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All Done

nursing

“Mama. Mama.” Tiny mewls.

“Shhhhh. Mama’s right here.”

Mike nudges me softly.  “She’s in the other room.”

“Huh? Oh.” I wrench myself from sleep. My body weighs a thousand pounds as I drag it from the bed, across the room. Her door so close to ours I’m opening it as I’m closing mine.

“Mama. Mama.”

“Scootch over.” She wiggles and I realize she’s halfway down the bed. I pull her up towards me and I can practically hear her smiling as she smacks her lips. Her feet are like ice.

“Let’s pull up the covers. Are you okay?”

“Yeah.”

I pull the covers over us as she presses her cold feet into the tops of my thighs, squirms into my arms and latches on. It hurts. She nurses like someone drinking who hasn’t tasted water in days. It’s a starving kind of pulling and tugging. Her strong-still-small hands knead at me the way a kitten kneads its mother-cat.

When she was newborn her little feet wriggled against my soft belly, toes digging into my new-mother body. Now her feet reach down to my knees. But here we are still, mother and child, nursing in the early morning hours.

She’ll be two in two weeks. And then we’re done. With this, this part of our relationship. We – I – have to be. She doesn’t understand yet. I’ve told her, again and again, but she has no frame of reference for this.

“Mama is taking her milk to New York City and leaving it there. In Central Park, at Bethesda Fountain. When Mama comes home, the milk will be all gone.” I show her the calendar. “See? This box is today. This one is tomorrow. Here is your birthday. And here is the weekend Mama takes the milk to New York City.”

She stares at me, enormous indigo eyes, her serious face framed by wild, golden hair. “Mama mee-oke? Eva need her mama-mee-oke,”

“I know baby. For a little while longer,”

“Mama take her meee-oke to New Yoke City. Put it da Def-da foun-ten.”

I have so many feelings about this. All the feelings. This has been her main source of comfort her entire life. It’s our go-to for security, safety, nourishment, love.

Think about that. Think about something you’ve known and loved and cherished your entire life being taken away from you. Permanently. Without your consent. You’d grieve, right? Feel angry and heart broken. I am steeling myself for this. For taking this from her. My first betrayal as a mother.

When we nurse, she is, again, a newborn in my arms. My tiny, perfect babe. But she’s not a newborn. She’ll be two in two weeks. I don’t want to breastfeed a preschooler. I just don’t. So I’m being selfish. Taking my body back. No more. All done.

She suckles and squirms. We’re curled on our sides, belly to belly. She pulls her feet from off my thighs and drapes her legs over my hips. Her long, strong legs. I wrap an arm around her waist, stroke her back, breathe deep the sweet smell of her head. The sun is making the night sky pink as we drift back to sleep.

Happy (Early) Halloween!

Little Miss Eva as Annie Oakley and her trusted steed, Pony Boy*

You’re welcome. 😀

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Photos courtesy of Stephanie Gill Photography.
Gorgeousness courtesy of my daughter, Eva.

*Annie Oakley didn’t really have a horse named Pony Boy. But Eva sure does!

Snippets

Eva 2 months old

I remember…

…settling into the sofa, knowing I wouldn’t get up again for the next eight hours at least. Mike leaving for class or work, my chest tightening, deep breath, we’ll be okay. Stockpiling the end table with liters of water, pistachios, roasted almonds, dried cranberries, dates, dried apricots and dried cherries, a cup of coffee hot and creamy, an extra pair of breast shields, a nail file to file down sharp newborn nails, my phone, and all the TV remotes. Comfy clothes and lots of pillows and just me and Eva for hours and hours while she nursed, napped, nursed, napped, nursed throughout the day. I would tuck her, naked except her diaper, inside my loose shirt to keep her skin-to-skin. Leaving the sofa only to change her diaper or use the bathroom. Michelle or my mother would come around lunch time to fix me a sandwich and hold her while I ate. If they had a little extra time I’d hop in the shower while they cuddled her. I watched two seasons of “Call the Midwife” and season 6 of “Mad Men” this way…

