Thirty-two.

I won’t pretend that we can control the night
Or what kind of road we’re on
Or where we will see the light
But right now, I’m talking to you
I’m looking into your eyes
Right now, I’m trying to show you
That we’re gonna be alright
— Forever on Your Side (feat. JOHNNYSWIM)
 No filter needed. An early November sunset view from the end of our street.

No filter needed. An early November sunset view from the end of our street.

They say that God is a storyteller. So, as the sun sets on 31 for me, I wonder: what of this year was foreshadowing, what was a detour, what was a turning point? What will I look back on years from now and be shaped by and what will have turned out to be just a blip in the radar? What events were actually breadcrumbs, hinting at a trail?

 Wait, weren’t we just 22?

Wait, weren’t we just 22?

Today, as I’m writing this, I turned 32. I am so, so grateful for 32 – to start the year off with my crew of healthy, beautiful boys; for my husband/best friend; for our amazing families; for a new year of dreams and goals and sunsets. I’m reminded over and over again that I am not entitled to these – that they are gifts.

Thirty-two will be the year of my ten year college reunion and ten year wedding anniversary. There was my first job out of college, then grad school, then a baby boy every two years, and has an entire decade really passed? My husband is two months older than me, so I asked him, “Is this what you thought 32 would be like?”  “It’s better than I ever could have imagined,” he said. 

 The perks of a December birthday —Christmas lights and decorations everywhere.

The perks of a December birthday —Christmas lights and decorations everywhere.

I have big hopes for this year, that maybe this will be the year that I finally go to Rwanda or the year that we make the move to the community in San Clemente that we both love. But mostly — I hope that it’s better than I ever could have imagined. I don’t know what kind of road we’re on, but I know that we’ll look for the light.

Micah David's Birth Story

I thought baby boy would be born at 39 weeks and 1 day like his brothers, on October 30th, right before midnight. Wouldn’t that be perfect – all three boys having similar birth stories?

 The last of the belly photos, on October 30.

The last of the belly photos, on October 30.

“Do you know how small the chances of that happening are?” my husband said.

Still, I planned everything around that date – my hair appointment, getting my nails done, my workout goals. I didn’t even buy Halloween candy to pass out because I was sure we wouldn’t be home. At my moms’ group the morning of the 30th, I told them – “there’s still time. My contractions could start this afternoon, and he would still be born before midnight.”

Denial – it’s a powerful drug.

The 30th came and went. I was disappointed – weepy, short-tempered, unable to deal – the denial hangover hitting me hard.

On the 31st, I wake up early as usual, but this time by contractions that come steadily. I start timing them on my phone at 5:25 and shake my husband awake – “I think we’re going to have a baby today.” “That’s exciting,” he says, before rolling over.

At 8:10, bloody show. I debate whether my blowout will last through labor and decide that no, it won’t, so I wash my hair. I eat breakfast at the bathroom sink – bacon from our latest Butcher Box delivery, Eggo waffles, a perfectly cooked hard-boiled egg, iced coffee.

The morning is a blur of thoughts and tasks. Tasks: Find Judah’s costume. Pack the lavender oil and diffuser. Make sure Noah has his water bottle for school. Reply to DMs on Instagram. Thoughts: Do I have time to update our budget on Mint? Should I call Erica (my doula and friend)? Should I buy Halloween candy? I don’t update our budget. I don’t buy candy, and I don’t call Erica, convinced she would have been stuck in LA traffic while baby was being born.

I planned on chicken noodle soup with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc – “my labor wine”, I told my husband, as we stopped at Trader Joe’s on the way home from our last date night. Instead, I eat – also at the bathroom sink – half of a leftover burrito from Cuca’s, another example of expectations clashing with reality.

At 11:30 a.m., I call Labor and Delivery. “This is my 3rd baby, I tell them. “I’ll let the hospital know you’re coming,” the nurse says.

She did not let the hospital know.

When I give them my name via the wall telephone in the waiting room, the check-in nurse asks me, “What are you here for?” I wonder if she’s joking. “Uh, labor...”

A few minutes later, the check-in nurse calls a name, and Dave ushers me in. “Oh, I called Yesenia,” she says. I shuffle back out, cursing under my breath, hissing at my husband, “Help me out here.”

