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.

Summer Home.

We are all strangers in a strange land, longing for home, but not quite knowing what or where home is. We glimpse it sometimes in our dreams, or as we turn a corner, and suddenly there is a strange, sweet familiarity that vanishes almost as soon as it comes…
— Madeleine L’Engle, from The Rock That Is Higher
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Summer comes to a close today. This summer for me was mostly a dream, partly a nightmare, partly déjà vu – like I had been through a season like this before but could only recall the feelings and not the outcome.

I’ve been trying to make sense of these last few months, and what I keep coming back to is that the season has felt like searching for home and finding pieces of it in the most surprising places. There’s the home that we build, the home that we find, and the one of which we only get glimpses.

The other day was one that started off sour. I was in a bad mood – I just wanted to get out of the house before noon, and all I could think about was what was undone, both literally and emotionally, and the clutter everywhere. Then, after we set up our towels and umbrella at the beach, after I had coffee and a burger – because truly, is there anything scarier than a hangry and undercaffeinated pregnant woman? – I watched my boys dance around the in the sand and felt the baby kick in my stomach. We ate mud pie on the pier and watched the surfers and the waves. There was sunshine and sea breeze, and the day turned out to be all kinds of perfect.

For five years, it was just Ruth and Dave, two kids who chose to grow up together, who chose love when it felt alternately inevitable and impossible. For a season, we lived across the world and only had each other.  Now, nine years into marriage, we’re a family of four, with one of the way.

My preschooler, Noah, told me the other night, “I’m so lucky. I get to snuggle you and hold your hand.” In a season of distraction – where it felt like my heart, mind, and body were all wandering around in different places – moments like these were and are the greatest gifts.

There is no substitute for showing up to the life that you’ve built.

What I’ve learned, also, is that there are pieces of home in the friendships that I’ve invested in – relationships where I’ve found parts of myself or seen traits that I didn’t know I had reflected back to me. There are relationships that make us feel known and loved, that point us in the right direction, the ones where we feel safe even at our most vulnerable. These connections aren’t perfect – because we’re human – but I’m grateful for them nonetheless.

This season was both surprising and familiar, disconcerting and sweet, heartbreaking and nostalgic. I’ve learned that it’s ok to feel the tension between two disparate states of being. The tension is a reminder that there is a home that we can’t quite grasp – one that we can sense but feels just out of reach. It’s ok to mourn not only for what we have lost, but also for what was never ours. There are things that we want that are not for this lifetime. Or maybe they are, and we just can’t see the way to them from where we stand.

Seasons are porous, especially in California. One day, you can drive with all your windows rolled down because of the chill in the air, and then the next day, it’s melting hot. Summer and fall bleed into each other like watercolors, like the sand on a shore, washing in and then out again.

Tomorrow: fall, with its birthdays and celebrations and Thanksgiving.  Tomorrow: apple orchards, cider, and all things pumpkin. But I’ll carry with me this summer and what it taught me about home.

Last Pregnancy Favorites

It feels strange to call this out as our last pregnancy. I’m sure I’m jinxing it – never say never, right? At the same time, I really feel done. So done that I’ll be handing off my maternity clothes the day I get home from the hospital, probably.

 33 weeks with baby boy #3.

33 weeks with baby boy #3.

Maybe because time seemed to go so much more quickly this pregnancy, I didn’t use some of the things that were “essential” in my last pregnancies, like the body pillow (substitute: husband) and the BellaBand (went straight to the stretchy pants). It’s been a struggle to even remember to take my prenatal vitamins and DHA.

So, a short list of pregnancy faves this time around:

Beauty

My midwife told me that skin care-wise, pretty much everything was ok except retinol. So no Sunday Riley Luna Sleeping Night Oil for me in this season (but I’ve stocked up for after baby comes). I’ve tried to be more intentional about my beauty routine, and my consumption in general, and I’ve found the following to be super effective with minimal effort: The Healthy Deodorant in Vanilla +Air for Creativity, Clinique Total Turnaround Overnight Revitalizing Moisturizer, SK-II Facial Treatment Essence, C-Rush Brightening Gel Creme, and neuLASH Lash Enhancing Serum. I know that the stretch marks and saggy postpartum belly skin (so gross, I know) are par for the course, but using SheaMoisture Coconut Oil and the Vitamin E oil from Trader Joe’s makes me feel like I’m doing something to minimize the damage. I wanted to spring for The Balm by Nucifera, but couldn’t justify the additional expense. Scent-wise, I’ve been loving all things bergamot. I’m not a rose person normally, and definitely not red, but the Jo Malone Red Roses cologne has been just the right amount of “extra” without being too much.

Books

I read so many pregnancy books the first time around! Now I have just two that I’ll read again: Mindful Birthing (to prep for another unmedicated, natural birth) and The First Forty Days (the granola recipe is my go-to).

Wardrobe

I’ve been wearing the same maternity dresses in rotation from my other two pregnancies. I added a few things to my wardrobe this time around, all of which I’ll still be able to wear post-pregnancy: Ingrid & Isabel Zip Front Denim Dress (on sale right now, and nursing-friendly), ASOS raw hem maternity shorts (regularly paired with one of my husband’s t-shirts), and a Show Me Your MuMu pregs & regs dress. I’ve also been living in Calvin Klein loungewear - so stretchy and so soft – they are the best.

