your husband’s employee’s kids, your son’s new classmates in preschool and – let’s not forget – the names chosen by your dozens or hundreds of internet-based acquaintances, nevermind you only see 5% of them in person on any sort of a regular basis.

When I try to accommodate all these distant connections in my life, my list of viable names dwindles from about 95 to 3.

Something’s got to give.

So I’m giving myself a break. I am no longer promising that if I have been acquainted with you in some way in the last decade of my life, our children won’t possibly share a name. If I’ve passed you three times in the hallway at church, our kids might share a name. If we had a class together in college, our kids might share a name. If you worked with me seven years ago and we haven’t seen each other since, our kids might share a name. If I see you less than once a year, I might consider your name fair game.

If this happens to you, please take it as a most sincere compliment on your naming abilities. And if our kids ever end up in the same classroom, I’ll let you have the first crack at your choice of nickname.

Bottom line – I recognize that if choosing a name is our biggest problem right now, we’re in good shape. And I do know somewhere deep down that we will settle into “that perfect one.” I just need to know that I’m not alone on the neurotic journey to get to that settled place. So when you see that confident, joyful announcement of our son’s arrival and his name sometime in the (hopefully very near) future, please tell us it’s the most brilliant name you’ve ever heard, and pat yourself on the back for being just as brilliant…if you happened to have arrived at it first. : )

I hope you feel as good reading this as I do writing it. I will now return to aggressively dog-earring baby name books and picking apart every moniker in existence… Wish me luck, and please, submit your criteria-approved name suggestions here.  🙂

I’m Pregnant: It’s Like Deja Vu All Over Again

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Being pregnant again is, for me, a flurry of contradictions:

So familiar, yet so different.

Easier mentally; harder phyically.

Less mysterious yet more out of my control.

I own so many maternity clothes, yet seem to need all new ones (winter vs. summer baby)

To quote Yogi Berra, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.” See? My summary quote doesn’t even make sense.

I realize I have a ton to be thankful for with this pregnancy. Nausea, stay in the dugout for now – we’ll get to you later.

When Aaron and I decided to “try” for Baby #2 – it went something like this:

  • Obsessively re-read my highlighted sections of “Taking Charge of Your Fertility” (my super retro, yet incomparable conception bible).
  • Plan, chart, pray and calendar accordingly (Can you tell I’m Type A?).
  • Immediately get pregnant on the first try, as we did with Anderson, though I of course lost sleep worrying over every possible reason why it might not be that easy, could take months, or years, etc etc… We were lucky twice, and I am very grateful. God has gracefully withheld some lessons on patience that I probably deserve to learn… maybe that’s what the 9 months are for?

The best part of being a repeat pregnant woman is that I am so much more confident this time around. I don’t worry nearly as much about what foods I eat and the word “pasteurized” is once again an annoyingly regular part of my vocabulary. I am better educated on what my body is going through, what is within the range of normal, and what might be cause for concern. I understand the highs and lows of the different trimesters and so far, have had pretty similar pregnancies.

The hardest part of being pregnant again – I’m already a mom! So long “sick days” that involved just me spending all day on the couch (and I thought THAT was rough!). Yes, I am fortunate to have some help from family and sitters, but the majority of the time it is still just me on duty with a very energetic 2-year-old – whether I feel up to the challenge or not. He is hungry and hyper and talkative whether I’m nauseous or not. I’ve struggled with guilt over not “keeping up with him” as my energy and health haven’t been consistently up to par for the last 2 ½ months. I have a “menu board” in our kitchen that has been used about twice since February. Easy dinner, takeout, cereal, or husband cooking have been my go-to meal plans on the many days I’ve felt like I’m just getting by and counting down to bedtime.

Just as I was getting past two months of almost daily nausea, I came down with a three-week (and counting…) head cold, and an excruciating ear infection that landed me in the ER at 1am, by myself (when you already have a kid at home sleeping, your husband can’t drive you…). That was one of the worst nights of my life. Truly an Easter weekend to remember.

