Helpers

I really really wish I felt better while pregnant. There are pregnant women being Wonder Womanly and kicking butt at tennis and for a very long time, just existing is a pretty major accomplishment in my book.

I’m finally some better, but in that long hibernation space, I felt like the kids were mostly just watching tv and mainlining Goldfish. As it turns out, though, Pippin was developing newfound independence and a willingness to help.

In the past few weeks, he’s started pouring his own milk (if we keep a small bottle filled for him), feeding the dog, checking the mail, keeping an eye on his sister (who he endearingly and mysteriously calls “Sweet Pete”), helping me put away groceries and helping more consistently with baking.

It’s grand. It’s a reminder for me of a couple things: first, I should keep an eye on my kids’ development and give them chances to try new tasks. And more importantly, I’m learning that even in a season of seeming stasis, the kids are growing all the time. They are not (just!) developing complexes from me repeating, “Please don’t touch Mama, please go watch more Daniel Tiger” — maybe the boredom and benevolent neglect even hastens these leaps.

Well, Sweet Pete, looks like Mama’s not getting around to it anytime soon. Should I try?

Captain Barnacles gives little sis a push on the swing

Promises to those struggling to conceive 

I will say it up front: I don’t think I can pretend I enjoy every minute, and I’m not sure that actually helps. I will complain through the throw up (mine and theirs) and the tantrums (mine and theirs) but I will never let my gratitude become completely overshadowed. I know what you’d do for these barfy little miracles.

I promise never to forget you in the busyness of these early years, and to try to never forget your feelings. I will mourn your miscarriage, probably awkwardly and with the wrong words. I will remember you on Mother’s Day. I will try to check in on your TTC journey — not too often to be pestersome, but so you know I care.

I will let you hold my squishy new baby as much or as little as you want. My babies have come relatively easily to me, but I will not forget that strange longing for a baby cheek pressed against mine, even when I feel like I’m drowning in them.

In my dark room at night, burping a baby for the thousandth time, I will remember your name in a changing litany of longing women to whom I dedicate these milky Hail Marys. I remember you when I huddle over the toilet, throwing up again even though it’s second trimester and IT IS SO UNFAIR. You have a thing or two to teach me about unfairness, I know.

I don’t know if any of these words help. I only know that this blog has always been about motherhood and right now is swimming in pregnancy, too. I know it hurts to feel drowned out, so know this: I want to hear your story, too.
Love,
Katherine

Moans and Groans

Pregnancy is a lot of groan-worthy symptoms for me, but somewhere along the line I noticed something else embarrassing: the pregnancy moan.

Get your mind out of the gutter, guys, but if motherhood makes me live in my body more than ever before, pregnancy makes me often feel all I am is a body, or merely a collection of side effects, or a big disgusting vat of baby-brewing.

Once I noticed the involuntary moaning, though, I began to better appreciate the exquisite pleasures in day to day life when you’re mostly pretty uncomfortable: a sip of perfectly cold water, the relief of dropping your weary sciatic bones onto a squishy sofa, getting home from work and changing directly into voluminous pajamas.

These moments are oases in long days. In first trimester, I’d eat mechanically whatever seemed least disgusting, obediently and hourly, and then, a gift from above, every so often something would taste better than anything in my unpregnant state — a friend’s chicken salad, for instance, shared after many lonely days of fatigue. My husband’s improvised pasta carbonara. Mint chocolate ice cream when I thought the nausea was about to win that round.

Once you offer that initial fiat, pregnancy is a train with no stops. You’re merely a passenger and you aren’t picking the route. But when I look for these moments of pure, unexpected, mildly embarrassing  joy, I can better notice the beautiful scenery that passes me by while mostly I’m preoccupied with the jolting, tortuous route. I am reminded of what pregnancy is in all its mostly sucky, still miraculous glory: pure gift.

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Blissful second trimester nap the summer I was brewing up Pippin

Dear Control Freak Pregnant Lady

You find yourself queasy, or actively vomiting, or sleeping at every opportunity. If you’re like me my first pregnancy, this was not part of the plan. Pregnancy, sure! Sleeping every moment outside of work that you’re not huddled over the toilet? NOT ON PLAN.

Baby doesn’t care. Welcome to motherhood.

It is so, so hard to surrender to this season of comparative powerlessness while you wait for hormones to shift and wellness to return. By now, I imagine your puppeteer hand is twitching pretty severely. Surely, from the sickbed you’ve taken to like a Victorian damsel, you can still exert some influence.

