In the car in the parking lot of the Tupper Lake Rite Aid.
It’s really interesting to me how many people say “you should be easier on yourself” or “take it slow” to postpartum women, and genuinely mean it as a kindness. I mean, I totally get it when it’s in reference to “I can’t figure out what do do with this creature that wants to eat and then cries anyway and then wants to eat again and oh god its butt is wet again and why do baby clothes have so many snaps and did I eat yet today I can’t remember oh crap it’s hungry again but wait it apparently hates my nipples so maybe it’s not hungry but if it’s not hungry how do I know what’s wrong and I think I snapped its clothes wrong anyway so let’s start there but oh god now it’s peeing on me.” Going easy on ourselves on that stuff? That part makes perfect sense. Cut yourself some slack. Infants are bugfuck crazymaking.
But when it’s about me, and how I choose to navigate my adult existence, about the choices I make about shaping my life and lifestyle, about things for which I have clear agency and an active locus of control, I wonder. My health. My fitness. My diet. My housekeeping. My time management skills. My daily planning. I am actively in charge of those things in my own world, or partnering with Justin on them, making choices together. And about those things, I wonder why we say “Oh, go slow, honey!” or “Take it easy on yourself. You don’t have to be [insert thing here].” I hear those responses every time I talk about anything vaguely self-improvement related, and I just wonder at it. Of course I don’t HAVE to be [insert thing here]. But I do get to make choices about how I live, about what I desire, about my goals for myself and my lifestyle. And I’m choosing to be [insert thing here]. And why is it not the default to assume that I’m actively content with those choices? Why not assume that I want to live as I’m setting forth as a goal? Why not assume that I actually desire to live to the standards I’m openly choosing to hold myself to?
Instead, it seems like people are assuming I’m responding to some external impetus — some social force, some unwritten expectation — that says that I must do these things. And so people say “oh, you don’t have to [do that thing]” in a way that seems to assume I probably don’t want to do the thing, and am only doing so because I don’t have permission not to. To which I often think in response, “Have you MET me?” I am a deeply action-based person, driven by the intrinsic rewards of successfully completing tasks I’ve set for myself. Having reached age 38, a second marriage, fulfilling hobbies, and a healthy career, all of which have contributed to making me the happiest I’ve ever been, I rarely do shit I don’t want to do. And I certainly don’t set myself goals that don’t have value for me. So when I say I’m going to get fit, eat better, get to work on time, write my thank you notes, take the dog for a walk, stop eating oreos and staring at the ceiling, or whatever today’s goal is, you can pretty much trust I’m saying it because I want to do it. Because I have agency over those choices and actions. And because I value the outcomes of making those choices and doing those things.
Knowing that’s my headspace, I can’t see why people want to tell me to stop. So I pretty much assume they aren’t thinking of my likely headspace, or they aren’t familiar enough with me to understand it. And I know that most everyone means well, is trying to be supportive and encouraging, and speaking from a place of compassion.
But it lands wrong, with me. If you want to encourage me, what I want to hear is “GO GO GO! You can do it!” Continuing to live in a totally indulgent postpartum headspace where I’m late for everything, the dishes are always dirty, household paperwork is piling up on my desk, I don’t exercise, and I’m mainlining Oreos really truly isn’t going to make my next 6 months of climbing slowly back to work and fitness and health any easier. Is it fun to live a life of laziness and cookies? You bet your ass it is. Does it promote goals I value, and outcomes that make my life better? No way. Not at all.
So I’m defaulting back to where I started my pregnancy, when I said “I’m just pregnant, I’m not broken” a lot.
I’m just postpartum, I’m not broken. And I don’t want permission to stay that way.
Single parents, that is. I don’t know how they do it.
Justin’s off at Novitas this weekend, with my blessing — this was the plan all along, that he’d go larp alone until Gwyn is old enough for me to feel good about leaving her with someone and/or bringing her down, daytripping, so we can hot-swap the baby so we each get to do a shift. But, you know, the first time parenting alone has to happen eventually, and this weekend is my first time.
