Friday, July 3, 2015

Raspberries, Coffee & Self Care


Our raspberries are exploding right now. Each morning, there's a good sized bowl to pick. With a toddler who loves to eat sticks, grass, and pretty much anything that grows, raspberries are a pretty exciting discovery... a food that he can eat without anyone arguing, plus they taste way better than most sticks. It's become our morning ritual. Coffee and raspberry picking, barefoot and bleary eyed. It grounds me. It helps wake up my tired body and soul.

When the nights are not anywhere near as restful as I need them to be and the mornings much earlier and much louder than I want them to be, the entire waking up process is jarring. Often all I can do is grumble (to myself or sometimes not so much to myself) about needing more sleep and dread the long list of everyday life stuff before me while complaining that the kids won't let drink a single cup of coffee. It's not a good start to the day. I'd love to wake up before my kids, have some quiet moments with a cup of coffee, and take a deep breath before I start the day. But the baby wakes when I do, regardless of the time, so that will have to wait a bit longer. In the meantime, stumbling outside into the garden is the next best thing.

Outside, I can breathe. There's space. Everything isn't so loud. Everyone isn't so close. The grass tickles my feet, the baby picks berries, and the big kids march off to check the wild black raspberry bushes in the woods nearby. I wake up gentler and without the suffocating to do list that lives inside the house, the messes to be cleaned, the food to be prepped, the laundry, the projects, the bills.

Picking those raspberries has become a quiet meditation. It's a simple task. One that has to get done or we will lose the fruit. It doesn't take too long, but long enough. Pick, squat, reach, nibble a few. And, it feels like I've accomplished something when it's done. Something checked off my list before breakfast. Food provided for my family. A few set aside for snack, although mostly the kids pick for themselves what they want to eat fresh. The rest get frozen for snacks and smoothies through the year.

It's choices like this and moments like these that I'm focusing on this month. It's a continuation of #operationthrive. It's a month of me. It's ongoing self care. It's little shifts in perspective to let the light in, to make it easier to breathe. Happy July.







Thursday, June 18, 2015

A Letter From Home: Thoughts on Sleepaway Camp

I don't know how it happened, but on Sunday I'm sending my oldest child off to sleepaway camp for the first time. Sleepaway camp! How is that possible? 
 
A little background. I went to camp from the time I was 6. I loved camp with every ounce of my being. It remains one of the most sacred places on the planet for me, a place where I found my confidence, my passion, my spirituality, and my closest friends. I met my husband working at camp. We got married at camp. I've worked at many types of camps in different parts of the country. I have a Masters degree in, you guessed it, CAMP. My kids have been at camp with me consistently since before they were born as I volunteered, served on the Board of Directors, attended family camps, and even spent a year starting up a new satellite Day Camp program.
 
But now... my child is going to camp. As a camper. I won't be there. Heck, she's going to a brand new program although at least at a camp where I worked 10 years ago and directed by someone with whom I worked. But still... suddenly this professional camp mama is on the other end of the registration table. To be honest, I'm so darn excited for her, it hasn't really sunk in that she's going to be gone for an entire week.

As I do laundry, make checklists, write letters to mail each day making sure the first gets there on Monday (yep, I'm being *that* mom), and help pack her things... I wrote her this letter.
 
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Dear Daughter,

I don't know where the time has gone, but you're an amazing human. I get to see just how amazing more and more every day. I'm so proud of you... who you are... how you love... the way you engage the world. I'm going to miss you like crazy this week, but I'm so proud of you for going to camp. I'm so proud of the ways you've grown, matured, and found yourself in the past year. Last year, you weren't ready. You told me. We listened. This year, you knew you were ready. We can all see you're ready.

I know you're equal parts excited and nervous. I know it's hard to do new things, but we can do hard things. I know you know that. Some of the hardest things are the best things. 

Camp is one of my most favorite places on the planet, and I know you're going to love it, too. You already do. How could you not? You've been a "camp kid" since you were in my belly. Camp is so many of the things you already love. Awesome people. Nature. Singing, games, swimming, art, hiking and all kinds of goofy fun. Thinking outside the box. Coloring outside the lines. Not being afraid to be yourself.

This week is for you. It's all yours, and you deserve it. For all the times you watch the baby or convince E to help you clean up. For the times you cook everyone's eggs for breakfast and for the times you wait for what seems like forever for your turn. This week is completely yours. There's no little brothers. There's no to-do lists. There's no schoolwork calling your name.  It's all you, kid. Live it up.

