Heartstrings

Being a mother is exactly as I thought it would be and totally different all at once. I know I’ve just gotten started on this path but it’s already a whirlwind. I expected to love my baby in ways I couldn’t understand. I expected to feel overwhelmed and sleep deprived. I even expected that I would alternative between hate and love for parenting.

All those things are true and yet I really had no idea what I was getting into. I didn’t understand the physical connection I would have to Haines. A friend asked me to describe what it was like to love him and it was so difficult to articulate. I know everything a person can know about him but he’s still a total mystery. I’m tuned in to his babbles and kicks but I don’t always know what he wants or why he’s upset. I don’t have a clue who he is going to be. He could grow up to be a serial killer and yet I just love him. It truly feels like a string has been tied from my heart to his and whenever I think of him I feel the tug. Whenever he cries it tugs. Whenever he laughs it fills up and explodes with happiness.

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Explosion.

The physical connection is more than that. Do you remember making fun of your parent when the car stopped suddenly and they put their arm out in front of you? You laughed because in a real accident their arm wasn’t going to stop you from being thrown forward. You thought it was a silly gesture, but it wasn’t a gesture at all. It was instinct. It’s my hands jumping to protect Haines from his own wobbly head even when he’s secure in his seat. It’s my body being thrown into motion at the sound of his cry. It’s never turned off. If I can hear him my body is alert, ready to go.

This feeling of being ready to spring into action is something I’ve repeatedly described as feeling “on”. It may be the thing I didn’t understand the most before he was born. I knew my hearing would become attuned to all his little noises and I’d heard of leaking breastmilk when the baby was in distress but I didn’t understand… the absence of an off switch.

Have you ever been to a networking event or a conference where you’re expected to mingle with people you don’t know? I don’t excel at this. I plaster a smile on my face, introduce myself and shake some hands but the anxiety of having to talk to strangers never leaves me. I hate it. When the event is finally over, my shoulders gradually draw down away from my ears and I can relax. The exhausting act of being on your best behavior and speaking to others whether you want to or not gives me the same sort of feeling “on”.

Except with a baby relaxing is a learned skill. It doesn’t just happen at bedtime. When Haines was first born and my mother or Tyler would tell me to go take a nap I would lay in the bed and cry. I would cry and cry and imagine they weren’t taking good care of him. My mother and my husband may be the last people on earth that wouldn’t take good care of him. It was insane but I couldn’t turn my off switch. No matter the circumstances, I couldn’t relax.

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Thank goodness this has gotten better or daycare would be a disaster.

 

Camping with Babies

One of the number one things I looked forward to in moving back to North Carolina was camping. In Austin we camped every month that Tyler was in town, but one of the things we’ve done the least since moving back has been…camping. In the two years we’ve lived in Wilmington, we’ve camped 4 times. To our credit it’s been in 4 different places.

We went with friends to Croatan National Forest two Easter weekends ago. After we got Clara we took her to a small island accessible by boat only. In September of last year, around the end of the second trimester I took Clara to join friends to camp at Neuse State Park.

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Camping while pregnant was… not as bad as anticipated. Drinking a beer around the campfire is one of my favorite parts of camping so abstaining did take a bit of the fun out. I laid on both sleeping pads for extra cushion and by some sort of magical force I only had to get up once in the night to pee. I wasn’t far enough long that my walking was affected so it was pretty fun!

This past weekend I took the next step in camping- camping with a baby. Natalie was in town and we took Haines and Clara to Carolina Beach State Park along with friends. It was a very busy weekend at the park but with the exception of one truck full of yelling partygoers the campsites were relatively quiet. We walked the nature trails, played games, roasted s’mores and journeyed to the neighboring brewery. You really can’t beat a state park next to a brewery. So this trip I got to drink beer around a campfire and at a bar. Major improvement on the previous camping experience. IMG_3269

Even though everyone chipped in helping with Clara and Haines, camping with both a 4 month old and an easily excited dog is stressful. Clara was somewhat well behaved which isn’t saying much. Other dogs typically hate her and this trip was no different. Haines didn’t mind being outdoors all the time. He also tolerates being carried in the front pack better than I tolerate carrying him.

As it turns out he does not tolerate sleeping on the ground in a sleeping bag very well. This is fair as many adult humans do not either. I made him a palate out of blankets and swaddled him in a muslin blanket inside a thin sleeping bag that also had a hood. He wore a knit hat which also didn’t help with the sleep issue. I had intended to pack his fleece sleep sack but failed to remember it.