We’re called in again, and Dave hands the same nurse my insurance card. She looks up: “This is an infant card.” He scrambles to find my card, while I’m doubled over in the middle of a contraction.

“You’re not even helpful,” I say to him. “I should have called Erica.”

I’m annoyed and frustrated, and also annoyed that I’m annoyed, not wanting to stall labor with my negative emotions.

The triage nurse, Dawn, hooks me up the monitor asks me what my pain level is. It’s only a 4 or 5, which I know doesn’t bode well for admittance. She leave the room, and the contractions start to slow. We watch Hocus Pocus while we wait.

After 20 minutes, she checks me. “You’re at a 4. We can’t admit you until you’re at 6.” Disappointment all over again. “You can walk around, or you can go home and come back in two hours,” she says. “This happens a lot – as soon as women get in here, their contractions slow down.” At 1:50 p.m., we leave triage, and I’m back in the hallway, waddling at a snail’s pace, weighed down even more by the feeling of failure.

In college, I lived across from frat row. From my window, I could see the girls leaving the frat houses the morning after a party, still wearing their mini dresses, holding their heels, disheveled and hungover.

“This is the walk of shame,” I tell my husband. “The pregnant version.”

The contractions intensify as soon as I start walking. Of course. I have three contractions back to back, just walking to the elevator. A man stops his conversation on his cell phone to ask me if I need a wheelchair.

Outside in the cafeteria courtyard, I try a walking meditation, trying to recall everything that I read about but not actually practiced.  The contractions are intense and so painful that the only way I get through is by standing perfectly still and moaning. I make it through a few more contractions before I tell Dave that we need to go back up – and that I need that wheelchair.

“What happened to my pain tolerance?” I ask him.

All the rooms are taken, they tell us, so Dave pushes me up and down the hallway in the wheelchair. The reverberations of the wheels against the shiny floor are unexpectedly soothing. The contractions hit hard, one after another, and my moaning comes out more like a growl.

It is 2:45 when we’re called back in. My L & D nurse tells me that one of the birthing suites just opened up, so I can go directly there. “That’s the best news I’ve heard all day,” I tell her. Dawn checks me again. “You’re 6 cm now,” she says. “We can admit you.”

“I think maybe I want an epidural this time,” I say. “You want an epidural?” she repeats. I backtrack. “I’m not sure…” “You can decide after the next contraction,” she tells me.

I climb into the bed to get hooked to the monitor and the penicillin drip. A man comes in to draw my blood. More contractions that just about knock me out. “I think... I do want that epidural,” I say. “Sure, the nurse says. “But have to wait for your blood test to come back.” I know then that this will be another unmedicated birth.

I can’t leave the bed, so in between contractions, I switch positions, getting on my knees to face the window. Switching positions in this stage of labor is supposed to keep it progressing, I remember reading. I also remember reading that I should focus on what doesn’t hurt, but then I just notice that I can feel the penicillin burning through the IV in my hand.

Dave is encouraging and supporting, and I mentally take back everything I said about him not being helpful. He reminds me to relax, and in the few seconds between contractions, I do. I can see the on-ramp to the 405, and it offers a little bit of relief to know that people are still going about their day, picking up their kids from school or running to the grocery store. That even amidst the pain, cars keep moving; the world keeps turning.

I’m shaking and sweating now, and my teeth are chattering. I know this transition period from past labors. It feels awful, but I know that it’s a good sign – that I’m progressing. I change positions again, still on my knees, but with my arms draped around the back of the hospital bed. I’m in the hospital gown, which means that my backside is totally exposed, and I feel momentarily embarrassed that the first thing that the nurses will see when they walk in is my ass.

When I think that the contractions can’t get more painful, they do. I’m breathing down and trying to keep my moans lower than the decibel of a scream. From that position, I can feel baby moving into the lower part of my hips. It’s the strangest feeling, a tiny human literally traveling down your body. The midwife pops in for a minute, “Is he coming soon?” she asks me. She checks me, and I’m nine and a half cm. “Just keep doing what you’re doing,” she says. Someone asks for a delivery table, and when she leaves the room, the other nurses talk about which one of them will catch the baby if she doesn’t come back in in time.