Be you. Be brave. Laugh hard. Speak up. Be seen. Don't hesitate to do something just because you might not do it at home. Don't do anything just because everyone else is doing it. Ask questions. Tell people what you want and need. Share your brilliant ideas. There are no limits. Make your voice heard. 

There are amazing people at camp who cannot wait to get to know you, and their entire job is to keep you safe and make this the best week possible. Let them help you. Forget where to put your dishes in the dining hall? Ask them. Need help putting your hair into a pony tail? Ask them. Want to know if you can hike/swim/build a rocketship? Ask them. Even if it's the middle of the night and you're scared because you had a bad dream or you have to go the bathroom. Ask. Whatever it is, just ask. They want you to ask, and they want to help. That's why they work at camp. Don't go it alone when you don't have to. You're never alone at camp.

You can be a helper, too. This is your community for the week. You work together. Look for the kids who need a friend, a hug, or a laugh. Listen to your gut. It knows what to do. Your huge heart will lead the way. Make the best decisions you can, know you're going to make mistakes, and remember always that it all comes back to love and grace. 

It's okay to miss home. It's even okay to not miss home. It's all part of the experience. All the feelings are okay, and all the feelings will pass. Just know that we are here, loving you just as much as ever, missing you, and counting the days until we can hear what an amazing week you had.
 
Love you more than words can say,
Mama XOXO

Thursday, June 4, 2015

God Doesn't Make Mistakes

 

Many nights, I join my daughter in her top bunk bed for a chat. It's her time to unwind from the day and prep for tomorrow. Ask her questions, share her fears, tell her stories. When her anxiety was at its most intense, it was our nightly ritual of talking her off the proverbial ledge so she could sleep. Now, it's much less desperate, but it is our time to connect, her time to air her concerns and let go of her worries.

One night in the midst of her transitioning to Rebekah, she was feeling a bit down. She's very intuitive and empathetic, and one of her biggest stresses during her transition was feeling guilty for the love and support she received. She felt bad that people, in her words, had to give her gifts or go out of her way to show love. We assured her that it was people's way of showing their support and no one had to do anything. They wanted to because they loved her and were inspired by her authenticity and courage.

I told her she was born to change the world. She laughed and said "it's still a cruel and terrible place" (which her dad was a little proud of, cynical jerk). But, I explained that just by being her, proudly and bravely, she's teaching others to be themselves and that they were made perfectly. I told her God made her perfectly. She shook her head quietly. "No... God made me a boy."

It knocked the breath right out of me. My beautiful child was carrying the weight of thinking God made her wrong on her very small shoulders. My child thought that being who she was wasn't what God intended her to be.

"Oh no, honey, but who are you inside?" 

Without hesitation, she responded, "I'm a beautiful girl named Rebekah". 

That's right she is. And God knows that. God knew that. God made her that way. God knows her inside and out and made her to be exactly who she is. God made her for great things. God knows she's going to change the world. That's what I told her. 

Wide-eyed and hopeful she looked at me, "Really? God made me this way?" Yes, God did. God made all of her and knows all of her. 

Later as I went to climb down from her bed, she reached out for one last hug. Squeezing tight, she said, "thanks mama, thanks for telling me about the God thing. That helps". 

I don't have all the answers about why and how people are born transgender, though the research about the brain and genetics is all very young and very interesting. I don't have all the answers as to what it will all mean for my daughter's future. But I do know this. God does not love her in spite of her gender identity. God did not give her this as something to trip her up or trick her into sinful behavior. God did not put her in the wrong body, or give her the the wrong heart or brain for her body. This is who she has always been, who God created her to be, and like I've heard from so many others in the past few days, "God doesn't make mistakes."

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Our Stories Matter: Meet Rebekah

I shared this on the blog’s Facebook page last week, but I wanted to share in it this space as well. LGBT Pride Month starts in just a few days so it seems fitting enough.

A few weeks ago, I shared the following message on my personal Facebook page. Since then we have been overwhelmed with messages of love and support from our family, friends, church, and community. Many have thanked us for sharing our story and asked for permission to continue to share it. If you've been following my blog for any amount of time, you know how important I think our stories are... our stories of joy, success, struggle, disappointment, and challenge. Our stories matter. So here is one of my family's stories, a story very much rooted in the love, grace, and courage that we both strive for and are saved by daily.
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We’d like to re-introduce you to our firstborn child.

