A Time to Bathe, and a Time to Cuddle

I have been uncharacteristically private in regards to our current foster placement. With past kiddos it has felt appropriate to share snippets here and there while protecting their privacy and stories. For this placement, it has not felt appropriate.

However, last night as I rocked Little One and the tears were flowing I wanted to share something on my heart.

Many times when we get a child back from a visit, we are tempted to bathe them immediately. Sometimes this is necessary if the child comes back obviously soiled, caked in grime, or sticky from treats. I’m sure there are also many germaphobes like me who like the ritual of the after-visit bath to cleanse away the host of germs you imagine them to have touched in a county visitation room where countless children have been snotting, slobbering, and chewing on the same objects all day.

Yesterday, Little One came back from visit smelling very strongly of their parent’s preferred fragrance. The smell of this fragrance was incredibly harsh. I am really sensitive to perfumes and colognes, perhaps more than most, but this time it was particularly bothersome. I began sneezing, my eyes were watering, and I even broke out into hives on my face as I cuddled Little One after the visit. As I was scratching my chin and blowing my nose while rocking this very upset, post-visit child, I thought “I’ve gotta bathe this baby.” As soon as I had the thought, Little One went into another fit of screaming, and I thought “Wait— this is all this child has. This scent. There is no physical touch from their bio parent to cling to, no article of parent’s clothing, no face to reach out and touch. There is only this scent.” If I bathed the child there and then, I would be stripping away the one sensory reminder this child had to hold on to as they went to bed. So I didn’t bathe Little One. Instead I put my head down close to theirs, ignoring the itching hives and runny nose I had. I prayed and sang over the child, and though this baby usually goes to sleep without any rocking, I rocked Little One to sleep.

Once I left the room, I cried. Yes, Little One is secure with us. Little one is loved, cared for, and knows us, having spent over half their life living with us. But Milkman and I are not, nor will we ever be Little One’s blood relatives. There is an invisible bond that this child will have to their biological parents that has and will continue to confound me, no matter how infrequent visits may be. The fragrance may have been offensive to my nose, but if I washed that away, Little One would be devoid of that lingering memory of their parent.

I’m not here to say that you shouldn’t bathe or shower a child after visit. I’m not here to say that you should always choose to suffer with an unpleasant or lingering cologne or perfume. I’m not saying that if you immediately bathe them that you’re a bad foster parent. I’m just saying these are the things we should seek to remember when we are caring for other people’s children.

Keep up the good work, foster parents. The little unnoticed things you do may go a longer way than you think at helping shape a child for the rest of their life.

Gordito’s Birth Story

It’s been so long since I’ve written one of these, I don’t even know where to start. If you followed my posts during pregnancy, you may recall my struggle with SPD. Around 36 weeks, I used my walker to get to the laundry room, and I tripped over a shoe. My right foot went forward about 3 feet and I landed hard on it, with my legs apart. SNAP! That’s literally all it took to tear my SP joint (symphysis pubis). I screamed so loudly that Milkman and all 3 kids came running in. Milkman had to help drag me to the couch where I sat wailing with an ice pack. I was so angry at my body, that had been so much stronger this time, and so well supported by the HG harness (of course, I wasn’t wearing it when I tripped ::face palm::), that it just seemed cruel to make it so far and then have such a catastrophic injury at the end.

I went to the perinatologist a few days later who confirmed the tear, and later that day a wheelchair was delivered to my front door step. I was both relieved to have a means to get around, and then discouraged to know I was ending another pregnancy in a wheelchair.

The last few weeks of my pregnancy were spent sitting in the nursing chair in the corner of my livingroom, relying on my children to keep themselves fed with easy meals, and folding laundry and baby clothes while I cried missing our foster baby who had left unexpectedly the previous month. The pain I was in was unbelievable. Even readjusting myself in the recliner was scream-worthy. The last 2 weeks of my pregnancy, my mom and sisters took turns showing up most days of the week. My oldest sister swept and mopped my floors, my middle sister tended to kids, and my mother kept us all fed. This was the most help I had ever received during a pregnancy, and it was humbling, difficult, and one of the biggest blessings I’ve ever encountered. (They kept this up for a good 2 weeks after Milkman went back to work after I had the baby. I owe them a very great debt!) My beloved neighbor and dear friend would pop in on the days my family wasn’t here, and she would give me back rubs, and take my kids to water plants and feed chickens to give me little breaks. As someone who is used to being on the go, being a helper, being a host, and taking care of other people, it was totally foreign to be cared for like this, but it was good for me.

One of the big concerns I had after the tear was my ability to deliver this baby vaginally. The pain that I was in had me longing for a C-Section, but! There was an issue that would make a C-Section very undesirable for me. After 7 failed epidurals from my previous labors, and a consult with the head of anesthesia at my hospital, we determined that due to my scoliosis and arthritis, epidurals were never able to be properly placed and take effect. This being the case, it was suggested I try for an epidural at the very beginning of labor (something I’ve never considered), and then if it didn’t take, we would progress to a spinal. If that didn’t work, we would know that if I was in need of a C-section, I would have to go under general anesthesia. The thought of not being the first one to see my baby felt unbearable. Without the ability to move on my own or go anywhere without assistance, I had a lot of time to sit, stew, worry, and cry. And boy, did I cry a LOT!

While some people can fully cook a baby in 37 weeks, I am a slow cooker, and I knew I wouldn’t deliver this baby boy early, let alone “on time”. I normally have weeks upon weeks of prodromal labor, but this time, all prodromal labor stopped at 38 weeks and my uterus was calm and totally disinterested in ejecting a baby. My midwives and my perinatologist knew me well enough to not bother offering an early induction, and we didn’t even try for membrane stripping this time since it had never worked before. We knew the name of the game was “wait”, and so we did.

