Parenting lesson #5: Mommy brain is real.

Forget actual scientific research.  I don’t care what (mostly male) researchers have to say about pregnancy or momnesia.  I am confident I can claim 100% matter-of-factly that “mommy brain” is a real ailment.  It is my diagnosis for having a short attention span, terrible recall, and doing stupid stuff.

The coffee does not come out from there.
Exhibit A: Before having kids, I would have known coffee does not come out of that side.

Take Exhibit A.  Not once, but TWICE, I have tried to pour coffee into my mug from the hinged back of this coffee carafe instead of where the dispenser spout is.  I took this picture to document the second time this happened.  If you look closely, you can see that I managed to drench the sugar in the sugar bowl with coffee as well as the tablecloth before my friends were able to stop me.

And this is one documented example of hundreds.  I have poured coffee into my cereal and milk in my orange juice.  I have even poured liquids straight onto the counter.  I have found my missing keys in the refrigerator.    I can’t even recall simple words like “mug” and “cabinet,” so I often ask Greg to get me a “thing” from the “thing” and hope he can deduce what I need because I’m holding a coffee carafe.  This week alone, here is what I remember: On Monday I forgot to strap Ethan into his car seat when I went to the gym.  On Tuesday, I took out the trash in the pouring rain on my way out the door, and upon returning, Eliza said, “Mommy, the front door is open!”  Just to be safe, I waited for three police cars to arrive 20 minutes later to check that it wasn’t an intruder who had opened my door, but rather that we had left for two hours without closing and locking up.  Yesterday I grabbed my mailbox key instead of my neighbor’s house key to let out their dog, and I didn’t figure out the mistake until the key didn’t work in their door.  And just now as Greg got home, we found I had left my keys in the door for the umpteenth time.

Seriously, look how much bigger that belly is than my head.  Imagine how much of my brain just Ethan took.
Exhibit B.  Seriously, look how much bigger that belly is than my head. Imagine how much of my brain Ethan sucked into his.

Check out Exhibit B.  I’m going to say that the laws of proportion back me up on this.  My thought is if your body incubates a baby and provides what it needs to grow its own organs, bones, and especially brain, then just as the baby will take Vitamin D and Calcium from your bones, it will also take cells from your brain.  It also follows that the more times you go through this process, the worse off you are.  I’ve read that the parts of your brain that control motivation, reward behavior and emotion regulation actually grow after you give birth, presumably to help you care for the child.  That’s lovely.  But my brain can only do so much at a given time, so keeping a baby’s needs at the forefront means other things – like remembering the word “chair” – go out the window.  In fact, a British study showed that hormones can control spatial memory, which would explain why when you’re pregnant or a mommy with a baby, you can’t remember where you put things or why you walked into a room in the first place.

Sleep deprivation has to be a part of it.  We are sleep-deprived when pregnant, and even more so after giving birth.  This past week, Ethan has woken up every night, I think because he’s going through a growth spurt.  I fed him a bottle for a few nights in a row, and now I think he’s waking up because he got in that pattern.  (Ugh.)  He was sick before this, so I haven’t had a good night of uninterrupted sleep in a while.  Mommy brain always gets worse at times like these.  I am hopeful that I can get close to normal again soon.  I do think I remember it getting better.  I vaguely recall that once Zach was two, I felt like my brain was sharper and I could remember things better.  I think …

I think I’m resigned to having mommy brain forever because I’m getting older.  And maybe that’s part of it, too: maybe women are having children later in life, and so our brains are already less capable of bouncing back easily.  Like I said, I don’t claim to have any scientific basis for my conclusion.  I just know I’m right.  It is the one thing I can trust my brain on these days.

What is your funniest pregnancy or mommy brain moment?


If I could travel through time, this is what I would go back and tell myself after having my first baby

The beauty of the third baby
The beauty of the third baby. Photo credit: Chelsea Hudson Photography.

About a month ago, we welcomed our third child into this world.  I am in awe at what an amazing little miracle and gift from God he is.  The experience this time around has been so different.  Maybe it’s because I am more experienced.  Or maybe it’s because my mom stayed to help for three weeks instead of just one (and left today – sniff sniff).  Or it could be a number of other things.  But in thinking through the past four weeks, my mind dwells on so many beautiful, wonderful moments.  I wish I could have felt the same way when I had my first.  I keep thinking about things I wish I would have known or been able to focus on.  So for those of you out there whom this might help, here’s what I would say to myself if I could go back to the day before Eliza was born:

Hi there.  Tomorrow your life will change forever, but relax, it will be good.  It will be better than good.  But it will be harder than anything you’ve ever done before.  Your life as you knew it is not over; it’s just turning over a new leaf.

