Saturday, August 30, 2014

Postpartum "vacation"



John had one week off to help me after Miriam was born, and he had high standards for himself.  He was going to do ALL THE THINGS!  And I was going to get to stay in bed and do nothing but nurse and recover, because he was going to consider himself a complete failure if I was forced to do anything else.

On Wednesday, after the midwife left, I napped and tried not to move because my abdominal muscles were utterly shot.  John did a ton of laundry and cleaned the entire house and served me dinner in bed.  Marko recovered from his fever and tried to fight with Michael, so he also kept the two of them entertained.

That night, Miriam nursed ALL NIGHT.  Well, I believe there was actually a nap in there somewhere, but my main memory is of watching the clock slowly count off the hours and wondering if I was ever going to get to sleep, and if Miriam was going to do this every night for her first year of life, which is about how it felt with Michael.  Periodically -- like every half hour -- Michael woke up crying.  I have no idea why his sleep has regressed so much, but he was up eight times that night.  John took care of that of course since I was nonstop nursing.  And Michael's sleep has continued bad ever since.

On Thursday, Michael woke up with a fever and then threw up when we tried to give him breakfast.  He wasn't willing to just sleep all day like Marko had been -- no, he had to be held and comforted a lot.  And Marko was crabby from having just been sick, so he threw fits about Michael sleeping on the couch (HIS spot to be sick in!) or in the bedroom (HIS room!).  I spent the day trying to nap while also nursing.  I also ended up nursing both Michael and Miriam together, something I wasn't sure I was going to do, but Michael was so sick and pitiful and Miriam wouldn't give me a break to pay attention to him, so that was what I did.  And I felt really good about that -- that I could give each what they needed at the same time.  I was glad to be able to give Michael something so good for him while he was sick.

On Friday, my milk came in.  That's great as far as the baby's concerned -- she finally got a full belly and napped! -- but it comes with downsides like waking up in a puddle of milk.  Oh well.  The kids were both well enough to go to the grocery store with John and lay in a supply of food.  Miriam started sleeping great -- two hours of sleep, provided I was always touching her, and then a good nurse and straight back to sleep.  That is what I call STELLAR sleep for a newborn.

On Saturday, Marko came down with an awful cold.  This cold comes with copious snot and coughing oneself and one's brother awake all night.

On Sunday, Michael got the cold too.  The two of them have been venting their yucky feelings by grabbing each other's toys and biting each other.  John has resorted to a lot of movies to entertain them, and for once I have no complaints about that.  Ya gotta do what ya gotta do.  That afternoon I started to feel like I could actually do stuff, and I used that amazing energy to walk outside to get some sun.  (Because Miriam is perfect in every way, she has no jaundice at all, but it can't hurt anyway, right?)  I sat in a chair for two minutes and then the neighbors showed up to talk over the fence, so I got up and walked over there to show them the baby.  BAM, stepped on a bee because I was barefoot (not planning to be walking around much, you know!) and not watching my feet (because I had the baby).  I didn't get the stinger out right away, because I was reacting slowly and of course had to find a place to put the baby in, and perhaps that is why the reaction I had to this sting was the worst I've had yet.  My foot started swelling right away and I couldn't walk on it without excruciating pain and itching until Wednesday.

Monday, I spent on the couch with my foot elevated, unable to walk and trying hard to ignore the itching, because scratching makes it a thousand times worse.  In a way it was for the best, because I did need to rest anyway and at least it was while John was there, but it was infuriating all the same.  The kids climbed all over me and whined a lot.  I read them some books and they coughed all over the baby.  She might be a good eater and a good sleeper, but she is NOT good about being put down.  I have held her pretty near 24/7 for her entire life.  I laid her down to type this and we'll just have to see how it lasts.

That night, right around when we went to bed, Michael started to cry.  John went to take care of him, but for once he didn't settle down for him.  I lay awake, next to Miriam because I knew if I moved I'd wake her, hearing John take Michael out to the living room and try in vain to calm him down.  I heard a lot of "I want Mama" and suffered the most guilt I've felt since Miriam was born.  I'd been feeling so good about her, but I felt awful because it seemed I'd gotten a great baby, and Michael just got nothing.  Here he was sick with a cold and his throat hurting, and couldn't have his Mama when he wanted her.

Eventually I got so upset that I decided I just HAD to get up, so I took sleepy Miriam with me and sat on the couch with Michael.  But it didn't help, he just sat there howling.  Nothing I said or did was any comfort; he was in that worked-up state when literally nothing helps.  I remember Marko having fits like that at about the same age, and feeling so guilty because nursing was the one thing that might have calmed him down, and now he was weaned and we didn't have that option.  So I handed off Miriam to John and nursed Michael.  Sure enough, it calmed him right down and he started getting sleepy.  But then Miriam started to wake up, and I felt like I was in a race against time -- get Michael to sleep before Miriam woke up.  I thought for a bit that Michael was asleep, tried to unlatch him, and instantly the screaming resumed.  Ugh.  Miriam woke up and I could hear her getting restless as John tried to console her with a pacifier.  Finally I asked Michael, "Would you like to lie in your bed with your blanket?"  He let go and said yes (he'd been begging to get in his bed, but we wouldn't let him because he was screaming too loud and would have woken up Marko) and I carried him to his bed.  Amazingly, he actually did lie down and go to sleep.  At last!  It had been about 90 minutes of screaming.

The next day I could call The Day of Irrational Screaming.  Because that's basically all either kid did.  At least we parents didn't do any screaming.  We just kind of held screaming children and showed them movies.  I sat on the couch another day because the swelling was even worse.  I couldn't spread my toes because they were so swollen they were always touching.  The swelling went several inches above my ankle; if I bent my ankle (like by standing up) I got a big white crease there; if I stood up, my whole foot blanched white.  Nothing helped.  It was awful.  Couldn't take benadryl because I was cosleeping day and night and couldn't chance being groggy.  I think it was also this day that John came down with the same cold the kids had.  He has had a sore throat and been coughing and sneezing constantly.  Sleep would be good, but he's been up half a dozen times every night and often getting up for the day at five.  And I couldn't help at all because I couldn't walk or put down Miriam.

