Sunday, 14 September 2014

Too fast

It's only been two weeks and already, too fast, too fast.

There are those size 1 diapers that I mistakenly bought because I forgot that such a thing as newborn size existed until after he was born. They were so ridiculously big on him and now they fit him just fine.

(Let's not discuss how, when I first went to buy all the various post-birth necessities, I forgot about diapers altogether. Basically, the punch line is, I have run out of brain.)

His legs aren't all scrunched up anymore and his arms aren't nearly so scrawny and his face isn't wrinkled and his skull is lovely and round and he doesn't smell like birth and too fast, too fast.

How can he be bigger already? What did he look like last week? What will he look like next week? I'll forget about today but I don't want to, I just want to cling, collect each day and hold it right in my fist so I never forget what he looked like today and yesterday and tomorrow, capture his scent too, record every little facial expression and newborn sound.

I've spent hours each day just sitting here while he breathes the rapid newborn rhythm of sleep. The top of his head is baptized with endless kisses; I whisper steady murmurs of love. I inhale deeply every few moments. Close my eyes and savour the weight of him of my chest, knees pressed into the soft skin of my stomach. He shudders, shifts, sleeps on.

The kids gather round with books and games and kisses. I read aloud, imagining how my voice must sound to him, his ear resting against me. I play chess with the boy. The kindergartener works on his letters with me. Baby girl reaches over to play with my hair, thumb in her mouth, still, always, for now. Evening arrives and we move to the kitchen table while the husband and I play a board game, Pandemic or Power Grid or Ticket to Ride, or the three of us snuggle on the couch and watch Sherlock or Doctor Who or Top Gear.

Life continues on around us as I sit here with this growing creature. I know it will pass too fast, it already is, and I want to soak up these days while I can. Nothing is urgent; everything else can wait or continue as it will. I'm busy sitting with my baby.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

The day before Labour Day

Our newest son was born at home at 11:02 pm on Sunday, August 31, 2014, weighing 8 lbs 8 oz.

We are all, as always, madly in love with this beautiful little person.

Now, for those interested, the long version...

My sisters had arrived. Our van purchase had been finalized. The baby's due date had come and gone, as had the next few days, and still there was nothing more than the occasional contraction here and there. Which would have been fine, except that my sisters were, by unfortunate extenuating circumstances, leaving first thing Monday morning.

I spent that week giving the baby the usual cajoling - spicy food, birthing brownies, long walks, and so on - but all it did was leave me with heartburn and sore hips. Twice I considered and then decided against a membrane sweep from my midwife, as nothing seemed to indicate that my body was on the verge of labour. Like his siblings before him, this baby was in no rush to leave his cozy womb.

Sunday morning dawned somewhat more hopeful. The contractions were more frequent and of a different nature, crampy and lower like the ones that had preceded our daughter's birth. We went for a walk in hopes of helping things become more established, but by mid-afternoon it was all still rather flaky. Mild, irregular, nothing much to write home about. Still, it was something, so at 4:30, I made the decision to call the midwife and request a membrane sweep.

The risks of the sweep seemed very minimal at this point; either it would tip the contractions into a more established zone, or it would all fizzle out again after some discomfort. The midwife came, swept, and went, and we soon settled in to Sunday dinner (lasagna - I was done with spice-induced heartburn at this point). The contractions did indeed gradually pick up. When labour seemed well established, with contractions coming strong and steady, the husband insisted that I call the midwife before we ended up with another unplanned unassisted birth. I agreed, and by the time she arrived at 8:30, I was feeling rather grateful that I hadn't waited any longer. My midwife immediately called for the second midwife and the waiting began, everyone certain it wouldn't be much longer now.

Then it all stopped.

Too many eyes on me? Too much pressure to hurry up and birth this baby before the girls had to leave? Just a simple matter of false labour thanks to the sweep done earlier that afternoon? A bit of a pause, or a full-out stop? The midwife, with my gratitude, had everyone leave the room for a while. A bit of space, some breathing room, time to collect our thoughts. The husband and I talked.