…how terrified I was of dropping her, or of someone else dropping her…

…touching my face in the shower, my still half-paralyzed face, a face I’d spent years analyzing for flaws, hating and picking and feeling ashamed of. Touching this face with my fingers and feeling not my face, but my daughter’s face instead, and suddenly being overwhelmed with self-love, something I had not ever experienced in my entire life. Touching my belly, still big and round, now soft and squishy. Loving this big soft belly that housed my daughter, wanting to show it off and proclaim to anyone who would listen: THIS belly made this baby! This belly was her home! This gorgeous, big, round, squishy belly! How Eva kneaded my belly with her toes and how I was so happy and glad that my body was soft and big like a pillow for her tiny body to curl into…

…how proud and delighted I was when, at her three-day check-up, I learned she had gained six ounces since her birth, instead of losing weight like most babies do. My milk was making her nice and fat and I was amazed and thrilled when the doctor told me how she was thriving…

…the dark downy fur across the backs of her shoulders and her lower back, down into her bottom. My little monkey baby…

…how her fingers reminded me of an old lady’s fingers, how they were somehow familiar, like I’d seen those old lady fingers before, on my Aunt Sue maybe?…

…how she snuggled her face into my bosom after nursing, as if it was the world’s most comfortable, coziest pillow…

Mama, Papa, Baby and dogs

Little Bits

 

Newborn baby, mother, and dog

I remember…

…the morning light filtering through the tree outside our bedroom window and Mike coming in with a smile on his face and a hot cup of coffee for me. My heart so full it might burst, our tiny, perfect child tucked into my arm, the two of us in a comfortable nest of pillows, her little hands massaging for more milk, suckling, suckling, suckling. I remember being so amazed that I was able to breastfeed, that I was making milk and that it was making her bigger every day. I have a thousand fuzzy cell phone photos of her little head on my breast, nursing, then milk-drunk and fast asleep…

…feeling afraid each evening as the sun went down, scared because the day was ending and no, I wasn’t ready for that, please don’t let the day end yet. Tomorrow she’ll be bigger and we’ll be one day closer to real life, going back to work, commitments and responsibilities. I wanted this time, this perfect peaceful time of rest and bonding to last forever…

…being afraid to turn off the lights and say goodnight because what if, when I woke up in the morning, she was gone? I worried about SIDS until my chest closed and I couldn’t breathe. I remember talking about my fears in our Newborn Parenting Support class, tears streaming down my face, what if what if what if? I read everything I could about it, knowing the information would either make my fears worse or ease them. It eased them. I did everything they say to do to protect her but even now I still worry…

…my father calling every day on his lunch hour, to check in, offer to bring me lunch, ask to hold the baby even just for a few minutes. Of course, Papa. I would say. Come! Hold your granddaughter… and then I could slip away and take a hot shower knowing Eva was in arms and listening to a beating heart that loved her…

Sweetly Sleeping Infant

…waking up in the middle of the night with her, so tired, so tired. Little cries. Is this really my life? This exhausted magic? Change a diaper, tip toe through the little dark apartment, her breath on my neck, little hands to her tiny mouth, small sucking sounds and chirps. My heart fluttering and my eyes bleary, the red light from the snake tank our only light. Shapes in the shadows, shhhhh, its okay, we’re okay, nothing can harm us, we’re safe…

…my mother bought us these incredible steaks and Mike fixed them with vegetables for a fantastic dinner, which we ate in bed against a pile of pillows, the baby on my knees, so small, so sweet. Awake, alert, watching us with her newborn eyes…

…my father, who’s never done a load of laundry in his entire seventy-five years of life, folding my sheets and pajamas and Mike’s underpants while I nursed a hungry baby…

Breastfeeding a newborn

…watching my beloved husband fall deeper and deeper in love with his daughter every day…

Father and Newborn Baby

 

9 Months In, 9 Months Out

9 months pregnant

38, nearly 39 weeks pregnant – the night my water broke

Eva and me, 9 months post-partum

38 weeks, nearly 39 weeks postpartum

Exactly nine months ago today I pissed myself on the landing outside my front door while leashing up the dogs for a walk. Except it wasn’t actually pee. Just, you know, amniotic fluid. Still blows my mind.