For you, through three first trimesters’ bitter experience, a list of things you cannot control right now:

  • You cannot make your loving supportive husband do all your chores exactly as you would and on your timeline. Believe me, I’ve tried, and wound up crying on the couch that not only I couldn’t mop the floor before guests came over, but that I couldn’t be the kind of person who didn’t care I hadn’t mopped the floor, either.
  • You cannot control how much TV your sister (or friend or mother in law) lets your kids watch while you are resting. In fact, you may even end up letting them watch more on your shift than you feel great about. They may also eat a lot more Goldfish so that they stop bothering you about your constant nausea snacks. It’s fine. It’s a season.
  • You cannot control how your crappy coworker completes your responsibilities, or who you hand your job over to if you’re leaving. This is hard. You care about your work, but things change when you’re pregnant and suddenly all your obligations center around this little person you don’t know and kind of resent. It’s ok to be sad and frustrated.
  • You probably can’t keep all your social commitments. It’s fine. Pregnancy is a get out of jail free card and because I’m so wretchedly sick from six weeks on, I’m pretty open about telling people so they don’t think I just suck. Sometimes I still feel like I suck anyway as I’m backing out of book club and road trips and everything else, but trust me: you don’t. This isn’t you. It’s a season.
  • You probably can’t even engineer a ritual of a certain food at a certain time that will get you through the day consistently feeling great. You will try lots of stuff, and most of it won’t work, and then more of it will, and then you’ll realize that was probably just the morning sickness dissipating. Whatever. Take it.

The good news: THINGS YOU CAN CONTROL IN FIRST TRIMESTER:

  • What exciting plot-driven fluff you  read waiting for the hours to pass.
  • How much you wallow on Facebook looking at people who don’t throw up every day
  • You can practice relaxing your body! Even now, with labor a million years off and this baby hardly feeling real to you. While you lie in bed, you can practice finding tension in your muscles and releasing it. This will definitely help if unmedicated childbirth is a possibility on down the road, but I think it would help even if you were just dealing with aches and sleeplessness in later trimesters, too. (The Bradley Method has some awesome exercises if you need more information.)
  • Tinkering with treatments. Only do this with a doctor’s or midwife’s guidance, obviously, but once you’ve shooed away those awful “Have you tried Saltines?” people (seriously, you don’t need them in your life), veterans will have all kinds of advice worth trying. Vitamins at night! High protein snacks! Hydration when you can manage it! In three pregnancies I haven’t found anything that fixed my morning sickness, but I’ve found lots of little things that helped. You can lose yourself in a lot of online research on first trimester treatments, and honestly losing yourself for awhile in these long early weeks is kind of the goal.
  • How you use your misery. Try, when you can, to offer up your aggravations for the people you know who would so love to have a baby. You don’t have to feel guilty that you’re getting what they want and you’re miserable, but you can try to use this as an opportunity for prayer.

How you handle surrendering control during first trimester is up to you, and takes practice. It’s ok to find it hard and to tell people you are finding it hard. I threw up my lunch in the trash at work once and the janitor came up and started gushing about how pregnancy was the best thing that ever happened to him and his wife and…I was not so psyched myself. But I thought I would be eventually, and when I felt better, I was.

Three pregnancies in, I’m a bit better now at not resenting my husband for his ability to get by on fewer than 12 hours of sleep, but the honest truth is I have to be pretty sick before accepting my reliance on other people comes easily. When I’m at the hobbling point, I can peacefully accept all the help that comes my way, but give me a few hours nausea free and I’ll be back to my old tricks of trying to do all the laundry and crying.

Hang in there, and let me know if I can pray for you, or listen to you vent.

Dispatches from an Enchanted Castle

Onions and garlic root in the pantry. Dog fur collects in drifts in the corners. On a sunlit couch somewhere in the house, a mama naps.

Or doesn’t nap. Just lies there with eyes closed tight, still as Snow White, still as Sleeping Beauty. And around her, her children play.

So, I was wrong in one of my last posts, and I am indeed pregnant. And for our family, that means everything goes into suspended animation. I’m almost thirteen weeks now, and can sometimes get by with just one nap and twelve hours at night. I can get by with a half dose of Zofran in the morning and a dose of Unisom and B6 at night.

But mostly, there’s a lot of lying around. In the spectrum of things, I seem to fall about in the middle first trimester: not glowingly symptom-free, not hospital fodder (though a stomach bug did earn me an IV this time).

Without my friends, it would be an unbroken schedule of hunch-walking from obligation to obligation with hibernation in between and lots and lots of tv and fast food for the kiddos.

