The Birthday Question

Recently I was asked “a birthday question” of “What have you learned this year?”

What a fucking question.

What more could I have possibly learned this year? (Kidding, clearly I still have a long way to go.)

I have learned that I sell myself short. Sure, I knew this but I used to think of it as humility or sacrificing for the greater good. I realize now it keeps me from feeling like I deserve to ask for things- money, job title, support, friendship, time for myself. It’s funny how my children have been the ones who have taught me selflessness but also to advocate for myself. Tonight I kept one arm outstretched to block Haines from picking the blueberries out of my salad as the other arm spooned pureed carrots into Austin’s mouth.  Also, that moment pretty much sums up motherhood.

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I learned about boundaries. Boundaries are the key to relationships of any kind. It’s not something I ever understood the value of. They had a negative connotation. Shouldn’t our most meaningful relationships exist without boundaries? Anything goes! But boundaries are as simple as expecting honesty from your spouse/friend/parent or drawing a line between work and home. In parenting boundaries feel particularly few and far between but they can still exist if you choose them. It is not a bad thing to move a baby into their own room or to insist that a toddler maintains their bedtime simply so you can be alone for once. It is not bad to say, “Play by yourself for a few minutes” and mutter “…before I lose my shit.”

I have learned I am strong, resilient and patient- three words I would not have used previously to describe myself. Were these qualities there all along? Surely, they have not just sprung to life but whatever the case may be- I feel them now. This is as much due to being able to push through when things are hard as it is knowing when to call it quits.  

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I learned about the constantly evolving human. Even if we cannot change our bodies, our circumstances, our income, we can change our minds. We can change our outlook. We can change our perception. And that can change your whole life.

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I have so much more to learn and wonderful people to learn it with. Thank goodness. Here’s to 33.

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Postpartum Real Life

It’s hard to express how much I love my babies. The love is constantly evolving, growing deeper every day. It starts at this place deep in my chest that twists and wrenches tight when they cry. And when they smile, the warmth starts deep in my belly and blooms upward filling me.

But it’s also hard to express it, because it’s become increasingly clear to me that I have postpartum depression. People ask me how things are going, if the fog is starting to clear and I lie. Because we are still sleeping poorly at 5 months postpartum, my brain still feels broken and I have yet to regain control over my emotions.

I have two incredible children. Their voices fill my heart with joy. My husband is a supportive kind partner. I like my job. I do interesting, fulfilling work. Sometimes it is not enough. Sometimes it is more than enough.Logically, I know that I am lucky. In my best moments, I feel grateful and energetic. But so often I feel there is a wall blocking me from enjoying it.

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The wall effects the way I feel about Austin. It effects the way I feel about my home, my husband, myself. I hate that. I hate to admit it. I hate to think about it but there it is, all the same.

I am lucky to live in a time where women are sharing their stories, that struggling with a new baby is a common story that women are more honest about. Still I see picture perfect Instagram accounts, I see women getting through so much more than is on my plate and I think why can’t I do more?

Postpartum depression effects 1 in 8 women and yet we mostly hide it away, with little in the way of a safety net for new moms. Luckily when I described how I felt after my first pregnancy to my midwives, they recognized I had experienced it with Haines and shared with me that I would likely experience it again. So this time I’ve at least been able to recognize, this is not how I should be feeling. This time I’ve sought help. This time when I do things for myself, I try to recognize that it truly effects my mental health and isn’t just selfish.

I don’t write just to share. I write because I have so appreciated the women, friends and strangers alike, who share about their journey in motherhood raw and authentically. It has been enormously comforting to see the many paths of motherhood without the shine of glossy family photos.

I wish I had more words to describe this phase of life, but it’s too raw and too real. Too good and too hard. So I’ll just put this here for now.

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Back to Work

This week, after twelve quick weeks, I returned to work. In America, my friends congratulate me on being eligible and able to take advantage of the full twelve week leave. The men I know all say, “Wow, that’s a long time.” My friends in other countries think it is ridiculous that twelve weeks is considered ample time to recover and return to work. As someone who hasn’t slept a full night in months, I’m inclined to agree.