Wednesday I could sort of walk, so I did some things.  I was able to make breakfast for the kids and lunch for myself.  But still, even with two parents, Marko and Michael seemed too much to handle.  So much whining and crying.  So much fighting.

And then on Thursday John went back to work!


I had imagined a week off work would be a lovely vacation for John.  Instead, it was really, really rough.  Every day he did laundry (we seem to have too few cloth diapers, oops), dishes, cleaned up, and made three meals a day as well as fetching me water and taking care of all my needs because I couldn't get up most of the week.  It kind of was a nice vacation for me, except that what I would really like is a vacation where I could DO stuff.  Lying in bed, even with a good book, gets old after a bit.  But I do feel pretty well rested and recovered from the birth.  I seem to be managing okay with three kids, though still there is a lot of screaming and fighting.  The boys are really struggling.  Instead of being obviously jealous of the baby, they're jealous of each other.  They seem convinced that there will never be enough toys, food, lap space, or attention for both of them.

Miriam, though, is happy and contented all the time.  She seems comfortable, cries very little, sleeps through being swung around in my arm while with the other arm I separate screaming children, sleeps decently well at night, and gained back her birthweight in four days.  I wish I could put her down, but I think that's just a newborn thing and that she'll be able to sleep on her own at some point.  Already she will tolerate some time in her bouncer while she's awake, just looking around at everything while I rush around going potty and refilling all the sippy cups.  I don't want to speak too soon, but she is looking like she might be an Easy Baby!

I am not going to lie and say "this is easy, I should definitely not be afraid of doing this again."  But I am going to say "this is easier than I remembered, and I didn't need to be quite as afraid as I was."  Miriam is a way easier baby than Michael was, and although the boys are struggling, I think they will be okay.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Miriam's birth story

I meant to write a blog post earlier last week about how terrible the last few weeks of pregnancy are.  It seems to be universal -- every time I would say I was 38 or 39 weeks pregnant, all the mothers around would nod sagely and be extra nice to me.  They know.

It's this awful combination of discomfort, impatience, and fear.  The certain knowledge that things aren't going to get any better until they first get much worse, combined with the uncertainty of not knowing at what moment anything is going to happen.  You make no plans, because you don't want to cancel them, and then you sit around bored because you have no plans.  You get the house spotless in preparation for the birth, and then it gets messed up again and still no baby.

I missed out on this whole stage last time, because I really wasn't expecting Michael as soon as he came.  And though it really is a miserable time, I think it was a disadvantage to miss out on it -- I hadn't had a chance to really want him yet!  This time, I was afraid to be that emotionally unprepared, so I started at 37 weeks trying to feel ready, visualizing the birth, visualizing having a new baby, and sure enough, I did start to feel ready!  And then the baby didn't show up for weeks more and I felt over-ready.

Then the baby dropped down and wedged into my pelvis so I couldn't walk without pain, so I got to spend a miserable week or so unable to do any more preparations or any of the things I enjoy, yet without a baby to enjoy either.  I got pretty whiny.  If I could at least have known when the birth would happen, I wouldn't have minded so much.  As it was, I felt like I was being expected to go calmly about my business while at any moment a guy might jump from under my bed or over the hedge, beat the stuffing out of me, and hand me a baby.  I didn't sleep very well.

I finished the sock yarn I wanted to finish, got over the cold I wanted to get over, and passed the date of John's campaign event I didn't want him to have to miss.  Still nothing.  On Saturday I had a lot of contractions.  On Tuesday I had a lot more.  That made me feel better -- at last something was happening, even if it wasn't labor itself.

But on Tuesday, something else happened -- Marko got a fever of 104.  He slept all day and wasn't looking so good.  I wasn't really worried -- high fever showing up fast suggests a virus -- but I was glad I hadn't had the baby yet.  I hoped we'd have everyone well before I went into labor.  Then that night Michael was up for a long time in the middle of the night, so I was exhausted in the morning.

So, Wednesday, the 20th, my mom's birthday.  She wanted me to have the baby that day, but between my exhaustion and Marko still not being well, I decided certainly it would not be a good day.  Marko got out of bed, tried to eat breakfast, and puked all over instead.  John said, "You want me to stay home?"  I said, "Nah, I can handle some vomit."  I put Marko back to bed and made some granola.

John had been gone for about half an hour when, about 8:30, I had a huge, painful contraction.  The kind that I have never had except when in active labor.  But I didn't want to have the baby that day, so I thought, "Maybe it's just an upset stomach from too much granola."  So I went to the bathroom and then went on with my morning.  Let the dog out, let the dog in, let the chickens out.  Michael was having fun playing and being goofy.  I browsed Facebook.

Then maybe 20 minutes later, I had another one.  Dangit.  I think by that point I pretty much knew this was it.  But because I wanted it not to be it, I sent John a message saying I was having contractions, but far apart.  Somehow I expected him to leap in the car and zoom home, but instead he said "keep me posted."  I called the midwife and she said more or less the same thing.  Apparently both of them would have come if I had said "this is it," but for some reason I really wanted someone else to make the call about whether I was in labor or not.  I laid on the couch for awhile hoping I could make the contractions go away by sheer strength of will, but no luck -- they came back around every 10 minutes!  But it was such a bad time, and I didn't want to have the baby that day, so I was trying anyway.  Maybe I could at least slow it down, right?

In retrospect it seems kind of stupid to try to slow it down -- Marko wasn't going to magically get better in a few hours.  My big worry was what to do with the kids.  I couldn't send a puking kid to a friend's house, and that had been my only plan!  I gave it some thought, and decided we were just going to have to leave Marko where he was, and try to find a place for Michael.  But I was still worried about this -- was it fair to ask a friend with kids to watch Michael, when surely he was a carrier for this bug?  And would any friends agree to it?  I should have started calling around at this point, but I didn't.  I called John again, updated him, and said I was giving this an hour to go away or get stronger, and then I got into the tub.