I know you have thought through everything you would like for labor and delivery.  You don’t need to throw it all out the window (because that’s actually what’s going to happen), but the whole process will be better if you are able to let go and release yourself to what’s not going your way or as you had hoped.  I know immediately after Eliza comes out you’re going to go through a really difficult time and you’re not going to feel a lot of joy and love for her right away.  Be okay with that.  It will come.  I can even tell you that despite how little you feel like holding and cuddling her now because of depression and your delivery injuries, that she has grown into one of the most nurturing and caring people you know.

Despite having read books about newborn care and taking nursing classes, you are going to struggle in a major way with both.  I think most new parents do to some extent.  This is normal and you should expect it.  Keep the phone numbers of friends who have already been through it handy, and warn them you might call in the middle of the night for support.  And then pick up the phone and actually call if you’re in a rough moment.

Having a baby is not like taking a math test, where if you study hard enough, there is a formula you use and you get the same result every time.  It couldn’t be more different from that.  So stop thinking about a sleep formula right now.  You cannot spoil this new life by holding her.  You are her favorite person, and your breasts her favorite part of you.  She will learn to sleep, but first she has to learn to eat.  In fact, go ahead and leave yourself topless for the first few days and keep her in a diaper, and let her sleep on your chest and nurse anytime she wants.  Enjoy her despite of and in the midst of your pain and baby blues.  Even though you’re not sleeping much and your whole bottom hurts, try to take her in.  You can’t, but you should try.   Journal your thoughts and write her love notes.  I’m talking a sentence here or there, because you won’t have time for more.

I know the sleepless nights that are coming.  You will get through them.  I know they seem interminable right now, but they will end.  I know there will be incessant crying, and the feeling that you’d just like to put her outside in the back yard so you can’t hear her for a few minutes.  You might want to squeeze her or shake her.  You won’t do it, but you will beat yourself up for having the thought.  Don’t do that, either.  This moment that is so hard is also fleeting, and she will sleep and stop crying.

Trust your natural motherly instinct and your body.  Get every bit of help you can get from lactation consultants, midwives, nurses or doulas in the first two days.  Make certain you are getting a good latch.  A bad latch will hurt and after doing it over and over, will mutilate your nipples.  It’s great to know you feel so strongly and fierce about nursing; but also know that if you just need rest and for someone else to feed her formula so you can sleep, doing that does not make you a failure or a bad mom or physically deformed.  When you find out that she’s lost too much weight, the formula supplement they are telling you she needs is not going to poison her.  Your husband and father were formula-fed, and they grew up healthy and pretty darned brilliant.

The pediatrician and lactation consultant are telling you to have a Guinness a day not only because it will help you produce more milk, but also because you need to take a serious chill pill.  Your body cannot heal and produce milk if you do not allow yourself to sleep and relax.  I know at night you want to do what you would normally do, and you want the freedom to stay up late, but it’s just not worth it right now.  Go to bed.  Take the baby with you.  That will also help your milk.  This seemingly inexorable phase is actually pretty short.  In about five years, you will go to Eliza’s dance recital, she will have a loose tooth, and will be preparing to go to Kindergarten, and you will wonder how in the heck you got there.  And you will then know how fast these early days not only go by, but how fleeting all the difficulty of them is.

So rest and relax, my dear self.  Accept help.  Forgive yourself when you flip out or lash out or feel like an idiot for crying.  Let go of how clothes should be folded, stacked in your drawers, or how they don’t fit.  Be okay with paper plate dinners.  Allow others to make meals for you.  Eat dessert.  It, too, is good for your milk.  And cherish and marvel at what God has done.

The joys of pregnancy: No really, there are some

This is the first baby item I bought  when I was pregnant the first time.  It was so fun to shop!
This is the first baby item I bought when I was pregnant the first time. It was so fun to shop!

As much as it’s fun to make fun of the not-so-fun parts of pregnancy – and believe me, at nearly 35 weeks, there are a lot of things I’d like to complain about – there are a lot of wonderful aspects to this journey.

1.  Great hair – By my glorious genetics, my hair is thin, fine and fragile.  My best friend’s nickname for me in 5th grade was “chemo woman.”  (Looking back, perhaps she wasn’t the best best friend.  I did call her “palm tree” in return because she had a massive, thick mop.)  But when I’m pregnant, it thickens up, gets a natural shine without looking greasy, and grows at a record speed.  In each pregnancy, I’ve gone up to 3 days without washing it and doing nothing to style it, and it still looks good when I wake up.   It’s fabulous.

