What a Difference The Letter L Makes

From a natural pregnancy website:

“There is a vegetable oil called CASTOR Oil, made from castor beans, which is sometimes used to get labor going or for other medicinal purposes. There is a petroleum product, i.e. motor oil, called Castrol Oil, which could be toxic. Please do not confuse them!”

Well. After that sober warning I will certainly store my motor oil away from my laxatives. Thanks, Internet!

Baby Boom

I have a large family. Not immediate family, but a lot of cousins. 18 on my mom’s side. My mom has four brothers and they have been rather prolific. They also tend to become parents on the youngish side; early 20s, not super-young but young enough that the grandparents can really enjoy long relationships with their grandkids. My grandparents are now in their early 70s and have 20 grandkids ranging from 30 to 8.

Our baby will be the sixth great-grandchild on my mother’s side, I think. (There’s a cousin with whom I have no relationship and I know she has at least one but she might have two.) Right now three of us are pregnant: me, ready to pop; my cousin F, who is exactly halfway with a baby girl; and M who just found out that she’s expecting. (My sister sent three cartons of baby clothes to us and I sorted and washed all of them; I hope M has a boy and then all of my nephew’s most adorable newborn outfits–winter-weight and fleece–will get another user.)

This is all very fun for Tom, as this sort of inter-family population boom is miles outside of his experience. He has experienced two Christmases with my mother’s family and come away both happy and slightly shell-shocked. I’m excited too; family holidays and Christmas are supposed to be filled with squalling babies and toddlers. It will be fun to do our part to make family events more noisy.

Crazy, baby.

I’m grumpy. And I don’t have a coherent thought in my brain.

The economy has forced me down to 20 hours a week at work. This doesn’t mean there’s less work to do; this just means I have to spend my four hours at top speed trying to crank through my every-issue-to-do list. It also leaves no time at all to deal with any other situations or requests that may pop up, and there are always plenty of those in a given day. Plus I’m one of those weirdos who is energized if I work through my afternoon doldrums and go a full 8 hour day. Send me home at noon and I’m a lobotomized lump around 2pm, even if I run errands or do some housework.

Why does the bathroom floor get so disgusting so fast? Is it because we don’t have an exhaust fan? I don’t remember our bathroom growing up getting so disgusting in less than a week and there were four people using it. It makes me grind my teeth.

Waking up in the morning feels like the Tin Man before he got his oil can. Lots of time on the exercise ball required to get my hips feeling adequate again.

There are never enough bowls in the cabinet. Why do we eat so many things that require bowls? Why am I becoming depressed and overwhelmed by the lifetime of dishwasher loading/emptying before me?

Why am I becoming a parent in Hawaii, home of the nation’s most lax and unenforced driving laws? I thought I was lazy because I didn’t see the sense in paying $300 for a car seat when the $90 one rated well. But here, if I called the cops on every parent pulling a Britney and driving with a toddler on their lap, I would never get off the phone. I did that while I was first here until I realized the cops don’t give a shit.

Grind, grind.

And while we’re at it, new neighbors, I understand that toddlers have tantrums and it’s best to remove them from the situation before things can really escalate. But do you have to take them outside to scream? Some of us like to keep the windows open and are irritable from having contractions for a month. And then when I hear how you deal with your kid, I spend the next hour weighing whether or not I’m going to be bad mother because I think most of the parenting I see in public is ineffective and lacking in appropriate boundary-setting follow-through. The most common responses are “ignore the behavior until it becomes intolerable to you and scream at them” and “Now, I think that’s maybe not a good idea whatever fine don’t listen to me” and you know what? Those ain’t working for ya, pal. And it doesn’t work for the kid.

But then I think, am I too mean or are they too nice? Why am I so judgmental? I’ve never wrangled toddlers at a Walmart before, how do I know mine won’t be the same holy terror I see all the time? On the other hand, I don’t believe in corporal punishment, and I can’t recall my parents EVER spanking me, but it was clear there were going to be consequences to whining and bad behavior. And you better believe we acted accordingly. And my parents seem to think we did okay behavior-wise. My mom was our primary caretaker and I never ever felt scared of her, or by her, so I know that it’s possible to enforce rules without fear. Why do I already feel guilty for knowing I’m going to be a strict mom when there isn’t anything WRONG with setting and enforcing rules? Especially when it comes to safety and teaching respect and kindness for yourself and others and your surroundings? Where are the brownies?!