My main reason for getting into the tub was that the contractions were already getting too hard to bear, lying on the couch.  Michael wasn't helping by climbing all over me.  I figured the tub would keep Michael entertained and help me relax so the contractions would hurt less.  But it didn't do a thing for the pain.  From the beginning I hadn't been able to talk through them, but by this point I was moaning and yelling.  (Michael found this hilarious.)  They also sped up to every five minutes.  I made up my mind to call John again, but he called me.  When he heard how it was going, he said he'd be home as fast as he could.  This was at 10:15.  I made the decision at last -- this was real labor, and I'd better get things ready.

But I'd waited too long -- now I didn't have time between contractions to do anything!  I tried calling the first name on our childcare list, told her the situation, and was trying to follow her answer when another contraction hit and I basically had to hang up on her.  Michael was running around naked and wet after the bath and needed a lot of attention, which I couldn't give because I couldn't think of anything else between contractions.  At last I managed to get clothes on Michael and me, call my friend back, and get things arranged.  Because she is a living saint, she agreed to take Michael.  I called the midwife and told her to please come now.

Then there was nothing to do but wait for help to arrive.  I was near tears from agony in every contraction, and started to get the feeling that I was in the wrong position.  There's this part of labor that I remember where you are convinced that it's the position you're in that's making you hurt so bad, and if you could just find the right one, it wouldn't hurt.  I finally remembered to try kneeling down, leaning forward, and sure enough it did help a lot.  But I was still extremely upset.  I wanted someone with me -- someone who wasn't two years old.  I wanted my back rubbed, but it's kind of hard to rub your own back.  (I did try.)  My one goal for this labor had been to be less upset and anxious, and that was a big fat FAIL.  I knew calm might help the pain, but it's hard to be calm when there's a toddler running around and pestering you, and you are counting the minutes for help to arrive.

John showed up a bit before 11, which was faster than I'd expected, and tromped in with his noisy shoes.  (I was so annoyed by the shoes; I can't explain why.)  He said, "What's the priority?  Clean up the living room or clean up in here?"  I was dumbfounded.  Clean up?  But I was about to have another contraction and couldn't discuss this, so I said "clean up out there please" (because I thought I would die if I had to go through a contraction with him tromping around cleaning up around me!) and he went away.  After that was over I had a last call confirming stuff with my friend for childcare, and then I called John over to go take Michael over there.  "Shouldn't I wait for the midwife to get here so you don't have to be alone?" he asked.  "No," I said, finally getting decisive because I could see clearly where we were heading, "I can't relax until he is safely over there and the sooner you go, the sooner you can be back." 

While I was alone, I started to feel a little bit like pushing.  "NO NOT YET!" I screamed and the pushy feeling went away.  Talk about mind over matter!  15 minutes later, John was back and the midwife arrived a minute later.  I let them prepare the room with the spare sheet on the bed and the birth kit unpacked, and then I said to leave everything else and just pay attention to me.  I had waited a LONG TIME to have someone to rub my back, and by golly I wasn't waiting any longer.  The midwife laid down a blanket and a chux pad on the floor at the end of the bed and I knelt down there.  I had every expectation that I would probably stay there till the birth -- I felt strongly it was close.

For about ten minutes everything was lovely.  I felt calm and that made the pain decrease a great deal.  It made me happy that I hadn't thought, like last time "oh no, if it's this bad now, it will get much worse."  I had focused on the present, and sure enough pain in labor is not linear.  It doesn't just get worse and worse.  I was joking and laughing with John and the midwife between contractions, even though they were only about three minutes apart.  But they quickly got worse again.  I moaned at one point, "I don't want any more of these!"  John said, "There won't be many more."  I thought about arguing with him, but I was pretty sure he was right, so I said, "That's relative."  Because by "any more," I really meant, "this next one."  I could not see beyond the next one, the pain was so great.  I needed John to be touching me, because I needed the emotional support, but it felt like his hands were hurting me no matter what he did.

Then I had this contraction where I felt like I had to run away.  It's like the "can't get comfortable" feeling, but so much more intense.  It's a restless feeling.  I remembered it from Michael's birth, and remembered that I had started pushing soon after that, so I thought "what the heck? may as well" and started pushing.  Both John and the midwife could tell I was bearing down and told me so (um, I know!) and I said, "Is it okay that I'm pushing?"  The midwife, God love her, said, "You are listening to your body, so you're doing the right thing."  I stopped looking to her to tell me what to do (something I had been sort of doing from the beginning, and absolutely did for my previous births) and just went ahead with pushing.  The next contraction my water broke, and the one after I felt this massive head come barreling down.

In the past I have told people "pushing isn't the hard part."  I remembered pushing with Marko being euphoric and pushing with Michael as not particularly painful, but this time, it was just awful.  It wasn't any better than those horrid contractions had been without the pushing, only now there was this huge head coming down and that hurt too.  This time, as well, I remembered to slow down during the "ring of fire," and BOY HOWDY is that a difficult thing to do!  At last the midwife said "her head is out" (which I could tell anyway) and so I just pushed as hard as I could and SHLOOP!  Out it came.

I say "it" because I really wasn't thinking "baby" at this point.  It was more this massive obstruction that I needed to get out.  The midwife handed me the baby and I just kind of knelt there dumbfounded for a moment.  I wanted to hand it back, because after all, I was IN LABOR and couldn't be holding a baby right now, but the midwife said, "You are all done now, no more labor."  That was exactly the right thing for her to say -- I was so relieved!  John took a peek and said, "It's a little girl!"  And then I remembered to be happy.

They helped me lie down on the bed -- which was very difficult; I suddenly was very weak and my abdominal muscles seemed not to be functioning at all -- and the placenta pretty much popped right out, thank goodness.  I took a look at the baby, at last, and felt better and better.  I was so glad it was a girl.  I had wanted a girl so badly -- really, I can't even explain why -- and had tried and tried not to care, but there it was!  A girl!

