Friday, June 29, 2012

musings on motherhood

I wish I had had the time to write about motherhood these past 7 weeks. The newborn phase rushes by so quickly and I find myself constantly trying to freeze the moments and lock them away in a place I will never forget them. But, it's impossible. There is no camera that can capture the looks my baby blesses upon me, no journal that can hold all my thoughts, no video recorder that can film her doing all the things that make her Emerson. Yet, there is so much to say. And I want to be able to share it with her someday.

I have talked about childbirth being a death (albeit in very unclear terms), but it also awakened me to a more conscious existence than ever before. Labor made me incredibly hyper aware of my surroundings, of myself, of life. And now, I find myself trying to find that same kind of aliveness every day, in order to soak up every bit of my child's life and being. But, it all rushes by in a blur of smiles and coos, poopy diapers and 3 am feedings, cuddles in bed and lullabies sung deep into the night, a bevy of firsts and a mourning of lasts. And then. Then, there are the moments that slow down, that open your heart up to allow tsunami-size waves of love and gratefulness and all things gooey to flow back and forth between you and your babe. Moments where every particle and atom in the room are visible and beautiful and you know you'll remember them forever. Moments that you can't write about, because there aren't words to describe them. Instead they live, impeccably suspended in memory, as small pieces that make up the big love you have for your child. 

But, I wish I had been writing the last 7 weeks.

I was able to get quite a bit of writing done in the first weeks of Emmie's life,  when I was parked in bed with her all day, and before the exhaustion of motherhood set in. All of that writing was dedicated to chronicling my birth experience before I forgot it (although, the facts were hazy even when written right away). Though the first few weeks were indeed overwhelming, I somehow found *some* time to think. Now, our house is madness. Sometimes it's blissful madness and I don't mind the zillion things left undone and complete lack of time for myself, sometimes it's dizzying madness (with a slight undertone of panic) that leaves me wondering how I will ever brush my teeth before 2:00 pm or answer the phone, ever again. 

As crazy as our life has become, the good news is we've been broken in a little bit now. We expect chaos. Those first few weeks were difficult, though. It felt like going from zero to about 875939935932 miles an hour in the time it took for my child to take her first breath. It was more overwhelming than I was able to anxiously anticipate before giving birth. It's impossible to completely understand how overwhelming it will be before it happens. I thought I had a pretty good idea since I've been taking care of other people's children for half my life, and have specifically been caring for newborns in the last year. But, woah. The first few weeks look a little something like this:

Here's your child, figure her out, because she needs something. 
What is that something? 
There's a tiny mouth trying to figure out 
how to eat from a nipple attached to your body. 
Does that hurt? 
Sore nipples, cracked nipples, bleeding nipples. 
Wait, she needs to eat again. Breathe through the pain. 
Is this a 2-week extension of labor? 
Every hour she eats, and I'm hypnobirth breathing to get through it. 
Oops, I shot my child in the eye with a milk duct 
that has a mind of its own. 
Don't cry, baby.
Now I'm crying. WHY am I crying?
I couldn't tell you specifically
Half a gallon of nipple cream. 
Boobs leaking through every shirt I put on. 
Wear them anyway. 
Endless seas of breast pads. Honey, I need another one. 
Honey, can you pick me up the thickest Maxi pads 
they sell at Whole Foods? Is that embarrassing? 
Oh wait, while you're there, I need more breast pads, 
and nipple cream, and something to soothe my perineum. 
Thanks, dear.
Does she feel warm to you? Where's the rectal thermometer?
Call the pediatrician. Do we need to go to the ER?
On our way to the ER. There's nothing wrong with our baby.
We stop for Indian takeout instead. 
She needs to eat. Again?! Really?! 
It's 3 am, I'm on Facebook. 
I need to learn to breastfeed while lying down, while still sleeping, 
because there isn't enough internet to surf 
and I think I might enter a state of psychosis if I don't start sleeping. 
She spit up in my hair. But, I won't shower again for 2 days. 
Can you tell? Oh well. 
Why. Are. You. Crying? 
I've only known you a week, how am I supposed to know? 
I'm your mama, you say?
We're in the middle of traffic and you're screaming.
You need to eat no later than NOW.
Pull the car over, dear.
Pull my boob out— college tour group walks right past me
on the right side of the car,
and look, there are construction workers
working on the road on the left side of the car.
I took a shower today, with soap and everything.
It felt like I was at the spa. 
Honey, I need you to wash my disposable mesh underwear. 
Yes, the ones that go up past my belly button. 
Yes, I know they are disposable, but I neeeeed them. 
They're so big and roomy. You don't want to see me in them? 
Look over here. I'm dancing in them. You like that? 
Oh no, my boob is leaking. Sorry about that. 
You say I have the attention span of a goldfish now? 
I would fight you on that, but you're right.
Hooray, you pooped! 
You're such a happy baby when you poop! 
Whennnnnnn am I going to stop bleeding? 
Criminy Pete! 
Something the size of a tangerine just fell out of me. Is that okay? 
Get. Me. Some. Food. 
I have the appetite of a starving wolverine. 
This child is sucking every calorie I have to spare right out of my body. 
I think I just fell asleep while talking to you. 
We have visitors? Fantastic. I've been wearing the same nightgown 
for 3 days and my baby just pooped on me. 
I'm standing in the driveway, the neighbors are in their yard, 
I forgot to put my left breast away before I walked outside. 
Did they see that? Oh well. 
Hiiiiiiiiiii baaaabyyyyyyyy, mama lovvvvvves youuuuuu. 
Ohhhhhhh ahhhhhhh gooooo. 
You're so pretty. Yes, you are. 
Mama loves you soooooo much. 
You're the most amazing baby in the whole word. Yes, you are.
Oh. my. god.
I'm a mama.
Like, for real. And for forever.
Can she please never stop spooning me in bed,
her tiny body tucked up against me?