2.  Great nails – The prenatal vitamins that so miraculously fix my hair for a season also make my nails strong and pretty.  It’s a good thing, because they’re pretty low on the priority list, but my kids sure do appreciate how long they are when they ask me to scratch their backs.

3.  That pregnancy “glow” – It’s real.  Sure, it might be tainted by some pregnancy acne here and there (or everywhere), but your skin radiates.  I have no idea why.  Maybe it’s that you generally take better care of yourself and drink enough water.  But there is a definite beauty halo that every pregnant woman gets.  Her natural beauty magnifies.

4.  Feeling a life moving inside of you – In all three pregnancies, I’ve never gotten so used to feeling one of my children move inside of me that the sensation has lost its awe factor.  Sure, sometimes I wish there weren’t 20-minute hiccup sessions keeping me up in the middle of the night between one of 4-5 bathroom excursions, but even those remind me of the beautiful miracle growing in my belly.  It’s pretty freaking amazing.

5.  A renewed motivation to take care of yourself – Something about being pregnant makes you reassess all of your priorities, and I generally find I want to treat my body better.  I also want ice cream and chocolate, but even those have things my growing baby needs, like calcium, vitamin D, protein and antioxidants.  (It’s all about spin.)

6.  An excuse to be pampered – People generally want to take care of others who are pregnant.  It’s nice to have people give up their seats for me, open doors, carry things and the like.  Remember the aforementioned ice cream cravings?  Last night I showered after my Zumba class and felt I deserved a reward for exercising.  But I was in pajamas.  I asked Greg if he would go get me a McDonald’s ice cream cone since he was still dressed.  Could the man really say “no” to me?  (And ohhhhh, it tasted so good!!!)

7.  An excuse to tease strangers – Now that it is pretty clear I am either about to birth a baby or I have a massive abdominal tumor, it’s fun to tease strangers who assume I am pregnant.  “When are you due?” gives me the chance to respond, “For what?”  A woman at church asked me on Sunday when I was expecting, and with a bewildered look, I said, “Expecting what?”  Without missing a beat, she pointed at my belly and said, “Your BABY!”  Eh, you win some, you lose some.  But it’s sure fun to try to catch them off-guard.

8.  Shopping – Regardless of how many times you’ve been through it, there are some things you need.  Preparing for the baby gives you an excuse to buy some much-needed items, and adore all the cute baby clothes in stores.

9. Celebrating – Having a baby shower or any sort of party to celebrate you and the baby is super fun, especially the first time around.

Of course, there are many more moments of pregnancy I could cherish, but my pregnancy brain is currently blocking my memory.  Feel free to add some true pregnancy joys to the list by commenting!

The joys of pregnancy: judgment (or the fear of it)

It can be shocking when you see pregnant women doing things that we have decided are bad for the baby.  I will never forget being in high school and going out to eat with some friends.  On our way out of the restaurant, one friend ran into her very pregnant cousin at a table we passed.  I am sure I wasn’t even able to stutter through my name during my introduction, as my mouth was agape at this clearly pregnant woman, smoking a cigarette and drinking a glass of wine.

It’s amazing how we humans can be so judgmental about another person’s life until the moment when we are in the same boat.  Though I’ve never tried a cigarette in my life, OH, how I appreciate a few ounces of wine or beer here or there while pregnant.

Fast forward to two weeks ago, when Greg was out-of-town for work.  I have been struggling with insomnia for several weeks now (another joy of pregnancy), and being on my own with the two kids at 31-weeks pregnant would have been tough enough if I were getting loads of rest.  After swim lessons on Thursday, I was D-O-N-E.  And I was not about to cook dinner. I decided on the five-minute drive to our neighborhood pub that I was going to order a beer and just drink half of it.  I convinced myself that of all places, a pregnant woman could order a beer in a pub without judgment, especially when some of those present could be considered alcoholics and could also see there were two other children in my care who appeared to be surviving.  I was wrong.

Oh no, nobody judged me.  I chickened out.  I just couldn’t bring myself to publicly order an alcoholic beverage while obviously pregnant and in charge of two children.  And maybe it dates back to my experience in high school, when I couldn’t stop gawking at this pregnant woman, cigarette in one hand, wine in the other.  But regardless of the reason behind chickening out, I realized that a lot of what I do or don’t do in public these days depends on how I think others will see me.