Which also happens to coincide with her six week growth spurt, so yesterday felt very much like this, from the blog Nurshable:
First, though, we must get through this growth spurt. It is the one where many moms decide that their milk supply is vanishing, that their baby actually hates them (but not as much as baby hates anyone who attempts to hold them without a breast for them to latch onto). You are divinely unpleasant, fussy, and do not believe at all in the idea of sleep. You switch sides constantly and are vocal about your annoyance when there is not enough milk or when there is too much milk. You flail your little limbs in displeasure, and pummel me with your fists while you tsk at me like an angry squirrel.
Yeah. That. Particularly the “no sleep” and “angry squirrel” parts. Last night Gwyn was up, awake, happy and unhappy, and almost constantly nursing until 4 am. Unfortunately for me, I got up with her yesterday for her 6 am feed. So that made for a 22 hour day for me, with a few naps interspersed. I’ve mastered the “doze while she eats” of side-lying nursing, but it’s no substitute for actually SLEEPING. When she went down for real at 4, wrapped her into her Halo swaddle as fast as I could, laid her gently into her bassinet, and then leaped into bed, yanked the covers up, and fell asleep silently chanting “please don’t wake up, please don’t wake up”. Ditto the 8 am feed.
Of course, at 10:30 Malcolm had needs, so I got up and got dressed (if exercise leggings and a flannel shirt count as “dressed”) and took Mal out to pee in windy 40 degree slush. I had planned to take Mal and Gwyn for a walk this afternoon — he’ll need a better walk, later — but the weather is crap, so I’m not sure how we’re going to manage that. I’ll figure something out.
And I seriously contemplated eating cookies for lunch, because they’re right there on the end table, while real food is in the kitchen, which is both challengingly far away (15 feet!) and requires effort.
Single parents do this all the time. And more. While working, not just on maternity leave. And they somehow manage to take showers while also keeping everyone alive and fed.
I really, really don’t know how they do it. I mean, I do: You do it because you have to. That’s what I knew last night; I was going to keep feeding and comforting my angry squirrel because I had to. There were no other viable options, so I did it. You just do it.
But still. Justin will be home in the wee hours tonight, and I will be beyond grateful.
I took the dog for a walk the other day — probably not much more than a mile down Pleasant Valley Road. It felt great; out in the open air, some sunshine, cold breeze, happy dog. And I realized I hadn’t been walking since probably October. And that my feet, calves, shins, and quads were aching by the time I got back. And I was sweaty. And breathing hard. I felt almost as exercised as if I’d done my old loop, which is 4 miles down PVR to Adams and back up 56 to home. I wasn’t quite as noodly-feeling as I would be after four fast miles, but…
What the hell. I am in AWFUL shape.
When I commented on that on Twitter (Facebook, etc, since Twitter populates all my other social media), someone somewhere commented “you’re in mom shape!” and I did not reply with my initial thought. See, I know that was meant as encouraging kindness, so my knee-jerk reaction would have been both unkind and uncalled for. But seriously: If this is “mom shape”, then moms are fucked. Because this is no good. Yes, pregnancy can be hard on a body, and early parenting is chaos and stress incarnate, but seriously: Moms deserve better. Moms deserve — nay, NEED — to be mighty. Because this parenting thing? Not easy.
I mean, I’m not sure it’s a prereq of parenthood to be able to do a pullup, but still: being able to do pullups can’t hurt, since they usually come with other fitness-related benefits. And it sure seems, from where I perch on my couch next to a sleeping infant, that some added stamina and energy would be an entry in the plus column, as would the zen of endorphins and better balanced hormones and more even brain chemistry and all the other things those kooky scientists tell you regular physical exercise does for you.
Added bonus, if you’re like me, your level of fitness and your commitment to an exercise program is something you have control over. And there’s very little I have control over right now… I have no control over when I sleep, when I wake, what I do at any given moment of the day, or how I feel about any of it. I am adrift on a sea of hormones, in a leaky ship steered by a six week old blue eyed tyrant who regularly pees her pants and then yells because she’s understandably unhappy about the consequences of her actions. So, I can make some choices with my free time. I can be in charge of that. I can value it, and myself, and try to strengthen all my resources to keep bailing out that leaky boat, to learn to swim in the hormones, and to steady my resolve for dealing amiably with my adorable little tyrant captain.
So, yoga, then. And a nice walk with the dog. I won’t dive straight back into the 30 Day Sculpt — I’m not a masochist — but I’ll add some planks and assisted pull-ups for good measure. We all start somewhere.