I feel like I’m taking crazy pills. This is why ideally I need to work a 40-50 hour week. Too much time inside my brain is like Wonka’s river cruise.

Grind, grind.

Things I Have Learned

There are lots of lessons to be taken from my two days of what was ultimately fake (but very convincing!) labor. Sure, these are intangible lessons of patience and humility and the beginning of understanding that my baby is a person with its own ideas and personality. But there’s some practical info I can take from this into the real deal–whenever that might be.

* Buy a second robe to bring along. Man, was my brand new robe a wonderful purchase. Functioned as a lovely blanket when I was in bed and a cozy covering when I was walking around and on the birth ball. But on the off chance I soil that one somehow I’m going to need a backup.

* Ditto extra pajama pants. Those disposable underwear thingys at the hospital are remarkably comfortable but hospitals are chilly places. And I learned that if the contraction is powerful enough and you had maybe been putting off getting up to pee, your bladder is going to fold like goddamn origami under the onslaught and thus you will require new pants. (Apologies to the more modest among you.)

* Phone communications are going to go dark. I made the mistake of sending a mass text when we thought we were being admitted for good and was astonished by how many people texted later on as the process began to slow, “What’s going on?!” While I respect that these are just concerned and curious parties, it’s either one of two things: nothing, or something. If it’s nothing, I’m not going to send a message to say so. If it’s something, I’m going to be dealing with the something and not making contact with the outside world until after. My sister had me to run communications interference with the family, but I don’t have that option. So after the initial message goes out and the people who want phone calls get their calls, the phone is going off until we have a new baby in the room.

Incidentally, a lot of the people who did send that particular text do not have children and are totally unfamiliar with the birth process, so I’m grading on a curve here. They have no frame of reference for the “hurry up and wait” of labor and how it’s all fun and games until the contractions hit about 3 minutes apart, and then you have to focus on making it through the next 90 seconds of your life without strangling the father of your child with a monitor cord. So I wasn’t mad, exactly, but I guess I thought they would know better. But for the most part nobody who’s experienced birth–either first or second hand–sent that message.

Edited to add: I LOVED the messages of the “Yay!” and “Congrats!” and “I’m excited!” varieties. The ones that contained a request for info or that required some sort of reply were the ones that rattled me.

* My memory foam pillow is delightful and is going to remain attached to me in some capacity. Ditto the birth ball.

* Monitors SUCK and I’m going to shamelessly lie, connive, and manipulate in order not to be attached to them any longer than I have to be. And you know what? Not once in any of the monitoring did the baby show the slightest blip of distress–except when I shifted and the monitor slid up and started recording MY heartbeat.

* Hypno Birthing works, by God! I just have to have Tom stay on me to keep me from clenching my jaw and lower back while I do my breathing.

So that’s what I’ve learned thus far. Also, monitoring aside, I’ve been delighted with the nurses that I’ve met so far.

Okay baby. We had our practice rounds. Bring it on!

Labor FAIL

36 hours of contractions. Two hospital admissions.

They look like contractions, FEEL like contractions, the monitor says they ARE contractions (“Hey, good job, that one went to eleven!”), but they aren’t the “right kind” of contractions. Meaning all that work caused absolutely no dilation and while I may have been contracting like a mofo, it wasn’t “opening the door” for the baby, so to speak.

It also means I did 24 hours of early labor and 12 hours of hardcore contracting labor at two minutes apart, and then…nothing. They went away. No more. The monitors at Queens allow nurses to look at multiple patients on the one computer screen in every room. Mine were longer, stronger, and more frequent than the other women who got to stay.

The baby just decided it wasn’t ready and the contractions went *poof*.

I’ve been walking around like I’ve just gone through the world’s most intense ab workout. My right forearm and hand have been denuded of hair where they taped down the tubing for the Hep-Lock. In two days I’ve had six internal exams, three of them during contractions. I almost threw up on the nurse after watching them pull an inch-long catheter from my hand from where they had installed the Hep-Lock earlier.

And the contractions have now disappeared entirely.

This is a lesson, right? This is some kind of test of oneself and one’s humility and patience and ability to adapt one’s needs around that of a baby, isn’t it?

Because otherwise I might cry.

