Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Break for Breakfast

Nothing sets the tone for the day quite like breakfast. 

I discovered just how true this was when I was 3 weeks postpartum. I was desperately trying not to hit a wall of depression. I was struggling to establish a nursing relationship with my little Olive and I was not taking the time to heal myself physically or mentally. With the support of my new friends from my birth class, I had a wake up call: I can't take care of a baby if I can't take care of myself. So, I started with something simple....breakfast. 

All throughout my pregnancy I craved pancakes, scratch that, all breakfast food. Pancakes, waffles, bagels, fruit parfait, whathaveyou. It became a ritual for me to make myself a deluxe breakfast every morning to start the day off right. Why shouldn't I continue that? So now, most of my mornings begin with something delicious and hearty and I feel invigorated for the rest of the day. I just feel content. 

Today is a very gray, rainy day so I've prepared something extra special and paired it with the perfect music. 

  The Mamas and the Papas' "Dream a Little Dream of Me"

Mini waffle Nutella sandwiches
The most heavenly spread in all the world.

 Kermit's  "The Rainbow Connection"
Thin Mint Green Tea (loose leaf)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Adventures of being a Dad

Tracey has invited me to Co-Author this blog with her.  We've discussed what that would entail and it will probably vary from post to post.  It might be point/counterpoint situation where we disagree on certain things or child raising philosophies (the evils of soda come to mind as one) or just things where I feel like I need to write to all the new working or stay at home Dad's out there.  Although, truth be told, Tracey would probably have the better perspective on the stay at homers.  This post will be of the latter nature.

I love Olive.  That needs to be said up front.  I would like to say that I never complain or that this blog won't contain complaints about parenthood.  I don't believe that you can be a parent and not have minor complaints about the situation.  You may be the happiest mommy or daddy on  the planet, but if you don't have some complaints about it, well you're either deluding yourself or very lucky.  Everyone knows the basics, the poop, the sleepless nights (and days for you SAH's).  

I have a complaint that I feel if I have, many Dad's have but don't know how to properly express.  Sometimes, I am lonely.  This is something that no one really prepares you for.  You go to birthing classes and it's focused on the actual birth  process and the short time after.  It's a crash course in how to keep your baby alive the first day/week/month.  There's a lot of thought given to mothers and postpartum depression.  There's a lot of thought given to keeping your baby warm and happy.  I think Dad's get the raw end of the deal here.  I don't want this to sound sanctimonious or ungrateful, but I see in writing it that it can come across that way.  

I'm so glad that I have a career and position that let's Tracey stay at home with our baby and raise her how we see fit.  She can stay at home and bond with Olive and it's beautiful.  Not many people can say they run an entire IT department before the age of 30, but i can and it affords us a life of certain luxuries.  We could live a life of leisure if Tracey were to work and Olive went to daycare.  Our combined income could easily be in the 6 figure range as good as Tracey was at her previous job.  We decided as a family though that we wanted her to be able to stay home and we'd make the necessary budget cuts to afford that luxury.Tracey couldn't be happier, Olive couldn't be happier and I love being able to provide for my family.  A lot of status in today's society is based on the stuff you have or the places you go.  We have chosen to value the quality of our family and in retrospect it is the best decision we ever made.

I wanted to say all of that so there is no confusion about my feeling on our current situation.  I'm not sure where the loneliness really comes from, but there are times when I feel like an outsider looking in.  People tell me that eventually she will become like my little shadow.  Most likely between the ages of 18 - 24 months, she will start never wanting to leave my side.  I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to this.  At the moment Tracey and Olive have their own little world sometimes.  There have been times recently when I pick her up and she immediately looks around for Mommy and starts whining.  If I take her out of Mommy's arms, that's even worse.  No one really prepares you for these moments.  There are also moments when it becomes clear that in the great pecking order of life you have become number 2 to both your child and partner.  Those are the tough moments.  They are generally few and far between.  Look, I don't want you to think my wife is a horrible person or anything.  She's doing a wonderful job of being a mom and she has a lot on her plate.  I know she loves me and if I am number 2 on her list it's a very close 2.  She does her best to let me know that I am very loved and very appreciated.  That's not what this is about.  This is about those moments that punch you in the gut.