So. Those are probably the main lowlights for me. It hasn’t been easy, but it also hasn’t been terrible… just moderately annoying/nauseating/tiring/uncomfortable symptoms that have lasted for weeks on end. Mild enough that I can still function in most of my normal day-to-day activities, but significant enough that I just really miss feeling like my true, best self. That’s as best I can explain it.

Writing, for example, is a part of who I am, and I haven’t written on this blog for OVER THREE MONTHS!! I can’t believe it.. I miss it. And I feel rusty, and like this isn’t good or unique or interesting at all. But you have to start somewhere when you get back on the horse.

What keeps me going is those glimpses – however short or long-lived – that remind me it is all so, so worth it. The nausea makes me appreciate good health SO much more. Fatigue makes me so thankful for a comfortable bed and the nights I do get good sleep. And already having a child is a constant reminder of the reward to come.

I think we (Women! Moms! Humans!) often make two mistakes in how we see ourselves: Taking ourselves too seriously, or not taking ourselves seriously enough. As it applies to pregnancy – it is a journey, a rollercoaster, a marathon – not a sprint! And such is life.

For me, this means I fluctuate between remembering to validate my feelings, and to keep them in perspective. My feelings are mine, and they’re real, and they deserve my attention and care. BUT – it also helps when I remember things could be so much worse, and to be grateful for all the things I can do, and still have (even when I really miss a killer glass of red wine…).

Aaron and I had the great fortune of getting away last weekend (thanks, Grandma Sue!), and spent two blissful days relaxing in a secluded mountain cabin, reading by the fire, playing board games while watching deer out the window…it was really great. One of the innkeepers at our lodge, Kathy, ended up sharing with me some health struggles she’d had. In short, she is on her third heart, and has “died” (and been resuscitated) four times.

Suddenly my pregnancy problems and endless cold seemed pretty trivial compared to someone who DIED four times, spent six months in a hospital with an artificial heart, and can’t eat undercooked food FOREVER.

Perspective. Balance. Gratitude. And once Baby #2 comes…. Chaos! I kid… kind of… not really.

Bring it on. I’ve made it this far. I know I can handle it, as others before me have handled it, and so much more.

When in Doubt, Don’t Ask About:

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Today’s blog post will be a gentle reminder in etiquette for us all.  Myself included.   My name may be on the byline here, but I’m guessing I speak for many of you reading who have experienced the awkwardness, embarrassment, anger or hurt that comes from being asked things that are none of anyone else’s business.

The inspiration for this post was sparked by a friend’s bewilderment over the many people in her life who inquire about her age (and hair color…. “Is it natural?”), and the list goes on… and cemented by my being asked one time too many (just this week, in fact) if I’m pregnant – when I’m not and haven’t been for almost 16 months, but thank you very much for asking.

It got me thinking about all the things that are taboo to talk about – or should be – but people relentlessly talk about them and ask about them anyway. There are the old standbys of religion, sex and politics, of course – but in today’s world, or my life at least – those topics tend to be some of the rarer offenders.

Everyone has a different barometer when it comes to what makes for appropriate conversation topics with the people in our lives, and we all have things that we prefer to not talk about with anyone, except maybe our therapist, spouse, or the closest of family or friends.

I’ll share some of mine and maybe you can add yours to this list. My hope is that the more people are aware of how they might be making someone feel when they ask about x, y or z, the more they will slow down and think before asking.

One of my personal “hot buttons” is MONEY.  I really don’t think I’m alone in my feelings on this matter, but it seems to surface a lot, so here goes: I will take the lead and let you know if I want to talk about the value of my house, my family’s income, or how much I paid  for personal items. But in many circumstances, I  don’t.  If I don’t bring it up, it’s because I find those things unproductive or unnecessary to talk about – or just simply, private.  If you want to genuinely compliment my outfit or my hair or my home – like most human beings, I welcome that! But please make sure there’s a person (me!), not a price tag, attached to your compliment or lack thereof.