Letter, Part 2

Dear Thumper,

So it’s been just you and me hanging out here for the last 37 weeks. I have to say that once we got out of the first trimester, it’s been mostly smooth sailing. In the last three weeks you and I have been experiencing lots of contractions, which yesterday I finally tied to the drops and rises in barometric pressure. It falls, we contract. It rises, we stop. Today it poured rain but there were only a few halfhearted twinges. It’s almost as if you decided to be as blase about it as I’ve become; I enjoy imagining you saying in a tiny voice “Screw it, let’s just stay home and eat cookies this afternoon.”

Soon enough it will be time for you to make our twosome into three–your dad is correct, you are the one who will make our little couple a family. He will also be in charge of teaching you baseball statistics, as we cannot come to a detente on the proper way to eat an Oreo. Best that you learn from both of us and come to your own conclusions later in life. Try to remember that our philosophical approach to Oreo-eating will serve you well in all areas of your life.

At some point you may wonder why I picked your father, and the answer is simple: my life is better for having him in it. That’s what I hope for you to find in a partner. Whoever you pick will not be perfect. Your life with them will not be a fairy tale, and you will have bumps in the road. But if you’re like me with your dad, you will see that there isn’t a single aspect of your life that isn’t 1000% better for having your partner in it. That makes the bad stuff bearable and the good stuff spectacular. That’s what I have with your dad.

While I’m rambling, I’ve been thinking a lot about the trip to California that brought you to us. This will one day embarass the hell out of you, but I can’t go without mentioning it. The day you were conceived, we visited Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, which has an indoor and outdoor labyrinth. While I don’t believe in a Judeo-Christian God per se, I do believe there are forces in the universe that operate at a different level than us that can touch and affect our lives. The idea of walking the labyrinth is that you meditate, releasing petty thoughts and quieting the mind, receive illumination at the center, and as you leave you walk with a higher power.

I walked the labyrinth with the idea of meditation in mind and eventually focused on two thoughts: we are ready for a child. Let this happen quickly, and let it be safe. Sure enough, the calendar tells us that my meditation was answered. If you learn nothing else from this story, let it be this: sometimes the higher powers try to get your attention in small ways, and sometimes they take you by the shoulders and shake you until your teeth knock together. The positive pregnancy test just two weeks later would qualify as the latter.

To bookend that experience, yesterday I went to the Kukaniloko birthstones. This is a sacred location on Oahu where for several hundred years, royal mothers would go to deliver their children to assure status and longevity for their chiefly sons (and daughters). It’s a holy location, tied directly to the earth and to childbirth. I walked the perimeter and sat next to the stones, quieting my mind as I did in the labyrinth. My only thought was “Whenever you’re ready to come out, your dad and I will see you home.” I stayed until it started to rain again.

The contractions have ramped up since then, but not in a way that indicates that it’s time to go to the hospital. That’s okay, little one. The world is a weird place, especially right now, and I get the hesitation. Take all the time you need.

Whenever you’re ready, Daddy and I will be there. And we’ll all go home together.

Love,
Mama

A Letter to Our Baby

Good Morning Little One,

Right now you are perfect! As you sit in your little insulated Jacuzzi, you have not been affected at all by the outside world. Well that is not exactly true, as your mom and dad have tried their best to make sure that you are well nourished and receive an adequate amount of audio stimulation. But what I’m trying to get at is that the larger outside world has not influenced who you are at any discernible level. All you know right now is sleeping, sucking your thumb and your occasional womb gymnastics. That will all change in the next few days. Soon you are going to be barraged by sights, sounds and a whole host of stimuli that you probably will not know what to do with yourself.

Anyways, I should probably introduce myself. I’m your dad. Because of me, you will likely be a little awkward in school, have to wear glasses, get fitted for braces and if you are a boy, eventually lose your hair. I was born in Florida, but went to school in Washington, DC where I met your mom. I work for the U.S. government, but I am not your traditional bureaucrat. I shun suits and ties and prefer jeans and short sleeve button-downs. Because of my job, there will be times when I not be around, but it is not because you did anything wrong. Anyways, I will be teaching you the important stuff about life, for example, the importance of VORP in baseball statistics and how to eat Oreo cookies. But we will have more time to talk about things like that later.

Now let me tell you about your Mom. Your Dad met her while he was in graduate school, but they did not start dating until well after that. We got married in her home state of Maine and have been living in Hawaii for the past year. She has been amazing for the past nine months. I hope you get her smile, nose and laugh. From what I understand, your Mom will be mostly shaking her head and rolling her eyes as I attempt to teach you valuable life information. She is the love of my life, my partner in crime and my best friend and as you grow older, I hope that you realize how lucky you are to have her as a mother.

