First Birthday

Middle turned five years old this past week.  We had a great party featuring a bouncy house, scavenger hunt, and a coloring table.  I made a Hello Kitty cake which turned out quite fabulously, if I do say so myself.  Observe:



This birthday felt particularly momentous, not because she was a “whole hand” old now or because five years old means kindergarten this fall, but because this was her first birthday, as a girl.  Instead of singing “Happy birthday to [Boy's name]“, we sang “Happy birthday to Middle”.  In many ways this felt like a first birthday party to me, rather than a fifth.  I am surprised how easily, after four years of thinking of her as a boy, her girl’s name flowed so easily off of my tongue when it came time to sing; how now when I imagine her as a baby I think of  her as a baby girl without any effort at all.  I have a tradition that the night before each child’s birthday I sit down by myself with come chocolate and read through their birth story.  One of the best things I ever did as a mother of a newborn was to write down each child’s birth story in detail.  Those accounts are the closest thing I have to reliving that momentous day (or in Older’s case, days) and I am so glad I don’t have to rely on my memory alone to remember.  This time, as I read through Middle’s birth story, it was jarring to see all the references to “he” and “him” and “baby boy” when referring to her.  So today I went back through the story and changed all the pronouns.  I kept the original version too, but this is the right one for us now.


Over the last couple of months of pregnancy I had been waking up a maddening two to five times a night to pee and two night’s before Middle’s birth  was no different. I woke up around 5:00 am with some mild, irregular contractions thinking I had to pee, but before I got out of bed I realized that I felt a small “gurgle” of fluid with every contraction. I lay in bed for a bit, analyzing the sensation and came to the conclusion that my water had likely sprung a leak. I thought about what that might mean, made the obligatory trip to pee, and then came back to bed. Despite the early hour I told Husband who seemed surprised, given that I was only 37 weeks pregnant, but rather unconcerned (I think he was quite tired). Husband promptly went back to sleep and I decided that barring any frequent contractions or a gush of water breaking I would simply wait until my already scheduled morning OB appointment to tell anyone else. I couldn’t get back to sleep properly and lay in a state of semi-awkeness in the semi-darkness and contemplated the feeling of the little gurgles and what it might mean. I didn’t want to believe that my water had broken and wondered if what I was feeling was a true break and whether or not the distinction between a break and a leak was relevant or merely semantics.

Our day generally started when Older woke up and we got out of bed when we heard him call for us down the hall. We took our showers, prepared Older for school, and got Husband packed up to take the train to work. I had just finished working and gone out on maternity leave a few days earlier.  I was still feeling little gurgles of fluid and each time I felt a new gush of water my anxiety level rose. I finally broke down a bit and asked Husband to please go to my OB appointment with me. Seeing how upset I was, he agreed. We dropped Older off at school (clearly both distracted – forgetting his lunch at home) and headed over to the doctor’s office to confirm what I already knew. We didn’t have to wait long and after being called back and weighed I climbed up onto an exam table for an ultrasound. I told the ultrasound tech what I had been feeling, she took a look, determined that the amniotic fluid was basically non-existent, and declared that we would be having a baby that day. I expected as much, but I still didn’t know what that meant for us. I was 37 weeks so by the standards of gestational age I could give birth at home. Yet I wasn’t having any contractions and I wasn’t sure how long our OB, Dr. P. would be comfortable with waiting for them to start. We moved from an ultrasound to a non-stress test and discussed options with Dr. P. Her preference was for us to go to the hospital and start Pitocin to induce labor right away. I resisted, wanting to give my body a chance to give birth on our own. I have to admit that I was not feeling confident. My previously ever-present contractions had become very weak and irregular – not at all giving me the feeling of imminent labor. We continued the non-stress test and then as the time for the test was nearly up we heard the baby’s heart decelerate significantly during a contraction and I knew with a sinking feeling that we would be heading off to the hospital. I wasn’t particularly concerned about the baby’s immediate health. I was more concerned with whether or not being born at 37 weeks would mean that she might have a slow start nursing be taken from me right after birth to be assessed. My overwhelming feeling was that of wanting to stop time but knowing that it was impossible.

After looking at the decel Dr. P. all but insisted that we head off to the hospital to be induced. I had contemplated bringing my hospital bag with us in the car to the OB’s office, however, I had left it at home. I think that subconsciously I knew that there was a high likelihood that after my visit I would be sent straight to the hospital and I wanted an excuse not to go. I still wonder how events might have unfolded had I simply gone home and attempted to get contractions started with natural methods for 24 hours or so. but after going through a scare over the nuchal ultrasound, another scare over the baby’s heart only four days previous, and a diagnosis of potential low fluid levels and interuterine growth restrictions, I truly wondered if there might be something wrong with the baby or the pregnancy and I just wanted to get her born and safe into my arms.