One of my sisters came in to tell me that our mom had suggested we try to change the flights to the following day (we won't get into how the flights were supposed to be that day to begin with, but when I went to book them, she couldn't possibly take the day off work to drive to the city to pick the girls up on the Tuesday instead of Labour Day - those "unfortunate extenuating circumstances" I mentioned earlier). I decided it was worth a try, gave my beloved WestJet a phone call, explained the situation, and asked if we could switch to the exact same flight, just one day later.

Well, we could, for $500.

Unfortunately, $500 for the possibility that maybe-I-will/maybe-I-won't have the baby during that additional 24 hours really wasn't in our budget. Especially not with the new van sitting in our driveway, ready and waiting to seat our soon-to-be-four children. But she absolutely could not wave the difference in the (exact same, one day later) flight fees; disappointed, I chose to leave their flights as they were and hope for the best.

Thanks for nothing, WestJet.

I hung up the phone and the husband came back into the bedroom, asked what I wanted to do now.

"I want to watch Doctor Who." What? We hadn't yet got around to watching the newest episode, and I needed a distraction.

"Are you serious?" he asked.


"...Okay! I'll be right back with the laptop." He's a good man, he knows when not to argue.

I paced the room while we watched the Doctor enter the Dalek. The midwives sat talking quietly together outside the door. The girls corralled the children, who were quickly approaching the over-tired and over-excited stage. Everyone waited, but other than the occasional mild contraction, things were looking decidedly unhopeful.

Halfway through the episode, the midwife came in to check on us. I was feeling more than a little discouraged by this point. The midwife gave us a few different options: she could send the second midwife home for some rest while staying herself for a while longer, we could try some different positions and movements to see if labour picks up again, we could try some other methods to encourage labour...or she could break my water and the baby would in all likelihood arrive very soon afterwards.

It was 10:00 at that point and I wasn't feeling labour. My dilation had been at 4 cm when the midwife arrived to do the sweep, and a quick internal check confirmed no change. To me, the options were either go to bed or get this done with.

Any other baby, I'd have gone to bed. But we had flown my sisters out here with the intent that they be at the birth, and it wasn't their fault that their return flight ended up having to be earlier than we had initially planned. It meant a lot to them - and to me - that they be there for the delivery.

We discussed the various risks and possible outcomes of breaking my water. There were no guarantees. But I was six days past my EDD, I had been in active labour, and my midwife expected that in all likelihood, breaking my water would result in the baby arriving within the next hour or so.

The husband and I discussed it some more. It was so far outside my typical view of birth to consider breaking my water for no purpose other than to hurry things along, and I was having a hard time with the idea. Even the sweep had been beyond my comfort zone; I prefer to leave baby alone, let him or her arrive when they're ready, medical reasons aside. I confessed my anger that by having my sisters come, I had also given my mother this small measure of inclusion in and influence over my labour.

"But it's like that Doctor Who quote you love: Just because there's some bad, the good things don't become less important. You've enjoyed having your sisters here. You want them here for the delivery. This isn't her choice, it's yours. I feel comfortable with either option. Do what feels right to you."


Oh. That man. I wiped away a few tears, took a few deep breaths, and told the midwife I wanted to have my water broken.

At 10:18, the midwife broke my water, reminding me as she did so that a warm shower would help ease the transition. I shut the laptop at the foot of the bed before she began; I couldn't have my water broken while a Dalek had such a direct view of the proceedings. The experience was uncomfortable, to put it mildly, and I was grateful to step into the hot shower as soon as it was done.

The contractions picked up immediately. They were indeed more intense, but the water was lovely on my back. Each contraction was preceded by a gush of water; I'd lean into it, knees bent, moaning low while reminding myself to keep breathing, keep breathing. Then it would ease and I'd rock and sway through the interim cramps, talking with whoever was at the door at the time - sometimes a sister, one of the kids, the midwife, or most often the husband.

The husband kept asking if he could get me anything. Finally, feeling amusingly annoyed by the question, I asked for a TARDIS so I could pop a few minutes into the future when this would all be over. He explained why that wouldn't work (nerd), so I suggested an epidural instead. He winced at the thought of a needle, and I agreed - even then, the idea of having a needle inserted into my spine sounded like someone's idea of a sick joke. We chuckled about that until the next gush of water indicated the arrival of another contraction.