Each day hundreds of children are born into the world, but each one is born into a different set of circumstances. Over the past nine months, it has become abundantly clear that those circumstances are largely dependent upon your Mom and I. Both your Mom and I realize that we are the basic templates for your future self. Out of all of the influences in the world, whether it be the Internet, television, your friends or your school, we are the ones that will influence you the most. You are our first child, so I hope you understand that even though we are your parents, your birth and development is largely new territory for us as well.

Unfortunately, moms and dads are not outfitted with a crystal ball when you are born. Besides, where would the fun in that be? We don’t know what you will want to be when you grow up, whether you will prefer polo shirts over Hawaiian shirts or want to grow up to be a mechanic or a nuclear physicist. So it will be so interesting to see how you grow up and eventually become an adult. With that in mind, we will try to prepare you for all that you will face in life. We will never desert you, but we realize that at times you will need draw comfort from being alone. We will not always give you want you want, but rest assured, we will provide you with what you need. We will try to show you the world and all the beauty in it, but try to keep the worst parts out as best we can. But most importantly, your mother and I will give you all the love we can give you. Your Mom and I may not always succeed in our attempts, but we will do our best. Our lives truly no longer belong to just ourselves, it belongs to all of us, because you have made us a family little one.

Your Mom and I cannot wait to meet you!

- Love, Dad

Nesting on Steroids

Clearly since I have painted everything there is to paint and stocked the baby’s room quite well, I must move on to bigger nesting projects.

Naturally, this means I’m looking at homes for sale in the West Virginia panhandle.

Why the panhandle? Well, it isn’t the metro DC area, but Tom could still get to work. It’s insane–I mean utterly wood floors and wraparound porches insane–what you can buy for $220,000 in Harpers Ferry. And the commuter lines are close enough that Tom wouldn’t have a vicious commute into the city. Just a semi-gross one. I could have trees and a yard and room for an herb garden. Tom can plant his veggies. We could buy a deep freezer and a pressure canner and join a local produce share and have all our dairy and meat delivered by the honest-to-god local milkman!! We could even take family field trips to the local tree farm/pumpkin patch/apple orchard, or go to the dairy and feed the baby calves!

I COULD MAKE FRUIT PRESERVES. AND THEN CAN THEM.

Er…clearly the fever has reached my brain.

Legitimately, I know this is a terrible idea. I have lived in the city, the suburbs, and rural country and I like the city–preferably one with a subway system–the best. We have plans to live abroad, in cities, in the Pacific and maybe one day in Europe. Settling on a house and a town isn’t part of the plan. Technically we own two cars now, but we’d need a far more reliable one that far out and the idea of committing to a sturdy second vehicle instead of our beater Accord (may she run steadily for two years and get decent resale to a high school punk enchanted by the SiR body kit) makes me feel all sweaty.

But oh, my dream of preserves. It lives.

Pack It Up: Part 3 in a Series

I was going to do this big thing about getting through airport security and suchlike, but Mighty Girl has already done a great essay on the topic so I won’t bother. She also has great tips on traveling with kiddies. Here are three links to her suggestions:

Traveling With Kids: Momversation Video

9 Tips for Airport Security With A Baby

12 Tips for Flying With A Baby

Other things I might mention about my own experience for flights over 4 hours:

Plan wisely and well with your electronic battery life. If you use it up in the gate area waiting to board, you will not have enough juice left to power that DVD on the flight. Ditto your iPod. I am spoiled and have an iPod Shuffle and an iPod Classic with video capability, so on our next flight I am loading music on the Shuffle and videos on the Classic. That combined with the laptop (normally I don’t carry it, but I will need it for my sister’s wedding as I’m photographing–gulp) and the portable DVD player we plan to purchase should get us through our next long flight: Honolulu to Newark to Boston (gulp squared). With a six-month-old (gulp cubed).

Bring vitamins! Propel Fitness Mix comes in handy singles; I keep them at work because I’m not overly fond of plain water. In the last hour of the flight, down an Emergen-C packet to help you transition to whatever you need to do next. It will keep you awake if you’re on the red-eye, though. Consistent hydration is incredibly important on planes if only because you will regularly need to empty your bladder, which will force you out of your seat and get you moving.

The only other tip that hasn’t been covered is: don’t travel in jeans if you can help it. For short flights it’s fine; for longer than four hours, wear something with a lot of give. No reason to look like a slob in sweats, but non-restrictive clothing is a must for getting comfortable on the flight.