Night Fridge

There is something sacred about those long short nights of late pregnancy. It seems most of us find ourselves lit by the dull glow of the fridge in a sleeping house, too hungry or uncomfortable to sleep.

For some women, the temptation then is milk, or ice cream direct from the carton. For me, it’s the toaster all the way: a half bagel or, before I had kids old enough to demand their share, Poptarts (don’t they know Poptarts are bad for you!).

In those moments, the birth of this new person seems a source of incredulity, even as she squirms determinedly in your belly, resolutely human in her tiny hiccups, pointy heels applied to your ribs.

In those strange night moments when I was pregnant with Pippin, often I’d talk to my sister, just finishing her shift at a show venue in Brooklyn. Our lives then we’re so incomprehensibly different, each as improbable as the other.

Mostly, though, I slump down by the fridge door and chew meditatively. I turn on a lamp, not too bright, and sneak a few pages of my book. In my best moments, I pray. As birth gets nearer, I find it increasingly difficult to concentrate, sausaged into whatever mortifying pajamas I still fit, possibly too big to easily get back off the sofa.

“Sleep now while you can,” older women always say, and I want to sock those well-meaning ladies in the nose. Soon, I know, I’ll be able to roll in bed whenever I want. I’ll go whole hours without having to pee and eat dinner with heartburn impunity. Best of all, I’ll have this unknowable little person in my arms, no longer scrunched so uncomfortably into my innards. I try to remember, as I eat my bagel slowly in the dim, hushed house.

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A better-lit afternoon solo snack

The Bonus Baby

When I was growing up, all my close friends were the product of still-married couples who had two children, two or three years apart. All of them. It wasn’t until I was in college that I really got to know people from really big families (11 kids!) or only children raised by single mothers.

So I guess it’s not surprising that this spring I found myself newly and surprisingly pregnant, trying to push our crappy double stroller along the uneven pavement of Charleston, mildly panicking about how we’d decided to Go Big on this parenting thing.

We were looking for a coffee shop open early enough for preschooler/ravenous pregnant lady breakfast schedules into which I could cram the giant stroller. (I’m not sure where J was, possibly at the conference.) I wasn’t sick yet and certainly not visibly pregnant, but already I felt conspicuous among the toned and carefree early morning joggers huddled around their espressos.

I have struggled a bit with getting my head around this pregnancy. It made sense to everyone around me and to myself that I would endure pregnancy again to give Pip a sibling. In the circle I grew up in, it’s just what you do, and J and I love our siblings so much. But now am I just a glutton for punishment? Now that I’m visibly pregnant, a (socially awkward? creepy?) man in the library elevator commented, “You must really enjoy being pregnant.”

Um, I hate it.

But I love this bonus baby of ours. I love the idea of Scout being a big sister. I’m even looking forward to most of the newborn insanity, after Scout’s cheery babyhood helped redeem Pippin’s tense and somewhat lonely infancy.

I like the idea of a big family gathered around our first real, grownup dining room table, love to imagine the kids piled like puppies in our none-too-big house. J and I debate the probabilities that this will finally be our brown-haired, brown-eyed baby, resign ourselves to discussing minivans. Three. How did we get here?

It’s a little crazy, by the standards by which I was raised, but exciting, too. Three feels like extra credit or a symptom of insanity, depending on your perspective. And I do worry sometimes that we’ve asked too much of God: I’m halfway through my third barfy but remarkably uncomplicated pregnancy. I’ve got two rosily healthy, generally charming non-prodigies who mostly bring joy to the world. So many people struggle for one child, and here I am getting greedy with number three.

But having or not having my own babies will not help those who struggle to have their own, and occasionally worrying I’ve gotten too big for my (maternity) britches doesn’t negate the unique wonders we will encounter when we meet sweet Roo. She is number three, a tipping point in our family’s history, but more importantly, her own tiny, miraculous person. Even if I have three more (oh help), I don’t see that wonder getting old.

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Unique person 1

 

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Unique person numero dos

 

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

Commonplace Book, 30

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

What I’m fixing:

  • So rude of you to even ask.

What I’m reading:

  • Blood Red, Snow WhiteI don’t know if I’ve talked about our family’s ardent affection for Swallows and Amazonsa book that kicks of a series in which kids float around on a little sailboat in the Lake District and, charmingly, almost nothing happens. But did you know THE AUTHOR WAS A RUSSIAN SPY? And someone wrote a lovely, lyrical, fairy-tale-y account of Arthur Ransome’s time in Russia, and you can read it, and agree with me that although it’s basically the opposite of Swallows and Amazons, it’s really very good.
  • Till We Have FacesCurrently reading. Was supposed to finish for WRM, but since I was too sick to go, I have the luxury of reading it slowly in epsom salt baths that are not curing my morning sickness but still qualify as one of the more fun possible remedies.
  • Creating with God: The Holy Confusing Blessedness of PregnancyI’ve been gushing about this one over on Instagram. I thought I had found the best of faith-oriented books on the sanctifying suckiness of pregnancy (if not a genre, it should be), but au contraire! I’ve been underlining a lot. So glad it’s in the world.

“Pregnant women learn through pregnancy to trust others for their basic needs. They learn their own limits. They learn to ask for and receive help. They learn to surround themselves with communities of support…They learn to trust that God will meet their needs through the people around them. In short, pregnant women learn to live by faith.”

Currently book people even more than normal. (Also TV people…)

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.