Tomorrow Eva will be nine months old. I can’t wrap my head around it. On one hand I feel like she was JUST born and on the other hand I can’t remember my life without her in it. How is it possible that just a minute ago she looked like this:

newborn baby

And now she looks like this:

8 month old infant standing

Trippy trippy trippity trip.

She’s completely mobile now. She crawls super fast, pulls herself up on everything from the coffee table to my legs. She’s started cruising – taking wobbly steps while she she moves along furniture, the side of her crib, whatever. She loves bath time, chasing the dogs, licking their bowls, pressing her face into the screen door, going for walks with her papa. She still nurses nearly every two hours but also eats whatever I’m eating. Most of it ends up in her hair or on her lap, but every day a little bit more ends up in her tummy. I’m still squeezing her into my favorite of her nine-month outfits, but her twelve-month clothes fit better. She sleeps in her crib from about 7:30 p.m. until her first feeding after we’ve gone to bed, then I bring her into our bed to snuggle and nurse. Some nights she sleeps long stretches and some nights she wakes every twenty minutes. On those nights I remind myself that she will never again be as small as she is right now. And I take a deep breath, exhale, then smell the top of her delicious head, press my lips to her forehead and thank heaven for the gift of her in my arms.

In some ways I still feel like we are very much one unit, she and I. Like I’m still pregnant, almost. For 18 months my body has belonged to her and its been an incredibly profound experience. I’ve never used a stroller, but wear her every where. She’s never taken a bottle and so I’ve never left her with anyone for more than a couple of hours – and I can count on both hands how many times I’ve done that. I had no idea that I would be so comfortable belonging to someone else completely – but its been incredible. Like this was what I was born to do. This is why I exist. To mother this child. To care for her, protect her, nourish her, bathe her, encourage her, watch her, learn from her. I’ve never felt so alive, so full, so happy in my life.

But I’d be lying if I said there haven’t been days (and nights) when I felt like my heart was in a vice grip. Once when she was three months old and wouldn’t stop screaming I drove her to my mother’s house, handed her over, and went upstairs to sob until I had no tears left. The thought of spending the day with a screaming baby (she was not sick or dirty or cold, no diaper pin sticking her – she was just having a bad day) was too much to bare and it was either take her to my mother’s or put her in her crib and leave. I was lucky to have my mother so close by. And lucky because I knew it was normal to have that kind of day. But I think I’m especially lucky because those days (and nights) have been so far and few between.

So here’s to nine months of boundless joy. My love, my heart, my soul, my Eva Milan.

 Newborn portrait

Empress Eva, 5 days new

8 mo old at Farm Fair

Last Sunday, at the Pierce College Pumpkin Patch and Animal Farm

Gremlin Face

I call this “gremlin face” aka the face she makes when she’s hungry and PISSED. It cracks me up when she screws up her face like this right before she CHOMPS down on my nip. My lord I love this kid.

Eva Milan

Eva Milan, named for her Dutch grandmother and her Austrian Great-Grandfather.  Born January 17, 2014 at 8:09 p.m. She was 6 pounds, 14 ounces, just over 18 inches long, but by her 3 day pediatrician appointment she was already 7 pounds, 2 ounces and 19.75 inches! Such a good little eater!

A post about her birth is coming, I promise, I cannot wait to write it out, it was incredible. The short version: Seven hours of labor, about 25 minutes of pushing, and BOOM. Our lives were altered, beautifully, forever.

We’ve spent the last eleven days in absolute bliss, snuggled in a cozy nest of love and happiness. Being this little girl’s mama is the best thing I’ve ever done in my life. Mike is the best Papa ever – I’m constantly knocked out by how sweet, gentle, and loving he is with her. He melts my heart constantly. There is not a single moment that goes by where I don’t feel humbled by the miracle of her in my arms. I feel like my cup runneth over, my blessings are sky-high. She is my heart, my soul, my love.

The minute my water broke and I realized she was coming, I forgot about the Bell’s Palsy – it didn’t matter anymore. And since her birth, I’ve fallen in love with my body and my self in a way I never could have imagined. She’s given me a new life – so her name, which means “giver of life” is more perfect than we could have known. I feel like a warrior, a goddess, a tiger with her cubs. I feel incredible. She is incredible. Oh my gosh I cannot stop gushing. But that is enough for now. More later. Promise, promise.