As some of you have no doubt noticed over the years, Ben doesn’t follow society’s expectations when it comes to gender. Ben is gender nonconforming. We learned this term about a year ago, after years of following Ben’s lead with his interests and style. Ben has loved all things pink and sparkly since he was a toddler, and over the years, Ben’s interests and passions continued to be strongly feminine with all of his closest friends being girls. We supported him in choosing friends, activities, and clothing that felt like the best fit for him. We knew Ben didn’t fit the mold that our culture sets for boys, and we supported him in expressing himself authentically.

At the same time, our bright, sensitive, and empathetic child struggled increasingly with anxiety and, eventually, depression. We worked through various medical and therapeutic resources over the years to support him in his anxiety, trying to give him the best tools possible to thrive in the world as someone whose huge heart just feels things too much. Despite our best efforts, the anxiety and depression reached a crisis point this past year. We were all feeling pretty scared and lost.

I am so incredibly thankful to say that we are in a very different place right now. With the support of various professionals, we’ve come to understand that Ben is transgender. While he was identified as a male at birth based on his outward appearance, he feels and knows that he is a girl. Gender is a spectrum, and we know that liking pink or things attributed culturally to girls does not, in and of itself, make you a girl. But in Ben’s case, his gender identity was the missing piece to the puzzle. Despite our support in being any kind of boy he’d like to be, including one that loves all things feminine, Ben knows in his heart that he IS a girl.


Within the last few months, Ben has socially transitioned so that she can live as the girl she knows she is. Together, we’ve chosen the name Rebekah Eleanor. With the transition to Rebekah, we have seen a significant shift in her energy and demeanor. She suddenly seems more comfortable in her own skin, and we are seeing that gorgeous smile of hers more than ever before.


While, Rebekah has always had and always will have our complete support, this has not been easy. Being transgender is not something anyone chooses. It is not something Rebekah has chosen. It is not something we are choosing for her. We are very aware that the road for her will not always be smooth. The suicide and depression rates for the transgender community are nothing short of terrifying, but we know that with love and support from us, our family, and our friends we are giving Rebekah the best possible chance at not being one of those statistics.

What we are asking of our friends and family is that you respect Rebekah’s gender identity as female by using her preferred name and pronouns. Though Rebekah specifically asked us to tell you that she will be gracious if you accidentally call her Ben as you get used to the change, as she knows this is quite an adjustment for everyone. We also encourage you to learn more about what it means to be transgender along with common misconceptions. We are not experts, but we are learning by necessity and are happy to talk about any of this with you. We will include some resources in the comments below. What Rebekah needs is your love and support. She is a bright, beautiful, and brave girl with a huge heart. We have no doubt she will change the world just by being who she is.

All this is posted with Rebekah's permission and with thanks to Maegan Dougherty Photography for the beautiful photos.

Some helpful resources:
http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/transgender-kids
http://www.pbs.org/.../bb/biology-gender-identity-children/
http://www.glaad.org/transgender/trans101
http://www.cnn.com/.../01/us/transgender-questions-leelah/
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/.../post_9402_b_7190458.html
https://www.genderspectrum.org/
transkidspurplerainbow.org

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Operation: Thrive

 

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You guys. These are mine. I own kickboxing gloves. And, I have a survived one kickboxing class and two boot camp classes in the past 5 days. It’s part of a 6 week challenge I’m in thanks to a friend. I wince when I walk down stairs or sit to pee (sorry, but it’s true!). My quads are screaming. Back muscles I haven’t thought about for a long time make their presence known as I pick up the baby. Aside from a few yoga classes and maybe two runs, I haven’t worked out since Oliver was born. Oliver will be 1 in two weeks.

I need this. Not to the lose the baby weight. That’s gone already. Not to fit in my clothes. The intense healing diet mentioned in the aforementioned Facebook post helped with that. I need this to feel like me again, to carve out something that is just for me, to feel live and present in my own body again. Running, too. I miss running. It makes me feel alive. So, this is self care. This is self love.

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It’s taking schedule rearranging and commitment, extra help from my support network (so thankful for them) and some added flexibility on the kids’ parts. But for me, right now, this is what it looks like to be a good mom. The more present I am in my own body, in my own self… the more present I can be with and for my kids.