We told Dr. P. that we needed to go home to get my bag and I proceeded to have two of the most stressful hours of my life. We called my mother-in-law and my sister to come to take care of Older. We picked up Older from daycare. We walked into his classroom together to find Older sitting down at lunch eating a yogurt. He looked surprised but was happy to go home early with Mama and Daddy. I picked him up and carried him out to the car (he insisted on taking his yogurt) in a bit of a daze. We arrived home and I asked for some space while Husband gave Older a proper lunch in the kitchen. I flung my hospital bag on the bed and unpacked and repacked it. I don’t recall what I put in and what I took out but it felt important at the time. I hadn’t yet eaten anything all day and once my mother-in-law and sister had arrived and Older was ready for his nap I sent Husband off to procure us some sandwiches – including an extra one for me to consume during labor. Finally, a bit after one clock I took Older into his room and nursed him for the very last time, just the two of us, a mother and her only child. And after what seemed like far too short of a time he fell asleep. I held him and a few tears sprang to my eyes. I knew that I needed to get going, but I just wanted to freeze time in that moment. To sit and soak it up until I was ready to move on and become the mother of two. It doesn’t work that way and after about ten peaceful moments of holding my first baby I gently laid him in bed and went off to give birth to his sister.

We drove to the hospital and I remembered driving there to give birth to Older. On that drive I had prayed that I wouldn’t bear too many contractions in the car. On this drive, I wished for strong contractions. We arrived at the hospital, gathered up our things, and went to check in. It seemed like a quiet day in L&D and after filling out some paperwork we were escorted to a room. I realized that we had forgotten something at home (neither us can remember what it was) and sent Husband home to retrieve it. I put the quilt and pillow we had brought from home out on the bed, pleased with how nice it looked but saddened that it could clearly not cover up “the hospital”. While Husband was gone I tried to walk around the hospital while listening to my “upbeat birthing” playlist on my iPod but was overwhelmed with the phone; fielding and making calls to Husband, our midwife, our doula, and an acupuncturist that had been recommended to come to hospital to try to induce labor naturally. I felt like an air traffic controller – not like a woman about to give birth. I was miserable. I felt alone, scared, and completely unable to focus on myself and my baby. I did manage to make a few laps around the floor, but I felt very conspicuous. There was no one other than nurses around and they would glance in my direction but basically ignore me. They probably thought I was nuts for thinking that taking a stroll around a hospital floor would get labor moving and the truth is they were right. I wasn’t having any contractions to speak of and it was hard to believe that such a non strenuous walk could stimulate them. Only a couple weeks earlier I had been pushing our big stroller full of groceries and Older on four mile walks uphill and down around town and certainly hadn’t gone into labor.   As soon as Husband returned I handed the phone over to him and instructed him to deal with whatever calls might be needed.

After I was settled in and “on the monitors” Dr. P. came by. She told me that as long as I was being monitored and the baby and I looked good I could stay there for days without an induction. She did warn, however, that if the placenta was failing or there was anything stressing the baby the longer he was in there the greater the possibility that the birth would not go smoothly or that he might need additional assessment or treatment after the birth. I told her I wasn’t ready quite yet, but that I certainly wasn’t interested in waiting around for days. I hadn’t yet decided when to consent to an induction, but I was thinking hours – not days. Dr. P. said she would return after the work day and she left an order for Pitocin when I was ready.

Late in the afternoon, acupuncturist quietly came in. She had a calm, serene presence and was instantly soothing. She outlined what she would do to attempt to induce labor and I really didn’t feel at all nervous, despite the fact that I had never had acupuncture before. We turned out the lights, I lay quietly on the bed and she began to work. I was surprised by the lack of pain or even sensation when the needles were placed. The whole process took on the order of half an hour and she left me with very small needles still placed in key points, with pressure to be applied during labor. While I didn’t feel any closer to labor, I did feel much more centered and ready for the work ahead of me. As promised, Dr. P. came back after the office day was complete, just as the acupuncturist was leaving. There was a bit of an odd moment as the two practitioners, traditional and alternative met, but it seemed to me to typify my pregnancy – a blend of the necessity of modern monitoring with a desire for a natural progression. As I wasn’t really contracting, Dr. P. again encouraged Pitocin and I told her that I was agreed to beginning a medical induction as soon as I had taken care of a few things: namely the arrival of our doula, a shower, and a visit with Older.