The muscle memory kicks in – I push when I feel the intensity of the contraction coming on, and then I rest when it subsides. The midwife returns and asks, “Do you want to deliver in that position, hon?” I don’t have time to tell her that I physically cannot get out of this position. Then comes the whoosh of wetness as my bag of waters finally breaks. I grip the back of the bed and push and feel that best kind of relief when baby boy’s entire body slides out. I think the first words out of my mouth were, “I’m so glad that’s over.” It was the worst of all three labors, but gratefully, the smoothest delivery, and I’m still “intact.”

And then I somehow get my leg over the umbilical cord and into a seated position, and they place baby boy in my arms, and that moment is worth everything. “You did it, mama,” Dave says. “There he is.”

 Still in the birthing suite, an hour after he was born.

Still in the birthing suite, an hour after he was born.

Micah David, born at 3:42 p.m. on October 31, weighing 8 lbs, 4 oz, and 21.5 inches long. Another tiny dream come true.

“It’s a good thing you didn’t go home,” the nurse says. “You would have had an off-ramp baby.”

“That delivery brought me back to my birthing center days,” says the midwife. Then, “Would you like to see your placenta?” I do, and she gives me a mini lesson on it. I try so hard to remember everything like it’s the last time, because it probably is.

 Just SO happy.

Just SO happy.

In the moments and hours afterward, everything is perfect. Micah is perfect – tiny and round and dreamily soft. “I am so, so happy,” I say, over and over again. “I can’t believe he’s finally here.” As I hold him, we watch the sun set out the window. It’s magical – swirls of cotton candy pinks and blues whipped with creamsicle orange – the exact backdrop I would have painted for this moment.

On the way to my postpartum room, we see Dawn. “I heard you screaming down the hallway,” she says. “I was so proud.” She gives me a hug before I’m wheeled down the hallway to press the button hidden in the painting that plays the lullaby, letting everyone know that another baby has been born.

 Our boy.

Our boy.

On November 1, we head home to a new month with our new baby. Four years ago, we were heading to the hospital around the same time, and now we are going home, beginning and ending our birth stories by moonlight. “This is the last of the happy hospital stays,” I tell my husband. “It feels like the end of an era.”

Motherhood has taught me that the heart can expand – there is always room for more love – and that the present too quickly becomes the past. It is the end of an era for us, the arrival of our precious newborn boy and also the last of our births. Beginnings and endings all tied with the same ribbon, these perfect, ephemeral gifts.

Making Space: A Love Letter.

Hi, baby boy. We’re just about ready for you.

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Your room is the only one in the house that is “finished.” I cleaned out the closet and drawers that you’ll share with your brothers. I saved only the beautiful and the useful. Each item has its place because there is a time and place for everything under heaven.

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We finally bought a glider. You and I will spend a lot of time here – sitting quietly and nursing, or reading together with your brothers from one of the books in your mini-library. Or maybe mama will just sit here alone at night, watching you sleep, rocking back and forth, and remembering that the present carries its own rhythm.

We painted your room a seafoam blue and added some California vibes – a vintage wagon, a painting of Big Sur. You are one lucky boy to be able to grow up in Orange County. I hope your room reminds you to look for the beauty in your current surroundings. God made it for us to soak up and enjoy.

There are some blank spaces. These are intentional. Sometimes your eye just needs to rest. You need visual space to develop your imagination – there is always room to create.

The owl lamp is one that mom bought from Anthropologie years before you were born.  It wasn’t a purchase that made sense to anyone else – once, your uncle saw the price tag and pretended to drop it while helping us move. It was expensive, but I loved it, and I’m glad that it still fits somewhere in our house. Don’t be afraid to hold onto what speaks to your heart.

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Almost everything in your room was a gift – your crib, the clothes in your closet, the pieces that add character to the space. Gifts carry love, tangibly, from the past into the present. You were loved before you were born, and you are loved now.

Love, Mom

Love Over Fear: A Belated Birth Story.

At my most recent visit to my midwife, I asked about an epidural: “I had two unmedicated deliveries... and I don’t know if I can do it again this time.”

“That’s because you know what’s coming,” she said. “ You have PTSD.”

Judah Jonathan, my second baby boy, turns two in less than two months, and I am just now writing his birth story — in part because life is busy, partly because it mirrored Noah’s story in so many ways, and partly because it instigated fears I didn’t know that I still carried.

 My second dumpling who I can’t believe turns two this year!