The same goes with writing. I need to write. It’s part of who I am. It makes me feel alive. It helps me know what I know. So along with getting my butt into that kickboxing gym, I’m getting my butt back in this space. The other day I went to post on instagram about the kickboxing challenge when I decided I needed to make it a blog post, needed to come back to this place.

On Facebook the other day I shared that I will be finding my way back to my blog.

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I’ve been meaning to come and write, but there hasn’t been time… or maybe it’s really space. I haven’t had the space to process and share. My brain is about to explode, because it needs to process and share. I’m getting there.

One kid is at drama class. The other is enjoying some long awaited computer time. The baby is asleep. Here I am. I grabbed a cup of coffee and a few minutes to write. There are a billion other things to do, but I matter. I matter at least as much as they do. Don’t get me wrong. I’ll click post in a minute and get moving. I probably won’t even proofread this, forgive me. I’ll do laundry and dishes. I’ll practice handwriting with one kid, and check the other one’s math all while nursing the baby. I’ll do all the things I do every day that are important to my family and our life. But they can wait until I am finished here because I’m important, too.

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This is me claiming time and space to be me amid the messy and hard of being a mom, wife, home educator, homemaker, personal chef, and a billion other hats we all wear. This is me getting back to my strength, joy, and passion… back in my writing, back in my workouts, back in every part of who I am. My kids need a radiant present mama. Life’s been intense and exhausting for months. We’ve managed in survival mode. I have poured out every ounce of myself for my family in this time. Life’s not changing, and we can’t stay in survival mode forever. It’s time to adjust and move on. Time to fill my bucket so I have more to give. My kids need to see what it looks like to live, to thrive not just survive. This is me and #operationthrive. I’m ready.

I’ll be posting on instagram and facebook with #operationthrive, Join me! Tag you doing things that look like thriving for YOU! Because you matter.

And, I’ll be writing here again soon. If I don’t, message me… email me… bang on my door… whatever it takes.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

If You See Us On Halloween…

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If you see us on Halloween, you might be surprised or maybe you won’t be. In the internet world, or at least my online circle, boys wearing dresses and liking pink aren’t unheard of anymore. Viral stories championing transgender kids make their way through my newsfeed, and friends regularly share posts highlighting gender nonconformity with me. In my home, we don’t think anything of my son in his pink sequined shoes and sparkly rainbow t-shirt  practicing his dance steps in his newly painted purple room. Sometimes I forget that much of the real world isn’t accustomed to this.

If you see us on Halloween, my son will be dressed as a Fairy Princess. He will be wearing a flowing, flowery dress, turquoise leggings, rainbow wings, a flower headpiece, and pink sparkly shoes. He will be flitting about with his butterfly fairy wand pretending to turn his friends into woodland animals or some other enchanted creature. He will be spinning around in circles every few steps because he likes the way the dress twirls when he does. He will be so excited to wear the costume he carefully assembled with my assistance, the costume he has put on regularly in the weeks leading up to Halloween, the costume he wears as he joyfully twirls.

If you see us on Halloween, my son will also be nervous. His stomach will be flip-flopping involuntarily as he assesses each new encounter. His anxiety will be fighting to squelch his joy. He will be bracing himself for the first comment someone makes. He will be terrified someone is going to ask, “why are you wearing a girl costume?” He will be prepared though. He will be ready to answer, “it’s just what I like.” And if someone says something more clearly disapproving, he will be prepared to say “Please don’t say that to me. It’s just what I like.”

You see, we’ve had to rehearse this, because on a daily basis my son walks a fine line between being entirely confident in saying “screw you” to everyone out there who doesn’t approve of his preferences and living in fear of comments. He chooses what he shares and with whom he shares it. We support him in deciding what risks he wants to take, because he knows that by wearing what he likes and being who he is, there is a big risk people won’t understand. He knows that not everyone understands that girls can like boy things and boys can like girl things. He knows that not everyone believes that maybe there should be a whole lot less of boy things versus girl things. He knows that some kids aren’t taught by their parents that colors are just colors for all the world to enjoy and that toys are just toys for all kids regardless of gender. He doesn’t understand why other parents don’t teach that but he knows that some don’t. He also knows that the media and companies selling things don’t teach the world this either.