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I know there are so many benefits to being working parent. I drink my caffeine hot and enjoy adult conversations on a daily basis. I use my brain and solve problems that make me feel accomplished, even if just for the workday. I have a career, a boss, a field that I enjoy. Oh and the biggest advantage- dual income!

But I will never stop feeling that I am missing it. Not just missing out but truly missing “it.” Missing the best parts of the day with my boys. Missing them grow before my eyes. Missing everything. Our time together is mostly sleepy breakfasts, wrestling in and out of pajamas, perilous dinners (Will he throw a tantrum because we dared offer him food?), nursing in the wee hours, and reading a quick bed time book to one while the other protests, ready to be rocked to sleep. It is not nothing but it is also not enough. Would anything be?

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Even though I like most things about my job and my life, going back to work also makes me feel like I am running back into a hamster wheel. Thirteen hours of each day will be spent at full speed. Up at 6 so we can all get dressed, get fed, get out the door. Work hard to leave the office by 5 to get home, to get everyone fed, dressed, in bed around 7 before sweet tiredness turns into angry tears. Clean up, prep for tomorrow, take a shower in the hopes that there will be a few quiet, relaxing moments before nursing the baby again and lights out at ten.

There is no perfect balance. No parent doesn’t wish to be home, long to be at work, can’t wait for the kids to go to bed, and joyfully wake them up. Our situation will find its normal but for a few days at least I am giving myself the space to feel all the feelings as they are.

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There is something extra sad about going back to work this time knowing we will not be doing this again. We’ve decided our family feels just right as a foursome so there will be no more pregnancies, no more newborns, no more back to works. All of which is the right choice for us but it is hard not to feel wistful about the end of this chapter.

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My Baby Turned Two

As much as it is easy to be caught up in the rapid development that is our newborn’s, it is hard not to watch Haines’ development with bewilderment. Only a moment ago he had his first Christmas and now he’s turning 2. Already this year it is his third Christmas season. How can that be? He’s just starting out in the world after all!

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Baby’s First Christmas

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Patiently waiting his turn to go through his stocking last year

These last few weeks I have probably watched Haines more closely than normal, wondering how big brotherhood is effecting him and waiting for him to cross that final hurdle to full toddlerhood. He’s two now. No longer a baby, not yet a big kid. His words are joining to become two and three word sentences although he still often grunts and signs for things. He still sleeps in a crib but also brings his dishes to the sink after meals. Haines repeats everything we say, clearly noticing more and more around him each day.

What a strange world this is. We’re trying to figure out the balance of reasonable expectations and actions have consequences and picking what battles we want to fight. Of letting him explore and try new things OR this is not worth my sanity for his adventure.

I thought this holiday season he might be old enough to start to enjoy the stories and traditions but he is still too young. He doesn’t understand who Santa might be or why we decorate the tree, not the floor, with ornaments. I scaled back my tree decorating dreams and we skipped decorating cookies. There will be time for that yet.

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Instead we’re taking advantage of this last opportunity to get by with a little less. We celebrated Haines’ birthday with a trip to Enchanted Airlie (holiday light display) and a low-key party. Burgers, queso and cookie monster cupcakes. Haines loved the cupcakes but probably not as much as he loved the fruit and yogurt dip my mother made. As always, Nana is his favorite! I cleared the furniture out of the living room to let the kids take over and that was it. We didn’t get him a gift. We didn’t decorate the house. We just loved him a little more loudly and filled our house with friendly faces. It was the best.

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Living That Newborn Life

We’ve hit 7 weeks (I think) and little Austin is starting to take note of the world. He’s watching the ceiling fan, staring at the parrots on our couch (yes, our couch has a parrot pattern- don’t be jealous) and today I waved my hand in front of his eyes while talking to him and he smiled. My heart exploded. Then he pooped everywhere which pretty much sums up newborn life. One moment I’ve overjoyed, the next minute I’m overtired. I wear Austin most hours of the day, except overnight or when he’s being held by someone else. All hail the Ergo!