At no other point in history have there been so many things you should and shouldn’t do during pregnancy.  We shouldn’t: get our hair colored; take any medicine; go in hot tubs; touch cat litter, pesticides or chemicals; clean with bleach; paint our homes; eat nitrates, cold deli meats, high mercury fish, raw fish or unpasteurized cheeses; lift anything heavy; ski, ride roller coasters, or do any other adventurous fun activity; paint our nails; smoke; or consume caffeine and alcohol.  We should take exorbitant amounts of vitamins, drink lots of water, eat healthily, get loads of rest and exercise.  It’s honestly hard to keep track of it all.  One of the “joys” of late pregnancy is that the whole world, just by looking at you, can tell that you are pregnant.  And boy, can you get some glances and stares if you publicly do any of the “no-nos.”  It’s funny how I think I’ve gotten a little more relaxed about it with each subsequent pregnancy.  I guess that’s to be expected.

When it really comes down to it, the way I decide if I am going to do something or not do something that could be considered risky, I ask myself this question: “If anything bad happens to the baby, or if this child develops any health issues over life that could potentially be caused by this action, will I blame the decision I’m making in this moment?  Will I feel guilty?”  If the answer is “no,” I generally allow myself some freedom.  When it is “yes,” I play it safe.  Thus, we just returned home last night from a ski trip, and though I badly wanted to strap on some K2 Burnin Luvs and take a few easy runs, I knew if I fell I would never forgive myself.  But when I was in Greece at 4-5 weeks pregnant, I ate what was most likely unpasteurized feta cheese just about every day, despite the risk of Listeria.  A couple of weeks ago, I ordered an Italian cold cut sub  from my favorite deli and ate it while getting a manicure and pedicure.  I thought I might get judged for one of both of those actions – but I decided I didn’t care.  And that beer?  Well, I told myself in the pub that I would have half a Yuengling when I got home.  Only I was too tired and threw myself into bed after getting the kids into theirs.  So the following night, I had my beer.  And I had a little beer and a half glass of wine on my ski trip.  And I’m okay with that.  Judge me if you’d like.  At least I didn’t do it in public.

The joys of pregnancy: The takeover of your body

Today became the day when I can no longer bend forward comfortably to put on socks.  I’m at the pregnancy point when I must fold one leg over the other knee to get dressed.  And I know from previous experience this is just the beginning.

Adjusting to the aesthetic changes to my body is one of the hardest parts of pregnancy.  I actually think the belly bump is cute and I love doing the Aladdin Genie in the Lamp move where I say to Greg in a Robin Williams voice, “Look at me from the side.  Do I look different to you?”  But beyond the belly bump, it is difficult not to look at yourself in the mirror and wonder what the heck is happening, and worse, can it ever be undone?  And this concern and fear hasn’t changed from pregnancy 1 to pregnancy 2 to pregnancy 3.

I’ve always struggled with cellulite.  I’m genetically prone to it and, um, I like to eat Swedish Fish and Sour Patch Kids sometimes.  And if they’re not the cause, maybe it’s steak or french fries.  Whatever.  But when pregnant, it is pretty disconcerting to look at your naked body head-on in a mirror and see cellulite down the FRONTS of your thighs.  And though I’m lucky enough not to be prone to getting stretch marks on my belly, I do get them on my lower butt and upper thighs in pregnancy.  Nice, big purplish-pink ones.  If I had the choice, I think I would rather get them on my belly, because those can at least be covered up by a one-piece bathing suit.  As can the weird hairs you start growing in never-before-seen places.  Ugh.

It’s weird the first time you cough, laugh, sneeze or jump and a little pee comes out.  Thankfully, other women who have been there assure you it is normal.  But just because it’s normal doesn’t mean you ever adjust to it.  It’s hard to sleep, not just because of your growing belly and changing anatomy, but because your bladder becomes increasingly smaller.  Only with Eliza did I really get the second trimester break from multiple middle-of-the-night bathroom trips.

I haven’t even gotten to the point in pregnancy when my ankles swell and I get Fred Flinstone feet.  I haven’t gotten to the point yet when I can’t see my toes when I look down.  Sure, I have some lower back pain here and there, but nothing like I know what’s to come.  And I know what’s also coming before this baby comes out is warmer weather, when I won’t need to put on socks anymore, thankfully.  But then I’ll have to shave, which will become a potentially dangerous endeavor.

The joys of pregnancy: uncontrollable crying

Violet Crawley“I’m a woman, Mary, I can be as contrary as I choose.”  – Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham, to her granddaughter, Lady Mary Crawley, in Downton Abbey.

And I will add that there is never a time when a woman is more contrary, irrational or emotional as when pregnant.

We keep a thankfulness journal as a family, and at dinner we talk about something for which we are thankful and write it down.  Last night, Greg said he was thankful that he is not the one who has to be pregnant.  Here’s why.