As a new dad, when I get those feelings, it helps me to take a step back from the situation and look at it objectively.  In the overall scheme of things, having a loving daughter and wife who are sometimes in their own little world isn't the worst situation ever.  I've found that outside social interaction really helps too.  For some people it may be going out with your drinking buddies or going to hang out with your friends in a physical setting (hockey game, bar, bowling  alley...).  For me, it's online games. It doesn't matter if it's a competitive game like Starcraft II or a more socially oriented game like World of Warcraft or Star Wars: The Old Republic.  In either case I have a group of friends whom I can identify by the sound of their voice but most of them I couldn't tell you a thing about what they look like.  Some people say these aren't real friends, but I heartily disagree.  One of these "not  real" friends has become one of my best life friends even though she has never lived in the same city as me and we're going to her wedding later this year.  There's also an added bonus that these interactions don't require me to leave my house or my family alone.  

My point of all of this is, to you dads who feel left out some times, It's OK and you're not alone.  From what I can tell, it happens to everyone. If you can find somewhere else to get the social interaction and support you need and that's acceptable to your family (i.e. no hookers) then go that route.  If it is killing you inside and you can't stand it, tell your partner.  Don't leave them in the dark and resent them.  Most likely they have no idea how you feel.  I know we dads aren't good at expressing our feeling, but sometimes just being blunt and saying what's on your mind can work wonders for your familial interactions.  If you're feeling left out in the baby bond, your partner can help you spend more time with your child(ren).  If you're feeling left out of your partner relationship, your partner would love to know that and will want to work with you to be there for you.  The longer you ignore these feelings and try to push them away the worse they will get.


Best. Job. Ever.

Just like any other young person, I used be asked the age old questions, "What are you going to do with your life? What do you want to be when you grow up?" To which I would answer something different every couple of months. I wanted to be a surgeon, a lawyer, or the President when I was a kid. Then, when I discovered those jobs weren't going to happen or seemed to be a bad fit for me, I was baffled. I wanted to do something I loved, but I didn't know what I loved to do. I kept telling myself I had plenty of time to decide, and so I started college as an Undeclared major. I didn't pick a major until my 2nd year. At one point, I wanted to be a psychologist. But I just couldn't commit to all that school. Then, I thought I wanted to be a teacher, but I had just finished getting my B.A. in Psychology and I was not about to go right back in for anything. I knew what I didn't want to do, and I didn't want to be a "housewife." I went to college, I had chosen a path that would lead to a career, I didn't want to do nothing! (See there? Ignorant.)

Young and carefree just after graduation.

So, after graduation, I'm still working as an Assistant Manager for a major retail store. Nice and non-committal, right? I had been with that company for 5 years. Then, we decide to get married and…surprise! Pregnant. The time I spent at home with my little girl, on maternity leave, I discovered something. I didn't want to leave. I didn't want to go back to work and put her in daycare. Ever.  WOW HAD I REALLY JUST DECIDED WHAT I WANT TO DO? Yes, I did.

Truly, the best.

I want to be mommy, 24 hours a day. There is nothing I would love more than to raise and mold this little girl into the wonderful woman I know she will be. Don't get me wrong, it is really hard. I can't afford to buy everything I want, and we had to do a lot of sacrificing in the budget department. I get burned out, too. There are days when I just want to run away for a while and forget I have someone SO dependant on me. But then, I just look at her and remember that I get to look at this pretty face all day long. In her face, I see my future. I see finger painting on the dining table, making cookies with mommy in the kitchen, taking naps together in mommy's bed, and playing in the sprinkler in the backyard. To me, that sounds like the best job in world. 