Life feels incredibly surreal. It is a list of things to do, things I want to do that constantly disappear on me. Was I going to do something today? What did I want from that store? I don’t remember. I’m cleaning the house 15 minutes at a time which means the house isn’t getting very messy but it also isn’t clean.

Parenting is a strange new world again. I don’t know how to chase a toddler while I wear an infant. I don’t know how to convince him to stop standing on the coffee table while I’m nursing. Haines is in the midst of testing the limits and I’m in the midst of my new mantra “surviving not thriving”.

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The newborn days have an extra complication of really needing to take care of yourself while a tiny person demands that their needs come first. There’s those first days immediately following birth where baby wants to cluster feed but your nipples seem to be falling off in pain.

You’re sleep deprived but every time you go to sleep your finely tuned mom ears wake you up with tiny baby noises. Plus there’s the checking to make sure they’re still alive. And the feedings.

Not to mention the area that is unmentionable. The stitches from tearing or an episiotomy and just the general feeling that you have been hit by a truck below the belt.

Nothing like trying taking care of your biz while your toddler accompanies you to the bathroom. A kind offer of “poop paper mama?” Why thank you dearest.

And then, for me at least, there is the feeling you’ve lost yourself. Not totally, but the person I was before kids feels as though it is growing farther away. I told Tyler a story about boogie boarding in New Zealand and he was surprised since I never want to do that here, when we live at the beach. But there was a time when I went boogie boarding and sky diving and traveled to countries where I didn’t speak the language. Where is that girl now?

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She’s changing diapers and worrying about a toddler’s cough and trying not to wish these days away. These are days that are precious, where every tiny movement and sound is a new development and these developments make my heart explode. Just as much as I explode I also dream of days when we can play games with the boys or take them camping. Days when I am not preoccupied by nap times and nursing. I dream of hikes alone or just remembering that I like to hike.

Oh, newborn days. I’m loving you. I’m tolerating you. I’ll miss you when you’re gone.

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Postpartum Life

The weeks after baby’s birth are beautiful and totally brutal. There is the incredible joy of the new arrival. There are so many quiet moments caught up in watching this little life. Watching his little fists swat around in a robotic dance makes me laugh. One day soon he will see his hands and look at them in amazement. Another milestone arrived and on to the next.

At two and a half weeks, he sleeps for a couple hours at a time. Every day or so, he does a four stretch. Sometimes this is at night, sometimes it’s not. His face, completely relaxed, lips smushed in a pout is a heart wrencher but also puts me into a full sprint towards the nearest couch or bed. Total joy and totally tired.

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He eats well, something to be thankful for. I am happy when he is full and peaceful, but I do not wake up gleeful at 4 am when it is time to feed again. I don’t want to change his diaper although I am glad it is wet or dirty. I don’t want to uncover my own warm body to fetch him from his bed and fill him up, but I do. It is a gift for me to get to do so and my gift to him. Once we are cuddled up together and I halt his cries, then I remember the simple joy of our togetherness. Although not when he wakes up again 30 minutes later with an unknown complaint, cries of gas or needed comfort or more hunger.

I find myself considerably more patient with those in my life who wear diapers than those who speak in full sentences. I am almost as easily offended as I am tired. I have eaten so many sweets my teeth feel like they’re rotting.

I spend an unreasonable amount of time on the internet during our endless nursing sessions. The first weeks after birth are a tough time to be on social media so much and yet it is hard to avoid when you are desperately trying to stay awake at all hours of the day and night. I look at photos of friends and strangers adventuring across the world, across town, across their neighborhood. At once I am both jealous and totally content. I would love to be galavanting through another country or exploring a trail or cooking a divinely fancy meal.

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This meal will mostly sound like, “Taco! Haines taco! Haines bite!”

But I would also like to be here, just where I am, watching one baby sleep, knowing the other is also resting and will come home soon to blabber on about his day which I may or may not understand. “Haines paint. Elmo music! Mason (insert something unintelligible).” My home is warm in contrast to this rainy, chilly day. I’m sitting at a table I helped my husband make. In every direction I see photos of our family, art that tells the story of our lives.