Yesterday Greg helped me remove everything from our minivan (car seats, donation items, stroller, etc.) so I could go get it washed and vacuumed.  I went to our usual place around 2 p.m. to find a crazy line.  The big banner with hours listed said it was open until 6 p.m.  I decided to go back around 5:15, at which time I found they had closed off the line and put up cones, not to mention covered up the closing hours on the sign.  The pregnancy-induced rage that can rise so quickly to such a level boiled over and I got out of my car and began to move the cones.  Someone came over to tell me they were closed.  There’s no need to detail the rest of my discussion with the owner; all you need to know is that it reduced me to a heap of tears, as cars got stuck behind our van on a busy street, causing a ton of road rage and honking.  I came home rather quickly, and Greg saw my face and asked why I was crying (because despite my drive home and sitting outside the house trying to stop the flow, there was no ending this cry quickly).  I think I managed to blurt out, “They covered up the closing time on the banner and put up cones and then the owner had the balls to tell me they close at 4 and I just started crying and I can’t stop.  I’m pregnant, that’s why I’m crying!”

I am fully aware that many women are capable of manipulating with tears to get what they want.  I’ve heard several stories about women doing this to, say, get out of traffic tickets.  However, this was not that.  The pregnancy cry can come on at any time, over any little thing, and more often than not, you don’t WANT to be crying, and that just makes you cry more because you can’t stop.

It’s all part of the wonderful experience, I guess.  It’s times like these when I’m so grateful Greg understands that there is no way to understand what I’m going through and he just offers support and love.  He offered to vacuum out the car.  He helped put everything back into it for me.  And though it’s not clean, it’s raining today anyway, and would have just become an instant, muddy mess again.  I’m thankful that he realizes he should be thankful not to have to be pregnant.

And as for crying, it eventually stopped.  In fact, I think my tear ducts were empty, because Downton Abbey was super sad last night, and I didn’t even shed a tear.

Parenting lesson #2: Friends don’t tell you what it’s like to have a newborn because they can’t.

Zach, all swaddled in the hospital

“Why didn’t anyone warn me?” I wondered to myself over and over in the early days with a newborn.  How could having a baby be so hard, despite attending breastfeeding and infant care classes?  How could two educated parents be so clueless?

The answer, I have come to realize, is three-fold.  For one, friends did reveal the truth to me to an extent, and so did the birth and baby books I read.  But like anything that’s hard (like training for and running a marathon, or making it through medical school, I imagine), people can’t fully make you understand it with words and warnings.  Going through it yourself is the only way to truly “get it.”

Second, when I was struggling, I wanted to talk to others who had struggled.  Crying on the phone to my childless friends about being tired, feeling trapped and not producing enough milk just wasn’t as comforting (or baggage I wanted to unload on someone who was hopeful to have children some day).  I needed to talk to people who could relate, who could promise me I would come out the other end of the exhaustion and struggle.  I think this means that we don’t get the real scoop before having a baby.

The third reason is that I have a few friends who have had their babies and everything has been dreamy – they had easy labors and deliveries, their babies were perfect little eating and sleeping angels, and for these friends, life was just beginning.  (Haters.)  Every family’s experience is so different, even from child to child, that trying to warn people about how bad it could be doesn’t make sense.

All of that said, there are some aspects of becoming a parent that are universal.  So, if you want to know what to expect (no matter what), here’s what I can promise:

1. Bleeding: I was left in wonderment at how I was supposed to think missing 8 periods was so glorious when, once I had Eliza, I got all 8 missed periods in a row (and then some).  Having a baby makes you bleed.  A lot and for a long time.  I’m talking about gelatinous clumps in the first 24-48 hours that make you wonder if you’re going to lose all your blood.  (And you can’t use tampons.)  The good news is that you get these really cool disposable net panties from the hospital or birthing center that you can throw out along with the elephant-sized pads you are provided.  This is one of the reasons many postpartum women are anemic, so it’s important to continue taking pre-natal vitamins for the first few months, even if you’re not breastfeeding.  (As a side note, my friend who just had a C-section was under the impression that she wouldn’t bleed because when they went in after the baby, they’d get that out, too, along with – in her dream world – a few pounds of extra stomach fat.  She had no such luck.)

2. Pain: Whether you have a C-section or a vaginal birth, there is pain after expelling another person from your body.  It’s not like the baby comes out and you prance out of the hospital like the sugar plum fairy.  They wheel you out in a chair for a reason.  And healing takes time, too.  You might be on acetaminophen, or you might get heavy duty drugs.  If you get heavy duty ones, they might be powerful enough to make you forget that you are wearing the aforementioned netted panties.

