The other night as I put away our dinner's leftovers, Andy yelled down to me as he carried Roscoe from the tub into his room to get ready for bed, "If I ever die, I carry Roscoe in his towel like a sling, and call him a baby elephant or a baby whale."
I paused. "Um, okay?"
He responded, "Well, I just want you to know in case something ever happens to me. He really likes it."
I thought for a minute, and then blurted out, "If I ever die, I want you to get remarried."
Long pause. "Hold on one second." Andy appeared at the foot of the stairs holding Roscoe in his arms. "What are you talking about? Why?"
"I wouldn't want the boys to grow up without a mother. I would want you to get remarried." He furrowed his brow, gave me a quick kiss, and said we'd talk later, then ascended the stairs and disappeared into the hallway leading to Roscoe's dimly lit room.
A few weeks ago I found a lump in my right breast. It was palpable and a little tender. The tenderness was familiar and I was worried because that meant it had been around for a while. Maybe even as early as those first days in the NICU with Merritt. On the upside, I thought it might be breastfeeding related.
I made an appointment for a few days later, and the nurse practitioner was confident that it was a plugged milk duct. So confident that I almost brushed off the suggested followup of an ultrasound, in part because of the inconvenience of Andy having to take off work since they don't allow kids at appointments.
But then I thought about my boys, and scheduled the ultrasound so that we could know for sure and move forward without any doubts.
Yesterday morning the four of us trooped to the Radiologist's and when my name was called I left Andy and the kids behind, anxious to confirm that this lump was nothing at all to be concerned about.
When she was finished, the tech said she'd be back in a second, the doctor needed to review the images. I remained on my back staring up at five large stickers of different colored cartoon cats and dogs stuck to the ceiling. With no clock in the room I gauged time by the number of pop songs that came through on the radio. About 5 1/2 of them. It had been too long, and I stuck my head out the door to see if I could flag anyone down.
My eyes locked with the patient waiting across from me. We exchanged sympathetic glances and I ducked back into my room to flip through magazines.
My mind wandered to Merritt who would undoubtedly need to nurse soon, and Roscoe who's lunchtime was also quickly approaching. I wished I had brought my cell phone to check in with Andy who was probably wondering what had happened to me.
Just then, a doctor entered the room with my tech following closely behind him. Uh oh.
He took a look for himself and then explained that the lump is structural and located outside of ducts. They can't rule out malignancy with ultrasound, so a biopsy was recommended. There are risks associated with biopsy in lactating women, the worst of which (in my opinion) is a post op requirement to refrain from nursing for 2 or 3 days afterward. Obviously, this would impact my supply. I had a lot of questions, and the doctor answered each of them, but I got the impression that he doesn't often deal with these issues in the context of breastfeeding. So I'm not taking his word as final. Another option is to wait six months and see if and how the mass progresses.
Given what might be at stake I don't feel comfortable with the wait and see approach.
Yesterday afternoon my records were faxed to Georgetown Hospital's breast surgeons who will review my films and provide a second opinion on how best to move forward.
Has anyone else had a core biopsy while nursing? Were you able to work around the post-op protocol to maintain your nursing relationship?
The excitement of our garden faded a little bit once the initial planting was complete. Roscoe and I water the garden every morning, but it has been raining so much that even that activity has waned.
Watching the garden grow every day had us believing that very little was happening. Our uncertainty translated to lots of declarations of, "Well, this is just an experiment, anyway."
Then I took a picture and discovered that our garden HAS grown, and when we checked the calendar and realized that it has been only 2 1/2 weeks since we initially planted it, we couldn't believe by how much. We also couldn't believe how skewed our sense of time has become!
For his birthday, Roscoe received a butterfly house. The caterpillars arrived a few days ago and were quickly named Chloe (shared by our dog), Merritt, Bug, Butterfly, and Roscoe.
Roscoe is quite excited about his caterpillars and since he loves to watch video of himself and has started to demand it, this video is about Roscoe and his caterpillars. The first part is the most entertaining but without my computer I didn't edit out the rest.
The hard drive in my Mac crashed two nights ago. My computer had been acting a little weird the day before, refusing to connect to the Internet and performing incredibly slow. I was annoyed but blamed our router and assumed that everything would be fine by the next time I sat down to check my email.
Wrong. The computer was so unresponsive that I powered it down thinking it needed a total reboot, but when it restarted a broken folder with a question mark flashed and the more we read the quicker we realized that the hard drive was gone.