It can feel like stagnation, or suffocation. It definitely feels interminable, every time I invariably fall ill at six weeks and stare down the rest of the first trimester. (I still have a pretty sensitive puke trigger after that, but not the soul-crushing constant nausea.)

Instead, this time, I’m trying to see it as a season. Like Quiet Month, but with more mint chocolate chip ice cream. I’m receiving more help from my village than in past pregnancies and trying to just have the grace and gratitude to accept it.

For three weeks there, Christmas lights turned on by the kids shone from our porch like some weird Lenten anomaly, a quarantine beacon: in this house, no one stirs. But that’s not the death sentence it felt like in my first pregnancy, nor the cataclysm of spoiled plans of my second pregnancy. It’s a season of enchantment in the old fairy tale sense: something strange and mysterious and hard, but yielding something wonderful. 

Negotiating Surrender: Quiet Time

The nap, my friends, is dead. It made it past 4, and still lives on in sick days and after late nights, with much cajoling. But by and large, Pippin seems to be of his father’s school of sleep: less than the average bear. (His mother, on the other hand, was falling asleep on the way home from kindergarten until 6.)

I fought long and bitterly for nap time, which Pip would have liked to discontinue at 2 1/2, when I was pregnant with Scout, and which possibly would have literally killed either me or him. Sleepy introvert mamas need their quiet time, too. And now I’ve put a similarly insane amount of work into rebranding nap time as “quiet time.”

We have this ok to wake up clock, and at the time, in grad school, it felt like a wild indulgence even to ask for it on a Christmas list, but it’s paid for itself in dividends to the point where we contemplate even packing it on trips. Not only do we use it for morning wakeup, but it’s invaluable for making quiet time happen.

What I do is put Pippin in his bedroom by himself, set the clock for an hour and walk away. The rule is simple enough even he can understand: if I can’t tell if he’s taking a nap, he gets a treat. (Usually half an episode of Octonauts and five yogurt raisins, in this hedonist family.) He may come down only if he needs help using the bathroom, and he must be very, very quiet. I am very firm on this point — some might say fanatical.

At first I’d only give him books, but now that he’s got the general concept down, he gets to bring a bag of quiet toys upstairs with him. When he’s a bit more reliable, I’ll let him branch out into art supplies up there — for now, he writes his name all over the room in white chalk of mysterious origins.

I don’t think I need to tell you how essential this is to my sanity. Years ago, Catholic All Year gave me permission to carve out quiet time for myself and my kids, something my mom, a much more extroverted caregiver, always prioritized for herself, too. I use the time for all kinds of frivolous and noble purposes, from dinner prep to naps of my own, from reading to writing to straightening up. It is a small oasis in our day, a little moment of peace that benefits us all.

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Precipice 

Around here, the daffodils are blooming, the irises and the forsythia. And it’s all too early. People talk with trepidation: It’s beautiful, and welcome, but surely winter will be back. It won’t last.

Something similar is going on in our house. We are at a sweet spot in our family’s rhythms. Scout is approaching being weaned. I’ve got a plan for Pippin for next year. The house is tolerably under control. We are out of the trenches on most fronts.

But that means it’s probably just a matter of time until the cycle starts over again, and, God willing, I’m pregnant again.

Because I love my babies, and I’d love more, and I love parts of having a baby: picking a name, feeling the baby move, even labor. And the baby coming: the tiny clothes, the sweet snuggles, nursing. But it’s all really, really hard, right? My two pregnancies have not come close to a hyperemesis gravidarum diagnosis, but the first one in particular was one of the most discouraging, exhausting, bleak experiences of my (admittedly very privileged) life. The second time, both pregnancy and the newborn phase were easier, because I knew with personal evidence they would, in fact, come to an end, and could therefore better savor them. (Also, real talk, I took nausea medicine for the second go round, which obviously helped in the morale department.) Still, pregnancy means ceding control, and ceding it for a pretty long time — much longer than just pregnancy itself. It’s a scary, dreary prospect.

Just as winter is a fruitful time, bulbs fastening on to life underground, unseen, the hibernation and disarray of the pregnant season yields much that is good, too. It’s a season of Lent for me, and this early taste of spring has felt like Easter.

It’s a scary prospect, to go back under, to submit to the privations of Lent, the bleakness of winter, the aches of pregnancy, to wait for the return of blossomtome. But time out of mind, the only way up has been through. And Lent and pregnancy are, in the end, privileges: both are, if embraced, a time to toughen up, to grow closer to God — and followed by rich and lasting reward.

Lenten rose, spotted on a springlike Fat Tuesday walk