And then I thought, "I didn't have to ask for this.  I didn't even have to want this.  God is so good, he gives out babies -- ACTUAL BABIES -- and doesn't make us ask for them or want them.  He didn't revoke this gift just because I cried when I found out, or because I whined so much this whole pregnancy, or because this whole labor I have been wishing I didn't have to go through this.  He doesn't punish me just because I've been ungrateful."

Then I felt guilty for being so ungrateful, especially when I know plenty of people who would have been so happy to be pregnant.  But it wasn't a bad kind of guilt -- more a resolution to see the gift in life a bit more often, and stop looking a gift universe in the mouth.  Because Miriam is pure gift, unasked for, unexpected, out of the blue.  I spent too long worrying and agonizing over whether we had room in our lives for a gift like this.  Sure, it's possible that we actually don't!  But she is here now, we will make room, and I feel overwhelmed with gratitude for the perfect little person that she is.


Now, I'm not going to lie.  Miriam is the ONLY good thing about the whole process.  It was a miserable labor, much more painful than Michael's, even though it wasn't any longer.  I know when I say "three-hour labor" everyone thinks "you lucky thing," but the midwife says the quick labors are the hardest because everything's so intense and you have no chance to cope.  I don't know if this is true, but I do know it was absolutely impossible, between the speed and the circumstances, for me to do any of those clever coping techniques or to relax or whatever.  It was more like "scream through the contractions and then spend four minutes rushing around madly."  You can't relax, breathe deeply, make whale noises, or whatever, because you can't even think.  It was rough.  Days later I was having flashbacks of it.

But on the other hand, having a baby by lunchtime is nice, and I certainly wouldn't have wanted another minute of that, so I'm not going to complain that it was fast.  Just kind of kicking myself that I didn't call everyone sooner and spare myself some of the misery of going through it alone.

Once the small tear I had was stitched up, John went and got Michael.  He was happy to see me but didn't seem interested in his sister.  Marko was awake (perhaps from all the hollering) and John went in to tell him he had a sister, and he started to cry, "I didn't want a sister!"  Ah well.

The rest of this week has been similarly crazy, but I will have to post about that separately because this is much too long and my arms are sore from typing this while also nursing.  Miriam is a good eater and fine sleeper, but terrible about being put down.  She prefers to do her eating and sleeping in Mama's arms -- who wouldn't?  But other than this little detail she is practically perfect in every way.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Miriam Rose


Born August 20, 2014
11:48 am
6 lbs 14 oz
more info and pictures when I am out of bed

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Maybe it won't suck

Tomorrow I am officially "term," that is 37 weeks, and am considered okay to have the baby whenever.  Everyone is assuming I'll have this baby early like the other two, but it doesn't really matter to me.  I'm just glad I made it this far.  (Though what I really want is to finish my sock yarn first.  It is taking way longer than I thought and I fear if I don't finish it before the baby gets here, I'll never do it!)

Like I've been doing this whole pregnancy, I'm waging an endless battle with anxiety.  I think the main reason was just how traumatic Michael's infancy was.  Perhaps I didn't convey this at the time -- actually, I know I didn't, because I went back and read my blog posts and I can see I am putting a very bright face on it.  Maybe I thought that if I kept the written record upbeat, I'd remember it better than it was.  But no, I remember it very well.  And when I think of just how bad it was, I cannot imagine why I thought I could ever, ever go through it again.

But I'm trying to remind myself, there is no reason to assume it would be this bad again.  Sure, it might be.  (For some reason every time I try to be hopeful and not scared, someone has to say "oh but you don't know it's going to be any easier."  Shut up, okay?  I also don't know it's going to be horrifying, and it does me no good to imagine the worst.)  But it might, just maybe, just possibly, might not be horrible at all.  Right?

I mean, to start off with, this pregnancy has not been noted for extreme amounts of stress.  Last time, when we got pregnant, John was commuting four hours a day and somehow our money that was supposed to finally be breaking even, wasn't.  And we had a matter of months till John's contract at work expired and we were unemployed.  I felt pretty sure we'd find something else before then, but the pressure was intense.

Also, this time around John has not been suffering extreme anxiety and depression from the combination of life situation and his untreated gluten intolerance.  Now, he likes his job, has a tolerable commute, has his life more or less where he wants it -- and simply cutting out gluten has had truly amazing effects on his brain chemistry, however that works.  He's happy, and a happy husband is a husband who cheerfully does all the dishes and then offers a back rub.  A happy husband is also one you don't feel the least bit guilty asking for favors.

This time, I don't have a barely-two-year-old, I have a 27-month-old and a four-year-old.  I am not sure if it's the three months' difference or the fact that I have two, but it's a great deal easier.  They entertain each other.  Michael might not listen, but he does talk, and that means not really many tantrums.  Admittedly he does not sleep even a little bit better than Marko did at a similar age, but he isn't really sleeping any worse either.

Maybe, labor will be as easy as with Michael, only I'll feel better supported by my midwife and John will bond with the baby right away and the placenta will pop right out like a champagne cork.  It could happen.

Given the many, many conversations we've had on the topic and the kids' excitement, I think it's quite possible that maybe, when introduced to their younger sibling, they won't burst into shrieks.  The might even like him or her.

This time, I might not have a baby who needs to be nursed 24/7.  Maybe I'll even have one who doesn't spit up 75% of every feed.  And if I do, I actually will know this time that I have an oversupply and that good burping and block feeding will help.  I won't have to endure three solid months of basically doing nothing but nursing, hopefully.

And that might mean better sleep, or if it doesn't, I will use better tactics.  Last time I didn't want to overuse Netflix to entertain Marko while putting Michael down for naps.  This time, it seems clear that the long-term effects of a little too much TV on the kids are nothing compared to the long-term effects of a child who never ever naps because his brother keeps waking him.  Bring on the TV, we are teaching this child to sleep.  (Though who knows, maybe these two pals will entertain each other while I sneak away to put the baby down.  It wouldn't be unprecedented.)