My sister brought oils, both to diffuse and to slather on me. My neighbor and sister tried pressure points, and Milkman tried making me meals loaded with balsamic and oregano, but nothing could cause my body to kick into gear. This was not surprising given my history, but it was discouraging. From feeling around, one midwife said the baby was really big, and another said the baby was right on track. One ultrasound showed a beast, the other a totally normal sized baby. I felt confident that I could deliver a baby at any size— if only my pelvis weren’t split! But it was split, and I was getting nervous. This was also the first pregnancy where I became terrified of labor. After my last (and very traumatic) birth, I became consumed with terror at the thought of delivering another baby. There were so many moments of Milkman holding me while I gripped his hands to death whispering over and over “I don’t want to do this, I don’t want to do this, I can’t do this, I don’t want to do this…” and him whispering back “you can do this, your body was made to do this, you will do this…” over and over.

I felt like I practically lived at the hospital the last 3 weeks of my pregnancy. Between midwife, perinatologist, and iron infusion appointments to help get my iron up to a safe level for delivery, even the parking garage attendants got to know me. By week 40, the valet was saying “today?” Every time he parked my car and I would say “nope. Not yet.”

At that 40 week appointment, the perinatologist set my induction for 41 weeks, and said hopefully I would go before then. It was at that point that I felt the clock ticking. I was absolutely not interested in an induction, so I figured I would try everything I could at home. We kept up with oils, and I began pumping and nursing around the clock. Sex wasn’t an option because my pelvis was split, but we tried massaging pressure points, and more oregano oil than you can shake a stick at. I went from crying about not wanting to be in labor, to crying and needing to be in labor— but still not wanting to be! That last week of my pregnancy was brutal, and not one I would like to re-live ever again. The pain, the emotional turmoil, the hormones! Just a big mess.

The day before my scheduled induction, I put makeup on, had Milkman push me over to the barn, put heels on me, and shoved my cane under me to prop me up for pictures of my week past date belly pictures. Looking back, I’m so glad we did that! I’m really bad at taking belly pictures when I’m pregnant, so it’s something I’m grateful for!

Sunday morning dawned. The day of my induction was here. Not a contraction or sign of impending labor to be seen. We went to church, and when I came home, we all piled on our bed, while I nursed Peachy, and cuddled my family of 5 for the last time. After lots of tears on my part and the kids’, we loaded them up and took them to my mom’s house. We headed to the hospital, and I told Milkman over and over “I don’t have to stay after they check me, if I don’t want to, right?” And he would say “we can leave any time you want.”

We got to the hospital and got checked into a wheelchair accessible room. I made it clear I wanted to be checked and told if I was favorable for an induction, and if I wasn’t that I would be going home. I was hoping to do a foley and cervadil only to find out that my hospital doesn’t even have cervadil, and I was a 2.5 which meant they wouldn’t do the foley. They said we would go right to Pitocin and because of this, I would not be able to be in the shower (my favorite place to labor) because with pitocin you need constant monitoring. I began crying. How would I make it through a marathon Rachel labor with no shower? I explained how an epidural was not likely to work, and that I wanted to go home and wait for natural labor to start. One nurse was annoyed and said I should just stay, and another nurse went to talk to someone in anesthesia.

I told Milkman to pack my things and though he was supportive, I think he also wanted to just get it over with and begin the induction. At this point I asked a nurse “if I leave now, and come back when I’m in labor, will I be charged twice for being admitted?” She told me I would be charged twice, and being the cheapskate I am, I said “well, I guess I’m staying then”. Soon after then, the nurse came in with a young, female anesthesiologist. She told me that she was looking at my pelvic MRI and x-rays, and she understood why my previous epidurals hadn’t worked, but that after studying them, she was 90% sure she could place a working epidural. Though I had sworn I wouldn’t go through the hassle of getting one that wouldn’t work anyway, I felt really confident in her confidence.

One hour later, I had a working epidural and pitocin running through my veins. 8th time’s the charm apparently!

Because of my disability we had to take several things into consideration and care. One was that I couldn’t open my legs more than about a foot to 18 inches at the knee. Another was that I needed to be moved frequently, but the epidural posed a special threat because I couldn’t feel pain in the same way to trigger me to not move into unsafe positions. I also would not be able to deliver on my back, as it would require my legs to open to far. Because my labors are often very long (34, 23, and 56 hours respectively), being unable to be mobile was a particular concern for extending the length of my induction.

Every 90 minutes, Milkman had an alarm that would go off. He would stabilize my legs with 2 pillows between, tie a sheet around my knees and pillow to keep them closed, and I would move from my right side to my center. 90 Minutes later, we would do the same thing and move from the center to my left side.

9 hours after my induction began, the midwife who delivered Mamitas walked in the room and was officially on duty. We had gotten the schedule a few days before and this was one of the few reasons I decided to stay. Linda is an exceptional midwife. She is the calm to my crazy, she is down to earth, and she can deliver a baby in any position. She is one of those people who radiates warmth, without being syrupy. Real salt of the earth. The team said they were going to check me, and since I had so many contractions they were sure I was close. I told them “pretty sure I’m not.” Guess what? No change. They said maybe a tight 3, but true to my normal, that cervix wasn’t budging. I had a good cry, snuck some food, sipped some of Milkman’s coffee, and told him I wanted to go home. Obviously, it was too late to go home, but this was for the birds. Not used to contracting and not feeling it was totally foreign, so I tried to watch TV, but that made me even more annoyed. I got moved onto my side, Milkman slipped in the bed behind me, and I put in my headphones, turned on my labor mix, pulled my sleep mask over my face, and fell asleep crying silently.