3. hormone changes: Some hormone levels drop instantly after a baby is born, and some take a few months to normalize.  Almost all women experience some form of “baby blues” (isolation, fragility, and crying) for the first couple of weeks.  If you are one of the few who doesn’t, you’re also a hater.

4. Engorgement: Whether or not you end up nursing, your breasts will assume you are.  Thus, you will experience engorgement, which can be described as a burning hot pain along with super rock-hard breasts that have filled up with milk.  If you don’t want to nurse and you express the milk by pumping, your boobs will keep making more milk, so you just have to suck it up and let them leak and cause pain for a few days.  If you are nursing, you will go in-and-out of engorgement as your body tries to figure out how much milk to produce to meet your baby’s needs.  It’s really awesome when your newborn starts sleeping longer stretches (like 3 or 4 hours) but your boobs wake you up anyway because they’re engorged, anticipating a feeding.

5. No exercise or sex:  At the time when you’re in physical pain and hormonally imbalanced, when a good surge of endorphins would certainly help, you can’t exercise and you can’t jump your husband.  The truth is, for the first 6-8 weeks, you won’t really feel like doing either anyway.  (And if you thought you didn’t want your breasts fondled during pregnancy, it’s a whole new ball game if you’re nursing, seeing as you could leak or spray milk at just about any time.)

6. You will be able to see your vajayjay again, but you’ll be sorry you looked past your flabby, gelatinous belly to peek at it: No further explanation is needed.

7. Eat, sleep and poop:  Granted, your child might not do them in that order, and the frequency of all three ranges from child-to-child, but for the first 6-8 weeks, it’s really all they do.  Then they add smiling to the mix.  (Yeehaw!)

8. Eating is the most important:  Oh my gosh, a newborn’s stomach grows from the size of a marble to the size of a walnut in the first week of life.  Then the growth spurts start.  The old saying, “Let a sleeping baby lie” is detrimental to your child’s health in the early days.  You have to wake them up to feed them sometimes.  They must eat at LEAST 8 times a day, but it’s normal for them to eat as many as 12.  For several weeks.

9. You will fear the baby is not getting enough to eat:  It is unnerving to be responsible for the survival of another human life, and not knowing how much a child is eating and only being able to gauge it by whether the thing is peeing and pooping can be anxiety-inducing, especially for type-A folks.  Your pediatrician and/or lactation consultants can help you, so don’t be afraid to ask.

10. You will be afraid you are going to hurt the baby: On our first pediatrician visit with Eliza, Kathy, our lactation consultant, was hurling our baby around as if she were Gumby, bending her into different poses and manhandling her.  She was trying to show us how sturdy our love bundle actually was, and that it’s pretty hard to hurt them when they’re so nimble.

11. Exhaustion: Because of 1-9, you will be more tired than you’ve ever been in your life.  (Thanks Dana!)

12. Love overload:  Yet despite all the above, it is impossible not to be in awe of what God has created through you and another person.  There is so much warmth inside on an entirely new level when you nurture a newborn.  There’s no way to recreate it and bottle it up, because if I could, I would, and then I’d sell it on eBay and become a bajillionaire.  And I believe you still experience this, regardless of your level of postpartum depression (it just might be more in moments than all the time).

There you have it.  And I’m sure I’ve forgotten a lot because I’ve read that some of those hormones make you forget how hard it can be.  (Please feel free to fill in my gaps by commenting.)  To the childless, consider yourselves warned.

Why not finding out the gender of your baby is way cooler than knowing

Eliza’s 16-week sonogram. You can see her head at the bottom, with her face looking up so you can see her profile. But no private parts! We didn’t want to know.

Pregnancy is on my mind.  It’s probably because I have so many pregnant friends.   I promise it’s not because I am pregnant.  (As my stream of consciousness takes over, I’m reminded of a conversation I overheard at Eliza’s school yesterday.  A mother of three asked another mom of two, “So are you ready for a third?”  The mom of two replied with a chortle, “Are you kidding?  I want my life back.”)

Most of my friends have decided to find out the sexes of their babies, but a few have chosen to wait until their children are born.  I have done it both ways: Eliza was a surprise, but we found out Zach was a boy for Greg’s sake.  In his words, he needed to be able to mentally prepare himself if we were going to have two girls.

I know it’s not a big deal either way, but I highly recommend going the surprise route.  In fact, if we ever have more children, I will never find out the sex again (on purpose, at least).  Here’s why.