Another hot button issue for me (because I am a woman, on planet Earth) is PREGNANCY: Wow. Where do I begin? It would be exponentially quicker to compile a list of things that are acceptable to ask someone you suspect of being pregnant, than of those that are a social no-no. But since clearly many, many people are painfully unaware of this etiquette, for starters:

Don’t ask a woman if she’s pregnant. Ever. Trust me, she’ll tell you if she wants you to know.

Don’t ask her if she’s “keeping it.” I can’t believe I even have to address this….but yes, I have been asked this. While at a wedding. After joyfully sharing with people that Aaron and I were several months along. That wasn’t an awkward moment at all.

Don’t ask a pregnant woman if she’s sure she should be doing that/eating that/drinking that. She probably knows a lot more than you do about prenatal health.

Don’t ask if she wants advice of any kind. Again, if she does, she’ll ask.

BODY: I think this is the one where well-meaning people are most likely to get tripped up. Even asking someone a seemingly complimentary question like “Did you lose weight?” can bring up all kinds of body image triggers for that person, like “Did I need to lose weight?” or “How closely have you been monitoring me?” or “I’ve actually gained weight – what did you think I looked like before??” Tread lightly, friends…we’re all fighting our own battle here.

Earlier this week, while out walking with Anderson, I ran into an old friend I hadn’t seen for some time. We exchanged giddy hugs and happy updates, and she introduced me to her boyfriend. She seemed exceedingly happy in love and in life. She bent down to Anderson’s level and made him smile, and then she looked down at my not-quite-iron board stomach and breezily asked without missing a beat (and in front of this boyfriend I’d known for five seconds), “Are you pregnant?”

Standing there gripping the stroller, feeling frozen and numb, I instantly sucked in and plastered a fake smile on my face, groping for words that wouldn’t come and thinking to myself, “I can’t believe this is happening again.” (This has happened to me at least four times, many months removed from an actual pregnancy). Then, without even planning to, I lied.

“Haha,” I fake laughed. “No, we just had a big breakfast” I said, while visualizing the half bowl of raisin bran I had consciously limited myself to that morning, after running twice last weekend and intentionally trying to chip away at those “extra pounds.”

That lie was my armor, my safety net, my remote control for changing the subject. The lie kept me from admitting the simple yet complicated truth: there are some women who are neither pregnant, nor unhealthy, nor a doppelganger for a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model. I, among millions of others, am one of those women.

I’ve tried so hard to be an advocate for a healthy body image – my own and others – but standing there on that street corner reliving the humiliation of having to answer that question again­ – that question that essentially accuses that, if you’re not pregnant, there’s no justifiable reason for your body to look like that – I just felt like crying.

If this person I ran into today ever reads this, I would simply want her to know the same thing I would want anyone to know, who has asked me or anyone else questions that were personal to the point of causing pain, at worst, or discomfort, at the least:

“Dear friend – you are a beautiful and wonderful person and I’m sure you care for me and mean no harm. But please, please think of the impact your words may have on others before speaking them.”

One more note about sizing up someone else’s body, even without saying a word: we notice. I notice when I haven’t seen someone in a while and they look me up and down lingering a little too long on my midsection. I notice when someone is fixated on my stomach that happens to be a magnet for any possible pesky pounds I’ve yet to lose, or maybe never will. If I made it enough of a priority, I’m sure I could navigate this new body a little more effectively and customize workouts to get it back to more closely resembling its prior shape. But I shouldn’t have to explain myself to anyone in the meantime, and I shouldn’t have to constantly wonder if people are judging me because I didn’t “bounce back” like the Bodies after Baby! on the cover of People magazine.

So why do people ask such intimate, personal questions? I’m not a psychologist, but I have thought a lot about this, and I do have my own little theory. I believe that people ask overly personal questions for two primary reasons: to connect and to compete.

Best case scenario, these people simply like you and are looking to find more personal common ground on which to connect. They feel closer and more bonded to you upon learning you’re both fill-in-the-blank (rich, poor, 39, blonde via bleach, struggling with your sex life, looking to lose weight….). I totally get that these people, sincerely seeking to connect, have good intentions. I get that, and I’m not saying they’re the bad guys for asking these unknowingly loaded questions. But the questions often are loaded, and we could all benefit by being a little more thoughtful about how deep we dig (and with who, and how soon into the relationship) and how these personal questions might make someone feel.