Around 5pm, the Midwife came in and I was about a 5, and the baby was still way up high in my ribs. I told her I was discouraged and she said “I know exactly how this is going to happen. You’re gonna have some crazy contractions and he’s gonna drop, you’re gonna feel pressure and he’s going to engage and be born right after that. This part is taking a while, but once he drops, it’s going to go fast.” I gave a pursed lipped smile and rolled my eyes a little. Nothing ever goes fast for me! We talked about labor positions, and though we had planned on hands and knees, she said “We could tie your legs shut, and if a baby wants to come out, it’ll come out. When the time comes, we’ll get you on your side, nice and comfortable and he’ll make his way out.”

Within an hour, my epidural ran out. I could feel the contractions ramping up, and it felt good to breathe through them. With previous labors, I was so exhausted by the time I hit transition that I would go wild. This time, I moaned low and slow, I breathed deeply, and held onto Milkman like he was a life raft and I was in the middle of a stormy ocean. The pain was satisfying, and because I was well rested, I felt strong enough to handle them. The first song on my labor mix played over and over. A love song…

In April, our foster son left us unexpectedly after just about a year. We were destroyed, and Milkman and I went away on a baby moon. We spent 3 days eating and sleeping (LOTS of sleeping. I took multiple naps a day!) One of the days, Milkman convinced me out of bed long enough to go to the movies and took me to see the movie “A Quiet Place.” If you aren’t familiar with it, the movie is mostly silent. It’s a suspenseful, well acted, beautifully shot thriller, and after watching it, it fast became one of my favorite movies of all time. There was once scene that had me bawling in the theater, and in this scene, John Krasinski And Emily Blunt slow dance with headphones in to the song Harvest Moon by Neil Young. The last 2 months of my pregnancy I would listen to that song, and cry, and hold onto Milkman, feeling a multitude of emotions. Missing our foster baby, being excited to meet our new baby, fearing labor, loving Milkman so much it hurt, ready for the next chapter, but so terribly sad the last chapter had ended. This song became the theme for my unborn baby, and as it played during labor, I would picture being able to stand, and not being so crippled, and swaying with my husband to that dreamy song.

Around 8, my contractions were right on top of each other, I felt a huge turn, and yelped, and boom, he moved down. As it turns out, Midwife Linda knows what she’s talking about. Who’d a thunk? I told Milkman between contractions “Tell… Linda… he’s engaged… coming soon”.

She came in a while later, checked me, and said “well, honey, you’re complete. You start pushing when you want to.” The nurse and Milkman moved me on to my right side, and I felt the urge to push. Linda half laid on the bed, and told me to rest my left knee on her head. My legs were only open that much! I was pushing with all my might, and at one point the baby’s heart rate decelerated, so they threw an oxygen mask on my face. Between pushes, he was going back up. His heart rate went down again, and finally she said “you just gotta push with all your might, and don’t stop” I delivered his head, and I knew he was bigger than my other babies. One contraction later and he was out. It felt longer, but I pushed for less than 10 minutes.

They put him in my arms while he screamed and I opened my eyes wide and said “uh… he’s big, right??” And she replied “oh, he’s BIG!” I nicknamed him Gordito right then and there.

A while later I delivered the placenta. I remember holding the baby and watching Linda look at it curiously. She said it was a huge placenta, she also said it was very mushy, and deteriorating. Praise God I’m such a cheapskate and didn’t want to pay two admitting fees, this baby NEEDED to come out when he did. I have this clear memory of her pushing her finger into it and her finger went clear through the placenta. She called in 2 people to look at it, and she didn’t seem convinced it had all come out. However the doctor inspected it and said it was all there and not to worry.

Milkman and I marveled at our baby. He was so chubby! I checked his lip and tongue almost immediately and saw he was lip and tongue tied, and told Milkman to call the ENT first thing to make an appointment to get it lasered. I was not interested in months of ductal thrush and mastitis like I had with Mamitas, and 24 clogged ducts in 3 months after Peachy! Milkman took a million pictures, I nursed my baby for the first time, which is always super magical, and ate some gluten free graham crackers with peanut butter and drank a pitcher of apple juice (this is what I eat after every single delivery!)

They measured Gordito and he came in at a whopping TEN POUNDS! He was 22 inches long, and a beast. My other babies had been in the 7-8lb range, so giving birth to such a large baby was a shock.

Once everything was removed and I was cleaned up, we were taken to the postpartum wing, and this is where my evening went from a sweet dream to a total nightmare. I began nursing the baby and I felt a very, very large clot pass. The nurses had been “massaging” my uterus post delivery and kept saying it wasn’t feeling right. I hit the call button, my nurse came in and I told her I needed assistance getting to the bathroom as I had passed a large clot. She pulled open my postpartum mesh hospital underwear and her face alarmed me. She said we wouldn’t be going to the bathroom, and that she needed to get the doctor. The charge nurse came in, and within seconds the tiny little room was filled. My midwife was there too. They pulled back the sheet and there was blood everywhere. I was passing massive clots, and I had multiple people pushing on my abdomen while I nursed and switched back to labor breathing. The charge nurse explained the doctor was in a C-section, and they were going to wake the on-call doctor to come in. She was a young, very tall OB, with magnificently long fingers and narrow hands. It was actually one of the first things I noticed about her, which was interesting considering that very soon, I would be introduced to them in a horrifying way. She explained that my uterus wasn’t contracting properly and that I was hemorrhaging. She was going to attempt to sweep my uterus with her hands and pull anything out she could find. She had the nurse crank up some pitocin, and they gave me a shot of morphine. She said “ready?”