1. There are very few good surprises in life once you become an adult.  Many have said, “Yes, but it’s a surprise whether you find out during a sonogram or when the baby comes out.”  Trust me.  As someone who can vouch from personal experience, it is different.  With Zach, we didn’t find out during our sonogram.  We had the technician print the gender-identifying photo and put it in an envelope for us.  Then we sat on the patio that night and opened the envelope by ourselves amid the fireflies in our backyard.  And then I was sad that the surprise was revealed.

2. It can help you through labor.  As I struggled through back labor while Greg tried to take my focus off the pain, he had me imagine we were doing fun things with our child – we were watching our son ski down Riva Ridge in Vail for the first time, or we were sailing with our daughter.  And that gave me a few seconds of respite to wonder, “Oh right – I’m going to meet you soon.  Which one will you be?”  The cat is almost out of the birth canal bag!

3. I believe your emotions can affect your baby in utero.  Greg and I had always thought our first child would be a girl from the dreams we had had about having kids, so I think I would have been a little disappointed if I had found out my first was a boy.  I didn’t want to make him sad or feel unwanted in there.  Conversely, I felt like if the child came out and I was told, “It’s a boy!” I would have been ecstatic because, well, he was out, and well, there he was!

4. Your family might have hopes, too – ones you don’t care to hear.  Maybe your parents really want a girl because they have 9 grandsons and no granddaughters.  Or maybe there’s pressure to commit to carrying on the family name, making a Herbert Whiting Virgin VI.  (That’s not a joke – our nephew, Whitt, is the 5th.)  I think once family members can meet a baby, boy or girl, they will fall in love regardless of what their hopes are for gender or names.

5. I saved money.  The baby girl clothes didn’t call to me every time I went shopping.

6. I saved other people money.  Nor did gender-specific baby gear or nursery decor shout at me, either.  So I never needed a shower for Zach because I had everything I needed, and He wasn’t going to be subjected to a pink baby carrier or car seat.  Our nursery was khaki, yellow and green.

7. You do not NEED to know for planning purposes.  I challenge anyone to come up with something you must plan that requires the child be a boy or girl.  Trust me, I am a planner and type-A and a control freak.  And I survived, as did every planner in human history until roughly 25 years ago.

8. You can’t get the sex wrong once the baby is born.  I have two good friends who were told from initial sonograms that they were having girls.  One’s sister-in-law had hand-made her pink baby shower invitations when they found out they were, in fact, having a boy.  Our other good friends just found out at 31-weeks that their little girl is actually a little man.  Although they are equally as excited, the dad said, “It’s like this baby girl I thought I had is gone.”

There is my case.  I know I probably won’t change anyone’s mind either way, but perhaps there is a mom out there who can’t really figure out what to do, and this will help her decide.

I’d love to hear whether you found out or waited for the surprise, and why!

What I would say to my favorite friends about having a baby

Two things that will get you through just about anything.

One of my best friends is getting ready to have a baby.  I sent her a card recently, and she said I could share it on this blog.  What I wrote to her in the few minutes I spent writing is what I would say to any close friend who’s about to have her first baby.  The front of the card says: “A cup of coffee and a good friend – ” and the inside reads: “Two things that will get you through just about anything.”  And here’s what I wrote:

Including having a baby.  (And go ahead and indulge in the caffeine, even if you’re breastfeeding.  You’re going to need it.)

I purposely didn’t buy a baby shower card because we’re beyond that.  I’m not going to be all sappy and tell you babies are beautiful.  I mean, they are, but they’re not.  Newborns are energy zappers that look like, in the words of Bill Cosby, lizards when they come out.  No doubt you are embarking on the toughest journey of your life.

But I can honestly say that more than any journey so far, this one will be the most rewarding, often in ways that are immeasurable, so don’t even try to compare it to anything else.  Having a baby and then nurturing it as the source of its survival and understanding of love and life is … indescribable.  Parenting is messy, and challenging, but I wouldn’t go back to the way things were before – not even for a billion dollars.  (Okay, maybe I would for a billion, assuming I could still have babies sometime in the future.  I could do a lot of good for a lot of people with that.)  Let’s say a million.

Creating another life that is half you, half (fill in the blank), is a miracle.  It is awe-inspiring, God-affirming, and love-multiplying.  I am here for you always, even in the middle of the night.  (Especially in the middle of the night, as those can be the loneliest and toughest times.)  Once you’re a parent, being awakened from the depths of REM sleep is amazingly doable.  So enjoy every minute that you can.  It will seem like just a distant memory not many months from now.  And when you need to cry, allow it.  When you need help, ask for it.