Worst case scenario, people are delving into your private life to see how your sex life/weight loss/income stacks up to theirs, in a quest to compete, not connect. This is the most toxic version of this question asking, of course. And I think most of us have probably been guilty of it from time to time.

In closing, I’ll state the obvious – I realize we all have people in our lives we have chosen to talk to about money and sex, babies and body image, wars and weight loss. So how do you know if person A will be down with talking about topic B? If you really want to talk about religion, paychecks or politics, put your personal data out there first. If that person wants to reciprocate with private info of their own, they will. If not, well…now you know. At the end of the day, if you’re not really really sure the person in your midst is cool opening up and answering that burning question on your mind, it might be better to leave those hot topics for the ladies of The View.

The More the Merrier?

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Four Moms Talk Family Size, Sibling Dynamics,  and Why Timing is Everything

Did you always dream of having a family big enough to fill up a minivan or your own basketball roster? Or maybe you had a baby and quickly realized one is more than enough, thank you very much? While some parents struggle to conceive at all, others are graced by a surprise(!) second, third or fourth baby, just when they thought they were “done.” When it comes to family planning and family size, there is only so much we can, in fact, “plan”. One thing that’s guaranteed – every parent’s story is uniquely personal, and each family took its own set of twists and turns along the way.

As someone who has always been open to, yet unsure about, having a “larger” family (more than the average two kids), I love hearing about other parents’ experiences in planning for (or not…), and raising, families of various sizes.

To get the real scoop on what it’s like to have two, three, or four kids, I interviewed four mothers of varying family sizes about growing their brood, the story on siblings, their ideal age spacing between kids, and how each new addition has changed them as parents and their family’s dynamic. I hope you will enjoy their candid, insightful words and the lessons they’ve learned along the way as baby has made three…then four…then five…then six! I am indebted to these women for contributing to my first collaborative, interview-based blog post.

First, a bit about how I know each of these moms:

Shawna and I have been friends since high school, were in each other’s weddings, and bonded even more as belly buddies while simultaneously pregnant with our sons (her second, my first), both born in March, 2013. Shawna lives in a suburb of Spokane, WA with her husband and two sons, Kiptyn (3) and Brody (1).

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Becka and I led Young Life together when I was in college and though we have not seen each other in years, it has been a joy to follow her life and the growth of her family remotely, through emails and Facebook. She resides in a suburb north of Seattle where she and her husband are raising their four children – Jordan (7 ½), Kalum (6), Addison (4) and Lincoln (1 ½).

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Kalimar and I were in a book club together a few years ago, and I will never forget the gathering at my house where she stunned us all with the news that she was expecting her (surprise!) third child and first son, Anthony (2). He joined big sisters, Kadence (6) and Kohyn (3). Kalimar and her husband reside in a Seattle suburb.

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Vanessa was my PEPS (Program for Early Parent Support) group leader when Aaron and I joined our first group with our son, Anderson, and has served as a support and example to me as I have gone on to lead PEPS groups myself. She and her husband are raising their three kids – 10-year-old Luke, 7-year-old Vivian and 4-year-old Soren…and have a fourth on the way! – in Seattle.

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It goes without saying there are wonderful mothers of 1 and of 5+ I also could have interviewed for this project. And if you are one of those moms – I welcome your unique insights, so please comment and share! Alas, these are the moms I invited on board to share their greatest struggles (the diapers! the whining! the sleep!) and what keeps them smiling (the giggle fests!) no matter how zombie-tired they are… as their families have grown… and grown… and grown. Read on!

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“If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans” – Woody Allen

 

“I never grew up wanting to get married, or thought about being a mom,” shares Vanessa, who is currently expecting her fourth child.