I had just delivered a 10lb baby. I could not have understood before that moment how anything could have felt worse than transition and pushing out a 10lb baby, but lo and behold, there is something worse, and it was this. I had a nurse on each side to stabilize my legs and keep them from opening too far and worsening my SP injury, and those long slender fingers, and that thin slender hand went all the way up inside me and she began to scrape and claw at the inside of my raw uterus. It was late, and being in a small postpartum room, I was determined to be quiet so I wouldn’t disturb the sleep of my fellow postpartum mothers and their sweet newborns in the wing, so I contorted and twisted and did Lamaze breathing and moaned as quietly as I could. She pulled out masses of clots and tissue and while I regained my composure she said “there’s more. I’m so sorry, I know this hurts, but I have to try again. You can scream.”

I fought back tears and said “I can’t scream, I don’t want to wake anyone up!” And everyone said “no one would expect anyone to be quiet through this. Just scream.” I handed my newborn to Milkman, and noticed the look of white terror on his face. “Ready?” The OB said. And I yelled out guttural yells and screams while she pulled out yet more tissue and clots. At this point, there was blood dripping off my bed and onto the floor. It was everywhere. I was soaked in it, all the way up my back and down my legs. My husband fought back tears, one of his hands in mine as I squeezed it as hard as I could and the other cradling our newborn baby.

“I can’t get it all out. She has to go in for a D and C.” My heart sank. The one thing I wanted to avoid in this entire birth was going under general anesthesia, and it was going to happen. I nursed the baby while they waited for the other doc to get out of the C-Section. I remember looking at the floor as I handed the baby off to Milkman and kissed them both, and being shocked at the amount of blood in the room. If it hadn’t been for those iron infusions leading up to the birth, I may not have survived.

The team that took over in Pre-Op was a nightmare. While I was somewhat comfortable with the OB in charge, as he had delivered my oldest, the nurses and the anesthesiologist were like vinegar to the teeth. I was tired, it was the middle of the night, I had delivered a baby, and experienced some of the worst pain in my life. The nurses were mouthy and the anesthesiologist was cocky. I had the OB who was going to do the surgery do an internal ultrasound before I went under to confirm that the procedure was necessary. I remember looking at the screen on the machine and it looked like my uterus was full of cotton. He confirmed we had to do it, and we had to do it now. I cried and the nurse said “you don’t want to do this? You could lose your uterus, or you can lose your life! Is that what you want? You literally could die right now.”

I said “I know I need it, but I’m sad because my brand new baby is down the hall and I’m going into surgery!” She said I needed to calm down. I wanted to drop kick her, but I held my tears back. The last thing I remember is the doctor telling me “how far can we open your legs?” I showed him, he measured, and he had every person in the room look and said “don’t open her legs past this point. We don’t need her in a wheelchair for life.” Then the anesthesiologist strapped my arms down, and they said “see you in 45 minutes”, and I was out.

I woke up crying, which is typical for me coming out of general. I asked what time it was, and they told me it was 3 hours later. Apparently they still couldn’t stop the bleeding, so they tried putting a foley inside my uterus and inflating it to put pressure to assist in stopping the hemorrhage. Unfortunately, they couldn’t keep the foley in because my cervix also wasn’t going back down. To this day, I’m not totally sure what went down in that operating room, but all I remember is the doctor telling me “it didn’t go according to plan, but we saved your uterus.” I asked the nurse to take me to my baby, and she refused. I told her I needed to breastfeed my baby and she said “you need to rest!” I said I could nurse and then rest, but I needed to see my baby. She threatened me again with losing my uterus or my life, so I asked to talk to my husband. Later he told me that she told him “you need to be on my side, don’t tell her she needs to come back.”

I told him they weren’t letting me come back to the room and that he needed to call my sister, it was now 5am, and tell her to come to the hospital and nurse the baby. He spoke to the nurse and said “I know it isn’t visiting hours, but I’m going to have my sister in law come nurse the baby since they aren’t releasing Rachel.” The nurse looked shocked at the thought of someone else coming in to nurse the baby and then made a call or two, and magically I was released back to my room!

Milkman looked totally wiped by the time I came back. He was holding out sweet little fatlng and got choked up when he saw me. He kissed me over and over and said he was terrified that he was going to lose me forever that night. I latched my sweet newborn on, and nursed him, Milkman crawled into the bed next to me, and we slept, very much alive, and very blessed to be together.

———

I never know where to stop these birth stories. There was a lot more that happened before, during, and after, but this was so long as it was. I was encouraged by my besties not to worry about the length of the story, because at the end of the day, I’m writing this story for Gordito and for me. I want to remember these things, and I want him to know how he entered this world.

It’s strange to me that his labor was my shortest at just 18 hours, and that while he was my biggest, he was my easiest delivery. The aftermath was terrible, his size likely played a part in my hemorrhage, but I am so glad that things ended as favorable as they could have!

This was also the first time postpartum that I felt the docs realized the severity of my disability. The day after delivery, they had a pelvic floor therapist in my room assessing me, and put in a referral for me to receive pelvic floor therapy when I got home. It took 9 months of weekly appointments to get me out of the chair, off the walker, and only needing my cane for flare ups or long walks. I’m so grateful for the care I received postpartum. I also had a bunch of iron infusions after delivering, and was well cared for in that respect.