Because I’m going to be mighty again, if it kills me to get there. My definition of “mom shape” is going to include the ability to do pull-ups. Unassisted.
So say we all.
4 am. She won’t sleep unless she’s on me. So she’s on me, and sleeping. And I am not.
Parenting is not for sissies.
Gwyn was hungry
Gwyn needed to burp before I could put her down
Gwyn needed a diaper change
Gwyn peed all over the changing table and needed new jammies
Gwyn immediately pooped her clean diaper and had to be changed again
Gwyn was hungry again
Gwyn needed to burp before I could put her down
Gwyn screamed unless I walked and rocked her, until she passed the gas that was tormenting her
Gwyn needed to be re-swaddled
Miles and Jack were fighting over the best spot on the bed
Gwyn was hungry again
Gwyn needed to burp before I could put her down
Gwyn needed to be re-swaddled
I had to pee
I had a weird nightmare
I wanted to be sure I woke Justin so he could go to work so I stayed up for 20 minutes to do that
Malcolm was disturbed that Justin left without him and whined a lot and would not respond to my sleepy “go lie down.”
Gwyn needed to be re-swaddled
My phone rang
My phone rang again
Jack started aimlessly meowing, loudly
My phone rang again
Miles needed love and head butted me awake until I gave it to him
Gwyn was hungry again
Gwyn needed to burp before I could put her down
I’m getting up now. Between 11:20 pm and 10 am, I got 5.5 hours of sleep. Is it any wonder new parents are INSANE?
Everyone has one of these things, and I find them fascinating when others are willing to share. So.
Gwyn arrived on February 21, 2014: precisely her due date. That wasn’t luck so much as intervention; she was induced on the 20th. My doctor and I had several weeks of conversations about that, and settled on inducing on the 40 week mark, which was the soonest I would agree to. She initially proposed 39 weeks; she told me later that the actual standard of care she was working from recommended 37 weeks. She didn’t even bother bringing that suggestion to me, since she already knew how much research I’d done and how my opinions were likely to fall. So we agreed on 40 weeks, setting the eviction date for the 21st, as she was very clear that she didn’t think it was in my or the baby’s best interests for me to go later. I moved my maternity leave up a week, and hoped and wished for the baby to start labor on her own — I really did not want to be induced.
Alas, 3 pm on the 20th rolled around, and I was not in labor. We’d had one false alarm of pretty strong Braxton-Hicks earlier that week, but no real labor at all. So. Induction o’clock had arrived. The car was packed, the dog was boarded, and off we went to the hospital.
My induction started with Cervadil, which is a drug suppository that is designed to soften the cervix, thus allowing later administration of pitocin to do its job. My OB noted, though, that the Cervadil alone can put many women into labor.
For me, Cervadil on its own worked. My water broke at 8 pm, while Justin and I were watching the Olympics. I spent the next few hours having nonproductive contractions, and around midnight asked for pain meds so I could get some sleep before the real show started. By the time I was due for another dose, at 2:30, the contractions were for real, and the drugs did nothing anymore. We alternated between the whirlpool tub and Justin holding me up, arms around his neck and head on his chest, while I tried to breathe through the experience of each contraction. And then, around 4 am, the pushing started.
That’s when my body got interesting. My hypermobility impacts me almost solely in muscle spasms, as my musculature tries to compensate for my loose connective tissues. Turns out that pushing during labor is something, given my hypermobility, that my body isn’t well-equipped for.
One in three pushes I would get right. I could isolate those muscles and bear down. The other two… I’d try to do it, would engage the muscles in my legs, hips, and core instead, and would, because of the intensity of effort, send those muscles into full-on spasm. Justin spent the full 2 hours I was pushing massaging and compressing my hips, thighs, and low back, trying to help me through. The pain of labor was nothing — NOTHING — compared to the pain of my low back spasming while my hips slid toward dislocation. I was in pain when the contractions hit, but I was screaming when the spasms took over. Justin was amazing; I had tiny fingertip-sized bruises on my low back from the sheer pressure required to release the muscles, and they lasted for a week after we came home. I looked like I’d been beaten repeatedly by a very tiny hammer. And Justin’s hands and arms (also not stable, due to injury) were and are still a wreck as a result.