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“We had not really discussed children before our first. When we got married I didn’t even think about kids, really – hadn’t given it a thought.” Vanessa says that it wasn’t until after having children she knew she wanted to have four. “Everyone always tells me that the woman knows when she is done having babies…literally just having given birth the mom will know – she will still have that feeling for one more or she will feel complete and done, and it’s so true with me! I never felt done with each of my kids. I’m currently pregnant with #4, and I feel done. I’m ready after this one to be finished (my husband is so happy about that!).”

For Shawna, “two” was always that ideal number – before and after becoming a mom. She says that even in discussions she and her husband had before getting married, having two kids someday “seemed natural for us.” Now, with two toddlers at home, they certainly have their hands full, but Shawna admits, “Now, we partially joke that we would like a third child.” She is quick to add that is not an option for them, however (“They make surgeries for that sort of thing”).

Kalimar also had her feet firmly planted in the “two kids” camp, until a life-changing positive pregnancy test came along that turned her plans – and life as she knew it – upside down. Her son, Anthony, was born when her youngest daughter was just 16 months old – an experience she wouldn’t recommend to anyone. “I was in survival mode for his entire first year and can barely remember any of it,” she shares, adding that the timing of having two babies so close together was “extremely challenging” and – quite simply – “horrible.”

Becka, who gave birth to four children within six years, says she and her husband “always talked about having four kids close in age.” But those plans didn’t come to fruition without some serious doubts along the way. “Our talks/plans did not change until I was eight months pregnant with our third child,” she says. “After having two boys I had mentally assumed our third was also going to be a boy and if I was lucky I would get a girl for our fourth. (Finding out we were having a girl) threw a wrench in my mental picture of my family.” As a very tired pregnant mother of two, Becka says she “began to think I couldn’t do this again. I couldn’t be pregnant again and wake up to take care of three children.” After some serious thought and prayer, and experiencing 19 months as a mother of three, Becka says at that point she finally knew that she truly wanted a fourth child.

How Close is Too Close? The Age Gap Debate

As any mother of twins will tell you, taking care of two babies is at least twice as much work as taking care of one – twice the diapers, twice the feedings, twice the tantrums… you get the idea. Much of these same consequences hit parents of closely-spaced kids. While many parents intentionally wait until older children are potty-trained, sleeping through the night – even in school – to lessen the impact of adding another baby to the mix, other parents deeply desire for their kids to grow up very close in age, and some even find it easier to get through the “diaper days” all at once, however daunting that task may be.

Let’s talk diapers.

It’s something every one of the mothers I interviewed mentioned – without even being asked. For some it plays into their ideals for age spacing, for others not so much.

Becka loves the age spacing between her kids (“They are each other’s best friends”), though she can see the benefits of spacing kids out even more.

“It is hard because I am in the ‘trenches’ for quite a few years in a row,” she says, “but once I get out I will be able to stay out. As opposed to my parents who had four kids with a four-year age gap between each, so my oldest brother was 12 when my baby brother was born. That’s 14 years of never really getting out of diapers!”

For Kalimar, most everything was easier with her first two children (daughters spaced 2.5 years apart) than with her youngest two children who have only a 16-month gap in age.

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“My first two are 2.5 years apart and it’s wonderful. My first was daytime potty-trained when my second was born…could ask questions and understand my answers.” The short spacing between her two youngest was another story entirely – both were in diapers full-time, and Kalimar was still nursing nearly halfway through her third pregnancy, which hindered her own (and, she suspects, her baby’s) weight gain. When the new baby arrived, her 16-month-old daughter was confused to see Mom holding a new baby and not her. “The lack of communication and understanding of my 16-month-old was heartbreaking. There were so many times daddy had to pull her away crying and screaming because she wanted to snuggle while I was nursing the newborn and she couldn’t.”

For Vanessa, diapers were no big deal and weren’t one of the reasons she spaced her kids further apart, at three years apart each. Though she says diapers never bothered her, getting each child to sleep through the night, be more independent, and into a bigger car seat were some practical aspects to her choice. Most importantly though, she just wanted more time to be their mom, one at a time. “The best thing to me about my kids’ age gap (three years each) is that I had time with each one – to take care of each of them in the baby stage when they need you the most.” She also mentions that her kids are still “incredibly close” even with the larger age gap.