The immediate postpartum time will be no better, unfortunately, because I get the exact same amount of help: one week of time off for John, and then I'm all on my own.  This scares me because I remember that one week postpartum is not a time when I am capable of anything.  But, BUT: I'll tell you what is not happening.  John is not moving to another state 10 days after I've given birth and leaving me utterly alone for four weeks (as he had to do when Marko was born) and he is not even going back to frequent business trips four weeks postpartum and leaving me taking care of two nonsleeping kids all night for a week at a time (as he had to do when Michael was born).  He is not going to be gone overnight for the foreseeable future.  Due to the campaign, he has quite a few evening and weekend events, but if worse comes to worst, we'll just all stay up waiting for him to help with bedtime.  But I think we can handle it.  Michael is insanely easy to put to sleep because he is still nursing, and Marko is big enough to put up with a change to his routine.  I think I can put three kids to bed for the night.  Or at least, I can put to bed the two who don't nap and need to go to bed at night.

This time, I am absolutely not flying solo across the country with a three-month-old and a toddler.  And I'm not dealing with them for a week without their dad whom they're so attached to.  We might go somewhere for Christmas, but if so it will be all together.

I suspect there will be some jealousy.  I am pretty positive that Michael will get into scads of trouble when I'm not looking, because he currently gets into scads of trouble when I am looking.  Probably I'll yell about that some.  There may be tears from various individuals, and one of those individuals might be me.  But, you know, I'm used to that by now.  I'm used to knowing I'm not Perfect Mom, as I didn't really know when I only had one kid.

It upsets me knowing that I really did meet my own standards when I had one kid, and now I don't.  I filled every one of Marko's needs that I determined was a true need, back when he was the only one, and now I very often don't.  I don't feel like a very good mom nearly as often as I did then.  But on the other hand .... he is happier now than he was then.  He loves having a brother.  It makes up for my deficiencies, apparently.  I have two thriving kids, if at the price of getting to take all the credit for it.

I am terrified that if going from one kid to two downgraded me from "ideal mother" to "adequate mother," going from two to three will turn me from "adequate" to "wicked witch of the west."  But who knows if that will happen?  Maybe I'll be turned into "slowly becoming more relaxed and humble mother."  Or maybe I'll find that going from two to three really doesn't change that much.

Maybe one thing will be the same.  Maybe, years from now, I'll look back and my heart will hurt at the very thought that I ever managed life without this baby, that I ever thought our family was whole without them.

I certainly hope so.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Pro-life without exception

All faithful Catholics are supposed to be pro-life.  That is, we are supposed to follow the commandment "You shall not kill."  There are exceptions made for self-defense, including just war and the death penalty, but there is no exception whatsoever for killing the innocent.  It's very simple.  You just don't kill innocent people ever, for any reason.  Would you kill a single innocent person to save the lives of every single other person on earth?

I wouldn't, because that would be an evil thing to do.

Of course this sets Catholics up for a lot of conflict with the rest of the world.  Where abortion is concerned, our refusal to make exceptions maddens everyone else.  What if the life of the mother is in danger?  What if the baby wouldn't live anyway?  What if it's only one cell big?  What if its father was a rapist?

And we repeat, like a broken record, "No.  You must not kill the innocent for any reason whatsoever."

However, abortion isn't the only pro-life issue out there.

When innocent people are killed in the course of war, that is also a grave moral evil.  It's bad enough when a non-combatant stumbles into a battlefield and gets killed, completely unforeseeably.  That's a tragedy, and should make us rethink the supposed necessity of warfare, but it can't always be helped.  However, when it can be foreseen that civilians are going to be in a place, and someone makes the choice to attack that place anyway, that's something more than an accident.  It's a disregard for human life that is, to my mind, comparable to using a birth control method that you know to be abortifacient, or driving drunk.  You don't mean to kill someone, but you choose to leave yourself open to the possibility of killing them.

I've been calling out Israel a lot lately for doing this very thing.  If five civilians had died in their attacks, I would call it an accident.  When they have killed over a thousand people and eighty percent of them are non-combatants -- many of them children -- it would be ridiculous to call it an accident.  They have decided it is an acceptable level of collateral damage.  "Collateral damage," like "pregnancy termination," is a word that is used to paper over the fact that you are committing murder.  You have decided that your own goals, whatever they are, are worth more than another person's entire life.

None of this is intended to excuse Hamas.  Since its rockets have hardly managed to hit anything at all, they aren't murderers on the same scale, but it seems their intentions are the same.  I am not attempting to take sides in this dispute; it's enormously complex and at this point there is no solution that would come close to pleasing everyone.  I doubt there will be found any compromise that the sides will both accept.  I find this frustrating and depressing.  My point is simply that it doesn't matter whether your cause is right or wrong -- if you choose to target non-combatants, you are committing murder and should expect no support from civilized people.

The trouble is, they are receiving support from civilized people.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us:

We have a responsibility for the sins committed by others when we cooperate in them:
- by participating directly and voluntarily in them;
- by ordering, advising, praising, or approving them;
- by not disclosing or not hindering them when we have an obligation to do so;
- by protecting evil-doers.

Many people consider having to pay for someone's birth control is cooperation with evil.  I don't think so, because if we merely follow the law, we are not participating voluntarily; and paying an insurance premium is hardly direct either.  We don't approve in any way of their using it; we prefer they didn't and we may tell them so.  It just happens to be on the list of things their insurance will cover, and so they might -- without our knowledge and consent -- use it.

But you know what is cooperation with evil?  Defending and approving the actions of any country -- including our own -- when they target innocents.  Saying, "They have no choice" (We always have a choice.  Death before sin.) or "Well, perhaps that will make the population stop supporting the enemy"  (Targeting civilians in order to frighten them into acceding to our demands is called terrorism.).  Petitioning Congress, or supporting a certain candidate, because you know they will send money for Israel's weapons.  That is, in my opinion, no less "cafeteria Catholicism" and a violation of the fifth commandment than supporting politicians who favor and fund abortion.