But we did it. If he hadn’t been there to help me through, to manually massage and release the spasming muscles, and keep my hips in their sockets by brute force, I am certain I would have ended the morning begging for an epidural at best and requiring a c-section at worst. Instead, at 6:15 am, we were fully engaged in birthing, and I heard Dr. DiCoby say “you’ll feel a pinch”, and I knew an episiotomy was next. And, despite my desire to avoid that coming in, all I could think in that moment was “fine. Do it. Get her out safely.” Justin had some interesting thoughts on watching someone cut into his wife to ensure the safety of his child, a conflict he hadn’t experienced before. Me, I didn’t care. Just get her safely into the world.
And at 6:20, we did. Gwyneth Winter Capen was born 10 hours after we started, at which point we started a whole new thing, together in a whole new way.
They put her on my chest, Justin cut the umbilical cord, I delivered the placenta, and the doctor stitched me up. And through it all we sat and held her and I nursed and stared, for about two hours, before they did her newborn testing and treatments. The hormones in those two hours were astonishing, and the lens of distance that I remember it all through is a testament to how effective our evolution has been in ensuring that mothers are willing to give birth more than once. “It was hard, but it wasn’t so bad…” (HA!)
And I’ve written this over the course of a week, ending it at 7 am, watching the world brighten with sunrise, with Gwyn asleep on my chest, typing with thumbs on my phone… Because it’s a whole new world in here. And it’s amazing.
Every time I go in for an NST (non-stress test) to monitor the baby, the nurse asks me a series of questions. It goes like this:
“Why are we doing these tests?”
“Because I’m 38 with chronic hypertension.”
“Ah. And is that controlled, or are you having issues?”
“Very well-controlled; no issues at all. We’re both healthy.”
“Great. Are you having any bleeding?”
“Swelling in your hands and feet?”
“Headaches that Tylenol can’t fix?”
“Pain in your upper right torso?”
“Wonderful. Let’s get your vitals and get this started so you can go home.”
And we take my blood pressure, it’s always good, and they monitor TC for 30 minutes, TC always performs to spec, and we go home.
But. Many of those NO answers? They’re lies. Not because I’m trying to deceive my health care providers, but because they’re asking the wrong questions. I understand why they’re asking — they’re trying to diagnose early signs of pre-eclampsia or early labor — and more importantly, I understand what they’re asking. And that’s why I’m lying.
Swelling in my hands and feet? Yes. But my wedding rings still fit comfortably, and my right foot is the one that’s swelling. My right foot has swelled at the least provocation since I cut the tendon in July of 2013. Standing makes it swell. Walking makes it swell. Pregnancy? It swells. So my foot’s swollen, and this is not surprising, and it is not the same kind of swelling they’re concerned about. I checked early on with my doctor, and it has not worsened, so it is not what they’re asking about. It’s easier, at this point, to just say “no”, because no, I do not have the swelling you’re asking about.
Headaches that Tylenol can’t fix? Let me laugh for a moment. Okay. Now then. I’ve had a sinus headache for weeks, if not months, because no matter how much water I drink, without Sudafed, I have sinus headaches in the winter. And I can’t have Sudafed. So I have a sinus headache. Because it’s winter. But that’s not helpful as an answer; it’s not what they’re actually asking about. (Yes, I’ve discussed it with my doctor.) And “that Tylenol can’t fix?” HAHAHAHAHA. Tylenol doesn’t work for me, pretty much ever, except as a fever/swelling reducer. Painkiller? Laughable. Anybody got some hydrocodone? That works. That’s about the only thing that does. So does the cocktail that’s Excedrin, sometimes, but not always, and I can’t have it, regardless. So that part of the question isn’t actually useful either: if I have a headache, Tylenol can’t fix it. That’s not a new symptom, and isn’t a helpful diagnostic in my case. So. “No.” Because in my case, “Yes” won’t tell you anything.