The intensity continued to build and I knew it was almost time. After one contraction nearly brought me (literally) to my knees, I told the husband to turn off the water and call the kids in while I knelt on the shower floor. The midwife slid a towel and blanket under me, the next contraction hit, and I hollered low through the push. I reached down to control the speed of arrival as the head emerged, followed, as always, by that blissful sense of the worst of it being over. After a very brief pause, the next contraction delivered the rest of the baby, which I guided forward and lowered onto the waiting blanket. It was the first time I had caught my own baby.

The baby let out a cry, then relaxed into the blanket. It had been 45 minutes since my water had been broken, and everything had gone as perfectly as it could possibly go. The next 15 minutes are a blur of congratulations, discomfort, joy, and that lovely moment of "Well, what is it?" "It's a boy!" Our two costume-loving middle children had attended the birth dressed as a knight and a dragon, and everyone else had been there to witness the moment as well.

After the placenta arrived, the oldest boy cut the cord, grinning the whole time. The midwife passed the baby to his Daddy while I took a short but glorious shower. Clean, I slid gratefully into bed and watched as everyone said hello to this new little person.

Our sweet youngest son is four days old now. He's healthy and snuggly and nurses well and what more is there to say? We are so grateful for his presence in our home and our family.

Friday, 29 August 2014

The Edge

Sometimes I linger too long at that place between fully awake and fully asleep. There are half-dreams and half-thoughts, the remains of the night and the beginning of the day. I don't feel ready to surrender to wakefulness, but neither can I seem to fall properly back to sleep. And so I linger there, on the edge.

Eventually I give in. Open my eyes. Today my reward is the sweet sight of baby girl fully and totally asleep. Her thumb hangs halfway out of her mouth, her other arm resting against the swell of her soon-to-be (any day now, any minute) baby brother or sister. Under that arm, her two constant companions are pinned between us: the doll I made for one of her brothers, and the rainbow dinosaur her aunt and uncle brought back from Brazil. Behind her lay her three blankets, one Grandma-knit, one Oma-sewn, and her car blanket that somehow migrated to her sleeping space during the past few hot weeks. She is utterly abandoned to sleep and I marvel at her, study this toddler-baby who is both so small and so big at once.

At the end of the bed, the husband is fastening his belt. It felt like only moments ago he had been pressed against my back, arm over me as we slept, interrupted by his alarm (Doctor Who theme, because we're geeks like that) reminding him to get out of bed every few minutes. No contractions meant I couldn't rescue him from this last work day of the week. He kisses me goodbye and leaves quietly. He'll text me later, I know, asking me to go into labour so he can come home from a boring day at the office, and I'll reply in faux-annoyance but it's been five days of this and the annoyance isn't entirely a joke at this point.

Some days I manage to fall back asleep after he leaves. Today I stay awake, just lying there quietly, thinking, until baby girl wakes up too and her early-riser brother hears her babbling and bursts into the room and the day has started, time for breakfast. My time of lingering is over.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Tell me a story without an ending.

I have happily spent this summer devouring fiction and memoirs, a veritable deluge of stories. Morton, Flynn, Graham, Hunt, Moriarty, Worth, Picoult, Green, Niffenegger; love and loss, murder and mystery, birth and paper towns and secrets and time travel. Each one has been delicious as it sinks into my marrow, my very being, in a way that no instructing or soap-boxing or arguing ever could.

The stories become part of me, and through them I come to better know the heart and soul of humanity.

* * *

I've become weary of conclusions.

How I Quit Sugar For Good

10 Steps to Stop Yelling

5 Products You Need Today

The Secret to a Happy Marriage

50 Ways to Make Summer Memorable

How _______ Changed My Life for Good

Conclusions, all of them. The last page of people's stories. The ending, the final thoughts, the lesson. They're tidy and clean and instructive and often quite lovely...but I'm feeling burnt out on lovely. What happened to the middle part, the long messy twisting journey that preceded the arrival?