Shawna also had her sights set on a three-year age gap, but plans changed when Kiptyn was 15 months old and she and her husband found themselves trying for baby #2. Like Becka, Shawna and her husband had grown up with their own siblings spaced further apart, and felt the impact of not being as close. With her boys almost exactly two years apart, the double diaper duty can be taxing, but she loves that they are “close enough to experience life together, go to the same schools at the same time, and grow up as buddies.” Playing referee to their wrestling matches is a small price to pay.

Growing Pains…and Growing Joys

I asked the moms what the hardest transition was for them – going from 0 to 1 kid, 1 to 2, 2 to 3, or 3 to 4. Three out of four said the first baby was the hardest, followed by going from 2 to 3 (although Vanessa felt that by the time they had their third, it was a “piece of cake!”).

“Everything is much easier with two,” says Kalimar. “Once you have three or more you are in the market for a bigger car, bigger house etc…”

Becka seconds the car considerations, adding, “I don’t want a car bigger than a minivan!”

Across the board, one of the biggest rewards the moms have felt as their families have grown, is watching the bond their children form with each other.

“There is a lot more fighting and yelling happening, but also so much more giggling and silliness,” says Vanessa. “The giggles are priceless,” adds Becka. Shawna agrees, “Pure joy is seeing my boys interact and laugh together. The belly laughs I find myself listening to these days make me smile from ear to ear.”

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Whining toddlers and older kids wanting to roughhouse with the fragile younger babes was a top challenge mentioned by the moms. But on the flip side, the older, more independent kids are also able to help out with little siblings. Girls tended to take right to “mothering” their new baby brother or sister.

Words of Advice for Undecided Parents

I asked the moms what advice they would give other parents who are undecided about how many kids to have, and when to have them. Here are their pearls of wisdom:

From Kalimar: “Age spacing is crucial! I highly recommend not having kids closer in age than 2 ½ years if your first is a girl, and at least three years if your first is a boy. The reason for this is that girls are natural little mothers…they understand and want to help with baby at an earlier age than boys….even the most sensitive boy loves to crash and bang, and yes he will crash and bang into the newborn.”

From Becka: “Talk about it, pray about it and think about what you can handle. There are hard days that seem to last an eternity, but in the scheme of things a year flies by!”

From Shawna: “Consider how much time you’ll be able to spend with each child, teaching them, learning alongside them. (As for spacing), go with what feels right. Whether planned or unplanned, children enrich lives, turn life upside down in the most perfect of ways. Life is amazingly crazy with kids in it, and it is the best, most challenging thing I may ever do.”

From Vanessa: “There is so much pressure on parents to have their second child…I felt like right after we had our first, people were already asking us when we were going to have our next one! Now that I’m pregnant with baby #4, people can’t believe that either and I get a lot of weird looks and people asking if we are having it on purpose, and ‘Why?’ which no one would ask with baby #1 or #2. There is no pleasing everyone… If you are content with having one child, then just have one. Do what you want, and have your babies when you want. You don’t have to please anyone but yourselves.”

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As for Me….

Aaron and I are expecting…..to hopefully be pregnant again sometime next year! God willing. I SO relate to Vanessa’s comment about a mother just knowing when she is done, or not done, having children. Throughout my pregnancy with Anderson and even early on with him as a newborn, I already genuinely looked forward to someday, I hope, getting to do it all over again.

The insight I have gained from these mothers is invaluable to me as one of the hardest things about making any parenting decisions is the many “unknowns.” I so appreciate the “reality check” these moms have given me and their experience-based wisdom makes me feel more informed as to what I need to take into consideration – what’s best for Anderson and what’s best for Aaron and me as parents – before heading down the road toward additional children. As much as my heart tells me I would love to be pregnant again right now, my head tells me there are good reasons to wait just a little bit longer.

Welcome, Anderson!

Welcome, Anderson!

My how my life has changed since I last wrote for this blog!  Introducing my beautiful baby boy!