We've lost all of our photos: our wedding, Roscoe's entire childhood, the last three months since Merritt was born. Every digital photo that we've ever taken, they were all stored on my computer. Not to mention ALL of our music files, my work documents, and more.
How could we have overlooked such a simple step as backing up our files? It's absolutely crazy.
Our only hope is to send the hard drive to a data recovery specialist in order to have the files extracted. The cost ranges from 600 to several thousand dollars. Worth it, but still an unforeseen cost. And there are no guarantees.
Has anyone ever gone through this? Did you have a happy ending?
I was thinking the other day about when I might be ready to get pregnant again--I know, it's so early still, but just to daydream a little about timing and seasons. It felt a little rushed last time, gearing up to get pregnant again when Roscoe wasn't even a year old yet. The burden of carrying another baby so soon after giving birth to my first was evident early on in the pregnancy and overall felt a lot more demanding.
Since Merritt's birth I've been aching to experience birth at home. Aching. It is a nagging feeling, like something I need to do again in order to know that I am still capable of it. Within hours after Roscoe's birth I also gushed about wanting to do it [give birth] again, but for different reasons.
Now, with two little souls to oversee, I have struggles that make a third seem all but absurd.
When Andy is home he does a majority of the physical parenting of Roscoe, which relieves me in many ways, but Merritt is solely my responsibility day and night. Met cries when he's held by anyone else, and will not under any circumstance sleep independently. He sleeps in the sling, and if he's not sleeping he's nursing. If there happens to be a 10 or 15 minute lull during the day when he is awake and content to hang out by himself I take the opportunity to do something with Roscoe, or for myself, which leaves me feeling guilty about lack of stimulation--I rarely pull out any toys, or books for him. Tummy time? Nope. I do feel that probably one of the most important things for Merritt right now is to be held, but I remember the kinds of activities that Roscoe and I did together at three months and hope that Merritt isn't missing out on something important or necessary. And then I remember Met's gestational age of 6 weeks and I throw up my hands. I don't know what he needs right now.
My only chance for relief is the two hours between Roscoe's bedtime and our bedtime, and typically Merritt decides to eat during that time. My nights are spent lying on my side with Merritt latched or close to it, and in the mornings I am so stiff that it hurts to get out of bed. For the past 5 or 6 days I have not been free from Merritt for more than a few minutes at a time. Yesterday afternoon I just felt angry, and claustrophobic that the ring sling had been wrapped around my body for almost 9 hours, less a few nursing sessions mixed in.
Then there's Roscoe who seems to have rolled right into the terrible twos as his birthday approached. I feel guilty that I can't provide him with the attention that he deserves because my arms and my body are otherwise occupied with his little brother. My patience is a lot thinner these days too. Roscoe's persistent demands and limit-testing ways challenge me every day to be a better mother, and require constant adaption to keep up with him.
The rules that governed my life before kids, or that have worked for me in the past, don't necessarily apply to parenting or the general chaos of being a parent. I thought that the trauma of first parenthood had facilitated my ability to adapt my expectations to meet the constant state of change that children bring, and to accept that I cannot control everything all of the time. I guess I'm still learning and have room to grow in this area because lately I've felt more like I've been surrendering, not accepting, which leaves me feeling resentful.
Maybe the expectations I have for myself are set too high--I have a habit of this in other areas of my life. Parenting with love, and respect, and intention, came naturally with one child but doesn't come as easily with two. I know there is no such thing as a perfect parent. I recently read an important quote that I've been reflecting on all week:
It's not that you're not going to blow it, it's what you do with it afterwards.
Once I think I have a handle on two, maybe then I'll know it's time for number three. Right now I'm pretty sure that my hands are full.
Roscoe's birthday party was at Kidwell Farm this year, a working farm from the 1950's. I think he was in Roscoe heaven.
We rented a small classroom on the property and went with a classic picnic theme. Make-your-own sandwiches with homemade bread, peanut butter, jelly, nutella, and marshmallow fluff. Fresh fruit, milk, and chips rounded out the menu. It was a big hit for the kids, of course, but the adults didn't seem to mind at all a fluffernutter throwback.
We passed around slices of chocolate cake while Roscoe opened his gifts. The room filled with song as he opened the last of his presents and since Roscoe has become a huge fan of vanilla ice cream we topped a heaping bowl with his birthday candle which he blew out all on his own--practice makes perfect. Farm animal masks and hand tattoos made for great entertainment.
We took a collective walk down a dusty road bordered on both sides by green pasture. At the end was a barn full of Spring babies. The kids explored, the adults chased after the kids, and we even got to observe a cow milking. I learned that they use the milk from their dairy cow to feed all the baby animals on the farm. A milkshare, if you will!