Life is a little different at 7 weeks. But, still chaotic. It's not that things "settle down" per se, it's more that they shift and become chaotic for different reasons. And you feel a little more used to being a parent. But, also not. 

Overall, though, it's a beautiful mess.   

Thursday, June 28, 2012

how emerson winter got her name

Alex and I added the names Emerson and Winter to our baby name list two years ago, before we were even married, in the days of cuddling on the couch for hours, daydreaming about our future. Emerson was actually one of the very first names we ever discussed, and after considering several hundred others we came back to it. Given we are both writers, and very concerned with meaning, our first thought was to come up with a name related to a body of ideas we have both felt inspired by. HD Thoreau was at the top of that list, but we thought Thoreau was a little much for a name. But, Alex and I have equally bonded over Thoreau's boy, Ralph Waldo Emerson. I vividly remember rereading Self Reliance in my cubicle in California in order to rev up my transcendentalist passion to later discuss my ideas with my then-long distance boyfriend (now-husband)—yes, we are nerds like that. 

Ralph Waldo Emerson's association with liberal thinking, individualism and a love of nature is what drew us in to not only his writing, but to each other. Alex and I share many of the same qualities that we adore in one another, and that we value in general. And the name Emerson was even more fitting given the place we conceived our baby girl:

In the quiet of a deserted forest, on an uninhabited island in the Adirondack mountains, a sweet little life began to grow. She was an earth baby, meant for this earth mama. She was deep, and pensive, and had a mind of her own. She is our Emerson.

During the last week of my pregnancy, a quote from the late RW Emerson kept me company (and is equally applicable to my journey through conception, pregnancy, labor, birth and now parenthood!): "Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience."

The origin of the name "Winter" is a little less deep, but still meaningful (to us). The Winter season is a nostalgic time for Alex and I since we had our first date in the winter. Alex drove two hours in a snow storm to come pick me up for that first date. I stood in the middle of the dark road, snow falling around me, a faint glow from the street light, my bright orange jacket acting as a beacon calling Alex toward me. Oh, nostalgia. Alex and I fell in love that same winter, and were engaged the following winter. And so the name. 

Originally, I really loved the name Winter as a first name, but I could not get past the fact that people were bound to nickname her "Winnie." I'm just not a fan of "Winnie." But, as much as I wanted to name my baby Winter, I know that could not have been her name. She's clearly an Emerson, and was to me from 20 weeks of pregnancy on. 

My wishes for you, sweet baby Emerson:

Inspirational Quote Mountain Landscape
Emerson Quote Magnet
Emerson Quote on Reclaimed Plywood


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

emerson's nursery

Emerson's nursery took the entire 10 months of her gestation to plan and decorate, and it's still not complete. But, I thought it'd be fun to post some pictures of it, as is, since I know I love seeing how other people decorate their nurseries. 

