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.

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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

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

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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!]

Why I Won’t Share My Due Date— or Baby’s Name!

It’s funny the things that annoy other people about a pregnancy that is not theirs. There are two things I keep a secret during every pregnancy.

1. My EDD (that’s estimated due date!)

2. The name we have chosen for the baby

Thankfully, those closest to me no longer hound me (except maybe my friend in Missouri who tries to trick me regularly into telling her the name of this little guy haha!) But for some reason, people get real cranky when you don’t tell them these things.

So why keep it a secret?

Our EDD

With our first pregnancy, we shared Captain’s EDD with people. One minor annoyance was as soon as I would tell people “He’s due March 13th” they had the weirdest responses.

“You should keep that baby in til March 16th! My uncle’s dog’s brother’s owner’s sister’s cousin was born then and he’s a great kid.”

“I’m pulling for March 5th! That’s when my son was born! I hope you have your baby on his birthday!”

“Don’t have your baby on March 8th. That’s the day my father in law died. That’s a horrible day to have a baby.”

I have no control over holding this kid in or making it come out. The baby comes when the baby comes. I guess people were trying to relate, but for some reason, I found it really annoying. This is probably because I’m a horrible person and need to learn patience, but it still makes me feel awkward and I never know quite how to respond.

However, the main reason we don’t share my EDD is this: it’s just what it says it is. An ESTIMATED due date. I’ve never had a child on their EDD. One was a couple days before, one was a week after, one was 23 weeks too early, one was 2 days after. I don’t need people hounding me at 38 weeks until 41 weeks every day saying “did ya have that baby yet??” Yeah, I totally had the baby weeks ago and just didn’t tell you. Like, c’mon y’all. You’ll know.

Some uteruses are slow cookers and some are microwaves. Mine is a slow cooker. Gotta let that baby marinate a bit longer til s/he is ready.

Our Baby’s Name

Why keep their names a secret? I think this is multifaceted. Firstly, opinions on names are like armpits. You know the rest, right? So let’s say I’ve picked the name Naphtali for my next child. You tell someone little Naphti is on the way and suddenly everyone is an expert on names. “Aren’t you afraid he’ll be nicknamed Nympho-li in 8th grade?” “Isn’t that gonna be hard for people to spell?” “I knew a Naphtali in kindergarten and he used to pee his pants all the time. Whenever I hear the name Naphtali, I smell urine.” But after that baby is born and named, no one can say anything to your face about it without seeming like a major jerk, and that cute baby is already charming them, so they are more likely to be accepting of his name.

Secondly, names are a really big deal. Like you are pegging someone as a Gertrude or a Lambert for life. What you name them will define them. It’ll sometimes decide if they get hired for that right job someday. It will determine how often it is misspelled or mispronounced. It’s a big decision. And it’s one Milkman and I like to make on our own! We love the fun aspect of having a secret that belongs only to us. Yeah, that’s right, we don’t even tell our kiddos! (Mostly because they are all really young and don’t know how to keep secrets!) I love getting into bed at night and Milkman kissing my belly and talking to our baby, using the name that only we two know.

Thirdly, and this applies to both the due date and the name, surprises are fun. I LOVE surprises! They are my love language. When I called my mother to tell her that I had given birth to her granddaughter and told her said grandchild was named for my mother, she cried! It was beautiful. The anticipation leading up to the baby being born and being named is fun. People guess and wonder, and I get to giggle at their ridiculous guesses! We already know so much before our babies are born, their sex, often genetic issues, how much they weigh (okay, they are basically ALWAYS wrong about that), and with 3D ultrasounds, many know what their baby already looks like (if their baby was modeled out of peanut butter that is). So having something to save for the end is always a treat.

Now, I have lots of friends who tell their due dates, names, stats, and post ultrasounds of their unborn child’s genitals. That’s cool for them, and I love knowing and celebrating with them beforehand. So I don’t judge people who do it differently, and I get why people think we are annoying for not sharing. But in a world of information overload, it’s kind of fun to be different.

What things did you keep a secret before delivery? Or do you like to share all your happy news at once?

As Much— but Different

One fear I had going into Fostering was “what if I don’t love the children as much as my own biological children?” And then the follow-up was thinking, I suppose if I didn’t love them as much and they are only here temporarily, that’s not the end of the world, but what if I adopted and I didn’t love that child as much as my bios?

I read blogs, Facebook posts, and books where people always just said they loved their foster and adopted children as much as their bios. But, it still scared me. Okay, so those people love their kids as much, but what if I don’t? And frankly, no one can answer that question before they begin fostering or before they’ve adopted, and it may be on a case by case basis. You may have that “as much” love for one child and not another.

Last night, I had the opportunity to speak on a panel with a former foster youth who aged out of the system, a reunified parent, and I was representing foster parents during a training for new foster parents. As I was answering a question about the dynamic in our home between bios and fosters, I came to this realization, and voiced it: I love my foster child with the same intensity that I love my biological children. I often think that no one has ever loved their foster child as much as I love mine. But I would be lying if I said it was the same type of love. Before you judge me too harshly, let me give you an example.

I love my husband intensely. If the dial goes to a 10, I love him at an 11 (name that movie reference!). I also love my bio children, and I love them at an 11. But it’s a different type of love. Same goes for my parents. 11… but on a different dial. I love them all to the same intensity, but my love for each of them is a love that plays out differently. So, when I say I love my foster son just as much as I love my biological children, I don’t want to give you a false idea about how it may be for you, by leaving it as simple as that.

You will (hopefully!!!) love your foster child just as much as you love your bios, but don’t be surprised or feel guilty if that love is different. I don’t know why exactly. Maybe because I co-slept and nursed my bios, so there was that really early physical bonding. Maybe because they are a permanent fixture in my life and in our home. Maybe because I’m parenting with just their father, and not co-parenting with a stranger. I’m sure there are lots of components to the puzzle.

My encouragement to you today is this:

If you are considering foster care or adoption (yes, those are two very different categories!) and the fear of loving a stranger is holding you back, I’m here to encourage you, that it is very possible to love a child who is not from your body, just as much as you love your bio kids.

If you are currently loving on a foster or adoptive child, and you love them just as much, but it feels a different? That’s okay. I think it’s that way for a lot of us. It doesn’t mean you love them less— it’s just a little different.