Next, we boarded a tractor-pulled wagon to tour the property. Merritt had slept soundly through most of the day, but as the wagon lunged forward he gave a little stir and quickly made it clear that his belly was in need of some food.
An afternoon on the farm was the perfect way to celebrate our little nature boy, to relish in his growth over the last year, and to welcome the start of his third year (I can't believe it).
For a long time I've been pining for a small plot of earth to grow something good to eat. For the past few weeks we've been gathering the things we need to turn an otherwise useless bit of land in our small yard into a full fledged garden. Originally I had decided that pots were the way to go, but Andy convinced me that a small raised garden was actually possible.
Everything came together on Mother's Day weekend, and by the time the sun had set on Sunday our little sprouts were snug in their bed.
Here's what we did:
Andy spray painted an outline of the garden perimeter. Then he used fiberglass profiles to create the walls of the bed. He dug trenches to establish the depth of the bed and to ensure that all the walls were level. He drove stakes into the ground to support the walls, and brackets to connect each side.
Then he lined the inside with commercial WeedStop fabric.
We filled our bed with 40 bags of topsoil and 20 bags of garden soil. Then mixed it up.
A new early morning ritual--these plants are thirsty
Then we stretched another (cheaper) weedStop layer across the entire bed, and cut holes into which we planted each seedling. This extra step not only prevents weeds from taking space and nutrients from your veggies, but it also serves to trap heat which the plants love--or so I've heard.
I used the Virginia Cooperative Extension to research the best plants for our climate and region, as well as to know which plants were in season, and how best to layout the garden. This Vegetable Planting Guide pdf was the most helpful. In our small space we planted about 25 seedlings, each 2 feet apart. We decided to plant cherry tomatoes, sweet peas, zucchini, yellow squash, yellow peppers, cucumber bushes, watermelon, and cantaloupe.
On a separate morning, Roscoe and I planted our pots: strawberries; spearmint, peppermint, and mojito mint; and sage, rosemary, cilantro, parsley, and basil. I'm already looking forward to mint lemonade, and peppermint tea.
All that's left is the landscaping around the bed. We've been told that marigolds will attract bees, which will help to pollinate our plants and hopefully ensure a good harvest.
I am loving having a reason to go outside, and to hang out in our backyard. We've already learned the value of having a small space out of doors--we've spent more time getting our hands dirty together, and chatting with our neighbors in the last three days than we typically do in a month. There are few things that make me happier than the simplicity of growing food to enhance family and community dynamic. I feel like this garden is just the start to an amazing summer ahead.
Yesterday afternoon Merritt snoozed with the dog, while Roscoe and I tended to our plants.
By morning, the regularity of the middle of the night contractions had dissipated but because I was uncertain of when true labor might begin, I requested to meet with the Neonatalogist and also the on-call OB/GYN. I had every intention to take a nap that afternoon and catch up from lack of sleep from the previous day and night but, both physicians decided to stop by before I had the chance.
Mid conversation with the obstetrician, as we discussed my "ideal" birth and reframed some of my expectations to reflect the current circumstances, the contractions returned and this time they were uncomfortable. I had five contractions over 45 minutes, and at the end of our talk I knew that this was the official start of my labor.
Still on the antepartum/postpartum floor, assuming that I wouldn't be allowed any food during labor, I ordered the lunch that I hadn't eaten earlier in the day. Then I called Andy and my doula to let them know that it was a good time for them to make their way to the hospital.
Nursing staff came in to hook me up to the external fetal monitor (EFM) and within a few minutes I was wheeled off the floor to Labor and Delivery. The power of the contractions was familiar and continued to increase. I was in labor, but the nurses insisted that I remain in bed on my back while they monitored the contractions so that theycould confirm it.
One nurse turned on the tv and handed me the remote before she left. (ha!)
Andy arrived shortly after I was settled in L&D, and because I had left my room before lunch arrived, and because I was so hungry already, we plotted how to get food and water (I had been told not to eat or drink anything). He bought some chapstick, and retrieved some water bottles and GUs from my room on postpartum.
The intensity of the contractions required my total concentration, and because I was confined to the bed, I couldn't rely on position changes. Instead, I dug deep into my arsenal of Bradley techniques--stuff that I had never used or needed for Roscoe's labor.
Centered at my cervix, each contraction radiated tight and hot to my hips and lower back. Andy applied counterpressure on my lower back for a few contractions, but lying on my side required that I "push back" to avoid being pushed over, and it became less helpful and more irritating so we stopped.