In the meantime, here are some photos:

Eva’s Birth Day

Newborn Bliss

Love you all.

Day 6

I really wish that I could tell you that I’m getting used to this new face of mine, that this situation is getting easier to live with, that I’m doing okay. But the truth is that it’s getting harder, not easier. I’m getting more discouraged, more frustrated, more depressed, not less. Every morning I wake up and I hope I’ll see some kind of improvement, and I don’t. It hasn’t been a week yet, everyone reminds me. It’s too soon, they say. But they aren’t the ones with the half-frozen face.

It really surprises me how much of my identity was wrapped up in my face. I thought I’d grown past that. But I don’t recognize myself anymore. I look in the mirror and there is a stranger looking back at me. A sad, lonely stranger. I am grieving for my lost smile, the ease with which I once sipped soup from a spoon or bit into an apple. I can’t wear my contacts anymore because my left eye doesn’t close all the way and dries out too quickly. I feel lost and terribly alone.

A week ago I felt great, everything was great, I was happy, I was so excited to meet my baby girl that I was actually hoping she’d be born before her due date. I couldn’t wait to experience labor, birth, then hold her in my arms. Now, when I have a particularly intense Braxton Hicks contraction, I weep and beg her not to come because I can’t bear the thought of bringing her into this world when my head is so fucked up and my heart aches so much.

Then I hate myself because really, I’m so terribly vain. And selfish. Things could be so much worse. I am so lucky. I am healthy. Everyone I love is healthy. I’m surrounded by people who love and support me. My little girl is developing beautifully. Nothing is wrong with her. I look weird, that is all. Get over it already.

I wish I was a better person. I wish I didn’t care so much. I wish I had enough self-confidence that I could hold my head up high and grin my lop-sided sneer of a grin and not give a fuck what anyone thought and not think anything bad about myself. But it just hurts. I don’t even know how my husband can stand to look at me. He didn’t sign up for this, I tell myself. And yet here he is, stuck with a disfigured wife.

He keeps telling me I’m beautiful but I just feel like he’s lying.

And I feel like I’m failing my baby. My feelings, my emotions, every sob and gasp filters through me and into her. I’ve destroyed her peaceful nest in my womb, poisoned her with all my self-hatred and fear. She hasn’t been born yet and I’m already letting her down.

I made a video. So you can see what I look like now. So I can look back later, perhaps with a little more self-love, and remember what this felt like, what I really looked like. Maybe I’ll think it wasn’t that bad. Maybe it will improve. Maybe it will be permanent. Maybe I’ll heal completely. Maybe I won’t. There’s no way to know. But somehow I have to figure out how to love myself like this, how to be okay like this, I have to get my head on straight and remember what’s important and count my blessings and get ready for this little girl to be born because she could be here tomorrow and she needs a mama who isn’t a complete fucking wreck. She deserves that at least.

My New Face

I woke up Tuesday morning and lounged in bed for a bit, relaxing. I’d slept well. I felt good. Except for my left eye, which felt a little weird, like it wouldn’t close all the way when I blinked, but whatever. Mike was grinding coffee in the kitchen, the whirr of the blades drew me from bed. My small cup of morning coffee always a treat, something to look forward to. I brushed my teeth, filled my mouth with water to rinse, and water sprayed from the left side of my mouth, down my swollen belly.

What. the. fuck.

I smiled at myself in the mirror, a strange grin, because only half my face smiled back at me.

I thought I was having a stroke. Mike tested me (thank heavens for EMT-trained husbands) and assured me that wasn’t what was happening. “But call the doctor,” he said, “let’s get you checked out.” While I was on the phone, he was googling, and bless his heart he didn’t tell me what he read. Later on he mentioned that I should NEVER google medical symptoms, but darling, I told him, I already knew that.

We checked into Labor & Delivery around 10:30 a.m. It’s where Kaiser sends any pregnant woman with any medical concerns. They had me undress, put me in bed, hooked me up to a million machines, wanted to keep an eye on the baby. She’s doing fine, they promised. She’s perfect.