At about 7:45 pm our Doula, M, arrived. Because who knew when I would next have a chance to be clean and because I needed a few moments alone with myself I decided to take a shower. I had shaved my legs that morning and it didn’t take long to wash my hair so it was over all too quickly. I very consciously took few moments to look down at my heavily pregnant belly and run my hands over it – stretch marks and all – trying to imprint the feeling of being full of child on my mind.   I thought about this baby and the way she moved – often, but not frantically, as if with purpose. As I was drying off and putting on my black, non-hospital issue nightgown, I heard Older and my mother-in-law arrive and I hurried up so that Older wouldn’t feel scared in the room without me. Older and I had only ever spent two nights apart and I was so happy to see him. I stepped out of the bathroom and announced that I was ready for the Pitocin. I truth I really didn’t feel ready but I had resigned myself to the reality of it and I didn’t think that waiting any longer would serve any good purpose and might in fact do some harm. At 8:39 pm the nurse started the Pitocin drip. A few minutes later I was reading Older a bedtime story, “Walter the Baker” when I felt the first stirrings of contractions. I nursed Older briefly, kissed and hugged him goodnight and then he left with his grandma.

The contractions were picking up as the level of Pitocin was increased. We had turned out the harsh overhead fluorescent lights and turned on a small lamp brought from home. It was quiet and not unpleasant, although a current of anxiety seemed to run through the room. We chatted about everything and nothing – Husband, M, and I. I wish I could remember exactly what we talked about but it is lost to the fog of labor. I sat on the birth ball and would sway through the contractions as they built in intensity. I made a conscious effort to eat and drink all the while munching on half of a sandwich, fruit bars, chocolate chip granola bars, orange juice, cranberry juice, and of course, water.   I used the food as a reward, for example, telling myself, “get through the contractions until 10:00 and then you can have a granola bar.” I grew more tired and started to want to lie down and rest. M suggested that I try lying on the bed and she would provide counter pressure to my back. I did so and was pleasantly surprised by the relief that the counter pressure provided. It turned the “volume” down on the pain by at least half and made it feel totally manageable. M found the perfect spot on my lower back and then later pressed my hips together and down which felt amazing.

Somewhere around midnight I began to feel my labor turn. Thoughts of I don’t want to this, I didn’t want to be here crept into my mind and the night loomed long ahead of me. My midwife arrived at the same time that I was really starting to feel torn apart by the pain. I had to go to the bathroom and went gritting my way through a couple of contractions. The contractions were awful alone in the bathroom, but it was also nice to be alone for a few moments, although stressful knowing that everyone was worrying about me outside the door. During both of my labors I had fantasies of birthing entirely alone with no one to think of save myself and then baby. While in the bathroom, I was disconnected from the monitors and looked longingly at the shower. I hated being in the hospital. I wanted to be at home. I wanted to take a shower in my own bathroom, walk around my hardwood floors, scream where no strangers would hear me. My midwife came into the bathroom and checked me – a couple of cm. Not surprising, but not encouraging either. I also felt somewhat nauseous and wondered internally whether that last half of a sandwich was a good idea. The contractions were truly horrible – intense and surprising. They felt like someone was flipping a switch – with the Pitocin, there was no time for a natural build-up of endorphins. I was so tired. I was sitting on the ball, leaning over onto the bed and wanted badly to lay down. So I tried lying down again with M providing counter pressure during contractions. What had provided relief earlier I now found unbearable and quickly asked everyone to keep their hands off of me. I had no idea how long it would be until the baby was born and I looked ahead and saw a vision of hours of torment and an exhausted, defeated birth. I remember thinking that I could do it at home but not here and I felt a part of me just give up and asked firmly for an epidural. It wasn’t so much that I couldn’t take it anymore; it was that I didn’t want to take it anymore.  M and my midwife agreed quite quickly with my desire for an epidural, but Husband did a bang-up job of trying to dissuade me (against his better instincts). I had asked him not to let me get an epidural easily. He somehow knew just the right number of times to protest on my behalf and then when to give in. Once the decision was made everything seemed to happen quite fast although in reality it took about 45 minutes. I asked for an epidural at 1:49 am and also insisted that the Pitocin be turned off until the epidural was administered. The contractions continued at a less intense level and the pain became more manageable. The epidural was administered at 2:28 and the Pitocin was turned back on.  I really didn’t feel a thing save for a slight stinging pinch when the local anesthetic was administered. Initially, it felt weaker than the epidural I had been given during my first labor and I was pleased that I was in no pain yet could still move my legs comfortably. The nurse examined me and found 2 – 3 cm dilatation. It was the middle of the night, everyone (including me) was really tired, and with the epidural there was really nothing more to do but wait so we all settled down. My midwife, about six months pregnant herself, stretched out on a mat, while M and Husband attempted to get comfortable in some chairs. I craved the closeness of a homebirth and asked Husband to hold my hand and  not let go. I lay on my right side facing Husband in his chair . We all chatted a bit before we turned off the only light and fell asleep.