A year out and Milkman still gets choked up thinking about the hemorrhage. In some ways, I feel like that wasn’t even me, but I am grateful to be alive!

My baby is one today. He is the love of my mama life, he’s my little (BIG) best friend. At a year, he loves to babble, laugh, be tickled, and make funny noises. He’s a very anti-social baby and only has eyes for mama and papa— but especially mama. We never get to be alone or go on a date because he can’t handle being apart from me, but I’ll tell you, it’s worth him tagging along, because even when I’m most burnt out, I look at his chubby face, ridiculous toothy grin, and he snuggles into the crook of my neck, signs to nurse, and I’m smitten all over again.

Happy 1st Birthday, my sweet baby boy.

Teething Blues

Sweet Little Gordito,

Today you are teething and it must be very painful. You are normally such a happy baby, but today, nothing is working. You scream and arch your back, you nurse constantly, and won’t let me put you down. Your feelings are so big, but you are so small, and it must be really hard to process that.

My feelings are big, too. I’m touched out, my ears are ringing from the constant switch between screaming and white noise, and sometimes both combined. I’m trying to get my kitchen organized and there are piles of dirty dishes and pantry items strewn about. Every time I make progress in one cabinet or on one shelf you awake or begin to fuss, and I have to stop what I’m doing, leave a half done job, and pick you up and nurse. My breasts are sore from the constant popping off and latching on, back and forth to either side, and gnawing as you teethe.

I remember it was about 6.5 years ago when your oldest brother Captain was a baby. He had lots of big feelings, too. Especially at night. I remember these endless nights where we would be up constantly. And I was so tired. One night he was up 23 times and I thought he was broken and I was broken, and we took him to doctors and chiropractors, tried medicines and tinctures, tried routines and methods, and nothing worked, and we were exhausted. Everyone had an opinion, so we tried them all.

One time we decided to let him cry. He cried and cried and cried. The books said he would stop, but he didn’t stop. He cried so hard it hurt, and each night we tried it got worse, and we set timers and sat outside the door waiting for that break, but it never came. A few days of that and your daddy and I decided we would never do that to one of our babies again. We remembered how as Christian parents it was particularly important for us to remember that we were called to treat our children how God treats us. We remembered that we were ambassadors for Him, and that every time we were tired and weary God always listened to us and responded. We remembered that when we cry out to God, he is gracious and loving. We remembered that even when we are being irrational in our adult tantrums, the Lord is patient with us.

And when we remembered this, our mindset shifted. We learned to accept the long nights, to realize that our baby was just pushing us closer to Jesus, and that he wasn’t broken. I went to bed every night knowing I would be awake in 30 minutes, to nurse, and every 30 minutes for the whole night. And I changed. I literally changed. Yes, I still had nights where I felt like I was losing my mind and I was so exhausted I googled “can you die from sleep deprivation?” But overall, I was less angry, less anxious, less depressed, and less frustrated and daddy was, too.

Since Captain, each of your older siblings have slept better than the sibling before them. Most nights, I’m only up 4-6 times with you, which is a delightful change from Captain’s usual 10-12 a night. You meld so well into our routine and are so low maintenance that I’m not used to fussiness in a baby, so when you are, it comes as a shock. A reminder to switch off the part in my brain that grows weary and frustrated, angry and upset and fights, and turn on the part of my brain that remembers that you are only small once. That you aren’t trying to ruin my day or my night. That accepting these interruptions are for growing me and also slowing me so I can spend more time kissing your pudgy cheeks and soaking in your delicious scent.

My feelings are big, your feelings are big, but I am bigger than you. So it’s my job to hold yours and my own, to breathe and remember that soon— too soon— you’ll be reading books and riding bikes, and I’ll be missing your teething snuggles.

I love you, little fatling.

Love,

Mama

Happy 4th Birthday, Ezra

Dear Ezra,

Today is your 4th birthday. 4. I can’t even believe this will be the 4th year we have celebrated your birthday without you here. Wasn’t I just in the hospital waiting to deliver your tiny, lifeless body?

So much has happened since that day, Sweet Boy. 4 months after I delivered you, I became pregnant with your little sister, our rainbow, Peachy. But that’s not all. There were 4 foster children in and out of our home since then. We moved— my goodness leaving the house we lived in where you lived and died in my womb nearly shattered my heart. I’ve experienced hosts of physical ailments, and a few diagnoses. Your big brother and big sister have gone from toddlers to elementary aged kids. After saying goodbye to you and two of your baby foster brothers who came and left after you, the Lord blessed us with a forever baby boy, your brother Gordito. He’s sleeping now in my arms with a full belly of mama’s milk and swaddled like a chubby burrito.

There has been so much change since you left us, and yet? I still miss you. I still feel your loss in physical and tangible ways.

Sometimes when I am kissing your baby brother, his soft, bubble gummy cheeks, I wonder if you would have looked like him if you had made it. I sniff in his pungent smell and remember all I have of you is a little box of ashes.

Sometimes I think about how different life would be if you had lived. There would be no Peachy, in all her wild insanity, I love her so much I can’t fathom life without her, and yet if you were here, she wouldn’t be. That makes me feel guilty if I think about it too much.

Sometimes when I’m in the living room with your brothers and sisters, I count their heads “1, 2, 3, 4…” and then I go into a mild panic scanning the room looking for you. Where is my other child? There have been times where I have gotten up and looked in other rooms in the house for a fifth child, and as I do, I am overcome with sadness again remembering you aren’t here. There’s no fifth head to count.