It took me quite a while to feel inspired during pregnancy. I scoured the internet for ideas, color schemes, patterns, and themes and simply could not come up with anything. I needed a starting point so I had something to build the room around, and I needed it to feel like Emerson, though I had yet to met her. At some point I got a sense of what Em was like and I think her room is a pretty accurate reflection of that—sweet, peaceful, feminine but not in an over-the-top way with artist touches. I began by choosing this fabric by Amy Butler, which I ended up using for the crib skirt and window treatment:

Then I began working on some artwork. First I painted a pair of lucky elephants (better photos of the paintings here) that I hung over the dresser/changing station:

Then I painted a wise owl that is currently keeping these adorable owl bookends company (thanks, Natalie!):

I found this sign—so fitting—on Etsy, of course:

Distressed wood sign by Distressed Designs.
(Photo from Etsy seller)

Here's the crib skirt, handmade by my amazing gal pal, Hannah:

And the matching window treatment:

I decided to go with 3D wall flowers, also an Esty purchase, instead of a traditional mobile:

And I printed a large version of my Pink Light photo on deep matte paper, which I have yet to hang on the big, empty wall opposite the crib.

Pink Light by Lola Rain

We still need an area rug, and I've been dying for this cozy shag one from PB Kids:

The nursery was a long-term project. Here are some side-by-side before and after photos that really show how much we've changed the room.

The room could use a few more touches—rugs and a small table and lamp next to the rocking chair, for instance. But, it's currently the most "done" room in our house, so I'm happy.

Monday, June 18, 2012

the many faces of Emerson

Light on words, big on baby pictures. Emerson had an 80's type, leg warmers thing going on the other day and I couldn't get enough of it. Even better, she was feeling pretty animated in those leg warmers and flashed me quite a few hilarious (to me, of course, I'm her mama:) looks. 

Pondering the mysteries of life… 
in leg warmers

I can fly!

Jamming out on the high hat

I would like that booby, and perhaps 
another after that

In a British accent: Excuse me, but 
I believe I have tooted

Friends, Countrymen, Lend me your ears!

About to break into a righteous Irish jig

Dr. Evil preparing the next evil plot

I'm thinking about a good cry soon

Constipation in style

Popeye as a young girl

Thursday, June 14, 2012

the birth story: part VI, the hospital birth~the push that brought life

Photo warning: While I have left out the fully graphic childbirth photos from this post, there are still some slightly graphic images below. 

Part VI.
The Hospital Birth

The beginning of pushing.

At about noon, on the third day of my labor, I was fully dilated and ready to push. After 48 hours of waiting, it was incredibly surreal to actually hear someone tell me that this was happening NOW. I was excited, but couldn't help but doubt that this was it—I didn't feel any different. I knew labor so well at that point, and had enjoyed the respite from contractions, that transitioning into a new experience with its own set of foreign sensations (that I would not be numb to) made me a bit nervous. My husband, however, was pumped! An enormous smile took over his face as the long, drawn-out anticipation reached a new peak.

Annie*, the hospital midwife, told me this part was up to me. She backed away and instructed me to push when and how it felt right to me. Just then, she was called away to another birth, and was replaced by another hospital midwife. The new midwife was one that I had actually met earlier in my pregnancy and when I met her I loved her. Not to mention, she knew my doula and homebirth midwife, as well. The energy in the room immediately changed with her presence. This was the point where I no longer felt like I was in a hospital. I felt empowered—I had the freedom to listen to my body and figure out how to give birth in my own way and I was now completely surrounded by women I knew would honor and respect my journey. 

Those first few pushes felt great. I was finally able to do something about being in labor for so long—I could focus my energy and strength into bringing it to an end. I was joyful, still laughing and talking, while trying to figure out the mechanics of my body.

Childbirth requires quite a lot of of chapstick!