So it just boggles my mind, boggles it all to pieces, that Catholics support this stuff.  Do you like Israel and consider it an ally?  Then you should all the more call them out when they do wrong, just as you should when your own country does it.  I have clearly stated many times that it was morally wrong to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to blitz Dresden, to steal land from Native Americans, to drone civilian areas in the Middle East.  And so it says nothing about my support or disapproval of the nation of Israel that I also condemn its behavior.

(Though, for the record, one should be able to criticize the nation of Israel without being called anti-semitic.  Not all Jews are Zionists, and not all Zionists are Jews.)

Another slightly less grave issue, but one that I also consider part and parcel of being a good Catholic, is immigration.  I find it odd to hear slogans like "How could there be too many children?  That would be like having too many flowers," and "We always have room for one more!" when it comes to having more babies of our own, but when it's someone else's children that are already born, some people are eager to slam the door.  I don't understand it.  Children are children; welcoming them and caring for them is what Catholics do.

Now the disaster of having so many come in all at once is difficult to deal with, and it'll take some doing to handle it.  But we're going to have to find a way.  Ask any Catholic what the sins that cry out to heaven are.  They'll tell you (if they've heard of this concept), "Sodomy, uh ... murder .... um ..... "  But somehow no one ever remembers that failing to care for foreigners, widows, and orphans is also on the list.  (So is failing to pay a just wage -- go figure.)  Why these sins, and not others?  Because these sins can't be avenged on this earth; they are committed against the weak and vulnerable who can't punish you.  Maybe that's why they seems so easy to do.  It's easy to scream at a busload of Hispanic children to go back where they came from.  They can't do anything to you.  That's why it's a cowardly and despicable thing to do.

It does seem that most Catholics understand this, because I haven't heard as much anti-immigration shrieking in my Catholic circles as I used to.  The bishops certainly are on my side with this.  My personal belief is that broader legal immigration will solve a heck of a lot of problems, including the oppression of farm workers, outsourcing of jobs overseas (you can't have free trade and a closed border and not have that happen), and perhaps even our slow economy.  People, after all, are what fuel the economy.  Let people come in with their whole families and they'll spend their money here instead of sending it home.  Anyway, as a libertarian, I can't see that government has a right to restrict who can apply for a job or rent an apartment here simply to protect current residents from competition.  The job of government is just to check everyone over and make sure they're not dangerous criminals.  If they're not, let 'em in, I say.  We could use more hard workers.  There's a good discussion of Catholic political teaching and immigration here -- the entire series is worth reading.

But even if you disagree with me on that, you should agree at least that people ought to be treated like people; that young children are, by definition, innocent and not to be mistreated; that we have a responsibility to the weakest in society; and so forth.  And so it seems clear enough to me that sending these kids right back to the violence and chaos they are escaping would be wrong.

Some people would say this whole post is proof that I am a liberal.  And you know what?  I don't care.  A faithful Catholic, if they really take the Church's teaching seriously, is not going to fit into a political party or an ideological camp.  We are no one's side, because no one is exactly on our side.

When it comes to how to vote or who to support, we are bound to feel conflicted and end up compromising one way or another in the hopes of getting at least something.  But on actual issues, don't be deceived: you can't slavishly stick to a party line and also cleave faithfully to the Church's teaching.  You're going to have to offend pretty much everyone once in awhile.  That's what abiding to an unshakeable moral code is all about.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The obligatory NFP post

So, it's NFP Awareness Week, apparently.  The internet is plastered with memes and posts and stuff.  My favorite response was Simcha Fisher's, which is that when you're using NFP, the one thing you'd like is to be a little less aware of it.  (She's also having a big giveaway on her blog to promote her book, so if you're interested in free stuff, you might want to mosey on down there.  I wasn't interested in any of the prizes, but if you use NFP you probably will be.)

Anyway, I can hardly be a Catholic blogger and not blog about NFP this week .... but the thing is, I appear to be the only married Catholic I know who doesn't use it!

Before you gasp with horror, let me point out that this doesn't mean I use birth control.  That's an odd sort of dichotomy.  I don't use birth control.  It's just that in five years of marriage, we've never had cause to use anything, so we haven't.  So our kids are "not exactly planned" -- we just kind of let it happen, and that's been fine so far.  Breastfeeding has worked well to space them out.

This doesn't mean I'm opposed to NFP, because I'm not.  I can think of no end of very good reasons why people use it, like to recover after a c-section (a third of us get one, you know!) or to fix hormonal or emotional issues (if you have severe PPD, you might want to get that under control) or just because breastfeeding doesn't work to space their babies like it does for me.  I honestly believe that having a baby every year is very hard on your body, and that our bodies weren't meant to undergo that.  That's why breastfeeding works as birth control -- it's our bodies' natural way of making sure we don't get pregnant that often!  And if it doesn't work, either because we can't breastfeed or because we're one of those people (and it's hard to tell ahead of time!) whom breastfeeding doesn't work as birth control for, NFP can be a corrective.

At the same time, I don't buy a whole lot of the advertising.  Does NFP really reduce your risk of divorce?  Who knows!  The statistic you find of "only 2% of NFP-using couples get divorced!" isn't substantiated anywhere I can see.  And even if it is true, there's no control group of those of us who just have babies.  Maybe we're too buried under babies to even consider getting divorced!

For some couples, NFP helps their communication.  For others, it's just one more thing to fight over.  For some, it's a joyful honeymoon every month.  For others, it's a miserable slog.  I can really see why you would use it for a good reason.  I don't see at all why you would do it just for kicks, for all the "fringe benefits."  And for those who say "oh but you can use it to get pregnant too!" I would say, why go through all that trouble of charting and fussing around with the numbers when (if you are a normal couple of normal fertility) you will get pregnant sooner or later anyway?

The reason Catholics use NFP isn't because it's fun or wonderful or an enriching spiritual practice.  We use it because we can't use birth control, and in a world where kids aren't free labor, but rather an expense; and where almost all of our kids will make it to adulthood so we're not hedging our bets against infant mortality; and where we now realize that maternal mortality can be avoided in most cases -- well, sometimes it does make a lot of sense to avoid having kids for awhile.