Ezra. My beautiful, itty bitty boy. I’ll never stop grieving your loss. I’ll always have a piece of my puzzle missing with you not here. I’ll forever remember you and keep your memory alive in the hearts of your siblings, so that even when I’m dead and gone and holding you in Heaven, your name will not be forgotten on earth.

But for now my love, I know you don’t miss me. You’re complete. You have lived a fuller life in the 4 years you’ve been in the presence of the Lord than I have 32 years on earth. You are held by arms more capable than mine, you are cared for better than I could have done, and you are loved even more than this imperfect mama ever could. I have such great joy knowing you are not mourning, you never have and never will.

God is good— all the time, and I take comfort in knowing that one day, we will be reunited together with Christ.

I love you, sweet Ezra Eugene.

Love,

Your Mama

Supporting Your Postpartum Spouse

Hey Dads,

Let’s talk about something serious: Postpartum. It’s a wonderful time, after 9 months of anticipation, you have this wonderful baby that you get hold, love on, and stare at in amazement. There’s so much good that comes from having a baby! But, we’re lying if we say nothing difficult can also come out of it.

Sometimes your significant other, or even you, may experience feeling bluesy, anxious, or depressed after having a baby. There’s often a stigma associated with these things, but there shouldn’t be. It’s real, it can be serious, and when left untreated, it can lead down a scary and dangerous path. It’s estimated that 1 in 7 new mothers experience postpartum mood disorders. Before we start, realize that often what gets lumped into Postpartum Depression is actually 3 different mood disorders.

Let’s start with Postpartum Depression OR PPD, as it is commonly referred to, is just that: a state of depression after baby is born. Often brought on by a number of things including postpartum hormones, changes in amount and patterns of sleep, or the stress of caring for a helpless new baby. What does it look like?

Someone with PPD will:

• Bs sad/depressed more than they are happy, and feel disconnected from their baby.

• Have overwhelming anxiety over even the smallest of things

• Be tired with little desire to be active, and will often sleep excessively.

Next let’s look at the next thing that often gets lumped in with PPD: Postpartum Anxiety or PPA. Though Postpartum Anxiety is often labeled as depression it has some key differences that can impact how you can best support your partner in dealing with this. Like PPD, Postpartum Anxiety is anxiety brought on from the same things, hormones, lack of sleep, and a worry for your baby. But this is not an anxiety that comes and goes. It lingers.

What does it look like?

• It’s the constant fear that something bad is going to happen to your baby.

• It’s racing thoughts and excessive worrying.

• It’s a continual cycle of what ifs.

• It’s the fear of not being enough for your baby, while not wanting others to care for your baby.

• It often brings trouble with eating & sleeping

• It can also be experienced other physical symptoms associated with anxiety including panic attacks, dizziness, hot flashes, and nausea

It is important to understand and recognize that someone can have postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety simultaneously.

The third and final postpartum mood disorder is Postpartum Psychosis. This the most serious and least common of the 3, it occurs in less than 1% of new moms. Although not exclusively connected, it is often more common in moms who have dealt with bipolar disorder or had a family history of it.

How is Postpartum Psychosis different from the other two?

• Symptoms vary and can include:

-Hallucinations

-Reduced need for sleep

-Paranoia (beyond anxiety)

-Rapid mood swings

-Thoughts of suicide or infanticide

-Confusion and racing thoughts

-Delusions and strange beliefs

• It is considered a medical emergency and requires treatment

• While PPD & PPA may require medication for treatment, Postpartum Psychosis is a medical condition that is treatable with medication

So dads, you’re probably wondering “What does this have to do with me?” I’m here to tell you that you can be instrumental in supporting your wife and providing the care and help she needs postpartum.

How can you help if your wife is suffering from PPD, PPA or PPP?

First things first: Talk with her. I know this can be difficult for some men, but communication is key. As can often be the case with mood disorders, she may be in denial or not realize her condition, and may need some encouragement to get the help she needs. With Postpartum Depression and Anxiety, this process may take some time and you may not be able to broach the subject directly, you may need to sidestep a bit. However, if you suspect your wife has Postpartum Psychosis, reach out to medical professional immediately to seek treatment.

Here are some other ways to offer support:

• Let mom get some sleep (this means you may need to get up early with the kids on the weekend so she can catch up!)

• Make sure she’s eating properly

• Suggest taking a walk or other exercise so she can get some endorphins pumping

• Help her find community and support

• Encourage social interaction, whether in person or through social media

• Encourage her to meet other new moms or moms that have dealt with Postpartum mood disorders

• If appropriate, help her seek a therapist

• When needed seek professional help, or medication

• Prevention is the best medicine, if your wife has a history of depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder discuss with her doctor early on in pregnancy to get a plan in place.

• Find more information from resources like Postpartum Support International

This is not an exhaustive list, and some things may or may not work with your partner’s personality. Study her, talk to her, and most importantly? Listen. Even when she’s not talking, listen to her, encourage her, let her know she’s not alone, and she is not failing.

_______________________________________

Noah or “Milkman” is husband to Rachel at She Rocks the Cradle and father to 4 children. He co-founded a dad’s only support group on Facebook called Dadventure. You can follow his fatherhood journey on instagram at @its.milkman

From Macho to Mama

Disclaimer: This is a really different sort of entry for me to post publicly on the blog, and is more of a personal reflection than it is interesting for others, I’m sure. However, I’ve had some mild postpartum anxiety coupled with writer’s block (which started when my disability worsened near the end of my pregnancy), and this is the first thing I’ve felt compelled to write. So here is a little peek into my mind, heart, and life.

I’ve had 4 different friends send me this… they know me too well.