After feeling nothing but pressure for hours, thanks to the epidural, I began to feel more and more with every push. The anesthesiologist had warned me that once I reached the pushing stage, I would experience pain again. Thankfully, the pain grew in intensity gradually, easing me into the most overwhelming sensation I have ever experienced in this lifetime. The more effective I became at pushing, the more I could feel the tiny being inside me, making her way down. One of the strangest sensations, was feeling baby girl "helping" me. They say birth is a dance, that mama and baby work together, and that is exactly what I experienced. Baby girl never stopped moving throughout my entire labor, and now that I was pushing, she was furiously hard at work with me. She constantly moved her head from side to side, and tried to work with the contractions to move into the right position. 

Throughout the sensation-filled journey that was pushing, I knew I was not alone. I may have been the one who had to do all the hard work, but there were plenty of women (and my husband!) working with me. I was never quite sure who was attending to me, and at which end of my body, but there were always a lot of hands on me. Hands that wiped the sweat from my face with cold compresses, hands that placed lavender-infused cloths on my chest, hands that reapplied lip balm to my parched lips, hands that held mine. And hands that helped my body stretch open to allow my baby to emerge.

I mentioned that during active labor I began to slip in and out of a trance-like state during contractions, and that I visited a place where I simultaneously did not exist yet felt more in my body, and in my soul, than ever before. During pushing, I was back in that trance-like state, but fell deeper and deeper into it, until reaching a point where I could not be reached and I did not return for hours. I would say that my trance was equal parts a spiritual experience and a dissociation from my body to deal with the immense pain. Time did not exist, I could only think and experience in contractions rather than minutes. All of the meditative visualizations I had come up with during my hypnobirthing classes faded. Instead, I focused on the moment that my child would emerge, the way it would feel to have her small, warm body against mine. I needed a reason to move toward the pain instead of away from it.

And so I pushed.

There was more to childbirth than the physical experience, though—it was also a death. Once I began to push, I was no longer myself. It had begun during labor, but, now, as I pushed, I was in the throws of dying. I've been trying to put this into words for a week and a half, to explain what I mean and how that felt. I've written several versions of this part of the story—pushing—and none of them felt right. I even had my husband read them because I haven't been able to get it right and hit "publish" on this post, and I don't normally bring in an editor to write my blog. Ultimately, I've realized that I cannot truly explain this experience. It was not of this world thus there are no words. It was unquantifiable, and as confusing a concept to describe as infinity. But, it's even more than that. I'm still processing it, and I've found that a month later I am suddenly struggling with my story. That feeling just cropped up on me in the past week while trying to write this post, and failing, and not publishing it. Part of me feels self-conscious because this is not the story I thought I'd be sharing. I expected to remain in a peaceful place where I did not experience the pain as "pain," the place I was in during my 30+ hours laboring at home. I am mostly struggling with my experience of the pushing phase, and to be honest, am a bit traumatized by it at the moment. But, I will continue my story now.

Time seemed to slow in a never-ending vacuum. Pushing became an extension of the long labor, seeming to be without end. Hours passed by, and I was both completely aware of it yet lost in the minutes, unable to perceive them. The only measure of time I could perceive was the intensity that built within my body, and the crescendo of my moans. I knew that I had started out virtually silent and composed at the beginning of pushing, I knew that my hair was combed into a neat ponytail and I could speak in between pushes. But now, I felt loud and primal, I was pouring sweat and my hair was beginning to knot, I could speak only in hand gestures for a time and now, not at all. I felt my baby's head butting up against my pubic bone for an eternity. And then I felt her crowning for about an hour, which catapulted me into an entirely new level of dissociation from my body. At one point, I began to feel my baby's facial features—her eyelids, mouth and nose—moving against the birth canal, and that feeling coupled with the top of her head stretching me open was more than I felt I could bear in that moment. I didn't expect this pain. Not out of ignorance, but because one cannot expect or understand what it takes to birth a child until it happens. The reality of it was overwhelming. But, there was only one way out from under all that pain and upset, so I pushed as hard as I could, which fortunately, was pretty damn hard. The words of praise from the three midwives in the room, my doula, and my husband were my solid ground. I used them as fuel, and hoped with every push that I would soon meet my baby.

A side note on the pain: I never thought I'd use the word "pain" so generously when describing birth, but it ended up being my experience. I still believe it's possible to experience it another way. But, I had a very long, 3-day journey, and some complications along the way. I also pushed for 3 hours, which is a long time to push, because my pelvis was really resistant and was not opening up. I say this, because I don't want to discourage anyone who is about to give birth, or hopes to someday. Every birth is different, and despite all the "pain," this was a truly amazing birth that I wouldn't trade for the world. The "pain" was not a negative, it just "was." I would still label this a highly positive experience. Side note over.