He has been blessed so far by not knowing how bad bullying can be, but he has been hurt by the comments of friends, teachers, and other sometimes well-meaning adults who have said with teasing disgust, “but that’s for girls!” He knows that when people don’t understand, they can be unsupportive and sometimes mean. He also knows that he has a community of family and friends who love him, no matter what. He knows that it’s okay to like the things he likes, and he knows what he likes. He likes all things pink, purple, and sparkly. He likes to play dress-up whether as a queen riding a pink unicorn or a spooky vampire with a satiny black cape. He likes learning about nature and playing board games. He likes Taylor Swift and dance class. He likes adventuring out into the woods and helping out on the farm down the road. And he really likes his Halloween costume this year.

So if you see us on Halloween, I hope you will consider that my son is just a kid wearing a costume like any other. I hope you will tell your kids that he is just a kid wearing a costume like any other. I hope you will model what it looks like to accept a child’s creativity and interests in a positive way without snark or judgment. After all, as he will tell you, it’s just what he likes.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Birth of Oliver James

Oliver is 11 weeks old, and I am finally getting around to finishing his birth story. I’ve been writing it in 5 minute increments since the day he was born. Our hands and hearts have been completely full with this beautiful, messy, chaotic growing family of ours. This will be long, and well, about birth… so if that’s not your thing, no big deal, you can click elsewhere. But this is our story… Oliver’s birth.

This is the last picture I took, 38 weeks on a Wednesday. Benjamin was born a day shy of 40 weeks, and Elijah was born at 41 weeks. I figured we had time.

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Friday Night

That Friday was an exhausting and cranky day for pretty much the whole family. We got the kids to bed and headed to bed ourselves just completely wiped out. I had washed the sheets for our bed that day so we had to make it before going to sleep. When Chris asked if he should put the waterproof pad on just in case as we were nearing my due date, I told him to just go ahead and make up the bed with the layers of birth sheets, waterproof pad, and clean sheets underneath. We got in bed and maybe 20 minutes later at 10:40pm, I felt fluid leaking. Yep. Just 20 minutes after getting the bed all ready for birth.

As most pregnant women do, I wondered did I really just pee myself? I got up to go to the bathroom and saw clear fluid. I came back to bed and told Chris, "well I'm not exactly sure but I think my water just broke". I laid back down skeptical, but soon felt more leaking when I had no need to go to the bathroom. I was pretty sure my water just broke. At that point, I thought and said, "are you effing kidding me? after today? I do NOT need this." I called my midwife, Jessica, to let her know. She could tell how not thrilled at this I was, but for now it was time get some sleep and see what happened. I texted a few other people to give them a heads up, covered my side of the bed in waterproof pad, and then tried to sleep. 

I was very anxious. I learned that I tested positive for Group B strep (GBS) 3 days earlier, and we were hoping to treat without antibiotics assuming I had no other risk factors present themselves. I didn’t want to expose the baby to the antibiotics if we could avoid it, and I am allergic to a number of antibiotics. Unfortunately, one of the major risk factors for baby developing a GBS infection is your water being broken for more than 12-18 hours before birth. Here I was with my water broken and labor hadn't started at all. This was not supposed to be happening this way. I wanted the contractions to start as soon as possible, but I also didn't want them to start because I just wasn't in a good headspace to begin labor. I was a mess. Sleep just wasn't happening. I was doing my best to ward off a full on panic attack. 

I focused on calming myself. I knew labor wouldn’t start while I was this anxious. I laid in bed repeating to myself "I'm ready for you little one, I'm ready for whatever birth you need." I needed to let go of whatever I had in mind for the birth and fully commit to whatever birth this baby needed.  I had a few hour long bouts of light contractions interspersed with a few hour long naps.

Saturday Morning

At 5:30am, I gave up and got up for the day. Nothing else was going on. My midwife texted me, and we agreed she’d come over to see how things were going and make a plan. A plan, we needed a plan. I didn’t want to need a plan. I took a quick shower, and Jessica arrived at 7:20am. We did a hibiclens wash because of the GBS and discussed the status of things. Jessica was wondering if perhaps my water hadn't really broken. She said that it's happened a few times where even she witnessed what seemed to be a complete rupture of membranes, but upon testing, it wasn’t and the mom was pregnant two more weeks. Since I wasn't having contractions, I was 10 days before my due date (and my other babies hadn't been ever on the early side), and we had the added pressure of me being GBS+, she suggested we confirm that my water had indeed broke.