 31 weeks pregnant.

31 weeks pregnant.

Workouts

I did Kayla Itsines’ BBG workouts early in the pregnancy along with ClassPass (mostly CorePower Yoga and TRIM Fitness pilates reformer classes), but eventually found them to be too strenuous. Since getting a Peloton, spinning has been my go-to workout. My goal is to make it through a 60-day streak, and I’m currently on day twenty-something. I gravitate more to say, SusieCakes, in pregnancy than I do to any sort of athletic endeavor, so keeping the workout threshold low, but the daily habit going has worked for me. I also keep my Lulu yoga mat laid out by my bed along with a yoga bolster pillow and Tiger Tail for bedtime routine stretches.

Hospital Bag

The hospital bag I packed for my first was ridiculous: Bluetooth speakers, art to hang outside my room, battery-operated votive candles. Insane. This time, I’ll pack a pillow, shower flip-flops, a going-home outfit for baby, some toiletries so that I look human when we leave, postpartum leggings, a pretty nursing bra, a robe, and fuzzy socks. I bought this Skip Hop Highline diaper bag to put it all in because it opens wide – I hate having to search for something that’s inevitably at the bottom of my bag – and the zippered close is optional. Last time around we had a “birth day” gift ready for big brother, and we’re planning to do the same this time around – probably these magnet building tiles, but I’m open to suggestions.

My wish list is shorter this time around too, as it should be. Three things: a BOB Duallie stroller for my November/December trail walks before I’m cleared for more strenuous exercise again, The Story of You baby book (in olive or midnight blue, I can’t decide), and pretty newborn/family of five photos taken in our house.

In a few weeks, we’ll head to southern California wine country (baby will be far enough baked for a tiny glass of almond champagne, right??) for another mini babymoon/birthday celebration. The countdown is on, and we can’t wait to meet our baby boy. If you have any recs for making it through this home stretch, I’d love to know!

Summer: Refresh

It’s not officially fall yet, but I do love the back-to-school season. After the emotionally intense month that August was, I’m more ready than ever for September.

 Throwback to last year's Oak Glen day when I wasn't a million weeks pregnant.

Throwback to last year's Oak Glen day when I wasn't a million weeks pregnant.

A list to kick off the summer/fall transition:

PLACES

  • I'm starting off the month with a pregnancy massage (here, for all you OC locals) and a Sephora shopping date (see my picks for the VIB sale below).
  • Labor Day weekend means that the apple orchards at Oak Glen are officially open! Los Rios Rancho is our go-to – their apple cider, cinnamon crumble apple pies, and caramel apples are unrivaled, and on the weekends, they smoke tri-tip. We've never tried the cider donuts further down the hill, but maybe we will this year.
  • My work leadership retreat is on a Hornblower yacht, which means I'll get to spend the afternoon in Newport Beach and finally try the new Tanoshi Hour at Nobu. Speaking of Lido Marina Village...
 Vintage wagons in front of the Lido House Hotel. DREAM.

Vintage wagons in front of the Lido House Hotel. DREAM.

FAVORITES

  • ... how cute is this vintage wagon in front of the Lido House Hotel? All the cool California vibes. Reminds me of this art piece from McGee & Co (15% off for Labor Day!). I'm looking at art for our downstairs powder room and am currently debating getting this photo printed and framed or purchasing the McGee piece.
  • The 2019 Day Designer planners launch on September 5! The printed covers are my "pop of color" in my workspace.
  • So many Labor Day sales! Linking my favorite purchases and my September beauty shopping list:

ON MY MIND

You learn that the people who love you do, in fact, love *you* – not what you do, not what you accomplish, not what you “do for God”… And so you are worth the relief of honesty. Take a deep breath. Speak your truth. Let the chips fall as they may. You will be far more grateful than you ever imagined.
— Sarah Bessey, https://www.instagram.com/sarahbessey/
All I’m saying is, this boy loves that girl, and that girl loves this boy, so much that perfect strangers can see it from their living room window. That’s the kind of love I’m going to keep believing in.
— Ashley Brooks, https://www.ashleybrookswrites.com/love-story
You are to pay special attention to those who, by accident of time, or place, or circumstance, are brought into closer connection with you.
— Augustine
  • Rise Together Podcast with Chris Heuertz – The Sacred Enneagram was one of my favorite reads this summer, and I loved hearing Chris Heuertz talk about the Enneagram in this podcast, particularly about 3’s (which I identify with) and 9’s and the relationship between those two types. I especially related to this about 3's: “They look into the relationship they value… and they see what’s missing – and it’s on the subconscious level – they volunteer themselves, they say, “I’ll fill that space. I’ll take on another role.” Attending a grounding retreat (the schedule is up for their September session) at the Gravity Center which he and his wife lead is on my bucket list for 2019. 
  • Streak: What I Learned From Running Every Day for a Year by Laura Vanderkam – I’m not a runner, but I do have a Peloton (find me @ruthiegyll) that makes it insanely easy to exercise. My new goal from now until baby comes: ride everyday – even if the ride is only 10 minutes. As long as I don't go into labor super early, I should be able to hit a 60-day streak at minimum.

Any tips for the end of summer season? I'd love to know!