What worked best for the duration of my labor was total relaxation--I never really understood how this technique could work during labor, but it is the cornerstone of the Bradley method and given the constraints of the situation, I was willing to give it a try. Nestled in a bed of pillows and fully supported, I invested my energy in relaxing every part of my body, and then used visualizations to help me focus in on the work of my cervix. I visualized my body making way for my baby.
My Ipod was incredibly helpful--while I hadn't had time to load a birthing playlist (or even make one, for that matter!), for the duration of each contraction I turned on my music and went to other places. I think I listened to the same three or four songs on repeat: Roscoe by Midlake, Dog Days Are Over by Florence and the Machine, Clocks by Coldplay, and I Like It by Enrique Iglesias (don't ask! It was on there, and it worked.).
Music always gives me energy to physically push myself, but in this birth, it also served to drown out the myriad distractions in my room: nurses coming in and out to check the monitors, lights flipping on and off, NICU team staff preparing and organizing in their corner for Merritt's arrival.
My doctor stopped by for an update and after we talked for a few minutes she checked me and confirmed that I was 4 cm dilated, and 100% effaced. Active Labor! Honestly, I would rather have not known of this "progress" because the contractions were already so powerful. I didn't want to be discouraged, but knowing that I had 6 cm to go was discouraging. I gave myself a moment, and with the pain of the next contraction I forgot all about numbers and welcomed a return to work.
I asked for water and freedom to move and labor as I felt most comfortable. One point not up for negotiation was the EFM--because this was a preterm birth I had to have continuous monitoring, which was ok because the leads were plenty long and gave me enough space next to my bed to move around. The nurse gave me a hard time about wanting to labor out of the bed, but conceded "as long as the monitors could be read." I was given permission to eat ice chips, which I was so grateful for.
I was relieved by the thought alone of maybe finding a more comfortable position. As you might expect, the external monitors were so sensitive that they lost signal anytime I wasn't lying still and, like clockwork, an exasperated nurse would run in to check the leads.
My doula arrived, which emotionally relieved a lot of my stress. I really wanted her to be there to help us through the later stages of labor, and I felt much safer once she was with us. We tried some new positions (squatting with the head of the bed raised at a 90 angle, squatting on the floor, sitting on a ball, leaning over the side of the raised bed) and with minimal luck Lori manually kept the monitors in place.
My nurse stormed in to announce that I could have ten more minutes, but then it was "back to bed." The different positions were not very helpful at that point anyway, so I took what I could get and we kept at it. Ten minutes later we had found a squatting position that was more helpful than others and when we asked for more time the nurse said, "well I have the solution, I'll just put in an internal fetal monitor!" (The kind that screw into the baby's head). I had heard enough and jumped back into my pillows.
With the monitors registering properly, Merritt's heart rate was decelling with each contraction. Although this is normal, and he was recovering ok as far as we could tell, the nurse continued to come in and out of our room every few contractions, drowning us in fluorescent overhead lights upon her every arrival. Andy and Lori encouraged me with each contraction to take big deep breaths in order to get the most oxygen to the baby. Lori's mantra was "breathe for your baby". I felt lightheaded and the pain was making me feel nauseated. The nurse warned that if I was going to throw up, that I couldn't have any more ice chips. My doula said it was a response to the pain and I confirmed that I wasn't actually going to get sick. Lori gave me some physical support with counterpressure, and both Andy and Lori cheered me on and continued to work with me through each contraction.
I silently talked myself through each contraction. I can do anything for 90 seconds. I focused on each contraction independent from the rest, and took full advantage of those quiet moments in between where comfort still reigned. Labor is such a beautiful and mysterious process, and those breaks are built in for a reason. Releasing long, relaxed, exhalations also helped me to manage my pain.
I remember being so thirsty during this labor, probably because I wasn't allowed to drink anything, and I couldn't get enough of those ice chips. At some point I snuck two GUs, which were just the thing at the time. (I highly recommend them for running, and other marathons, like birth!)
By the nature of the contractions, I knew I was close to the end and began searching hard for that feeling to bear down and push, because then I knew relief would come. When Lori and Andy pulled the covers back to help reposition my pillows they found blood and Lori said, "uh, I think she's complete" and went to alert the nurses. In no more than a minute or two, my doctor had arrived, along with several nurses, and an entire NICU team. The room was suddenly bright again and filled with people.