I ended up feeding him 4 times during the night which is on par with the feeding schedule he had during his newborn nights. This was partly because I could never find his pacifier in the tent when I needed it. But a boob I could find so we went with that. He only woke the campsite up once around 3 am so that’s pretty good, right?

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In case you can’t tell that’s two friends, one dog and a baby. 

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Those two beautiful hours that Haines slept.

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Wrapped up against the morning chill!

Next time we camp I will:

  • Figure out another sleeping option for him (suggestions welcome!)
  • Stuff 10 pacifiers in my pillowcase so I can pull them out throughout the night
  • Bring along a chair/seat for Haines so I don’t have to hold him the whole time
  • Also put the flashlight in there so when I run out of pacifiers I can find more

I also am going to be on the lookout for another baby carrying device. I love the free aspect of our hand-me-down Chico carrier but it doesn’t fit me well and it hurts my back. Time to do some research on different options because the hiking and camping won’t be stopping!

 

To Reveal or Not to Reveal

When you first announce your pregnancy to the world you are bombarded by questions. When is the due date? Did you plan it? (How is this an appropriate question??) Who have you told? Are you going to find out the sex?

I have no idea how it happened but from the very beginning I was completely against finding out the baby’s sex.  Tyler hesitated only briefly before jumping on board. Our family was supportive, for the most part, but they would have much preferred we find out. My sister though was the only one who hated it and let us know!

While a lot of our friends or coworkers, liked the idea of keeping the baby’s sex a surprise most people say, “Oh I could never do that.” They either couldn’t stand the suspense, which I totally understand, or they felt they needed to know to plan for the baby. This I never wrapped my mind around. What do you need to plan? A baby girl and a baby boy need the same things: a car seat, a crib, clothes, diapers, bottles and so forth. Even your nursery’s theme, if you have one, can go a variety of directions. Winnie the Pooh, Disney, travel/adventure, Noah’s Ark- all of these and many more work for any baby. Although if you’re really into monograms, I can see how this would be a problem. I think this is probably a bigger problem in the South than elsewhere. (FYI Haines has the best initials for a monogram. HEB!)

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The best grocery in Texas!

There’s more though that I didn’t expect. Knowing the baby’s sex makes them start to take shape in your mind. They go from this concept, this idea where anything is possible to something real, a person. There’s no more pretending. I liked keeping the possibilities open until the moment of truth, until everything changes, but I can see now how it might be helpful at times for bonding with Haines before he entered the world. Many times when I was pregnant I worried that I didn’t feel a special connection to Haines. It’s strange to remember that now as I can’t imagine Haines not being here, let alone not feeling a connection to him.

When Haines was born and they announced “It’s a boy!” to the room it was a shock, although I’m not sure “It’s a girl!” would have brought a different response. There was a baby in the room where there wasn’t one before. It was the biggest change there could possibly be. There were two people in a family and then there were three.

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On the practical side, because Haines was still an enigma we weren’t tempted to buy him toys or clothes. It wasn’t quite the same for our mothers, but I suppose that’s not surprising. Tyler bought a tiny bat that he said would be a softball or baseball bat for baby B and I bought two newborn outfits for Christmas. Santa wasn’t coming to find any baby Grinch!  Priorities, right?

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For us, it made everything a little more special, the not knowing. We were entering on a journey that we couldn’t start to imagine and keeping all of the mystery intact was something I don’t regret. It’d be hard to do it again but I loved doing it all the same.

Off to Work We Go!

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I haven’t been able to blog these past few weeks. Trying to balance work and play… well, I thought I didn’t have enough free time before and I really didn’t know what I was talking about.

Admittedly, returning to work has been significantly easier than I expected. I spent the day before mostly in tears. Okay, I was also able to work in lunch with a friend that included a beer. You never know, it could have been my last chance to drink a beer in the daytime on a weekday. But then it was all tears.

I really don’t mind being back at work. My work is interesting. I feel challenged on a regular basis. In fact, coming back to work has relieved much of the brain fog that had taken over as well as the loneliness I felt at home during the day. I don’t feel guilty leaving Haines at daycare. We secured our daycare less than 4 weeks before I needed to be back at work and did so by calling every daycare that is licensed near our home. We were (and technically are) basically on every waitlist in town. Luckily the only daycare we got into has been great so far. With only 3 other babies in the room I feel like Haines gets a lot of attention. And now instead of wishing I was somewhere else when we’re together, I am present. In the evenings I work hard to make our time together quality time.