I think that I actually slept rather well for an hour or so. At least I don’t remember. After awhile I became aware of things again – the sleeping forms of Husband, M, and my midwife around me, the chilly middle-of-the-night hospital air, the soft whoosh of the baby’s heartbeat on the monitor – and alternated between dozing and thoughts. I felt that “something” was happening and thought the baby might be passing through my pelvis. I had short internal debates: on one side arguing with myself to fully wake up and ask to be checked and on the other arguing that I still had a ways to go and that I should sleep while I could. After perhaps an hour of debating I had the ever growing feeling that I was very close to having a baby but I was so comfortable I really didn’t want to disturb the moment. Finally, the voice in my head would not be quieted and I woke everyone up and asked to be checked. I was instantly awake and tried to sit up. I realized, much to my dismay, that my legs had gone completely numb. No wonder I had been able to sleep. The nurse came in to check me and found that I was 8-9 cm, completely effaced, and the baby was at -1 to 0 station. I urgently asked for the epidural to be turned off and began trying to move around hoping to help the medication dissipate faster.   Husband called his mom and told her to wake up Older and come on in. Everyone was quite casual but I was beginning to feel almost panicky – that I couldn’t really feel my legs (I did not want to give birth lying down without feeling anything) and that Older wasn’t even on his way yet – I really wanted him to be there for the birth. After another 20 minutes or so the nurse checked me again and I was completely dilated with the baby at +1 station. I was ready to have this baby. I made Husband call his mom again and hurry her along as fast as possible. I mentally resolved to hold the baby in until Older arrived. Many jokes were made about my not coughing or laughing lest the baby basically fall out. Dr. P. had not yet arrived and we half-jokingly and half-seriously asked the nurse, a young redhead named Rachel, how many babies she had delivered. She answered nervously that she had “seen it done” but didn’t indicate that she had actually ever done so herself. At that point my midwife gloved up saying that “someone should be ready to catch this baby” and I thought how amusing it would be if she ended up catching the baby even though we weren’t at home. By 6:15 am the feeling was returning to my lower half with a wonderful wave of sensation and I had the distinct feeling of a baby’s head ready to emerge.  It was an oddly calm few minutes – just lying there with a baby about to pop out while everyone bustled around. Dr. P. arrived at 6:23 am and quickly gowned up as the baby was starting to crown. I wasn’t really in any pain, just feeling a large amount of pressure and near panic that Older wasn’t there. Just then, M spotted Older and his grandmother out the window and raced to meet them. M picked up Older and they made a mad dash back to the room. I talked to Older for a few moments and then asked if everyone was ready. Dr. P. said “ready when you are” and I began to squat. I took a couple of deep breaths and tried to remember the mechanics of pushing. As if merely thinking about pushing was enough, I felt the baby move downward on her final decent and said “ahhh there” and there she was indeed.

She emerged small (around five and half pounds), but so wonderfully healthy looking  – very pick and covered in thick cheesy vernix. I was relieved when she began to cry right away and then immediately wanted to comfort her so that she would stop. She had quite a bit of mucus about his face and Dr. P. suctioned it out while I hovered over her wanting to pick her up but not quite feeling as if I could yet. Husband and I both reached out our hands to her tiny ones to forge the first link to us in the outside world. I spoke gently to her telling her that “Mama is here” I found myself a bit shaky and eased myself back to sit down while someone warned not to sit on the baby. I was a bit insulted by this comment, really I hadn’t taken my eyes off of her, I certainly wasn’t about to squish her. After less than a minute her immediate needs were taken care of and Husband picked her up and handed her to me. She was so very warm and quite sticky and utterly perfect. She began passionately trying to get her fingers in her mouth right away and after a few minutes she worked up to rooting at my breast. I held her close and began to help her to nurse. I was struck by how inept I felt at nursing a newborn after nearly two and a half years of continuous nursing. I was determined though and it didn’t take long before we had latched together and her crying subsided into an exhausted contentment. The next hour was spent with me holding our new little baby, getting me taken care of, and introducing Older to the baby. I don’t remember much of what was said, but I do have a fond memory of Older exclaiming “She’s nursing!” and clapping his hands with glee at the sight of a firmly attached baby. Older and grandma left to go home to sleep and a couple of hours after the birth the exhaustion of the past twenty-four hours began to overtake me.  I longed for sleep. The baby began to fuss a bit . I tried nursing, but she seemed uninterested. I was a bit at a loss of what to do when a sudden thought occurred to me “put her on her tummy on your chest and rub her back – she will like that” I did so and she calmed down and fell asleep within minutes. I felt a real connection to this new little baby – it was not a position I had ever really held Older, yet I was struck by the thought that this baby would like it and she did. The morning sunlight streamed through the windows and I dozed contentedly with my new little baby purring away on my chest. It wasn’t the way I had hoped and imagined the birth of our second baby, but in that moment it was bliss.

Innocence Lost, Knowledge Gained

“Shake your booty!” I hear Older call to his sisters in the bathtub. I march over the bathroom from the kitchen and tell Older, “No. That is not an acceptable phrase in our house.” Thirty seconds later I hear again, “Bootys! Shake your booty, girls!” I walk back the bathroom, my anger piqued at Older’s repeating something just after I told him not to; my discomfort level high at my seven year old son telling his little sisters to shake a part of their bodies. Where did he learn to say that? I am not in the mood to have to deal with this talk right now. “Out of the bath,” I tell him.