Thank God.

My OB came and checked me out. Said it’s probably Bells Palsy, but he wanted the house MD to see me too. He left. We waited. They brought us lunch – sandwiches and fruit salad. The house MD came in, made me run through a million stroke tests, just to rule everything out. Was perplexed by the pain in my neck and the numbness in my tongue. Left. We waited.

My OB came back and said he’d spoken to someone in neurology. It’s probably just Bells Palsy, he assured us, but they’ve ordered an MRI to rule out stroke, blood clots, brain tumors. He left. We waited. I cried. Mike held me.

“Everything has been perfect so far, so easy, why is this happening?”

“Because things can’t be perfect all the time. Life would get too boring.”

The nursing staff was lovely. Brought us snacks, water, cranberry juice. I tried to nap. Got up and walked around. Did some yoga stretches on the bed. Practiced my deep, slow, labor breathing.

At 4:25 they brought a wheel chair in, guided us through hallways and corridors, me in my hospital gown, a blanket around my shoulders, my bare feet on the cold metal foot pads. I thought, “I’m so glad I’ve kept my pedicures up.” And then, “If its a stroke, or a blood clot, they’ll probably have to do emergency surgery. And they’ll start with a c-section. And I might never get to hold my baby.” And then I practiced my slow, deep breathing some more.

The MRI wasn’t so bad. I can see how easy it would be to panic inside one of those machines. I kept my eyes closed the whole time, except my left eye which leaked in bright lights, white, clinical plastic. I took slow, deep breaths. A single tear slid down my right temple, pooled in my hair. I started counting my inhales and exhales in time with the unbelievable cacophony of the MRI. Inhale – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. Exhale – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 , 10, 11, 12. When thoughts crept in I reminded myself, Inhale – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. Exhale – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 , 10, 11, 12. Twenty-five minutes passed like five and we were done.

I waited for the nurse to collect me, Mike from the waiting room, and take us back to L&D. I cried quietly into my hands, so people wouldn’t see. A woman in scrubs congratulated us on our new baby, assuming that’s why we were being wheeled into L&D. A stupid assumption from a medical professional, especially when the mother is weeping silently, face buried in shaking hands.

I got back into bed. Mike rubbed my back and whispered sweet things in my ear. We waited. They brought us dinner. At 6:30 we got the results. All clear. It’s Bells Palsy for sure. No big deal. A strict regimen of Prednisone (completely safe to take while pregnant, they insisted) should show improvement in a week. I should have full use of my face again in about two weeks. It could have been so much worse.

They released us at 7:30. It was 8:45 before we left the hospital, long lines in the pharmacy. Sick people coughing all over us.

I’ve been “the pretty girl” most of my life. An awkward child with glasses and gap teeth, I bloomed in junior high and never looked back. I haven’t always felt pretty, or thought I was pretty enough, but it wasn’t until I was a grown, married woman that I began to learn that my pretty face isn’t the most important part of who I am. Still, I’m vain enough that this, this paralysis of the left side of my face, the lopsided smile and gecko-blinking eyes, hurts my ego in a very deep, hard way.

“I deserve this,” I told Mike.

“You do not deserve this.”

“I do. There’s a lesson to learn here.”

It’s okay if you think I sound shallow and silly. I feel shallow and silly. I am so, so, so unbelievably lucky, I know. For all the things it could have been, it’s likely only temporary. And most importantly of all, no matter what happened to me, the baby girl in my belly is 100% unaffected and totally, absolutely healthy. I couldn’t ask for more than that.

I consulted with four doctors, my midwife, my doula (who is more than my doula, she’s been my friend for seventeen years), and my family before I agreed to take the Prednisone. I haven’t even felt comfortable taking Tylenol since I’ve been pregnant, and Prednisone is a serious steroid. But everyone told me the risks of not taking the Prednisone far outweighed the risk of taking it, so I’m taking it. I started acupuncture yesterday, too, because Mike read that it yields the best results for Bells Palsy.