On any other day of the week, this would just mean a trip to her back-up obstetrician’s office, but it was Saturday so we'd have to go see him at the hospital. We also agreed in consult with the back-up obstetrician that if my water had broke, we would do a dose of the antibiotics in the hospital. We were already approaching 12 hours since I started leaking fluid and labor hadn’t started. Plus, with my allergy history, Jessica was more comfortable having the first dose of antibiotics be in the hospital in case of any reaction.  (The OB had said "you've got an epi-pen? Then don't worry, just do it at home!" Ha! Since I was going to the hospital anyway, this made the most sense). 

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Chris went to go feed the animals at the kids' school (goats and chickens we take care of on the weekends in partial tuition trade), I straightened up our room making sure things were ready for labor and baby (diapers, baby carriers, and birth affirmations.. the essentials), and we left for the hour drive to the hospital around 9:30am. We got there, dealt with paperwork, and waited for a triage room. I got to put on that ever so stylish hospital gown, get hooked up to continuous fetal monitoring, and then we waited some more.

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When you’re planning a homebirth, the hospital is not somewhere you want to be. The wires, the beeping, and all the hospital-ness was overwhelming. We’d avoided most ultrasound (except for one to check for suspected breech position at 37 weeks) and use of the doppler to hear the heartbeat. Here I was hooked up to continuous fetal monitoring and getting an ultrasound without even being asked permission. People were just doing things TO me. I didn’t like it. It triggered all sorts of feelings of disempowerment and disrespect from my first birth experience, the experience that led us to homebirth with our second and now third births. They checked me for progress, and I was 1-2cm. There was some confusion with the resident, as I kept trying to explain we’d already spoken to Dr. G. We only needed to confirm my water was broke and receive a dose of antibiotics. I have a ton of allergies and that was a big deal. There was an argument over what antibiotics we could use while I tried to explain my midwife, Jessica, had already spoken with Dr. G, and we had a plan. They did determine my membranes were ruptured, at which point I got lectured on labor needing to get going because it’d been 12 hours already. The nurses were pretty good, and even at one point I heard them at the nurses desk saying “she’s been here over an hour, everything is fine, and she’s only had two contractions, can’t we just get her out of here?”

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Chris began texting our midwife, Jessica, to let her know how things were going, and the midwife ended up texting Dr. G who had just arrived in our room at that time. Once Dr. G arrived things got much better. My water was broke. He called Jessica to confirm she'd like to move forward with Clindamycin, and we all agreed. The nurse came in to start the IV. THANK YOU! Finally, simple clear care. The nurse thought I’d have to come back in 8 hours for my next dose, but I explained, to her surprise, that my midwife would administer it via IV at home. There's so much confusion about midwifery and what certified professional midwives do. 

We left the hospital around 1:15pm. It’s very funny to go the hospital, find out your water is broke, and then go home! I still wasn’t having contractions. Nothing felt like it was going the way it should, but at least we were going home to start the next steps. Castor oil! I took my first delicious dose with some scrambled eggs at 2:15pm. I updated a few people of our status, my mom took the kids to the playground, and then I rested for a few hours. At 4:30pm, I started homeopathic black and blue cohosh remedies alternating every 15 minutes for two hours. Contractions were light.

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My boys came home from the playground and gave me some snuggles. They were excited and anxious. It was hard for them not to know how long it would be or what was happening. It was overwhelming for me with my own anxieties and the contractions were enough that I didn’t want kids bouncing on my bed when I had them. I sent the kids back out with my mom for pizza and to rent movies in case it ended up being a late night for them. Chris was making phone calls to make sure things were figured out for Sunday morning since he's a pastor and clearly if I didn't have a baby soon, he wouldn't be making it in time for church the next morning.

Saturday evening

Contractions seemed to pick up a little by 5:15pm. They were every 3-4 minutes and stronger but only 30 seconds long. Jessica (midwife) said this was typical of castor oil. Hopefully they'd get longer and start to do more. I was expecting to be running to the bathroom with the castor oil but that didn’t happen at all. At 6:15pm, I took another dose of castor oil. I called Jessica, and she said unless she heard from me sooner she would be over at 8:30pm to give me my next dose of antibiotics. Contractions spaced a little in that hour, they were stronger but short. A gorgeous full rainbow appeared in my backyard. My message of hope.

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The boys got home, got baths, and got ready for bed. They each wanted to watch the movie they had picked so Elijah went upstairs to watch his and Ben was glued to my side wanting me to watch his movie with him. Contractions were stronger now. I was breathing through them slow and steady. I had Chris bring down my exercise ball as there was no way I could snuggle on the couch with Ben. I needed to be upright and able to move. And so I sat on my exercise ball and he sat on a stool next to me and we watched “Hop”. I switched positions and Ben switched with me. His love was so special at this time.