What do I want? I want unfinished. Unpolished. I don't want the conclusion or the lesson or the ten-point how-to. I want the adventure, not the destination. The mess, not the polished finale. How about a bit of uncertainty? Some loops back to try again? And what of dreams still far off, not just the ones coming true now?

I want to read more than the last chapter of the book, where everything comes neatly together and Happily Ever After begins. I could do with less outrage and certainty and cynicism, more questioning and wondering and wonder. A story without an ending.

* * *

Stories are what make us unique. Even computers can't do it. Just us, just people, telling our stories to each other and down through the generations. They endure. They help us to see one another - not labels and divisions and boxes, but one another. Not judgement, but compassion and understanding. Not lines in the sand, but hearts and souls that are so much more like our own than we ever before realized.

Tell me a story. Just the beginning, the middle, the cross-road, the climax, the wherever-you-are along the path. The end of that particular road will come in time, and there will be other roads that begin, so many of them, branches and twists and forks and where next? Snippets from the journey, that's what I want. I'm tired of only hearing the endings.

Tell me an unfinished story.

* * *

Once upon a yesterday...

I splashed boiling water on my 40-weeks-pregnant belly and damn, did that hurt. I fell straight asleep that night and woke up in the morning still waiting, waiting, for that 40 week baby to arrive. And in the waiting there was boredom, jumpiness, a bit of anxiety and impatience alongside the anticipation.

Perhaps tomorrow there will be more to tell.

And perhaps not.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

This hot and sticky summer

This summer has been hot days and cold iced tea, week after week, as we make our last memories as a family of five and prepare to become six. And what treasured memories they have been...

Reading poems to the kids as we drive along the dark highway, breaking up the arguments and the he-touched-me's with some Roald Dahl and A. A. Milne and whatever else I could find on my phone.

Going to sleep smelling like a campfire and waking up eager for that one-dollar five-minute shower. New friends at the campground and new words brought back to the tent and new freedoms as they head off to play some more while we try (again) to get the campfire to stay lit. Hiking, museums, and dinosaurs (oh my).

The boy's first time getting lost in the neighbourhood, and remaining calm while walking fast and then relief and hugs and dried tears and reassuring words. And then a printed map and a review and trying again and sweet success. Swim lessons and ice skating lessons, badges and goals.

Weeding the garden again and again (and again and again and) the way it becomes one more reminder of the inner weed-yanking that must happen endlessly within me. Fresh carrots eaten daily, green tops strewn around the yard by children with more pressing matters to attend to than keeping the yard tidy: playing soccer, riding bikes, drinking cold water from the tap.

Cherry stained fingers and boxes of blueberries, handfuls snatched by hungry children every time they walk by. Blueberry jam spread on toast, jars of it stored for future less bountiful months.

A certain baby girl's second birthday, with balloons and chocolate zucchini cake and gifts and a new birthday skirt, elastic still safety pinned together at the back because she won't take it off long enough for me to finish the waist. A new backpack and a beautiful Oma-made quilt and puzzles and joy and celebration and singing, all for this delightful child.

A new van and a borrowed bassinet and soft lambskin and tiny clothes, all in preparation for the newest little one, any day now. Waiting. Waiting.

Good moments and bad moments all jumbled together, grace and impatience and apologies and naps and love and laughter and tears. Every day a bit of everything, messy but mostly good, I think.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

On not writing

Half-written stories sit unshared because they have no tidy beginning or ending. They're just snippets, really, but I can't stop myself from writing them.

For as long as I can remember, I have narrated my life. Often I narrated in the third person, which drove me crazy but my brain just wouldn't stop, wouldn't stop silently telling the story of my life back to myself. Even the most mundane details ran through my head in story form:

"She headed to the bathroom, emptied her bladder, wondered once again how many squares of toilet paper the average female used afterwards. It irritated her not to know - is she typical? efficient? wasteful? With all the ridiculous studies out there, has no one bothered to study this?"

As though my trips to the bathroom needed narration. Or my choice of breakfast cereal. Or the things I noticed as I wandered through the halls at school. As though anything in my quiet average life even warranted narration.