My second dumpling who I can’t believe turns two this year!

Both of my boys were both born at 39 weeks, and 1 day; Noah at 11:45 p.m. and Judah at 11:37 p.m. It rained on both their birth days, which any Southern California resident knows is rare. For both, my labor started early in the morning, and when we got to the hospital, it was dark.

Probably because I’m writing this almost 2 years later, I don’t remember most of the day that I was in labor with Judah. We had a toddler running around, and I know my parents were there at some point. I don’t remember what I did all day to pass the time. I think maybe I made pasta for the freezer. Or lactation cookies? My memory is murky.

It was a Friday. Toward the end of the day, my dad said something like, “Maybe this baby will come on Sunday, like Noah.” I mumbled through a contraction, “Why would you wish that on me?”

We left for the hospital shortly after.

At the labor and delivery check-in desk,  I heard screams and moans coming from down the hallway. “That woman is doing an unmedicated delivery,” the nurse said. “I want to do an unmedicated delivery,” I said.

I waited in triage. Dave said I was 6 or 7 cm dilated when they checked me. I think maybe I was only 4 or 5. Again, murky. I don’t remember the shaking. I don’t remember the chills. I don’t remember walking to the birthing suite. We didn’t have my amazing doula and friend this time around. We were on our own.

There was no midwife that night, and the OB on duty wanted me continuously monitored (“the baby’s heart rate keeps dropping”), which meant that aside from the 30 seconds (it seemed) of water therapy from the shower, I was confined to the bed – on all fours because I was in back labor.

Dave must have put on some sort of hypnobirthing playlist because one of the nurses commented, “You two are the dream team. You should teach birthing classes.”

We were in the birthing suite for less than two hours when the OB said, “If we don’t get this baby out soon, we’ll have to do a C-section.”

I saw my nurse, Lori, look at her: “She’ll be ok.” Lori rubbed my arm while I was pushing, and I never felt more grateful for physical touch.

I pushed as hard as I could. “Don’t push so hard,” the OB said, “You don’t want to tear.” Then she started talking about taking her daughters shopping over the weekend.

Dave said that I only pushed for maybe 10 minutes. But this time, I really had to push. Noah had basically ejected himself — I worked for this baby. I wanted him out. I felt fear about what would happen if he didn’t come out quickly.

He was born with a literal knot in his umbilical cord.

“I’ve never seen that before,” the OB said.

Recently, a thing that I feared would happen, actually did happen, and I was – am – devastated.

So maybe fears could come true in other parts of my life as well. Maybe I’m not as immune as I thought. It turns out I have a high tolerance for physical pain and a low tolerance for the emotional sort.

I’m afraid this baby, baby #3, will come at the “wrong” time — the weekend that my husband is working, the day that we’re going to be wading through the crowds at the Great Pacific Airshow on the beach, in the middle of my hair appointment an hour away from home. I fear that my husband will fall asleep on me because he has been working so hard and is as exhausted as I am. I fear that I’ll be the woman calling 911 because she couldn’t get to the hospital in time. This happened to a friend of a friend — the baby’s head was out by the time the paramedics got to her house.

“Don’t say those things out loud,” my work friends said. “They’ll actualize.”

The hardest part about Judah’s birth was not the back labor or the pushing or the insensitive OB. The hardest part was the fear — because of his heart rate dropping, because of the knot in his umbilical cord.

Judah Jonathan came out strong at 8 lb. 6 oz. and 21. 5 inches long, bright red with baby beefcake shoulders. His birth ended in the best possible way — he was healthy. I was healthy. I felt it was no small miracle that I got him out without tearing.

 Baby chunks.

Baby chunks.

The nurse who helped me in the hour after delivery and who wheeled me into the recovery room had three kids, she said. The same OB who had delivered my first baby had also delivered hers.

There was a bell I got to ring. Or maybe it was a buzzer? A sort of announcement to the hospital that another baby had been born.

 One of the sweetest moments of my life.

One of the sweetest moments of my life.

 Judah slept and ate like a champ. Recovery was easier. The rest of our experience was a vacation — the endless cranberry juice with extra ice, the meal deliveries, the quiet, the lack of all other responsibilities and obligations. Even the shower felt amazing. I was high on the purest kind of love.