I was speaking with a male friend this week, and I shared that I had historically had more close male friends than close female friends, but since becoming a mother, I had gained more female than male friendships. After that thought was typed out, I stared at it and thought, “What happened to me? And where did all these female friends come from??” So I thought about it. And then I thought some more. And then I came to my answer…

A little history

Since I was a young child, I seemed to surround myself with male friends. As the youngest of 3 sisters, our all (but my dad) female household was an estrogen fest. Of course I loved playing with my sisters and I had dolls, but I always wanted a brother.

My mama has relayed a story to me about being at a church friend’s home for a party. I came out of the hallway with my pockets shoved so full of toy guns that my stonewashed jeans were falling down, when asked what I was doing with all the guns I said that the boys and I were playing war. Where ever Rachel was as a child, there was a small gang of boys surrounding her. I gave orders, and bossed them around, I organized and delegated play, and they went along with whatever rules I set.

Growing up homeschooled, my friends were from my church and homeschool group. It just so happened most of them were boys, and many of them had come into my life when we were toddlers and preschoolers. These were the boys who taught me to skateboard, jimmy candies out of coin operated candy machines, play war, and shoot hoops. These were the boys who I played with in the street til it was long after dark, these were the boys who were okay with me sitting on the boys side of the Sunday school classroom (which was not a rule. It was just how we always ended up!), the boys who didn’t seem to mind my wild and bossy ways. Until high school, I considered these boys to be my dearest friends. Of course I had wonderful girl friends in my cousins, and the occasional girl from church who didn’t have any other friends, but my preference was always to be close to brother figures.

This remained my trend, and in high school when many of the families belonging to my stand in brothers grew apart or moved, I was left alone. Alone in a sea of teenage girls who were prettier, smarter, thinner, and far more popular than I. Those girls had always been there, I had always been intimidated by them, and I had seldom understood them; but with the boys gone, I felt exposed.

Two things happened during this time. Firstly, I tried my hand at trying to fit in with other girls, and secondly, I was on the hunt for replacement brother figures. I didn’t like things the girls my age liked. Sure, I liked boy bands, but the Beatles had my heart more than N*sync ever could. I liked makeup, but I wore boys clothing often, and looked very tomboyish despite my long hair and body that developed quite early. I didn’t like or wasn’t allowed to watch most chick flicks and opted for war and action movies. I was obsessed with muscle cars and would rather go to a car show with my old man than go to the mall with a bunch of girls. Some girls I got along with okay, but it was more a mutual existence than friendship. I couldn’t get deep with the girls I knew, and I can’t pin this all on them, because as much as I could play the poor me card, I just didn’t like being with most girls. I found them boring, tedious, shallow, and uninteresting. I found them untrustworthy and petty, and like there was a never ending, silent competition for who was better, prettier, smarter, and more cunning.

Mercifully, during this stage I ended up finding a few other girls who liked the Beatles and Disneyland as much as I did, and was able to gain some solid female friends, some of whom I consider to be very good friends to this day. But still, I was looking for brothers— And brothers I eventually found.

These brothers were different. They weren’t my childhood church friends, these were guys a few years older than I was. These were guys who took me shooting, who taught me to smoke Swisher Sweets on park picnic benches, and who I played practical jokes with in the home improvement store we worked in. These were the guys who taught me to defend myself in a fist fight, who put up with my growing temper, and didn’t get offended when I was sarcastic. These were the guys who taught me an appreciation for violent movies, wild driving, and how to properly use a knife. Let’s just say they were a little more rough around the edges, and my gosh I loved it. I loved every manly, macho, chauvinistic second of it, because they offered me a sense of protection. Once again, I found that though they taught me to be tougher and wilder than ever, I was able to tell them what to do, and they did. Sure, on Saturday nights they were all together wasted at bars I was too young to go to, but if I demanded their heathenous rumps visit my church the next morning, they feigned complaint and showed up anyway. I criticized their girlfriends, and they usually just laughed it off. I was probably incredibly annoying, but they kept me around– and obeyed me, something other gals never did.

Then a whole lot of really dramatic stuff goes in here, and add a few more close female friends (several of whom confirmed my fear of them with their back stabbing and emotional thrashings), and then add some more male friends (most of the United States Marine Corps variety), and more and more dramatic events, and then we get to marriage. (Sorry, this is getting tedious, I swear we are nearing a point… eventually.)

The tipping point

Of course, once I was a newlywed, MOST of my friendships dwindled away. They were largely single, I was mostly twitterpated, and I was left with a few solid and wonderful friends. I got pregnant a hot minute after we were married, and I was lonely. Yes, I had my sweet Milkman, but my single girlfriends were off going to bars, coffee, concerts, and lumberjack festivals (someone’s gonna stab me for mentioning these), and I missed the banter and snark that I had enjoyed so much with my guy friends. So like all good pregnant women do, I went to the Internet in search of OTHER pregnant people, and I found them— by the droves. Consequently, they were all women. I was in uncharted waters. I joined so many mom groups, that my life was completely surrounded by women. And then I started this blog, knowing 99% of my audience (if I ever got one) would be other women. And then I became close to these women, and I let them in my life, and each pregnancy, I added more women to my life. And this blog grew and had even more women in my life.