Sweet baby Olive

Are you a stay-at-home mama/papa? If so, what made you want to stay home with the kids? If you went back to work (or plan to), did you choose to or was it a necessity?

Friday, January 20, 2012

The first step.

I wrote this note back when I was about halfway through my pregnancy, and finally realizing I had options when it came to childbirth. I was really scared out of my mind, and the only way to stifle the fear was LOTS of information. I knew very little about natural childbirth at the time. I thought it might be cool to look back at where my head was just one year ago...

Sorry guys, but I'm gonna rant a bit about childbirth, so stop reading now if you don't care to hear about it. People comparing normal childbirth to a medical emergency are the reason so many women are scared to do it without drugs (like I have been for 22 years). Rushing to the hospital after your water breaks and the painful contractions come was the standard start to the fright fest that I thought was having a baby. They give you an epidural and a doctor tells you "push! push!" and out pops a baby. Right? Apparently, I was missing some key points. Well, you could get the epidural, but it will numb you from the waist down so your only option for PUSHING something from your body is to...lie on your back...? This just seems counter-productive to me. Wouldn't you want to use your good friend gravity to speed it up?
Oh, and the epidural will make it nearly impossible to tell when you should be pushing, so push at the wrong time and your body will pay the price :S Also, it slows down the process, and if your labor is going too slow, they will probably give you pitocin. I should probably mention that this makes your contractions hella worse, so you might end up needing even more pain relief. If this cycle doesnt help (can't imagine why), then an emergency c-section is in order. You've got a long recovery ahead of you. My question: Why does it have to be this way? When did it become a "medical condition" from the moment you enter the hospital? Why go to a hospital at all, if you are a low-risk pregnancy? Of course, I do trust modern medicine and I am not one to "go natural" because its trendy or because I dont want my baby to be affected by the drugs. But I'm kind of curious about why natural childbirth has kinda become stigmatized? Like, only hippies and masochists do it. I was one of those people that said "why on earth would you put yourself through all that pain when there are perfectly good drugs to make it go away??" Well, I found my own answer. Because its going to be painful and difficult no matter what, as it has been designed from the very beginning, so trust that you can do it and you will be rewarded with a (usually) faster labor, and quicker recovery. Hell, you can go to a birthing center with experienced nurse-midwives who monitor you and your baby without making you feel rushed or scared to death, have your baby in whatever way you want (eat and drink, too), then go home in a couple of hours! Not to mention the fact that you will forever be able to tell your little one "You can do anything you want, if you just trust in yourself" and you will have the experience to back it up.
Now, I know not everyone even gets the option of having a natural birth, and of course there is absolutely no shame in choosing the drugs because that is what you know is best for you. I'm just saying that personally, I have never seen the idea of natural birth presented in a positive way and I wonder why?? Are we telling our kids that its so painful and scary that you should only do it if you have to?
Oh, Im sure I will be yelling for mercy, and using strong language to get someone to take me to the hospital for some meds, possibly making a run for the door... but I know my body will make me forget all the pain once its over and I can hold my little one in my arms. I, for one, do not plan on denying myself the experience of facing my darkest moment with the knowledge that I can do it myself. Frankly, all this self-reflection is making me kind of excited for it. So bring it on! Rawr!

 Alright, so obviously I wasn't very accurate on some details and I didn't take the time to check my grammar. While I would write this completely different today, I find it kind of neat to see myself getting excited over something for what seems like the first time in my life. This was the start of my journey to becoming the woman I am destined to be (heavy words, I know). I'm still on that journey, but so far I like that it's already made me stronger...