Even as a little girl, both the narration and the annoyance with the narration were there in my head:

"She sat down with her Barbies, trying to decide which storyline to act out today...Oh STOP, just let me play!"

And then - then! - the most irritating of all, when I would third-person narrate my annoyance with the running stream of third-person narration:

"Why couldn't she turn it off? Why couldn't she just wash her hands or observe an interaction or pay the cashier without her brain mentally writing it down, as though she isn't already aware of what she herself is currently doing? Maddening! Infuriating! And most of all, unbelievably annoying."

I remember spending weeks trying to at least shift to a first-person narrative. I was a teenager by then, already in love with writing. I had my pen-and-paper diaries, my online diary, my secret poems that I have never shared with anyone because somehow I find poetry to be the most intimate of all forms of writing. There were stories for English class - one particularly dark one was passed around by friends and classmates, my quiet shy self enjoying a bit of attention for a few days. Even essays were a pleasure to write, choosing just the right words, transitioning from paragraph to paragraph, topic to topic, presenting my arguments and sources and oh, it was satisfying.

I did manage, at last, to get rid of the third person in my head. That first-person narration continues, though, and tiny blog posts continually draft themselves without my permission. Even when I'm not writing, I'm never really not writing.

It feels good to let those words out, but sometimes it feels better to simply keep them to myself. Let the story write itself, silent and unshared, and hope that the words will still be there when I'm old and sifting through memories of the past.

Onward we go, ever onward, as the story unfolds around us.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Evening for one

They've been going to sleep well, these kids, a mercy after long days of skating and swimming and errands. And dinner, why does it have to come every night? Odd how the simple act of eating can cause such mental exhaustion - choosing, cooking, cajoling, cleaning. I'm ready to put myself to bed after all that.

But I don't. They tidy their toys and eat their snack and brush their teeth. I read to them about Laura Ingalls and Nellie Oleson ("I think she's the meanest person ever!", they exclaim). At last I put them to bed and then I stay up too late playing spider solitaire while listening to sappy love songs. It's kind of pathetic but it's nice, too.

Eventually the satisfaction of lining up all the cards just so wears off, so I close the computer and read for the next hour (or two or three) instead. I'm going to regret this in the morning, I know.

When it gets too late to justify just one more chapter, I head to the boys' bedroom where they're both sound asleep. The preschooler looks like an angel, as he always does when he's sleeping (perhaps simply by virtue of it being the only time he's quiet, ever), while the long and lanky boy is sprawled out, arms grazing the floor, like a gangly teenager who doesn't quite fit into his bed anymore. I want to leave them both sleeping peacefully where they are, save my arms and my back the effort of carrying them down the hall and depositing them on my bed, where they proceed to squirm around and kick me all night long. I promised them, though, and a promise is a promise, so my arms and back and I suck it up and move them into my bed. The oldest startles when I lay him down, swinging out his hand and catching me square in the bridge of the nose. This must be my thanks, I think sardonically, for keeping my word.

They ask to join me every night when their dad is out of town. Sometimes I say yes and sometimes I insist on a night of sound sleep by myself. I don't know if they sense, like me, the emptiness that seems to pervade the house when he's not here at night, even with the four (and a half) of us still remaining, or if they simply like to take advantage of the chance to snuggle back into the bed they each slept on until they were kicked out by the next baby, one after the other. Baby girl got kicked out early, though; maybe these kids are just preparing me again for the extra space I'll lose when Baby Number Four arrives to fill it.

I re-read the recipe for the lentil, carrot, and potato hash I have planned for tomorrow evening's dinner, jotting down the items I need to pick up. The kids are likely to complain, but I'm thoroughly tired of the various combinations of sandwiches, soup, and breakfast food that we eat so often when it's just us. What else...blood test tomorrow (oh boy). The boy's swim bag is by the front door; the preschooler's skates and warm clothes are in the trunk. Everything's ready, I just need to convince myself to turn out the light and go to sleep.

I suppose now's as good a time as any. Good night, world.

Just writing along with the EO...