I don’t want to deal with this. Of course, Husband is out on a long run so I am on my own. I’ve had the basic “birds and the bees” talk with Older. Older knows the mechanics of what goes on between man and woman and calls it “the special hug”. But the concepts of “sexy”, of sexualization, of objectification, of women’s bodies being treated differently than men’s bodies; we haven’t come near those ideas yet. But now he’s asking why he can’t say tell his sisters to shake their bootys and a few weeks ago when I caught him and Middle saying “Sexy lady” and, giggling, he asked what the word sexy meant. Like it or not, now is the time to talk to him. I put on a DVD for his sisters, sit down with Older in his room, take a deep breath, and tell him, with frank honestly, that I am not even sure how to explain all of this to him, but I am going to try.

I tell him, you can call any part of your body whatever you want. It’s your body; you own it. And I tell him that I wasn’t upset by his use of the word “booty”. If he wants to call his butt his “booty” I couldn’t care less. Older is surprised. I now have his full attention. I say that it was the “shake your booty” part of what he was saying that was the problem. My mind contorts itself trying to figure out how to explain why it was a problem. I try for an example. I tell Older that he is so handsome with beautiful eyes (which is true). Older bats his eyelashes at me and we giggle. Then I turn serious and ask him, “What if no one ever told you that you played piano beautifully or that you worked hard at karate or that you were a thoughtful and loving big brother, or that you were a whiz at math? What if no one ever noticed all the wonderful things about you except how you look?” His face fell. “I wouldn’t like it,” he said quietly. Then I added, “And even worse, if people only ever said things about how you look, but not about who you actually are, you might start to believe it yourself. You might start to think that the only thing that mattered was how you look.” I push on and I tell him, sadly, that this is the way a lot of people treat girls and women. I explain that a lot of people focus only on how a girl looks, especially certain parts of her body; her booty [no giggles this time] and her breasts [I can see that Older looks utterly confused at this one, he has spent his entire life being nursed and/or seeing his sisters nursed. I think that in his mind breasts are milk machines and nothing more. ]. I conclude, “So, even though I know you didn’t mean anything bad when you were playing with your sisters, when you tell your sisters, or any girl, something like “Shake your booty!” you are not respecting their body.” And he gets it! He tells me that there are some girls he “likes” and that he thinks they are pretty. He asks if that is ok. “Absolutely,” I tell him. “Liking the way that someone looks is part of liking someone, but it should never be the only part.” He relaxes and assures me that the girls he likes are pretty and smart and knowledgeable about Harry Potter and that they make him laugh. I break into a big smile and tell him that he has it just right then. The songs on the DVD that his sisters are watching attract his attention and he gets up to leave. And as he walks away he turns back to tell me seriously “I won’t ever say that again mom. Thanks for telling me about it”. The he runs off and dance to the Wiggles with his sisters, caught somewhere between innocence and knowledge.

Girl on Fire

Today I ran a 5K.  I didn’t plan to, I set out to run my usual 2.5 miles, but halfway through I was struck by how natural I felt running today; my toes sprang off the pavement in a comfortable rhythm; my mind was carried away by the pounding music in my ears.  My phone announced my time to me and I had run my fastest mile ever.  When I hit 2.5 miles I thought about my New Year’s resolution to run a 5K.  I had intended that to mean a “real” 5K race in a crowd of people with a number on my back and a T-shirt or medal waiting for me at the finish line.  And suddenly, none of those things mattered to me anymore, I was in a race with myself and I was going to win it.   I glided though 3.1 miles (5K) shimmering with sweat.  I was tired, but not exhausted.  I kept looking at my phone to confirm that I had really done it.   If I hadn’t had to get home to relieve Husband of watching the kids, I might have run even longer.  It was the best run of my life and it felt amazing.