Olive's Birth

So Ready For Her.
I had been having "practice labor" for about a week before she came. Painful contractions would start up in the middle of the night, coming sporadically, then die out after a couple hours. Combine this frustration with the anxiety of waiting for my baby to come and the physical demands of being full-term and you have a very impatient woman! I was doing everything I could to prepare myself for the task at hand. My birth bag was packed (got my olive oil, heh) and I had my calendar with the midwives' on-call schedule. I was drinking my red raspberry leaf tea, taking Evening Primrose Oil to soften my cervix, and doing lots of squats to move her down. I was sitting on my exercise ball whenever I watched TV to keep baby positioned right. I guess something was working because when Betty checked me at 38 weeks, my cervix was 2 centimeters dilated and 70% effaced. I thought, this is it. I'm going to have this baby VERY SOON. When I reached 38 weeks, every day felt like "the day" and when they ended without labor, it got pretty frustrating. Another long week passed by.

My practice labor had completely stopped, which was bittersweet for me. I found myself wishing for the pain to start. (Masochistic much?) But it was good for my body to get a break and I actually got a lot of rest before the baby came, which I would need every ounce of on Wednesday, June  the 8th. 3 days before my due date, I went in for my morning appointment with Betty. After I told her about all the rest I had gotten and how ready I felt, she offered to "sweep my membranes" to possibly stir things up a bit. This is when your doctor or midwife inserts their finger into your cervix and loosens the membrane, which can stimulate labor. Note: this does not mean they break your water. It was painful, nonetheless.  Before I left the birth center, Lynne suggested I set up my next appointments just in case. I agreed, saying I needed all the good juju I could get!

Could It Be?!
The contractions started up around 2:30pm on June 7th. I was keeping myself busy playing video games. I thought to myself, this is probably just more false labor. So, I got in the tub for a while, expecting them to go away shortly. They kept coming. I laid in bed for a while, but they kept coming. I decided to start timing them to see if they were coming in regular intervals, a good sign of real labor. Guy was smart enough not to suggest they were real, though…didn't want to jinx it. I'm not a superstitious person, but when I want something bad enough, I will take every precaution. So, I sat on my exercise ball and watched Guy play video games while I timed my contractions. Finally, after watching several Doctor Who episodes, they were 4 minutes apart and 1 minute long for an hour. I decided to call Betty. I remember putting on my Depends and my sneakers like I was suiting up for battle. I was determined and focused.

Early Labor...
We drove to Inanna, and there was another woman there giving birth. I could hear her grunts and finally the sweet sound of a baby's first cry. I was pumped.  Then Betty checked me and said I was still only 2 centimeters dilated. I was crushed! I thought, don't send me home, don't send me home. She told us to take a walk. So we walked up and down University Drive, stopping every 2 minutes to breathe through a contraction. Of course, we also stopped at McDonald's for some ice cream. One hour later, Betty checked me again. I was a "loose" 2 centimeters. It was getting late, so Betty suggested that I take a sleep aid to rest through the early labor and go home to get some rest. My choices were Unisom, Ambien, or a shot of something stronger (can't recall the name). I knew the Unisom wouldn't be strong enough, so I went with Ambien. The next couple hours were a nightmarish blur. I was in this dream state where I drifted in between a horrible nightmare and a reality of intense contractions. I remember reaching for Guy in bed, trying to stay lucid enough to ask him to call Betty and tell her I was ready to come back. Next thing I knew, we were there and I was in the tub! Let me take a moment to say I will make an effort to never ever take Ambien again. Yikes.

Welcome to Labor Land.
When I got back to the center around 12:30am, I was 6 centimeters. We were in business! I jumped in that tub as fast as I could. There I was, laboring away in the tub which felt SO much better. Guy was holding a cool washcloth on my neck, since I was in there for several hours. By this time, I was in transition. I could try to describe it, but it probably wouldn't suffice. Was it painful? Yes…but it was a purposeful pain, and when you know why it feels a certain way, it somehow makes it tolerable. This is not the kind of pain you experience in any other time of your life, so for me to experience it was kind of fulfilling, in a way. Plus, I knew it would not last forever, so that really helped. Pretty sure my water broke while I was in there, too. Guy stepped out to make the call to our mothers, my sister, and my best friend Nikki. He also put on some music at some point, and I guess he never had a chance to change the album on my iPod, because The Best of Sade was playing on repeat THE WHOLE TIME. I didn't care much, though. In fact, it probably helped me zone out into "labor land."
Betty was so incredibly helpful, without being bossy or controlling. With each contraction, she would tell me I was doing a great job, and that if I felt the  urge to bear down, that I should go with it. At some point, Betty said to someone, "she went from 2 centimeters, to 6, and now she's 9 and a half!" Music to my ears! I jumped out of the tub when I was just about ready to push.