Talking is difficult. Eating is difficult. I drool a little. When I drink, whatever I’m drinking leaks out the side of my mouth. Using a straw is worse because I can’t wrap my lips around it properly.  The muscles in my jaw and the right side of my face ache from over-compensating. I’m terribly self-conscious. I’m working on my attitude. There’s a lesson to learn here, I know it. But I’m still trying to figure out what it is.

 

Not much longer…

33 weeks and 5 days..

We’re half-way through the eighth month of pregnancy and Niblet is approximately 18 inches long and about five pounds. If she were born now, she’d have an excellent chance of survival and likely wouldn’t have any lasting health problems. HOWEVER, the longer she stays in, the stronger her lungs, the more developed her brain, and the better off she will be. So, Niblet. STAY PUT. Trust me, life inside the womb is about a million times easier than life outside the womb, so no rush baby girl. No rush.

She’s as busy as ever. I don’t really feel “kicks” anymore, just elbows and knees sliding around, and little feet poking out under my sternum when she stretches her legs. Mike has always said that sleeping next to me is like sleeping next to a sack of elbows and when I’m out of town he says he only needs to put a pile of rocks and twigs in the bed and he wouldn’t miss me at all. So now that there are all these knees and elbows sticking out of my belly all the time, he teases that Niblet takes after me completely. I like to press my belly against his back when we’re falling asleep and let Niblet poke at him with all her pointy appendages. It always makes him laugh. I can’t believe I’m going to be putting those little appendages in my mouth soon. (What? You don’t want to eat baby elbows and knees for supper? YOU KNOW YOU DO.)

I’m still feeling great, though my energy is beginning to lag. My midwife put me on restricted work hours, so I’m down from 40-45 hours a week to 30 hours a week max. I thought I’d use all that extra time to finish the nursery and get ready for the holidays but Niblet has had other plans. She insists I spend all that extra time napping and who am I to argue with a developing fetus?

Most of my symptoms have stayed the same: Lush hair, gorgeous skin on my face – but don’t hate me because my behind and the backs of my legs tell a different story. (Who the F gets acne all over the backs of their legs?? ME WHEN I’M PREGNANT, APPARENTLY.) I’ve developed a faint linea nigra and I kind of love it. I have heart burn sometimes, but it’s never awful and it never lasts long. I can’t hide my toots anymore. They just poomp out whenever they want. I have no control. Mike laughs, thank goodness.

Everything makes me cry now, it’s such a cliche. I mean, I don’t CRY cry, but pretty much everything makes me choke up. Happy things, sweet things, anything baby related, you get the idea. My bellybutton is turned completely inside out and my favorite thing to do is torture Mike by trying to stick it into his inny bellybutton. I call it “sweet sweet bellybutton lovemaking”. HE HATES IT. And he’s afraid to push me away because he doesn’t want to hurt Niblet, so I just torture him and torture him and torture him. Bwahahahaha!

The Braxton Hicks contractions I’ve been having since week six have started getting pretty intense. I never have more than a few a day or three in an hour, so midwife insists it’s just good practice and nothing to worry about. This probably sounds nuts, but I’m really looking forward to labor. I’m not super jazzed about the part where an eight pound human pushes out of my girl bits, but I’m really looking forward to the rest of it.

Pregnancy brain is in full force. I completely forgot to take a 33 week photo and I haven’t updated my handwritten pregnancy journal since week 30. Christmas is in less than a week and I haven’t done any Christmas shopping, or any Christmas baking. I haven’t finished my State Bar Law Study Semi-Annual Report and I haven’t made any progress on Niblet’s nursery since before Thanksgiving.

HOWEVER, I had lovely maternity photos taken and even got a Christmas photo out of them, and then I proceeded to send out over 30 Christmas cards, which felt like a HUGE accomplishment. Last Sunday I had a Super day and decorated for Christmas, washed six loads of laundry, then sanded Niblet’s dresser so Mike can paint it (using no-VOC paints with no-VOC colorants, OF COURSE.) But most of my time is spent napping. And keeping my feet up. And marveling at the water monkey and her adorable uterine acrobatics. And practicing my non-medical labor comfort techniques with Mike every night before bed. And attending Baby Care and Child Birth classes. And reading baby books.

Only four to eight weeks left of this journey and then our lives change forever. I can’t wait.