I reluctantly ran a bit in high school.  I had applied to the military academies (and was accepted) as well as for ROTC scholarships so I grudgingly ran enough to pass the physical fitness test.  I hated every jarring step of my feet pounding on the pavement.  Dance was my passion and compared to ballet slippers running felt clumsy and forced.  I also developed shin splints and I had contant joint aches (perhaps my first warning of the rheumatoid arthrtis to come).  When I dropped my ROTC scholarship midway through my freshman year of college, I dropped running right along with it.  With Husband’s encouragement and desire for a running partner, I tried running again before we had children.  We only ran together a few times before I had to admit that no amount of love for him could make me continue.  I felt self-conscious and totally inadequate running next to Husband, an actual runner, who ran cross-country in high school and college.  I continued dancing along with going to the gym for exercise until I was sidelined by pre-term contractions at seven months pregnant with Older.  Three years later, after Middle was born I got back into a regular exercise routine with dance based cardio barre classes, but I could never exercise as often as I wanted.  So many times I saw a mother jogging down the street with her kids and thought how nice that must be to be able to exercise with the kids.  But I was “not a runner”, much less a runner who could push 100 pounds of kid and stroller along with me.  Then on a vacation Husband picked up the book Born to Run at the airport.  He spent hours excitedly telling me about the mechanics of “barefoot running”.  I stopped him to clarify, “You are telling me that research shoes that all those fancy “air” running shoes are damaging?  And that it is physiologically normal to run on your toes rather than with a heel-toe strike?”  The dancer in me had always wanted to run like that.  Long ago, on my high school runs, I would find myself running on my toes and then “correct” myself back to a heel-toe strike.  That conversation with Husband was a revelation.  I wondered, internally (too self-conscious to admit to anyone) if I might become one of those mothers with a jogging stroller.  I tried a run (really walking interspersed with short bursts of running) with our stroller and didn’t hate it.  In fact,  it was nice.  I took a huge leap of faith and went out and bought a used double jogging stroller.  I downloaded a couch to 5K app and every so slowly, giving myself two or more weeks for each level, began to run.  I ran until about halfway through my pregnancy with Baby before I was forced to stop due to the unfortunately awful sensation of her tiny head pounding on my bladder and making me feel as if I had to pee the entire time I was running.  Over the past year I picked the running back up and, scared to try and fail, increased my time running at very, very slowly, never really expecting to actually make it to a 5K.  Once I hit 20 minutes of running without walking, however, my fear started to evaporate and I found that I was actually starting to push myself.  Then over Thanksgiving I visited my parents, jogging stroller in tow, and found just before I was to go out on a run that the stroller had a flat, so for the first time since I was eighteen I went on a run all by myself.  And suddenly unburdened by the stroller, I ran at a reasonable pace.  I felt what it was like to really run and I loved it.  The past couple of months I’ve alternated running with the girls or just Baby with the occasional run by myself.  I almost didn’t go for a run today.  I was tired and achy.  It was already hot out by mid morning.  But I had the opportunity to run by myself and so given that that is fairly rare – I did.  And I am so glad.

As I ran the last couple of tenths of a mile today, realizing that I would reach my goal, my mind lit up with the idea that I could have a new goal of running a 10K.  The other part of my mind wondered “Who is this girl?”  I like this girl through. I had to buy more workout clothes last week because I’ve been exercising so much that all my my clothes would still be in the laundry when I wanted to run again.  What a great problem to have.  Lately I’ve found myself lying in bed at night plotting how I can get a run in the next day.  I’ve even mused about how I could get in two a day!  There are lot aspects of my life that haven’t turned out as I envisioned.  35 years old, with greying hair, unemployed, stuffed with three kids into a two bedroom house that needs work, constantly stressed about money is not the life of my teenage dreams.  But today was one of those rare and beautiful moments where something turned out better than I could have imagined.  My high school self would be surprised and proud of the 5K running me.

Overheard at Dinner…

We were discussing our family tree at dinnertime and as I concluded a little genealogy lesson for the kids I finished dramatically, “And the next chapter of the story is for you to write someday when you have children…”  Middle piped up, “Do you know how many kids I am going to have?  Ten!”  “Well”, Older began, “You will have to talk to the guy you are going to marry and…  “I’m gay!” Middle shouted in exasperation to her big brother.  “Gay, gay, gay.  I am going to marry a girl”, she said as if stating the obvious.  This isn’t news to me, Middle has told me as much several times before, but I couldn’t help but smile at how comfortable she was with herself.   Husband and I explained that we could use the gender neutral terms “spouse” or “partner” for the person that each child might marry in the future and that satisfied everyone.  I am not at all worried about her finding a nice girl to settle down with someday.  Finding a partner who wants ten kids, however, that might be a big challenge.

Don’t You Remember?