Meanwhile, my poor family had to listen to a strange chorus of "Smooth Operator" and my labor noises. It was time to push, and I honestly didn't know they were even out there. I think this really worked in my favor because I didn't hold back. I remember watching videos of women making noises like mooing, singing, and even something reminiscent of an airplane taking off. It seems funny to someone who is not in labor, but once you are in that moment, you just let your body make whatever noise it needs to get through.

Birthing My Baby Girl...
I thought pushing would be the easier part of my labor, but it turned out to be the hardest. Apparently, Olive's head was caught on the last little bit of my cervix that refused to dilate. I was pushing on the bed. Then I was squatting by the bed. Guy was holding me up over a mirror as I squatted for what seemed like hours. Finally, Guy and the midwives had to push against my belly while one reached in and turned her head. I don't remember this at all, but I am so thankful I had midwives who knew to do this, because apparently it worked. Not sure how that would have played out in a hospital. Anyway, there I was on the bed pushing effectively at last. Guy holding one leg, Lynne on the other, and Betty in front of me to guide me through it.  Guy tells me I was smiling through the whole thing. I believe him, because I look back at that time and it is shimmery and lovely. I hear Betty and Lynne's gentle encouragement, Guy offering me refreshment in between contractions, and my inner voice telling me this was really happening and I am about to see my baby. I just had to push her out. Contraction, push, push, push, relax for a moment. Repeat. I really don't know how long this lasted, but I do remember that ring of fire. The moment when her head was emerging. Yes, I felt it. And it was awesome.

It was 5 am when they told me to reach down and pull her out. I thought they were crazy! But then the idea of pulling my baby out myself took hold of me and I couldn't waste a single moment. I found her and pulled her out, and placed her on my chest. I thought, this is where you belong, little one. There is something incredibly satisfying about knowing I was the one who carried her for nine months, labored her down, and pulled her out of the confines of my womb to the safety of my arms. I looked at Guy, my best friend, the person with whom I shared love and life, and he glowed. I felt the joy in myself when I saw him. I looked at the daughter we created together, and I saw that same glow. I thought I knew what happiness felt like, but I had no idea. This is happiness.

A New Life Starts!
Olivia Carol Johnson was 8 pounds, 11 ounces of perfection. Happily, I had only a tiny laceration, and required zero stitches. I swear, you guys, it was the olive oil. After a quick exam and a visit from the family, Olive and I passed out on the bed while Guy slept on the couch in the room. Many hours later, I woke up to that pretty little face sleeping so peacefully. I just wanted to stay there forever! But, I really wanted to get home to my own bed and cozy up with my husband and baby. Luckily, having her at the birth center meant I could take her home as soon as I felt ready (as long as we were healthy).

I just want to take a moment to give props to my midwives. I will always be grateful to Inanna Birth Center for what they did for us. They gave us a happy, encouraging, and most importantly, safe environment in which I could birth my baby the way I felt I needed to. I can't imagine going anywhere else to get the level of service and care they provide. Betty was so calming and ready to answer all of my questions (seriously, I had millions). Jean's expertise and experience was especially reassuring. Lynne made me feel like a part of her family, always very personable. Patty so kind and gentle, as a fellow mother, I knew she was a great source of information and advice. They all were very busy and yet they took the time to get to know me and my husband. Combine that with their many years of medical training and expertise, why wouldn't I choose them? I recommend them to every woman who knows they want a positive, safe, and natural childbirth.