Some of these women shredded me to pieces, but some of these women became close. And these women? They taught me how to cloth diaper, how to breastfeed, how to babywear, and what baby led weaning was. They taught me how to find the right meme for any conversation, how to survive on zero sleep, and how to be okay with eating chocolate in my closet while hiding from my kids. They taught me to be terrified of secondary drowning, what to do in case of a pea getting stuck in my toddler’s nose, and when to call the doctor for a fever. They taught me that some women are still cutthroat no matter their age or status in life, that it’s okay to cut yourself loose from the pack, and they taught me that being hurt deeply by other women isn’t a reason to swear them off for eternity. They taught me to love the children of strangers, how to file fostering paperwork, and how to say goodbye. They taught me how to trust other women, that it isn’t always a competition, and that some conversations are just better between women. They taught me how to make junk food when pregnant, how to give up sugar, and how to make a whole plate of brownies 9 days after giving up sugar because I was stressed. They taught me how to balance my sarcasm, how to be winsome in settling disagreements, and how to approach hot topics without being a jerk. They taught me love, friendship, and the value of having friends in other time zones.

And I wasn’t lonely anymore. And I wasn’t as insecure anymore. And I wasn’t as tough anymore. I began to soften.

So I sit here, 7 years after joining my first birth group and wondering how I found myself tightly knit to small groups of women across the Internet, and think: wait. When did I stop disliking other women so much? I had spent my whole life before motherhood scared of women, avoiding them as much as I could, and even (foolishly) priding myself in how much I didn’t need them. And yet, I find myself not just tolerating them, but loving them. The ones I’m close with and talk with daily, the ones whose familiar names and profile pictures pop up commenting on the blog, the ones whose little ones I see growing up on Instagram, the in person friends I have who are mothers now, or soon to be mothers, and all the ones in between, and I realized, sure I was always intimidated by other girls and women, but these aren’t just women.

These are nurturers, life givers, advocates, warriors, survivors, booboo kissers, macaroni n cheese slingers, kale smoothie blenders, healers, comforters, researchers, counselors, and go getters.

I don’t have to watch chick flicks, paint my nails, go shopping, look perfect, or be smart for these women to connect with me, because we have one of the highest callings on earth in common:

To be called “Mother”.

Nursing to Sleep is Not a Bad Habit (or What Do YOUR Instincts Say?)

Hey Y’all!

Today’s post is written by one of my favorite writers, the woman who taught me to write– my middle sister, Beky. Beky is my senior by 4 years, but became a mother 4 years after my first child was born. My two sisters are my dearest and closest friends, each of us parents a little differently, but I respect each of them immensely. Yesterday my sister Beky was sharing how glad she was that she relished the long periods of holding her first for naps as she nursed, and said she wished she could reassure other first time mothers that it’s okay to hold and nurse their babies for sleep. I told her I had the perfect place for her to share that reassurance, right here on She Rocks the Cradle! So without further ado, here is a guest post from my big sis, Beky.

–Rachel

———————————

As I nursed and rocked my little one (we’ll call him Small Fry) down for his morning nap, watching carefully for that magical moment when I was sure he was OUT, so that I could successfully transfer him to his crib, so that I could get back to momming my 3-year-old (we’ll call him Nugget), it hit me. This is why I did it.

This is why I held Nugget for almost every nap when he was a baby. This is why I allowed him to nurse sometimes for entire naps. This is why I stayed firmly planted on my rocking chair, hardly daring to move a muscle for fear of waking him. This is why I never bothered to “train” him to nap in his crib, independently of me. This is why, in my first-time-mom uncertainty, I posted on a local mom group on Facebook to ask if it was ok to nurse my baby to sleep, to let him nurse in his sleep, to hold him in my arms until he was ready to wake up.

Among the many responses, one stood out. “What do YOUR instincts say?”

I responded, “My instincts tell me that this is a unique experience, having only one baby right now, and I should relish the freedom to be as responsive to him as I can right now because I know it will be harder when the next one comes.”

“There’s your answer!” came the sweet and reassuring reply.

Nearly three years later, that post came to my mind as I gently laid Small Fry in his crib this morning. I took a few seconds to gaze at his pursed, pink lips, his curled up fingers, and the rise and fall of his chest. “Mamaaaa!” came blaring from the living room as Nugget pulled me back to the reality that my days of long, sleepy cuddles on the rocker are no more. Those days of an hour or more of side-lying-nursing in bed while lazily scrolling Facebook, watching a show on Netflix with my headphones on, or just simply closing my eyes and embracing the forced rest. Nope, those days are gone. Naps are business with Small Fry. Get him to sleep as quickly as possible, keeping an attentive ear pealed for Nugget in the other room, transfer him to the crib, and pray for a decent nap so I can catch up on laundry, dishes, and maybe a few moments of quality, one-on-one time with Nugget before Small Fry awakes.

I knew back then that I was right to embrace the once-in-a-lifetime flexibility that came with being a stay at home mom to my first baby. So I followed my gut without apology. But the epiphany I experienced this morning gave me such a surge of confidence in my choices as a new mama, that I wanted to shout it from the rooftops to all new mamas out there: “YES! It’s ok! It’s ok to rock and shush and nurse and hold your sweet baby until they drift off to sleep! It’s ok to continue that *while* they sleep if that’s what keeps them asleep! Don’t feel guilty for breathing in the fragrance of your precious baby’s fuzzy head, for staring at them the whole time they sleep (while you ‘should’ be sleeping according to many) because you still just can’t believe they’re yours, so perfectly and beautifully yours. It’s ok, mama. It’s ok.”

What practice or habit are you second-guessing yourself on today? What piece of advice have you received recently that has you wondering if you’re doing it all wrong? The answer is the question: What do YOUR instincts say?

[Fun fact: That response “What do YOUR instincts say?” came from none other than our favorite mom-blogger, SheRocksTheCradle. Thanks, SRTC!]