And upper right quadrant pain? Well, yeah, I also have that ALL THE DAMN TIME ALWAYS. My shoulder, neck, arm, and ribs always always always hurt on the right side, unless I’m at the sweet spot of self-care and management in which nothing hurts, which is a delicate and currently impossible balancing act for me to achieve. And let me tell you, I haven’t been there since, like, October. It started getting worse in November, and by December I was crying on Justin because I was so angry that the pain was back like it had been in 2009. Don’t talk to me about my upper right quadrant. But, “No”, because I know you mean a different kind of pain than I have (because, yes, I talked to my doctor).
It all just feels strange, giving these non-answers to real questions. But I also know that if I tell them all the truth they freak out, make me stay longer, want to test more stuff, call my doctor… even though I just saw her three days ago, we talked about all of this, she’s not worried, and neither am I. And it’s just not worth it. I understand what they’re asking. I know what to watch for. When and if the time comes to worry, I’ll answer the spirit of the question just as honestly. Right now, the letter of the question is rote, and I’m lying to tell the truth.
Malcolm was adorable in his desire for attention this morning. We both sat on the bed, talking to each other, petting him, saying that he really is the perfect dog. Of course, this evening, now, as Justin is out running some errands, he’s pacing the house and whining, sad that Justin is gone. Alas, the life of a dog is hard. He seems to have forgotten that he and J played in the new fluffy snow today, or that we had lean-and-pet time when I got home, or that he got eggs with probiotic powder for his evening snack, or even that he gets a damn evening snack… no, he’s just going to lie in front of the kitchen door that leads to the garage and look sad and occasionally whine. This is what we call “living in the moment.” He’ll have a new moment to live in, soon enough. I just gave him a bite of cheese. Nice Dubliner, no less. Now he’s whining again. Find a new moment, Malcolm. He’ll come back, I promise.
Last night I declared that we needed to stop eating crap food and sugary treats, and that our food should consist of actual food, regardless of how tired I am. Then I made dinner and it was great: mashed sweet potato, sauteed yellow pepper and snap peas, and a beef rib steak, boned and trimmed. I, um, also cooked everything with butter. BUTTER IS FOOD, dammit. Tonight we’re having meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and peas, because that’s what we had the stuff for in the house. One of Justin’s errands is to get groceries, and I noted “you can add green vegetables to the list if you’re tired of frozen peas.” We’re trying. Trying is good enough.
I have reached the part of pregnant where it’s not sitting, it’s not standing, it’s not lying down… none of those is the problem. It’s transitioning between them. That’s when my pelvis and lower abs start to scream. And walking is pretty achey and limpy, too. Walk more when you’re pregnant, my ass. YOU try it, in this body. My tension and trigger point headache issues have resurfaced in the last week, as well, as my shoulders continue to destabilize. I keep stretching, and trying to manage my posture, but it’s not always easy, or effective.
Work is proceeding; I’m nearly finished with all the major projects I want to get done before my leave begins. I’m very optimistic that I can get it done. I’ve set the start of my leave for February 17th, and my goal is to be done with the work projects by the 12th. We’ll see, we’ll see.
I was talking to a guy at work today, who was reminiscing about how excited he was when his wife was at this stage of pregnancy last year. I mentioned as we were discussing the latter part of pregnancy that I’m 38; he was startled, and said, “I didn’t realize that!” Then, apparently thinking that sounded rude, though I wasn’t offended, he clarified “I’m 39!” and all I could think was that I didn’t realize that, either. So I wonder if my ability to judge peoples’ ages is diminishing, or if I just think that people who are “my age” look younger than we really are?
We’re going to take the tree down today. What? It’s only February 5. I don’t know why you’re looking at me funny. Besides, I’m stupidly pregnant and Justin was sick for nearly 3 weeks straight in January. We’ve been distracted. And it’s still pretty. And it’s still winter out there, so we’re still celebrating it. Not to mention that the predicted 2″ of snow for today turned out to be something like 6″, so to hell with convention, our tree’s still up.
In short, life’s good. We’re going to have a baby very very soon, and my dog is still whining.
A couple of people have asked about my pre-baby casserole cooking. It’s an idea I got from… I don’t know where. My friend Mary Carmen? Pinterest? The internet at large? Regardless, it strikes me as brilliance. We have a chest freezer, I like to cook, and we have a baby coming. Put those together and you end up with a freezer full of casseroles so that we can eat easily when we’re insane with baby.
One of the questions was “What are you making?” and one was “Do you have recipes?”. The answers are below!