As we checked out, my husband joked with the nurses, “When can I book our next stay?”

Today, I’m heading out of the office for yet another maternity leave, an extended one this time. The hospital bag is packed, complete with Trader Joe’s birthday popcorn and wrapped SpiderMan walkie talkies as gifts for the big brothers. The infant car seat is re-installed. The bassinet is set up next to our bed. The nursery is just about ready.

This time, we’ll bring the iPad. I’ll bring a book. We’ll make it a date.

New baby. New story. The same choice — love over fear.

Fall: Reset

It feels like it was just July – my favorite month this year – and now it’s October, the start of a season of holidays and celebrations and a little bit of sadness because it won’t look the same as last year. It’s a season of beginnings – baby boy’s birth and becoming a mom of three – and endings, too – the close of 2018 and saying goodbye to 31 for both me and my husband.

 Probably one of our last photos as a family of four.

Probably one of our last photos as a family of four.

I listened to a podcast recently that talked about the things that people do to retain a sense of calm and structure when the rest of the their lives are chaotic with travel schedules or significant life changes. For some people, it’s not missing a workout, even if they end up jogging in place in their hotel room. For others, it’s eating the same thing for breakfast every day – one less decision to be made. The craziness doesn’t last forever, but the practices stay constant.

Another thought I’ve been mulling over: “Our souls have seasons,” Adam McHugh wrote. “I want to let the seasons, and their inherent gifts, rhythms, and offerings, teach me how to live and to be more human.”

Yes, and yes.

In these #last90days, I’m embracing both the discipline of sticking to ways of living that remind me who I am at my core and the practice of paying attention to the unique rhythms and experiences of this season. I am not the same person that I was three months ago, and also, I am more me than I have ever been.

I believe in letting the seasons refine us – through what we shed, and what we adopt; in the ways we grow together or apart; in the beginnings and the endings; in each choice: bitterness or grace, anger or love, disappointment or hope, what changes or what stays the same. I believe that the way things end matter as much as how they begin.

The direction I’m headed:

Mind

I have a huge list of books on my reading list (no surprise), with a memoir trend happening:

I blame it on reading Kelly Corrigan’s book, Tell Me More, especially these quotes:

“Maybe you can still be a decent-ish person, a person with a personal mission statement, a person who aspires to be someone habitually good and highly effective, and fuck up.”

and

“[on I love you].

The first time the words pass between two people: electrifying.

Ten thousand times later: cause for marvel.

The last time: the dream you revisit over and over and over again.”

Body

If this boy is anything like my first two, October might be my very last month of being pregnant. I’m more than halfway through my goal of finishing my 60-day spinning streak. I screen workouts based on their playlist, so I put together my own playlist for Peloton. I’m working on a Fall playlist, but I’ve only added three songs: Best Shot (on repeat – the perfect song to slow dance to on the rooftop of the Ole Hanson Beach Club at sunset), Reckless Love (the promise I hold onto), and Damage (because it is so hauntingly sappy, and sometimes, a girl just needs some of that in her life).

After baby comes, my “workout” plans involve walking: for five minutes a day to start, then increasing by a minute each day until the end of the year.  Two weeks after baby’s birth day, if all goes well, my plan is to begin this 8-week Core-Floor Restore program. Can you tell that I’m terrified of “abdominal separation” and “pelvic floor prolapse”? I’ve generally been a secure person in all parts of my life, but pregnancy can throw you for a loop.

Heart

More than anything, I want to be a better mom and wife this season (and really, every season). I’m prepping for labor and postpartum with daily mindfulness and meditation practices, an evening gratitude list, and working through the MomStrong study with one of my girlfriends. This is the first time I haven’t been at the same stage of pregnancy with close friends or sisters – it’s strange and a little lonely – kind of like life in general, depending on the season you’re in. My goal is to spend as much quality time with my boys as possible, especially once I’m on maternity leave. There are so many fun things we haven’t done yet or lately, like storytime at the local library, Pretend City, and Little Lido Kid’s Club.

I’ve gotten back into podcasts, also along the mom/wife theme:

I may physically be waddling my way through this next month. Or rolling, maybe? (Front heavy).  Even through the discomfort and likely sleep deprivation, I want to be present to the miracles, tangible and otherwise, that this season has to offer and to end 2018 well.