I'm not tempted to use birth control.  The aesthetic does not appeal to me.  I don't want to take medications long-term, especially ones that will screw with my hormones.  I don't want to feel like I have to be medicated out of health to function normally.  Thinking about IUD's makes me want to pass out.  Condoms are just kinda squicky to me.  The only way that really makes sense to me to avoid having babies is to not have sex, either at all or periodically.  And luckily, lack of sex isn't deadly.  We all practice abstinence at least sometimes, for one reason or another, and though it's sometimes difficult, it's not the end of the world.

But I'm not going to hand down a lecture about how all babies should be wanted (in the sense of, one should always want a baby) because the fact is, I understand.  A family has no limit on the love it can provide, but it does have a limit on the beds it can squeeze in.  There is a limit on how much sleep deprivation you can undergo before you become a less patient mother.  There is a limit on how close together you can have babies and still breastfeed them all.  Sometimes to care adequately for the babies you have, you have to take a break from having more babies.  This doesn't mean you don't value life, it means you know how to be prudent too.  For everyone, this moment comes at a different time.  Some people bravely have babies in circumstances that look scary to others, and it turns out okay for them.  Others don't feel called to do this, and I'm hardly going to hand down my opinion when I haven't walked in their shoes.

I don't care if you use NFP or not, and I am not going to ask if you meant to have only two kids or if you've had ten miscarriages and desperately prayed for more living children.  I understand that I am not going to be able to tell by looking at your family how "open to life" you are.  I also understand that your blase "oh, we are so done" might possibly cover up a story you don't want to tell me -- like "my life is in danger if I get pregnant again" or "my husband and I are having severe marriage problems."  So you are not going to get any judgment from me.  Having ten kids is not proof of being a better Catholic.

And for those who use birth control, or believe in it -- all I can say is, the life we have works very well for us.  Yes, not using all the pills and gadgets the rest of the world uses does make life more difficult for Catholics.  I'd be lying if I pretended that weren't so.  Abstaining is more difficult than not abstaining, and having ten kids is more difficult than having two.

But I can speak to the joy that I had at 15 when I finally had a baby brother of my very own.  My parents were "too old" to start over, in the eyes of many, but all I can feel is gratitude that they were open to one more.  (Which turned into four more, lol.)  I can speak to the joy that Marko brings to our life every day, even though by every sensible measure we should never have conceived him -- we lived in a studio apartment at the time and neither of us was working!  Being part of a subculture where marriage comes first, then sex, then (inevitably) babies, means a lot of different things.  There's some dysfunction here and there, but I also hear a lot of envy from people outside it -- girls who wish they could have found a guy to date who respected them enough to wait for sex till after marriage, for instance.  Or women who want to have babies but their husbands refuse.  Or women whose husbands insist they stay on birth control but refuse to do any of the work.  Or women whose IUD or implant made them severely ill. 

I hear the stories on all sides; that's kind of how the internet is if you don't hide in your own subculture.  I hear women say they are pregnant for the fifth time in five years and they were using NFP but messed up some detail and now what are they going to do.  And a part of me says, "This is nuts, how can we be okay with this?"  But then I click to another forum where a woman says "I am pregnant again and so happy because I really wanted another, but my husband will leave me if I don't have an abortion."  And I think .... there's no solution here.  There's no solution anywhere.  Being a woman is hard.  Having babies is hard.  Our hearts are going to hurt, we're going to feel like we're not enough.

Really, I'm lucky, because I haven't had anything too terrible happen to me.  Sometimes I feel overwhelmed.  But overall I think my life is about right.  I have beautiful babies -- I'm about to have another beautiful baby -- and as much as it terrifies me to think of the pain of labor and the sleepless nights and how much less I will have to give my other kids for awhile .... I know once I see that baby, I'll think it was worth it.

And at the same time, that doesn't mean at all I'm going to be in a rush for number four.  Maybe next time we'll wait longer.  We know how.  The choice is ours, and although there is no way to make that choice without a sacrifice somewhere, I do feel free in the knowledge that we have it.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Seven quick takes


1

It bothers me that I haven't been writing any real posts in awhile.  I have a lot I want to write about: why I don't think "tough" sermons are so great, ways sexism hurts men, how favors among neighbors are the cure for commercialism, and why for me "buy nothing" is always the goal.  But when do I have time to write this stuff?  Apparently, at 3 a.m., because that's when the ideas come to me. 

Why am I awake then?  Can't blame Michael, he's been okay.  Nah, it's just third-trimester insomnia, which of course is one of the chief causes of third-trimester exhaustion, unproductiveness, and crabbiness.  Sigh. 

Last night was pretty good.  I went to bed at 10, was almost asleep at 10:15 when I heard a cry.  It was Marko, who was too hot.  I took his blanket off and went back to bed, but then I couldn't sleep till almost 11.  Then I slept solid for six good hours (hooray!) before Michael woke up at five.  It's always iffy to get him back to sleep at that point, so I just lay with him in his bed till almost seven.  But I didn't sleep very well, because I was crammed into a toddler bed and because Marko barged into our room at six demanding breakfast.  (John got up with him so at least I didn't have to move and risk waking Michael.)

So, yeah, that's what we call a good night.  I feel pretty alive today -- haven't yelled at the kids, did the dishes before breakfast, mowed the lawn before lunch, and am now sore enough that I'm questioning when and how I'm going to get the sweeping done.  But the floor is just unacceptable, so I'll have to find a way.

2

My latest pregnancy whine is my abs.  Like pretty much every woman with a couple kids, I have a mild diastasis of the rectus abdominus ... that is, my abs are a bit separated in the middle.  I tried very hard to fix this with exercise after Michael was born, but no one really knows what sort of exercise helps (not crunches, is all I know for sure) and the pressure of a big ol' baby in there is pushing them apart again.

This is bad for a lot of reasons, firstly that it hurts, secondly that it fails to stabilize my wobbly pelvis and back so that those issues flare up again, thirdly that it lets baby move too freely and puts me at risk for breech birth, and fourthly that it puts me at risk for a hernia.  Delightful.