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Aaron and I welcomed our son, Anderson David, on March 6th.  As promised at the end of my last blog entry, I now have a baby (and many many baby accessories) at home, am no longer pregnant – and our child even has a name! The story behind the ultimate name decision is somewhat anticlimactic.  In the end, it just felt right, and once we were at the hospital and filling out the birth certificate paperwork, we never thought twice about it.  Funny how most of the things we stress about really aren’t worth stressing about, huh?

I really have been dying to get back to writing, and to share a bit about Anderson’s birth story and what this first month (ONE MONTH already – crazy!) has been like.  First of all, all the things you hear over and over and over again about having a baby are starkly true – you sleep less, you shower sparingly, live in yoga/pj pants, and know a love you’ve never known before.  From the moment he was born life has truly been a nonstop whirlwind – a cozy, messy, sleepy, calm, exciting, loud, quiet, beautiful adventurous ride that knows no bounds.  Rhyme, reason, schedule and structure of life before baby are gone.  But it’s the best, most beautiful kind of clutter, constancy and sometimes chaos you’ll ever know.

SPECIAL DELIVERY….

A bit about giving birth:  I could write pages and pages just about the 48 hours we spent in the hospital, but I’ll try and condense.  In short it was the most magical, sacred, empowering and surreal experience of my life.  It also went as well (in fact, better – thank you, epidural!) than I ever could have hoped and for that I am so grateful.  Call me crazy, but I’m actually already looking forward to doing it again someday.  Does that sound crazy?

I want to share some personal photos from that very special time that I haven’t shared on facebook or with anyone else.  I think they will really help tell the story of our journey bringing Anderson into this world, and his precious first hours of life.

Here is a picture of me just after being admitted to the hospital.  I was so excited to be there and so ready to get this labor going!

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I was induced on Pitocin due to low amniotic fluid (apparently not too uncommon when past your due date, as I was). That revved up my contractions, and after about 6 hours of gradually increasing contractions, I requested an epidural, which was always my plan.  Kudos to those iron women who brave labor without one, but that is not for me and I am a huge fan of this medical marvel – it is a godsend!!  I was blessed to have my awesome husband by my side, feeding me ice chips, watching Jeopardy with me in the early stages of labor, slow-dancing me through the pain of the later stages, sleeping in a windowsill for two nights, and holding up my numb legs for hours as I worked to bring our son into the world.  I also had an incredibly competent and nurturing nurse who made me feel so assured, comfortable and prepared each step of the way. Way to go nurses, and way to go Swedish for its 1-1 nurse-patient ratio – it was so wonderful to have the undivided attention of my nurse for 12 hours straight at such an intimate, sensitive time.  Rounding out the team, I truly felt I couldn’t have been in better hands with my delivery doctor and anesthesiologist who were both absolute professionals, calmed my fears and my pain, and delivered my son safely into my arms.  Thank you!!!

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I think I was awake for roughly 30 hours straight throughout labor and delivery and Anderson’s first day of life.  Yes, I was tired, but it’s amazing how your body sustains you and gets by on pure adrenaline and elation.  That first day we were just absolutely consumed with holding him, feeding him, smelling him, staring at him, watching him sleep.  We were immediately in love and fiercely protective over our new son.  As much as people try to describe how amazing becoming a parent is, there are no words that can truly prepare you. No description can substitute for experiencing it yourself.

This photo perfectly captures that first day and night with him.  I was holding him in my hospital bed during one of our many overnight wake-ups/feedings.  As exhausted and “running on fumes” as I was, I had never held anyone or anything so gratefully, so protectively, so….never wanting to let go.  This was a deeply tender moment that I vividly remember, and I’m so glad we captured it:ImageHere is our first family photo in the hospital:

ImageA sweet shot with Aaron:

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And a few of the many moments we’ve experienced in our “baby bubble” getting the hang of parenting a little more each day, this first month back at home….

His first bath:

ImageAaron grooming him to take over the family business (during a diaper change, of course – never too early to multi-task!):

ImageFirst “Starbucks run” (coffee is our friend!!):

ImageCuddles on the couch:

ImageFirst Easter as a family:

ImageAnd here we are.  It’s good to be home.

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