Sunday, January 31, 2010

This was not in the manual.

I had a friend go into labor at my house today.

She's not due for another two weeks, but today while playing with our two boys, she mentioned that she'd been having a lot of Braxton-Hicks contractions. I had remembered reading that if you have more than four in an hour, you should probably call your doc, or start timing them, as they may not be warm-ups at all, but The Real Deal. She and her husband decided to go home, get some things in order, then come back to spend the night with us. That way, if she DID have to go to the hospital, her 19-month-old son could just spend the night here with us.

When they came back, she'd been having brief contractions regularly, about every 10 minutes. They hadn't been lasting long, but they'd been coming almost like clockwork. As I watched her over the next hour, her contractions went from slightly uncomfortable to I-don't-want-to-talk-while-this-is-happening. And they were coming more quickly.

As I watched her breathe through each contraction, every rough thing about my own labor two years ago came rushing back to me. I remembered the pain, the tightness, the breathtaking sharpness of it. I remembered the way my body instinctively lifted up around the pain to tense against it, and how hard it was to fight to stay loose, to let the muscles work the way they should. I remembered the totally awful way every organ in my lower body was involved in the orchestra of misery, the way my bladder and intestines and colon suddenly acted like eighth-grade girls who hadn't been invited to the party, and started trying to steal the spotlight with their attention-grabbing antics, namely making me pee every 15 minutes and have terrible (and productive) diarrhetic cramps even more often. (NO ONE prepared me for that, by the way. Hollywood could do us all a favor and show us what labor is really like, in all those sitcoms and romantic comedies.) I remembered being in so much pain that I would throw up several times an hour, for the six hours I lasted before I asked for pain relief. I remembered not wanting to be touched, and simultaneously wanting desperately for someone to put their hands on me to take the pain away, and keep me anchored, because I felt like I would literally wash away with the surges of it.

And I got a little bit, just a teensy bit, jealous.

I know. DUMB. Can't help it.

Here's the thing. My own labor with boy ended in a surgical birth, one made necessary by the fact that I developed a fever that might have endangered our baby. For that reason alone, I don't regret a thing about the C-section. However, in the months leading up to that day, I'd done a LOT of reading, research and preparation to avoid having to resort to one. I'd read books on surgical birth, the rising rates of sections in the U.S., the fact that some may be unnecessary. I'd learned about the potential health effects of pain relief in labor on the unborn baby. And I'd decided that I'd do everything in my power to have our child naturally -- without unnecessary medical intervention. I got fired up about "taking back the birth experience." I walked. I breathed. I studied and practiced relaxation techniques. I interviewed candidates, selected and hired a doula to help us through labor. I got pregnancy massages intended to ease my body's transition into labor and delivery. I listened to soothing and empowering messages about my innate ability to deliver a healthy child.

And in the end, it didn't even matter. The circumstances surrounding the labor I had made all that preparation almost insignificant. I was sick with a cold when my water broke three weeks early, and that illness translated into the fever that made it necessary to operate to have our baby, despite twelve hours of light labor, six hours of augmented labor (read: Pitocin) with no pain meds, and a final six hours of augmented labor with a merciful and welcome epidural. I did everything I could to avoid it, and when it was clear it was inevitable, I accepted it and I don't have a single regret.

It's just that now, the doctor I know and trust has a policy -- once a C-section, always a C-section. He used to perform VBACs (or vaginal births after Caesarean), but not any more. So I already know that though I'm due May 17, my child will eventually have a scheduled delivery date sometime the week before that day. So it's entirely possible that I will feel nothing but the usual run-of-the-mill late pregnancy discomfort, go into the hospital for an appointment one day, and an hour later, be handed a baby.

Which is mine.

Holy smokes.

No last few hours of preparation, no transition to the idea of being a mother of TWO children through the test of labor, no story to tell about how or when my water broke, no gateway to the new phase of parenthood through the traditional and meaningful trial of suffering.

It's not that I want the pain -- it's just that I want the fullness of the experience. I want the few hours or so of wondering whether I'm truly in labor. I want the moment when we realize that it's The Real Deal. I want the nervous excitement of getting the previously-packed bag into the car and going off to the hospital, maybe in the middle of the night. I want the extra few hours of having to wait to meet a baby I am so ready to love and embrace and hold and nurture and cherish. The prize is so amazing, how could I want to rush the process? EVEN THAT stage, the breathing and moaning and suffering, is one you never get back again. And as I'm realizing now that my son is TWO YEARS OLD, those little phases are fluid -- tiny moments of quicksilver that slip away no matter how tightly you try to grasp at them.