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All that being said, this is still a struggle and a work in progress. I have come back to work at incredibly busy time for both me and Tyler. And now every hour of the day has a purpose. We wake up needing to get right to business getting everything together for daycare and our work days. After working full days we take turns making dinner and spending time with the munchkin. As soon as he’s in bed I try to take time for myself for a bath or writing but since Haines isn’t actually sleeping through the night on a regular basis sometimes I go to bed almost immediately after. Every few days we walk the dog. But really only sometimes. Poor Clara.

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Haines isn’t the only one who struggles to make it to bed time! 

Live with Focus

There are a million things I’d like to accomplish this year. I’d like to get outside more, save all my money, make all my food from scratch, establish a thriving garden, excell at my job, concentrate on making my time at home quality time with my family, write more often, put myself out of my comfort zone, go hiking, get back in shape, travel to new places and so on. But let’s get real. A year may seem like a long time but days and weeks pass by in the blink of an eye. The year that we have a brand new baby is not the year for lofty goals. It is not the year I’ll hike the Applachian Trail or start making my own pasta. It’s a year to soak in this time with baby Haines and survive our lack of sleep.

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But how do I stop making pies?!

 

Regardless I am the time of person who creates goals. I need focus and plans to guide me. This is most likely a fault that speaks to me being a control freak but…one thing at a time. This year we spent New Year’s Eve in the hospital so it was not a time for a resolutions (although how about no more trips to the hospital in 2017?!). My time at home on maternity leave was a foggy blur of sleeplessness and long walks. I’m back at work and back in a routine and starting to find a tiny sense of focus.

I really just want to use my time wisely and purposely. I don’t mean that I won’t watch TV or check my Instagram feed (FYI- taking Facebook off my phone was a great choice) but I don’t want to let myself get lost in it. I’m going to make my lunch for work at night so I can enjoy my baby cuddles in the morning without stressing. I’m going to go out with friends or go off by myself so that I can come back and better appreciate and be more present in my time with my family.

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This guy is pretty hard to resist.

 

To keep my focus I’ve determined 4 activities/goals.

Me: Be Patient

It starts with me. I want to have more patience with myself and others. I don’t need to accomplish everything today. Like many women, I put an unreasonable amount of pressure on myself to excel and worse, be perfect. It’s past time to get rid of that inclination. Time to slow down, communicate more often and more kindly.

Community: Get Involved

Contributing to  my community has always been important to me but often it gets pushed to the back burner. I need to move this up the priority list. It’s a value that I want to impart onto Haines and there’s only one way to do that.

Finance: Reduce Debt, Reduce Stress

It’s well known in my family that I put a large focus on financial security (some might say too much…) and I’ve let it cause my unnecessary stress in the past. While I don’t want to do that I do want to get to the point where we are making more strategic decisions when it comes to our finances and reducing our debt.

Travel:

This isn’t a deep and life-changing goal but getting outside my immediate surroundings has always proved to be key for my sanity. The one thing I’ve wanted to do since returning to North Carolina was visit the mountains in the fall. So far two falls have passed and we haven’t made it. This is the year! Fall leaves, I won’t miss you this time! It’s also a part of my home state that Haines won’t get as much exposure to in our beach town and I want him to see all the beauty of our state.

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Winter in Wilmington, NC

5 Unexpected Perks of Maternity Leave

  1. Not feeling guilty for all the TV you watch. Okay, sometimes maybe I should feel guilty because it’s gotten a bit out of control but what you can do? Sometimes that’s parenting. I highly recommend checking out Juana Ines (Netflix), American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson (Netflix), Hell on Wheels (Netflix, violent – proceed with caution), America Divided (Amazon Prime), The Man in the High Castle (Amazon Prime), A Chef’s Life (PBS) and obviously, Fixer Upper (Netflix/HGTV). I DO NOT RECOMMEND This is Us. I’ve really enjoyed but you will cry during every episode which is too much for someone who is already chock o’ block full of hormones.thisisus
  2. Going outside whenever you damn well please. Perhaps your job already gets you outside regularly. If so, you are much smarter than me. I have an office job where I have to ask others what the weather is like because I cannot see the outside world. At least on maternity leave, I could take walks when I felt like it. Getting to walk my crazy dog when everyone isn’t also out is also convenient.img_2761
  3. Doing errands while everyone else is at work. There aren’t many perks to running errands with infants. A lot more people open doors for you which is convenient because as a first time parent who carry way too much stuff with you at all times. At the very least though you don’t have to be at Target on Saturday with everyone else. You can go on a Monday at 10 am without having brushed your hair because no one you know is there.

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    This is my hair on maternity leave. No exceptions.This is also me sending pictures to my husband just to say hello. 