Childbirth to me felt like chaos, a sensation overload. There was so much to process at once—the pressure of the contractions, the pain of a child moving through me, the stinging of skin, overwhelming emotions, a spiritual awakening, voices all around me giving me instructions, guidance and praise, the hands of two different women helping my baby's head find its way out, the flashing of cameras, the side conversations of the 8+ people in the room. Yet, somehow I was filtering it all, and felt incredibly focused. I was in the zone. Near the end, there was nothing but a continuous loop in my head saying, "get the f*$k out of me, get the f*$k out of me." On repeat. For probably an hour and a half. That's not very zen of me, nor is it the beautiful, magical phrase I anticipated hearing in my head, but hey man, that's the way it went down.

At one point, I reached down to feel the very top of my baby's head, which was still inside of me. But, that moment quickly lost its power of encouragement as the top of her head was visible for hours before it eventually came out. When her head did finally emerge, I was once again overwhelmed with sensation as I let out a noise that will forever be seared into my memory—a shriek, a moan, a scream, a cry? It's hard to say. My midwife suggested that I reach down and feel my baby coming out of me, but I could not. With my next push, my baby's arm emerged, with the next her shoulders. My husband reached down as her body slipped out and pulled her into the world, placing her on my belly. It took me at least 30 seconds to realize that my sweet angel was actually lying on me. I was still in childbirth mode and wasn't entirely aware of what was happening. But, there was something incredibly slippery and warm against my skin. Looking down and seeing my child for the first time was the most surreal moment of my life. I remember trying to connect the enormous belly I carried around for 10 months, and the crazy ordeal I had just endured, to the baby staring up at me. It was a tough concept to understand in that moment. And it still is.

My eyes had been closed for hours during pushing, while I straddled the line between life and a place more expansive and inexplicable than life. After opening my eyes to see my child, I looked to my left and saw my husband's face. In that moment, I felt a greater love for him than I ever have. It was like falling in love all over again, but at a much more intense and meaningful level. All at once I realized what he had endured for 51 hours, that he had been "in it" with me and rallied through sleepless hours, lots of tears, emotionally taxing moments, and remained calm and encouraging for me. He had an injured hand on account of all the squeezing I did to it during contractions, but he never complained or took his hand away. He advocated and spoke for me when I could not. He held me when I needed to borrow some of his strength. He never stopped honoring my journey. His awe and respect for me multiplied with every hour of labor, and I could see it all over his face now. And we were now connected in a way so different than before—through this experience, and through our child, now lying on my chest.

I also suddenly noticed how many people were in the room when I opened my eyes. I had been completely unaware of my audience for hours, aside from the paparazzi-like flashes I continuously saw through my closed eyelids. But, when I saw all these amazing women surrounding me, I felt a love and appreciation for them, as well. There is nothing like the bond of childbirth. I will always think of all these women, and will always be in awe of what they do for birthing mamas. It's pretty incredible, impressive actually.

I did it. I gave birth. It was over and now I had a precious baby in my arms. I was also on a complete high thanks to the adrenaline and endorphins that flooded my body. In fact, I was bouncing off the walls, even after my insane 3-day ordeal. It's amazing how everything just stops once you've given birth. You can be totally consumed with the experience, and with the pain, but in an instant, it's over and life resumes. I had a lot of physical healing to do at that point, but I had never felt more elated, excited, full of love, proud or awake (wide awake!). I had the most incredible reward for all I had been through. And as epically long as the entire experience felt, from conception to carrying baby girl beyond full-term to laboring for three days to pushing for three hours, it was suddenly folded up into a neat little box that immediately went up on the shelf in my memory file and was over. All of that instantly began to fade away, and made way for a new life. Life was an entirely new experience now, with my little one in it. I was in love, and enthralled in a way I could not have imagined.

My baby's amniotic sac

My placenta

Umbilical cord and wrinkly new feet.

The first latch! We waited almost an hour for
baby girl to slither like a snake and lurch herself 
forward until she made her way from my belly
to my breast and latched on, all by herself. 

*Names changed for privacy