It's been about seven hours since my girlfriend first had her light contractions here at our house. She's at the hospital now with her husband, and her toddler is sleeping upstairs. Through text messages, they're keeping me in the loop about how she's doing, and I know that her water broke in the room where she was admitted, and she's at 5 centimeters now, and she's getting an epidural. And as I reflect on all of that, I'm able to yank my head out of my ass where it's been firmly lodged, and focus on the fact that two of my dearest friends are having a BABY in the next few hours. That little bitty taste of jealousy? Gone in the knowledge of the power of what's happening in their lives -- the arrival of an already-beloved child.

In the end, no matter what day it happens, and in what way, my husband and son and I will get the same thing. So I'll shut up now, and do what I should have been doing this whole time -- sit back, take a deep breath, and open my heart up to God in gratitude for His generosity and His love. I'll ask for His protection over this coming child -- my girlfriend's tonight, mine in a few more months -- and for His forgiveness for my own short-sightedness.

Friday, January 22, 2010


Dear Grampa,

It's been four years, today. Four years since you went away. You never got to meet my husband, Grampa, and I'm sure you would have liked him. You and he, though worlds apart, are cut from the same cloth. "Good men in a storm," we could call you -- the kind of man you want around when something goes wrong with your car or your water heater, or if someone gives you really bad news, or if you feel like you've lost your way in the world. You're both good in times like that, and in just about any other.

Maybe even more importantly, you never got to meet the little guy we named after you. You do know that's why we picked that name for him, don't you, Grampa? How could we pick any other? My entire life, I never knew a more gentle, kinder man than you. You never once raised your voice to me or my brothers (or my mom, she tells me now), though we all must have provoked you at some point. You never said a thing about anyone that was anything short of thoughtful and polite. You always gave people the benefit of the doubt, always. You let us mess up your workshop when we were kids, mixing paint samples and dumping out all your carefully sorted nails and bolts and screws, and you never once complained or made us clean anything up -- you just laughed silently at our antics. You were always the essence of patience and tolerance.

And so when it came time to consider a boy's name for our baby-on-the-way, there was never any doubt. And lo and behold, now that he's arrived, I am astounded, relieved, blessed, grateful to see that at least so far, he bears all of the signs of being a great deal like the man who inspired his choice of name.

I hope you see, Grampa, how patient he is with other children. He demonstrates a patience and kindness so far beyond his age that at times it takes my breath away. I only have to ask him once to share with other children, and he walks right over to them to hand them what he's holding, without hesitation or a single shred of protest. I hope you see how he delights in making people smile, like you did -- and how sensitive he is to the moods of others. When he senses that I'm down, he comes up to me to peer into my face, a concerned look on his own little countenance, and says, "Mom okay?" When children cry in the store or at the library, he frowns quietly in their direction, and then turns to me with worry written across his brow, as if to ask me, "What's wrong with that baby, mom? What should we do?" He's sweet to animals, just like you. He is fascinated with things that are mechanical, especially if they need fixing, just like you. I can only hope and pray that, as he grows to be a man, he takes after his daddy and you -- that he becomes a good man in a storm, too.

I know you're there, and that you can see us. I hope that you get to do it often, and that you take pride in the little boy who bears your name. I hope that you see him and smile, and know that when I speak his name, there is an echo in my heart of all the times I heard yours spoken -- that when I hug him goodnight, I remember all the times I hugged you when we would see each other on summer vacations.

You left the world a better place in so many ways -- through the way your gentle spirit was remembered by those who love you, most of all. And now you've touched the world in one more way -- through the name and smile and sweetness of one small boy who will turn two years old in a few days.

I love you. I miss you. I hope you keep watching us from up where you are. If you can, please put in a good word for us. I think of you as someone who looks out for our little guy -- if that's the case, thank you, thank you. He'll need his guardian angel in the years ahead of him especially, as he starts school and learns to drive and all those other terrifying rites of passage that boys must face.

I can't think of a better angel for him than you.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Oh, no, he didn't.