  4. I was very surprised as to how much reading I was able to do while on maternity leave. The key is e-books. It is extremely difficult to hold an actual book while also holding a baby but you can read a Kindle (or other e-book device) or read on your phone using an app. (Everyone at my book club thinks I’m insane for reading on my phone but it has never bothered me. If you’re stuck in line at the post office or wherever, just pull out your phone and read.) Breastfeeding, especially in the early days, takes forever. You feed, get up to go the bathroom and eat a snack and then it’s basically time to do it again. Once I got the hang of it and didn’t need to concentrate, I was able to read instead. It really helped me stay awake for night feedings as well. Since going on leave I’ve finished Girl in a Band: The Memoir, A Thin Bright Line, Margaret the First: A Novel, The Underground Railroad, and The Rosie Project. Out of these I would only highly recommend The Underground Railroad. The others helped to pass the time but weren’t particularly moving or exciting. I’ve started but haven’t yet finished The Sympathizer and In the Darkroom, both of which have been fascinating thus far. My mother-in-law also gave me a subscription to The Sun Magazine which I keep next to my chair for some good nursing reads.

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    The danger of reading an actual book is that sometimes a fussy baby will physically block you from that book. 

  5. I gained a much better sense of what makes me feel like me. When I first came home from the hospital I was in a fog of fatigue and it took me a couple weeks to start to feel human and even a little longer to feel like myself. My husband would come home from work and try to give me time away but I just drove around town aimlessly. Over time and with better planning, I know what I need to feel whole. I need to be able to anticipate my day. I need a plan even if my day doesn’t require it. I have to get outside and feel the sunshine. I have to talk to adults on a regular basis about something other than poopy diapers and childcare woes. I need time to write and think by myself. Add a beer, a snack and the occasional hot bath and I’m good to go. Oh, and this. I need a lot of this. img_2964

Maternity Leave: A Welcome Change that I’m Completely Freaking Out About

My maternity leave ends next week. I feel completely and totally torn about it. There are many things I’m looking forward to. They include:

  • Using both hands to eat my food (rather than holding a baby in one arm and dripping a sandwich onto myself with another).
  • Talking to adults on a regular basis. Every day I feel eagerly await Tyler coming home only to have very little to say when he gets home. “What did you do today?” “Um, took a walk. Did some laundry. Changed some diapers. Didn’t lose my mind?” Communicating takes practice.
  • Using my brain! I will have actual work to do. I will have to write emails that make sense, solve problems and advise others.
  • Exercising. We have a gym at work that also offers lunchtime classes. I’ll easily be able to run, take a class or use the workout equipment without cutting into my family time.
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To cuddle or not to cuddle? To cuddle. 

There are also many things I am freaking about.

  • For 40 hours a week our itty, bitty baby is going to be with someone else. Someone who seems very nice but who I don’t actually know. When he fusses will she comfort him? Will she talk or sing to him like I do? Will he get all that needs (which admittedly is very little because he’s an itty, bitty baby)?
  • After 12 weeks of struggling in the absence of any structure, I will be moving back into a fairly rigid environment. Baby must be dropped off by whenever in order to get to work on time and must be picked up by this time in order not to pay a fee. I will have to put on clothes, brush my teeth and generally look appropriate. IN THE MORNING! This seems impossible.
  • What if my brain doesn’t work? I wrote a letter recently that included the sentence “Pregnancy and a newborn kills my smarts.” I didn’t write it to be funny. That’s just the way it came out. Now I’m going to have to write at work? Oh good. This should go well.
  • I truly lucked out being on maternity leave during this particular winter. It was filled with 70F days. We’ve taken many walks and explored a lot of our area. Even though I like my job I don’t look forward to going back to a windowless office that used to be a closet.
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Don’t get me started on all the smiles I will be missing! 

Of course, I was lucky to be able to even take maternity leave as so many mothers can’t. I work for a business that is large enough to have to offer FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) and we are able to afford to take the time. At times the lack of income was stressful (then again, I tend to freak out about money all the time) but we were generously helped by our families and friends who brought meals, helped with groceries and generally offered their support. While I wish moms in the US had the options that many other countries have regarding leave, I recognize that the 12 weeks I was able to take, though short, was still a gift.

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Haines and I have been spending these days with a lot of cuddles, long walks and an upcoming visit from his Nana this weekend. I’ve also been making a playlist for the munchkin as I try to improve my bedtime song repertoire. I welcome suggestions if you have any! (I know it needs more ladies. I’m working on it!)