So I asked my midwife yesterday what the cure is, and she said that she too has separated abs -- and it's been a decade since she's had any kids!  Ugh.  I always believed that having babies doesn't destroy a woman's body; it's what we were designed to do, and if we take care of ourselves we should stay healthy before, during, and after childbearing.  But when I look around, every mother I know has at least one major or minor complaint -- weak pelvic floor, mild incontinence, thyroid or other hormonal issues, and so forth.  What the heck are we doing wrong?

Anyway, the midwife did suggest binding my abdomen with a belly band or wrap of some kind, just to stabilize the poor weak stretched-out muscles so they don't get any worse.  So I'm trying to figure out what I might have around that would do the job without being unbearably hot.

3

In GOOD news, the garden is at its most wonderful.  I just picked the first big tomatoes.  The Cherokee Purples win the race against the Pineapple, which makes me happy since the Purples are my own starts and the Pineapples were purchased at the farmers' market.  But really they got ripe at almost the same time, despite the Purples looking much spindlier at first.  I'm also harvesting cucumbers, green beans, chard still, broccoli, cabbage, and herbs.  The sugar snap peas aren't even dead, but they've pretty much petered out -- I get maybe one pod a week.

My neighbor just gave me a massive zucchini and some yellow squash.  I know what to do with the zucchini (shred it and freeze it in two-cup portions for my zucchini bread) but the yellow squash, I'm not sure.  I'm not a summer squash fan really, but on the other hand, free food, amiright?  So this morning I sauteed one of them with onions, added some black beans and salsa and cilantro, and then scrambled a couple of eggs in there.  Pretty tasty!  Michael thought so too, but Marko didn't eat any.  Maybe I should try frying them next; Marko likes most breaded and fried stuff (well, who doesn't?).

4

My most exciting news, I'm not supposed to share, for reasons which regular readers will readily understand.  Let's just say, you remember how I have had a deep and abiding longing for pet birds?  Well, I got the kind of pet birds I wanted, three of them, 16 weeks old.  They live in a dwelling that John built (it's really very impressive, how can he be good at carpentry on top of everything else?) and happily roam around the yard eating bugs and seeds and stuff.  They don't come running when I feed them, and in fact show very little interest in their food, because they are getting so much in my 1/4 acre near-jungle of a backyard.  I suppose winter will be different, but so far I am happy to be saving feed!

From henceforth they are "parakeets" and we're all going to keep this hush-hush, right?

5

I have somehow let myself get drawn into a heck of a lot of debates on Patheos lately.  Simcha Fisher's blog, in particular, is a favorite of mine, but it turns out that thanks to her "Issues Guy" who haunts her blog and disagrees with everything she says, if I comment there at all, I wind up in a fight.  He called me a lying shrew because I said I originally intended to obey my husband and later decided not to.  And said that if my husband thinks he's happy, it's only because he's too beaten down by me.

That made me very upset for about 24 hours.  I have a pretty thick skin about internet criticism (or I wouldn't do this stuff!) but it does play on my interior doubts that I could possibly be a good wife while doing things so differently from the way I was raised with, or the way dictated by a lot of Catholics.

And then I remembered that I do, in fact, submit to my husband all the time.  He thinks we should buy a new car?  Well, he knows more about cars and our finances than I do, so ... yeah, I asked some questions and then said, "Go for it."  I didn't need to see the car first.  I trust him.  He doesn't want to go to this Mass, but this other Mass?  If it's important to him, I think he should make the call.

The difference is that I don't think I am obligated in conscience to obey him.  When I know in my heart of hearts that I'm right, I don't think I'm a sinner if I stick to my guns.  And likewise, my husband is aware that the Bible never gives him the right to order me around, and so he doesn't.  He submits to me all the time too.  We're happy with it.  We don't see marriage as a competition about who's the boss -- we see it as an opportunity to become holier by serving each other.

And then I remembered that of course Issues Guy knows nothing about this, because he's never seen me, my husband, or our marriage in action.  Duh.  He's just talking based on what he thinks evil feminists are like.  So ..... can't let it get to me, you know?

6

34 weeks is supposed to be nesting time, right?  Well, for me it's procrastination time.  I think a part of my subconscious thinks that if I don't order the birth kit and gather labor supplies, I never have to go into labor.  Whereas even doing the slightest birth-related thing makes me think about being in labor, and I can't stand that thought.  I'm trying to pretend it's never going to happen to me.  The midwife says denial is okay; after all, it's not like it actually works!  Ready or not, I'm going to give birth one way or another.

That sucks.  The pendulum has swung back to "being pregnant isn't so bad" and I'm digging in my heels.  I have maybe a month left, but I want to get every week out of this pregnancy I can.  I am not going to be one of those women eating pineapple and going for long walks to force my body into labor -- I'm going to be drinking wine in the bathtub up to the very last minute to try to get those contractions to stop.  Because labor is scary and I remember it very well.  Also, I remember how little newborns sleep.

7

I did at least force myself to get the newborn clothes down from the attic.  I figured the kids would like to see just how tiny their new brother or sister is going to be.  They were very excited.  Really they are excited about every detail of babies right now -- though Michael is a little confused sometimes.  He says things like "the baby will drive the new car" or "I will bite the baby and the baby will cry and then I will hug the baby and kiss the baby and the baby will feel better!"  And I get a wee bit worried.

Anyway, after I did that I felt anxious because almost all the baby clothes are footie pajamas and on the one hand, it's going to be August, and on the other, I plan to be doing elimination communication from day one, and I can only imagine the trouble of snapping and unsnapping jammies every twenty minutes or so so that baby can use the potty.  So I took an old t-shirt of John's out of the rag box and made a baby nightgown, just by sewing up the sides and trimming down the sleeves.  I figure I can crank out a few more of those with no trouble, if I can summon the energy.  It's a sitting-down job, anyway.

Aaaaand .... I think that's it for the week.  Kinda late to link up to Conversion Diary, but I will.
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