As in all things, God knows what He’s doing.  Welcome to the greatest faith-stretching exercise.  “Children are a gift of the Lord.”  Psalm 127:3

Parenting lesson #1: Your birth plan is to get the baby out

Still able to smile after all my plans failed

At some point during pregnancy, someone or some book or some article tells you to think through your “birth plan” and write it out for your doctors.  After having two kids, I can honestly say the best advice I have is this: do not spend a lot of time planning out an event that is by nature entirely unpredictable.  I mean, the term itself is an oxymoron, like jumbo shrimp.

Sure, it’s good to have an idea of what you want so you can sign up for the right classes or anesthesiologist, and it’s good to weigh health risks of certain interventions and procedures.  But I didn’t understand the ridiculousness of my 3-page (typed!) plan until way after my episiotomy and tear scars had healed.  So I learned from my lesson, and with Zach, I told my OB that my birth plan was to get him out (safely).

Thus, I thought it might be fun for my pregnant friends and readers to see some of my birth plan (I wouldn’t dare bore you with the whole thing) compared to how differently things actually went.  The best lesson childbirth gives you to prepare you for parenthood is how to deal with unpredictability.

“We would like to do all we can to have a natural delivery while keeping the baby’s health the priority.  We will attempt to labor at home until contractions are two minutes apart, but with the knowledge that pain management or other complications might send us to the hospital earlier.”  Natural it was not.  I don’t think I’d even call it vaginal because my rectum became so involved in the whole process.  I distinctly remember calling the OB number about six hours after my water broke and 12 hours into labor.  The on-call doctor called me back, and when I told her my contractions were erratic and 3-5 minutes apart but that I wanted to come into the hospital, she said, “that’s not part of your birth plan.”  I wanted to say, “It is now!”

“As much as possible, we would like privacy during our birth.  Once I’m in stage two of labor, we do not want anyone but us and the doula in the room.  Additionally, after the baby is born, we want an hour to ourselves (without the doula) before anyone else interrupts our time (aside from medical personnel when absolutely necessary).”  There were probably 6-12 people in-and-out of the delivery room during my nearly two hours of pushing.  I almost fainted, so I think there was a team there responsible for me and also a surgical specialist waiting, among others.  Once Eliza came out, a bunch of new faces appeared during my 40-minutes of getting sewn up, and I realized later they were interns and residents.  If you will deliver at a teaching hospital and don’t want anyone to, ahem, learn about va-jay-jays while staring at yours, there is most likely a way to prevent this if you ask for the right paperwork.

“We would like as much freedom of movement as possible and as much choice in birthing positions as feasible.  Thus, having intermittent electronic fetal monitoring and a saline or heparin lock IV are important to us so that we are as free as possible to improvise.”  I had lots of freedom until I got drugs.  Then I had no freedom.  For pushing, I was on my back with my legs up like you see in all the movies and lots of videos.  It makes it easy for the doctor to see, and let’s be honest, isn’t that what really matters?  (Can you sense the dripping sarcasm?)

Specific interventions:

Epidural – only administered between 5 and 8 cm dilation, and only under circumstances listed above.  I had been advised to get the epidural in that window because that would give it the least chance of slowing down my labor.  Although I got it at 5 cm, it slowed me down anyway.

Pitosin – only administered if there’s a question about the fetal heart rate, the baby is asynclitic (head turned to the side or posterior), or aphoditic (the baby is no longer getting good circulation from the umbilical cord).  I am not interested in having Pitosin administered to speed up stage 3 of labor.  I wasn’t interested in it but I got it anyway after I hadn’t made any progress for two hours.  We were approaching 20 hours since my water had broken and needed to get things moving.  It turned out Eliza was posterior anyway, and she just didn’t manage to turn on her way out.

vaginal exams – only as necessary.  Hey, what do you know, I found something else that went as planned.  I didn’t have very many of these.

Episiotomy – only if absolutely necessary and we would like to be asked about the decision.  I would definitely like to know what the doctor will do to help prepare my perineum.  The doctor, who was not my OB, did not ask.  I knew he was cutting me because my epidural had been turned off for pushing and I felt him snip me three times.

If you’ve gotten through to this point, I do want to say I hope I am not scaring (or scarring) you.  My labor with Zach was everything I could have dreamed of at less than two hours and completely natural.  The bottom line is despite my two very different experiences, both of my kids made their ways out of my womb and into this world healthily.  So try not to freak out about your “birth plan,” and concern yourself with more important things, like sleeping a lot and thinking through what to eat right now because food will never taste as good as it does when you’re pregnant.