I was quite good about keeping a baby book for all three children.  I actually kept a regular journal for Older until he started elementary school.  Predictably, I fell off the journaling wagon with Middle and Baby around the same time – although they were only four years and eighteen months old, respectively.  I love those journals; they contain lists of the kids’ likes and dislikes, funny and insightful quotes that the kids made, and memories of milestones.  All things I swore I would never forget, yet inevitably did.  I keep the books next to my bed and used to jot down my thoughts before falling asleep at night.  I have to be realistic though, staying up late studying nearly every night combined with a two year old who still refuses to sleep like a human being means that I am unlikely to start regularly journaling again anytime soon, if ever.
But something wonderful has happened recently, I have a couple of hours on Saturday mornings basically to myself while I wait for Middle at an appointment and then gymnastics class.  I steal away to a little cafe and eat, all by myself, a breakfast that I didn’t have to cook.   It’s divine.  I spend the bulk of those hours studying.  But I could spend a few of those hours writing.
Older finished Harry Potter number four this week.  He’s stayed up past ten nearly every night frantically reading as the book reached its climax.  I love that he is so obviously experiencing the deep joy that comes from being fully immersed in a great story.  I could hear him call out loud in surprise, to no one in particular, “They killed Cedric!” and “Mad Eye Moody isn’t Mad Eye Moody!”  He called me up to his bed a couple of nights ago aghast, “Can you believe Barty Crouch killed his own father?  That’s awful.”  Older also seems to have picked up some British mannerisms of speaking from ingesting all that Harry Potter.  He told me, in all seriousness, that he needed to do something “straight away” and he’s been calling his siblings “youngsters”.  I am just waiting for something to go wrong for him and hear him yell “Bloody hell!”  A couple of nights I’ve even allowed him to come out of his room after his siblings are asleep and sit on the couch and read with us.  It is rare that I get significant alone time with Older and he and I both love these quiet late night talks. He gets such a thrill from being awake with the grown-ups and feeling grown-up himself.   I can really see the young man he is becoming.  I hope that no matter how old he gets he will still want to have long talks with his mother.
Middle is still just as challenging, but at the same time, I feel that we have turned a corner in our relationship, with her as my daughter (as opposed to my son or my transgender daughter).  I am a words person; words carry deep meaning to me. So it came as no surprise to me when I had no trouble accepting Middle’s dressing as a girl, but a some difficulty accepting her name change and the idea of her being my daughter.  I don’t know if it is simply the passage of time (it’s been about 10 months now) or Middle’s hair now being shoulder length or something more ephemeral, but I do know that I am able to think of her as truly one of the girls now.  A few nights ago after putting on her pajamas she donned a magenta tutu and red Converse with her jammies.  She looked both ridiculously cute and beautifully mature beyond her five years.  I sat at a tiny kids table across from her, playing Barbies (they were at a gymnastics meet) while also discussing microbiology (“bad germs”) on the side.  I was struck by how that, right then, was the kind of image I always had in my mind of a having a daughter:  feminine, and fierce, cute and confident, smart and spunky.  Her own little woman.  And here was my daughter, my transgender daughter no less, epitomizing everything I had ever envisioned in a little girl.  It was awesome.

Baby is in a rapid-fire phase of language  development.  She counts everything now and is ever so pleased when things match:  when, for example, we both wear our red patent shoes, or when she and her siblings are all enjoying an identical snack, or when she sees two daffodils blooming in the garden.  Last night in the car I heard her little voice signing “We can hardly stand the wait, please Christmas don’t be late.”  I haven’t played that song since last Christmas and back then she couldn’t sing those words, but now, unexpectedly and delightedly she remembers the words and belts them out.  Baby also picked up on one of my phrases and now whenever something minor goes wrong (I drop a cookie on the floor), Baby will give me a sympathetic pat and tell me, “That happens.”  I was wearing a new pair of earrings this week and she touched them to admire them and complimented me “Mama look cute!”.   And the absolute best thing in the world is taht she now gives me spontaneous “I love yous”.  “I love you Mama” she says seriously as we settle down to nurse.  “Mama Baby friends” she tells me as we snuggle and read a story together.  “Mama loves Baby, Baby loves Mama” she says with certainly and satisfaction.

Somehow keeping a recording of my children’s’ lives has fallen off my list of something important to get done.  But it is important.   For me, reading through those journals is somehow brings back their younger selves even more clearly than pictures or videos.  The world doesn’t need another mommy blog, but I need to remember them as they are now.  So this Saturday morning I used my alone time to write and to remember:

The Last Anniversary?

Today marks an anniversary of sorts for me:  eight continuous years of pregnancy and or nursing.  There hasn’t been a day that has gone by in the past eight years that I haven’t physically nourished a child (or children).  I’ve always mentally celebrated this anniversary. This phase of my life, as a mother of young children, has been deeply, viscerally satisfying.  Baby is now two years and three months old.  Her siblings nursed until three years, one month and two years, three months old, respectively.  While Baby still nurses to sleep for every nap, at every bedtime, every morning when she wakes, and for scrapes both mental and physical, it is clear that the sun is setting on our nursing relationship.  I would bet that if you offered her a cookie or a Wiggles DVD when she asked to nurse, she would often choose the snack or the movie at this point.  There is every likelihood that this will be my last of these anniversaries.

I’ve been pregnant or mothering a newborn for so much of the past eight years that sometimes I am surprised when I look in my full-length mirror to see my non-pregnant frame.  None of my pre-motherhood clothes fit me; although I am roughly the same size, my hips are considerably wider than they were before.  This doesn’t bother me in the slightest; those hips have safely birthed three babies and then carried them for countless hours so that they could be close to me and yet still look out upon the world.  The stretch marks will never entirely disappear, but they rather faint now, a ghost of babies.  I’m ten pounds heavier now than I was before children, but it’s nicely distributed and doesn’t look so much like “baby weight” anymore.  I am going to have to buy new bras soon.  My spectacular nursing boobs are gradually morphing into a more demure state.  I look in the mirror and see a woman who looks like neither her childless self or like the young mother she had grown so fond of.  I am turning into someone new and while she is pretty enough, I am not quite used to her physical form yet.