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Jessica arrived at 8:30pm, and Maegan, my birth photographer, got there shortly after. Contractions took my full attention. I'd stop mid-conversation to focus and breathe but was able to chat and snack on some grapes in between. I remember feeling irritated when the contractions would start mid-conversation while I was trying to talk to Maegan and Jessica. I love that I enjoyed the people at my birth so much that I was annoyed that contractions were “interrupting" our time to hang out. The kids headed to bed around this time, and Jessica checked my vitals and set up my IV for antibiotics.

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My energy was starting to fade. I'd been up most of the night before and hadn't actually slept at all during the day. I was tired. After trying to eat some food, they set me up in bed with lots of pillows to hopefully allow me to sleep between contractions. When contractions hit, I’d frantically want to move to a different position which didn’t help. Jessica urged me to commit to the position I was in when the contraction started. I rested a little between contractions, but they were getting more and more intense. Finally, I just collapsed over onto my belly on the bed. I was really tired. Contractions were really tough. I was getting to that point of having nothing left, of feeling like I couldn't do this. Transition, the stage of labor right before pushing where you often feel like you’re going to die and you can’t possibly do this, felt close.

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At 11:30pm, I tentatively asked if it would be stupid for Jessica to check me for dilation. I really wanted to be told that I could get in the tub. (If you get in the water too soon, it can slow your progress.) I needed a change, a new place of relief. I really didn't want to be told I wasn't very far along. I knew I was exhausted and working really really hard. I didn't know how much longer I could keep it up. I held my breath. I was 3cm. I was crushed. Absolutely crushed. I couldn't keep doing this long enough to get to 10. How could I only be 3? I'd been working way too hard through really strong contractions. I couldn't only be 3. I'd never survive to 10. Jessica later told me that I was barely a 3 and not super thin either and that she was concerned that it was the castor oil bringing on really strong contractions that weren't doing much progress wise because my body wasn't ready.

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Jessica rallied. She had me lay as much on my stomach as I could to hopefully encourage the baby to move down some, and she and her assistant massaged my legs and feet intensely. I was so terrified that my body was NOT doing what it was supposed to be doing. I felt like I was in transition, but I was 3cm. I couldn't even breathe or vocalize all the way through contractions, half way through my sounds just turned into cries and whimpers. I felt so isolated, like only I knew that I really truly couldn’t do this, that my body was completely failing. It's one thing to be in transition. It's another to feel like you're in transition but know you're only 3cm and have a long road ahead. I begged to go to the hospital. This wasn't working. Everything had been wrong at this point - my water breaking, the antibiotics, our trip to the hospital that morning, the castor oil. Nothing was going right. My body was failing me.

Jessica suggested they fill the tub to let me get in to rest. If it slowed contractions, I could at least get some rest between them. Chris filled the tub and worked to get the temperature right. I just lay there wanting to die, moaning like I was dying, willing them to finish sooner.

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Finally, the tub was ready. I went to the bathroom first and felt some pressure, but I knew I couldn’t be pushy at 3cm. I got into the tub, and it was so hot. The whole room was hot from the tub. I begged for cold towels which they brought. The water and positioning change was welcome, but the heat was awful. On my second or third contraction in the tub, my body pushed. I couldn't help it. It pushed. My midwife heard that pushing vocalization and said with what I am told was a great look on her face, "what was that?"  I said I pushed, my body is pushing. She went ahead and checked me. I was on my hands and knees leaning over the tub. She said I did make a lot of progress, that I was maybe 6cm, but it was hard to tell because that position can be deceiving making it seem like you’re farther along.

They realized that regardless of exactly where I was, I was moving along quicker than they thought. They turned the lights on and began to get some of the actual birth supplies ready. On my next contraction I pushed again... I couldn't help it. I was scared because with my last birth I had pushed before I was completely dilated and it had caused some swelling that made it difficult for me to fully dilate. But I couldn't stop. The next contraction my body pushed hard. I felt the head come out and in my next breath of the same contraction the rest of the baby slid out. I reached down to see my baby on the floor of the pool. Chris noticed about the same time I went to reach down, and we reached down and picked the baby out of the water. Everyone else who was getting birth supplies ready looked over and wondered where the baby came from. It was 12:50pm, just 1 hour and 20 minutes after I had been barely 3cm. 