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Cousin love

There is also a pile of laundry and a vase of flowers that need to be thrown out. I should have wiped the table before sitting down. There are remnants of Haines’ breakfast sticking my sweater to the wood. My breasts are sore and quite possibly leaking. My clothes don’t fit. I am almost always aware of my stitches and the discomfort that increases when I walk or stand for long periods.

Parenting is complicated. It is being thankful and a bit wistful all at the same time as you move between phases of life: childless to parent, baby to toddler, one child to two. But it is undoubtedly the best thing to happen to me. There’s no place I’d rather be.

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Birth Story: The Arrival of Austin McGovern

I told myself all sorts of comforting lies while I was waiting for baby #2 to arrive.

He would be early. 

My labor would go more quickly with a second baby. 

I would be better prepared to handle the pain and discomfort of labor. 

Nope. As his due date approached everyone I saw reminded me he could arrive at any time and asked for an update on any signs he may make an appearance. There were none. Each day was a regular day. I wasn’t having any contractions, just the expected soreness of a woman carrying 40 extra pounds in her middle.

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Although I was tempted, I didn’t try to encourage the baby’s arrival. I took walks every day but didn’t chow down on jalapeños or drink castor oil, etc. I thought about it but I read a few articles that discussed how “natural induction methods” would only cause contractions not labor (oh, hell no). Most importantly though, I just wanted to give this baby the space to take his time.

Yes, I complained about waiting. Yes, I was getting frustrated and increasingly short with people who inquired about him. It felt like the ultimate game in patience, which is very dramatic of me as I went into labor only two days after the due date.

We were hoping for a punctual baby on October 26th but on October 29th just after we put Haines down for his nap, I had my first contraction. Tyler was trying to get me out of the house for a mental health break but I found myself frozen in pain in our kitchen. I went to bed instead.

With Haines my contractions slowly increased in frequency and intensity. This time they  started with a higher intensity and were irregular for hours. Contractions are jerks. Because of my previous history (tested GBS negative but Haines developed sepsis at 2 weeks old) our midwife encouraged us to go ahead and come in so I could get antibiotics in plenty of time. My midwife practice seemed as traumatized as we were by that experience.

Laboring at home is definitely my preference. Last time I felt much more able to handle the pain, channel my thoughts, be distracted, etc. At the hospital I was just watching the clock. An hour has passed, where were we now? Any progression? It felt like torture BUT the anxiety of not knowing when to leave for the hospital for antibiotics had also weighed heavily on us. I barely got to the hospital in time to deliver Haines and Tyler was especially worried about a repeat.

When I arrived at the hospital I was only 3 cm which is basically… nothing. My contractions were only 10-12 minutes a part and manageable pain wise. The hardest part was how nauseous I felt. My midwife encouraged me to eat (a pleasant surprise!) but I stuck to ginger ale and ice.

After several hours of laboring at the hospital and only progressing to 5 cm my midwife broke my water in an effort to speed things up. In case you were wondering, that is a very unpleasant experience. My midwife felt sure this would do the trick but two hours later I was not quite 7 cm and completely worn out. The contractions felt brutal. The idea of an epidural had previously terrified me but I was ready for some help.

Honestly I had been so proud of myself for having a natural birth with Haines, I really wanted to do it again. It was solely a pride/vanity issue. Now? Now I know that epidurals can be the best thing ever. It kicked in quickly and my contractions all but melted away. My midwife gave me pitocin while I took a nap and I woke up a couple hours later ready to roll. She came in to check me and found the baby’s head coming her way!

I was completely taken off guard that it was time to push but we got started immediately. In 3 contractions, Austin McGovern joined the world!

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When Haines was first placed on my chest, I felt terrified. I was overwhelmed by giving birth. I was overwhelmed by having a baby. The joy of his arrival was completely overshadowed by the incredible change that had just taken place in my world. When Austin was placed on my chest, it felt like everything. I don’t know how to describe the way the room came to life, the total joyous tears and chaos as everyone celebrated his arrival.

And instead of feeling like Austin was a stranger, I knew him. He was mine, he was ours. He was here.

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