My mind has changed form as well.  So many descriptions of motherhood talk about losing oneself in one’s children.  In mothering young children I have found myself.  The work being pregnant and nursing is much more physical than mental and all those long days of taking my babies for walks and all those long nights of countless nursing sessions left me a lot of time to think.  I no longer care nearly as much about what I “should” do or what people think of me.  I have given my children every opportunity to be themselves and in giving them that freedom, I found that I gave it to myself as well.  My passions in life have resurfaced.  I read more now than I have since high school.  I write.  I run like no one is watching.  I feel joy.  I get angry.  I have a spark of spontaneity.  I feel self-confident again.  I only wish I had the energy or the time or the money of my pre-motherhood self.

I think about a fourth child every day and I suspect that if I had a fourth I would think about a fifth and so on.  Each of my children was wanted and desired with a fever that could only be quenched by their arrival.  Less than an hour after Older was born I turned to Husband, absolutely high on post-birth endorphins, and exclaimed  “I am doing that again!”  Through colic and food allergies and all of our money going to the baby I never wavered in my desire for a second child.  After Middle was born I didn’t give away a single baby item; I was absolutely sure I wanted a third child to be a part of our future.  I no longer feel a burning desire for another child.  Our dinner table doesn’t seem to be missing anyone, yet I can’t quite convince myself that it is full either.  I’ve heard it said that “you just know when you are done”.  But I don’t know.  I don’t think this longing for another pregnancy, another nursling, another amazing person to know and love will ever disappear.  I imagine I will be an eighty year old woman who dreams of my thirty year old pregnant self or of sleeping curled up with a warm baby with the sweet irreplicable smell of breastmilk on their breath, or of a baby taking his first wobbly steps into my arms and when I wake I will be sad that time in my life is so far gone.

There is every reason not to have more children.  The most fundamental among them, that while I would love another baby, most of the time, I really don’t long for another child.  I have other ambitions now, both as a practitioner and as a policy maker; of helping other parents and children succeed.  But meaningful and satisfying as that work is, I don’t really believe that fulfillment of those dreams will ever eclipse this phase of my life.

It’s a tired old cliche that “High school (or college) is the best time of your life!”  That was so far from my experience that it is laughable.  Before having children I wondered when the “time of my life” would be.  I know now; these past eight years have been it.

You’ve Got Some Explaining to Do

Middle has been at the same preschool since she was sixteen months old.  Everyone there knew her as a boy, saw her as a boy dressed as a girl, and now knows her as a girl.  At school, the only bathroom option is co-ed, without any stalls.  There is no hiding the fact that Middle is a girl with a penis.  Initially, I worried about that this exposure would make it hard for Middle’s classmates to accept her as a girl or that Middle herself might feel embarrassed about the parts that she was born with.  Much to my surprise this hasn’t been the case and the kids in Middle’s class are getting a firsthand education in accepting multiple variations of gender identity.  What we, and the teachers, struggle with with, however, is how to quickly explain the situation to the kids.  A friend sent me a link to this article, “Mama, Ella has a Penis!“, and the author’s short explanation of gender identity for kids is so simple that I wanted to share it far and wide.  From the article:

 How to Talk to Your Kids About Gender Identity

Most people have either a penis or a vagina.  Some people have both, but that’s pretty rare.

Most people with penises feel like boys.

Most people with vaginas feel like girls.

Some people feel like boys but they really like “girl stuff.”

Some people feel like girls but they really like “boy stuff.”

Some people with penises feel like girls.  They are girls with penises. (My child falls squarely into this category.)

Some people with vaginas feel like boys.  They are boys with vaginas.

Some people are sort of “in between” and don’t feel like a boy or a girl.

All these people are normal.  All these people need to be loved and treated well, and we should respect what they tell us they are.

The “parts” that are covered up by our underpants are private.  It’s no one’s business to ask about them or talk about them.  (That goes for the parents, too!) If someone tells you she is a girl, she’s a girl. If he tells you he’s a boy, he’s a boy.  If they say they’re both, they’re both!

I would argue that this is perfect explanation for adults as well.  It is the adults who are the ones who ask us about our child’s genitalia.  Rarely do other children care.  We should trust that people, including children, know themselves well enough to be honest about who they are.  A person who says they are a girl, is a girl…period.  A person who says they are a boy, is a boy, period.  And unless you are going to have a sexual relationship with the person or are their physician, then what’s in their pants (or skirt) is their business only.


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