The other day, boy and I were happily playing together in his playroom (meaning, he was decimating his train table and I was messing around on my iPhone. I assure you, both of us were well-pleased with this arrangement.). He tried to get my attention in his usual way ("Mom! Mom! Mommy! Mommy? Mom? Mom!") and I'll admit that maybe, this time, I wasn't as timely as usual with my response. And so he switched tactics, mid-stream.

"Mom! Mom! Mom? Lady! Lady! LADY!!"

Except he didn't say "lady." What he said in its place was MY FIRST NAME.

Now, we make it no secret around our home that mom and dad have different names. We decided early on that in addition to being "mom" and "dad" around the boy, we'd call each other by our first names, too. It was an attempt to hang on, in front of our son, to the fact that before he had shown up, we'd been there first. And we were more than parents, but spouses and independent adults, as well.

An ATTEMPT, I said.

Reason dictates that I should have calmly looked at the boy when he called me by my first name and asked him to whom he was referring. As if I were a receptionist or something. What ACTUALLY happened was that my head whipped around so fast that my ears rang, and I said, "WHAT did you just call me?" He looked at me for a second, blinked, and said it AGAIN. My first name.

Oh, geez.

I pulled it together and said, "Yes, that's mommy's name. But what do YOU call her?" And he smiled angelically. "Mom!" I gave him a shaky smile and said, "That's right. Just remember that. You know mommy's name, but when you talk to her, you call her 'mom', ok?" He nodded and toddled off.

Probably to pat himself on the back for getting my attention. Which is what the little toot wanted in the first place.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

An open letter to the makers of Fiber One bars

Dear Fiber One bars,

First of all, I need to apologize. I would normally address this letter to the company that manufactures you. However, since experiencing The Force That Is You, I'm afraid to handle the box long enough to see who makes you. So I'll just have to send this to you directly.

You may be a little uneasy, since when I post open letters like this one, I tend to share some constructive criticism, as I did in my letter to Pepperidge Farm concerning their Double Chocolate Milano cookies. Or, I simply demand restitution for what I deem criminal injustice, as I did in my letter to the universe concerning the Taco Cabana taco so-called "salad." But this time, I assure you, I have a different agenda for writing. This time, I'd like to recognize a job well done. Perhaps done TOO well, one might argue. FROM THE BATHROOM.

You see, pregnancy has a not-uncommon effect on me: Some bodily processes tend to ... slow down. Way down. To the point of discomfort. In the past, I've tried upping my water consumption, adding more vegetable- and fruit-based fiber to my diet, and even the use of daily stool softeners. Any effect was short-lived, though. For a while, I despaired of ever finding relief from my new, pregnant, and backed-up state of being. Then I tried a Fiber One bar.

To say that the effect was powerful is an understatement. I was at the grocery store with my then-22-month-old son the day after consuming my first Fiber One bar when I was aware of what the "Seinfeld" writers have referred to as a major "intestinal requirement." Standing in the aisle contemplating (appropriately) my toilet paper choices, I broke out in a cold sweat. I looked at my son and realized that he was going to slow down my progress to the ladies' room considerably, and for a split second I tried to convince myself that my issue wasn't as urgent as I had originally thought it to be. Then my guts reached forward, grabbed my belly button and tried to lasso my appendix with it. That's when I ran for it.

Thank God for family restrooms at grocery stores. No one else had to be a party to the scene that resulted, except for boy. I'm fairly sure he's already blocked it from his memory. I wish I could do the same. It wasn't pretty.

I left that family restroom a wiser woman. Note to self, I thought. Don't plan to be away from home the day after eating a Fiber One bar. The effect you achieved, you see, could be best described by the phrase "a brick through Jello."

I approach you with much more caution and respect, now, Fiber One bars. I've learned that I will be most comfortable if I consume you as a bedtime snack, and allow you to work your digestive machinations while I sleep. I then plan to be at home through my son's nap the next day, and by then, you have usually finished your dramatic work, and I can sally forth with the reasonable expectation that no public restroom will cringe to see me approaching, white-faced and desperate. I've learned my lesson.

And so I salute you, Fiber One bars. You do what your name implies -- you give One a dose of Fiber. Or perhaps, you suggest that you give someone all the Fiber they will ever need, in One bar. Either way, nice work. I don't know how you achieve it -- your ingredient list includes "chicory root extract," but I'm more inclined to believe that it's angry microscopic gnomes with hammers, chisels and steel-toed boots -- but you know what you're doing.