I still had no urge to push, although I could feel him moving down. My doctor checked me one last time, noted that I was 10cm dilated and declared it was time to push. I also remember mention of a suspected cord around the neck and placental abruption.
I wanted to push on my own terms, but I still didn't feel the urge and while I had been told that I would be allowed to give birth in whichever position felt most comfortable, my doctor insisted then that she wanted me on my back in the traditional birthing position. She insisted too, on directive pushing which is totally unnecessary in a natural birth especially, and another common practice not at all supported by the literature.
After a few minutes I could feel the transition from labor contractions to pushing contractions, but my urge to push was still ramping up. My doctor relied on the monitor to estimate when a contraction was about to happen and then she would begin to count to ten, but by her third count my urge to push was over, and I wasn't going to push any more. She began talking about the baby's safety, and how I needed to get him out, like, NOW. Pushing was forced and more painful than necessary. I will always remember the sterile drapes and her stern and serious face.
By the third or fourth contraction I finally felt a real urge to push, and when Andy leaned into me to share his concern that we'd be headed for a c-section if the baby wasn't born soon, I followed her instructions to push, with way more force than I would have chosen if left on my own. As Merritt was crowning, I started to resist and told my doctor that I wanted to breathe through a contraction or two to ease him out, but everyone in the room was insisting that he was right there, and so close to being born. My doctor maintained that I should continue to push, push, push.
One of my most vivid memories of this birth is the feeling of shooting a baby out like cannon ball.
Merritt was born with the cord wrapped around his neck (she just unwrapped it, no biggie) and a robust cry. His cord was cut after 30 seconds, (not the full sixty that is recommended for delayed cord cutting, but we were thankful for any delay). They let me give him a kiss, and then he was handed over to the NICU staff. He weighed 4 pounds 1.6 ounces, and was 17 inches long. His Apgar scores were 7 and 8.
I delivered the placenta uneventfully and without the use of pitocin. A partial placental abruption was later confirmed.
Andy was invited to join the NICU staff to observe and take pictures. I remember looking over to the blur of people revolving around Merritt. Andy was tearfully trying to capture the moments that I couldn't be a part of.
Merritt was shown to me one last time, and then taken to the NICU. Andy followed to know the location, but wasn't allowed to stay.
The doctor came in with a dinner menu, but we quickly realized that the cafeteria was closed. Andy was instructed by staff to leave the hospital to find food (so horrible!), but a girlfriend of mine arrived shortly after with homemade enchiladas and strawberry shortcake.
We had to spend over an hour on the L&D floor, with promises to see Merritt on the way to Postpartum. Instead, we were taken directly to Postpartum where we were made to wait more.
Around 9:00 pm
Two and a half hours after his birth, we finally got to see Met and hold him for the first time.
I feel like a hostage again. But I know it's not forever.
My once mellow and not at all demanding baby has recently turned a 180 and assumed the more familiar role of protesting sleep anywhere but in my arms, and an extreme preference for nursing over everything else.
I'm frustrated with having to maneuver through every day handicapped by the use of only one arm. I frequently opt not to do the things that I want or need to do because the agony of muddling through it one-handed is just too much. Of the moby wrap, sakura bloom ring sling, and hotsling pouch, none truly allow me full freedom --I frequently find myself propping Merritt's head, supporting his butt, or otherwise reinforcing the carrier. Even though wearing Merritt in the Bloom is 100 times better than not wearing him, I'm disappointed by this.
Roscoe has, on cue, realized that I am incapacitated when nursing, and therefore unable to enforce any spoken directives. Our "discipline" of choice so far has been redirection or removal. Impossible choices when couch-bound. It's not always enough to verbally corral Roscoe, and I can't reinforce my words with action when I'm nursing. I've resorted to ignoring his antics when I'm not able to follow through--an irritating scenario that I quite frequently find myself in.
Some days I feel I let Roscoe down. Merritt is in the sling, or nursing 98% of the day. It's hard to meet the needs of everyone simultaneously, but even I am tired of hearing myself say, "let me finish x with Merritt, and THEN we can do y", or "I can't do x right now, I'm nursing Merritt." Merritt, Merritt, Merritt!
The last few days have been particularly hard, and after giving it some thought I was happy to remember that all things with babies and toddlers come in phases. Soon Merritt will be heartier, and able to hang out on his own a little more. This week nap time was a disaster, but that's not to say that next week will be the same.
The kids' needs and their routines are out of sync right now. The three of us do our little dance around each other all day, every day, and sometimes we all line up, and sometimes we don't. We're figuring it out together.