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(I love this picture of Jessica snapping on her gloves and running over… cracks me up!)

I was so out of it. I was so glad it was done and was looking at this baby in my arms. I looked between the legs and saw that it was a boy. In my exhaustion, I so clearly thought to myself, "really a boy? after all that, you couldn't have been a girl?" It makes me laugh now! I said all along I only make boys. He was perfectly pink and let out a cry but then just kind of hung out. His cord was super short so I could barely pick him up above the water, and I couldn't bring him to my chest. We just stood there kind of frozen in time with this baby. I looked up and saw my sister at the door of my room (who unbeknownst to me had just gotten to my house from her home a few hours, came upstairs, heard me push and then a baby cry a second later, talk about timing) and I said "the kids!" She ran down the hall to get my mom who had missed it all and woke up the boys to bring them in. They were so so sleepy so they kind of looked and then wanted to go back to bed. Elijah didn't even remember being woken up in the morning.

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Jessica and Leslie helped me out of the pool since his cord was so short and they laid him at my waist as I lay on the bed. his cord wouldn't go any further. I felt really nauseous and out of it. They offered to cut his cord to bring him up to my chest but it was still pulsing and I was too spaced out to be able to hold him anyway so I said to wait. After a little while, his cord stopped pulsing, and Chris cut it. They wrapped him up and I had Chris take him as I felt like I was going to puke. Eventually I snapped out of it after some food, electrolytes and time. I nursed him before his newborn exam. He was 7lbs 11oz and 20.5 inches long. I got a few stitches and took a shower. Everything else got cleaned up and somewhere around 4:30am, we were all snuggled up with our at that time still unnamed baby boy to get a little sleep before morning.

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Around 6am, the big brothers woke up one at a time to come in and see mom, dad, and baby. They were in love from the moment they saw him, and they haven't stopped loving him since! We named him that morning because Chris had to publish the church newsletter and needed his name to put in it – the pressure! The boys baked him a cake, and we brought out the birthday banner that we use for every family member. Happy Birthday Oliver James!!!

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The birth wasn't anything I could have expected. My affirmation that I repeated to myself over and over the night before when my water broke of "I'm ready for whatever birth you need" was exactly what I would need. Between all the bumps before labor actually started and then the confusion of being in transition at 3cm but not realizing it, it took me weeks to process it. It was a wonderful birth and things went smoothly, but I really had to acknowledge how hard it was, how alone and devastated I felt when I thought my body was failing me, when I felt like I was a failure for not being able to do it right. In the end, I was in transition. I truly did know I couldn't do it for hours more because I couldn't have... my body only needed to do it for an hour more. My body knew way more than we did, but the emotions stuck around long after I suddenly and surprisingly had a baby in my arms.

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Many thanks to Maegan Dougherty for her beautiful photography. So many people have asked if it was odd to have someone that I had talked to but never met at the birth, but she was amazing. First of all, she is a woman I’d be glad to call a friend and I was honestly frustrated during labor that I couldn’t just hang out and talk to her! Second of all, she is a beautiful presence to add to any birth environment. She disappeared into the background at times and was a supportive presence at others.

Also thank you to my beautiful midwife, Jessica. Again, another woman I’d be glad to call a friend. She is full of empathy and wisdom far beyond her years, in addition to being a skilled and professional practitioner. She was a true partner in my maternity care, empowering and supporting me from our very first meeting.

I love the rise of sharing peaceful birth stories, stunning pictures, and strong birth videos. It is often recommended that as you prepare a natural birth, you surround yourself with these as inspiration. It is powerful to see over and over again that birth is normal and women are strong. At the same time, it can be easy to set yourself up with expectations of how birth should look. There is no right or wrong way to birth. After my first natural birth, I apologized to everyone in the room repeatedly immediately following the birth. I felt like I had done it wrong. I had felt like I was failing. Transition hit, and I wanted to die. It was hard to shake that feeling. I didn’t have some beautiful ecstatic grin on my face as I met my baby. I was in shock. The same thing happened this time even with an entirely different set of circumstances. I love birth stories and birth photography as a way to chronicle our unique journeys, show the beauty of all birth in its raw power, and to own our stories and experiences, but I am also reminded of the danger of comparison and the contrast of other people’s highlight reels with our real life. I know my experience speaks to my personal gremlins of not good enough, but I also know I’m not the only one so I wanted to share all of my story, the birth in all its chaos and beauty and my honest processing of it.

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