Good job.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Good things.

(As inspired by married yoshimi.)

Whatchamacallit bars.

The smell of my boy's hair when he's just been towel-dried from his bath. Yay, Mustela products!

Avocados, sliced on crackers, with salt and pepper.

Not throwing up.

Holidays that FEEL like holidays because it's actually cold outside. Frozen pipes = real deal, y'all.

Healthy pregnancies.

A spic-and-span house.

Husbands who recognize when you are. Just. Done. Already. And then they do all the dishes and clean up the entire kitchen at night AGAIN.

Enjoying a Coca-Cola because you're done breastfeeding, and by all that is good and holy, you're going to reclaim SOME of your culinary rights before the next baby's born. (Sniff. Sushi, I really miss you. Do you ever think about me?)

Vacuum lines on carpet.

Toddlers who, when you ask them what they want on their two-year birthday cake, say, "Elmo, and Cookie, and Trash Can [Oscar], and Abby, and Bert, and Ernie, and Slimey, and Rubber Duckie, and Big Bird, and Count, and Telly, and Baby Bear ..." (Guess there won't be any trouble picking out a theme for this year's party.)

Getting a 23-month-old to pee in the potty twice in four hours, on the FIRST real day of potty training. Hooray for pretzels and water!

Good aunts and uncles for your toddler. Boy loves ALL of his.

Good grandparents. Boy's a really blessed kid. His all dote on him.

Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Regular size or mini, dark chocolate or milk, just keep 'em coming. If they could find a way to fortify THOSE with the stuff that's in pre-natal vitamins, I would have no problem getting my 100% every day. If not 400%.

Cold, rainy days when you don't have any commitments outside the house.

Clear, sunny days when you do.

Sandra Boynton books, or at least the way they make little boys chuckle.


Feeling the baby kick and knowing everything's ok in there.

Having discretionary income.

"Everyday Italian" and "Barefoot Contessa" on the Food Network.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

I am so screwed.

Just now, I had to read boy the riot act about acting up. He'd taken a small toy animal and was pounding on the coffee table repeatedly, despite my "No"s. (He does these things when I'm on the phone because he knows my attention is divided. Little schemer.)

I pulled him onto my lap for a stern talk. After a lengthy discussion, he finally showed some remorse, then managed a "Sorry, mom." Immediately after that, he patted my Old Navy t-shirt and said, "Nice shirt, mom." And followed THAT up with "Hair pretty."

Good Lord.

Monday, January 04, 2010

An open letter to my bladder

Dear bladder,


We need to talk.

I never had much of a problem with you before -- we were always good. You did your job, and I'll admit, I probably took you for granted a little. I feel badly about that, and I'd apologize if I thought you'd listen. You've taken your revenge a little too far, though.

The first indication that something was wrong was early on in my pregnancy with boy. You started to let me down. It wasn't all the time, and it wasn't by much, but those small betrayals didn't go unnoticed. The doctors tell me that pressure from the growing baby means that there's a strain on a body's bladder. I get that. But even on days I was drinking less water than usual, you were hyperactive. One day I actually logged every time I ran to the bathroom. In one day, I visited the powder room 23 times. TWENTY-THREE. And that was while I was AWAKE. I know they say it's good for a pregnant woman to walk for exercise, but come ON.

If that was your only transgression, I might have let it go. But we both know it wasn't.

(Sigh.) Bladder, you've got to start holding it together. Or should I say, holding it IN. Seriously. I thought it was bad enough the first pregnancy -- but with this one, I've had a cold for three weeks, and when I cough or sneeze, there's more being expelled than germs from my face, if you get my drift. It's never been bad enough that I caused a public scene or anything, but it is uncomfortable. As it is, I'm considering buying stock in Kimberly-Clark, the makers of Always pantiliners.

It's not just you. You're one of a dozen or so organs that have thrown me for a loop since I became a mother. But your betrayals are definitely among the more embarrassing I've experienced. I don't want to hear about Kegels -- they've never seemed to help, and besides, that's just shoving the accountability back to me, when this is your screw-up. And I don't want to hear you start talking about urologists, either. You think a pregnant woman hasn't already lost enough dignity, what with the knees in the air and the thin paper sheets and the constant lights being shined on parts of her body that only her husband should see?

So please -- get it together, bladder. I've got enough to worry about.

If you want to talk, I'll be in the powder room.