So far, I’ve made the following, one or two each evening, a few evenings a week:
- Italian Sausage. Justin bought a big package of these, and we divided them up into smaller freezer bags, 2 per bag. Easy to defrost and cook on demand.
- Smoothie packs, x10. A banana, a cup of blueberries, a cup of frozen mixed fruit, and a tablespoon of frozen orange juice concentrate, to make it easy to dump into the blender with yogurt, protein powder, or whatever the desire of the day is.
- Stromboli, x2. There’s no recipe for these; buy pizza dough. Make it into a rectangle. Layer with stuff. Roll up. Freeze. Bake later. So far, I’ve made one spinach and cheese, and one pepperoni and cheese.
- Mexican chicken casserole, x2. I used this recipe, but cooked the chicken first.
- Shepherd’s Pie. I pretty much made this up, because, Shepherd’s Pie. I cooked the ground beef with onion soup mix, worchestershire sauce, and chicken broth, and Justin requested peas and carrots as the veg layer. There would be two of these except we ate one for dinner the next night…
- Penne with meat sauce, x2. Again, no recipe. I made a double batch of meat sauce, which in my case is ground beef, onions, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, and seasoning, and mixed it with penne and ricotta, and topped it with mozzarella.
- Sweet potatoes with cranberries. This recipe. These are in a ziploc, so that they can be put into the slow cooker on the day we want to eat them.
- Sweet potatoes with pecans. This recipe. Same deal.
- Pork roast with apples and sweet potatoes. No recipe. We had a 5 lb pork shoulder, and I carved 2 lbs off it and dropped it into a ziploc along with chopped onions, apples, and sweet potatoes. This one is also designed for slow cooking, with the addition of apple cider on cooking day.
- Pulled pork, x2. The other 3 lbs of pork went into the slow cooker, with apple cider, seasoned with pork rub. Once it was cooked I shredded it and divided it into quart freezer ziplocs, and tossed them in the freezer.
- Cheesy hashbrown casserole. The classic. Except, I always skip the canned soup and just add more of other dairy.
- Beef ravioli in red sauce, x2. Not so much a recipe, but basically this. I added ricotta, because I could.
- Creamy chicken and tortellini, x2. Tonight’s addition, inspired by this. I layered cooked cheese tortellini, chopped vegetables (broccoli, snap peas, carrots, mushrooms), and chopped chicken into trays. Then I poured sauce over the top, a mixture of jarred alfredo, chicken broth, seasoning (including my always-in-creamy-things nutmeg), and topped it all with shredded parmesan.
I still have the ingredients for and intentions of making these:
- A way less Paula Deen-ed version of broccoli chicken casserole.
- Mushroom quinoa casserole.
- Artichoke, chicken, spinach lasagna
- Loaded twice baked potatoes
- A batch of meatballs to freeze.
- Macaroni and Cheese.
- Stromboli. Justin has requested 2 more pepperoni.
- Pumpkin oatmeal
- Breakfast egg puffs
- Snack foods: Homemade Larabars, almond snack bars, spiced nuts.
- More smoothie packs.
To prep for doing all of this, we went to BJs and spent about 3 months worth of our bulk food budget in one night. Two big carts of bulk cheese, meat, frozen veg, canned veg, and a case of chicken broth… and I’m just working my way through them. We also bought gallon freezer bags and 18 aluminum baking trays, and already had a big roll of aluminum foil. Crockpot meals have gone into gallon bags, and casseroles have gone into trays, covered with foil. Everything has been labeled in sharpie, with cooking instructions so that Justin and I can just shove them into the oven or crock pot. I started the whole thing by broiling a giant package of chicken breasts and stashing them in the fridge in a ziploc bag, pulling out what I need for each recipe as I cook. It’s taken about an hour each night that I do some of it, at most, with pretty easy clean-up as I go. Our only real challenge has been staging; the chest freezer is currently full of ingredients (though that’s declining as I work), so there’s not much room yet for the finished products. However, we’ve had a huge cold snap going on, so we’re basically flash freezing casseroles out in the garage, to be moved into the chest freezer as we make space.
So, here’s hoping it works out as well as I’m envisioning! It’s definitely using up my nesting impulses in helpful ways. 🙂