I’ll remember him dancing

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My Uncle Bob died recently. His memorial service was this morning, and I’ve been struggling for weeks to figure out just what to say about it all.

I hesitate to say that his death was a shock – he had been living with the aftermath of an aneurysm that probably should have killed him for about a decade, now – but I’m having a hard time believing that he’s really gone. My heart hurts for my Aunt Barbara, for my cousins and their children, for all of us who knew and loved him. I’m especially sad that we hadn’t visited in so long, that he never met my kids, and that we couldn’t be there today to say goodbye.

My mom and her big sister Barbara have always been close. They both married guys named Bob, and as it turned out, the six kids born of those two marriages were pretty close growing up, too. The Bourbeaus settled in Toledo, Ohio, and we stayed in Detroit, but I was lucky to spend lots of time at my Aunt and Uncle’s house in the summer, riding my cousins’ bikes, hanging out with their friends, splashing around in their pool, and monopolizing their basement television set to watch MTV at all hours of the day and night (Detroit still didn’t have cable back then, and I had already fallen hard for the new wave and punk sounds being broadcast over the radio. My Aunt and Uncle totally indulged me). It was a nice dose of suburbia, a chance for this painfully shy and anxious city kid to relax, to try on some new wings in a safe place.

My Uncle Bob and Aunt Barb were – have always been – unfailingly generous people. Even as I grew to adulthood, when my problems led me to make some really bad decisions, to do some just plain stupid things, I always felt loved and accepted by them. Never judged, only welcomed.

All people are flawed, of course, and the fuzzy memories of childhood have a way of coming into focus as you get older. The less attractive aspects of a person’s character, their vices or bad habits seem obvious in hindsight. But as a grown-up, you also have empathy, and the knowledge that no person is ever just one thing. How boring would that be? And how impossible.

I choose to remember the great things about my Uncle Bob: his generous heart, his twinkling blue eyes, the way he never missed an opportunity to twirl my Aunt Barbara or my cousins or me around a dance floor. He was so light on his feet, and so joyful. When I think of him, first and foremost, I will remember him dancing.

Robert A. Bourbeau, 1942-2014

The Just Us League

I’ve been trying for weeks to find the time and space to write down something, anything, about Mira’s birth, but when I’ve had the time, I haven’t had the words, and when I’ve had the words, I’ve been occupied with things like showering, or nursing, or spending a few minutes of quality time with Julian, or grabbing a bite to eat, or trying to keep the apartment from becoming a complete pigsty, or (ha ha) grabbing an hour or two of sleep.

Our transition from three to four has been challenging at best, and while I feel incredibly lucky and blessed that we had my amazing mom here for three-plus weeks to ease us through, and another dear friend here for the long Thanksgiving weekend, I still feel like there just haven’t been enough hands to juggle all the things, or enough hours in the day. I know it will all get better in time, at least that’s what I keep telling myself when it’s 3 in the afternoon and I’m still in my milk-stained pajamas, trying to figure out what on earth we’re going to eat for dinner when I haven’t even had lunch yet.

This guy is keeping me company while I breathe through contractions.

One month ago today, on marathon Sunday, I sat on our bed at 40 weeks and 2 days pregnant, timing my contractions. (I had an app, of course. We’re so modern.) This being my second pregnancy, my doctor had told me to call when the contractions were 7 minutes apart, one minute long, for one hour, since second and subsequent babies tend to come faster than firstborns. I had been so close to that 7-1-1 mark for days, but my contractions never seemed to get closer than 9 or 10 minutes apart, and at least twice in the middle of the night, when I was certain we’d be grabbing our bags and calling a car to head to the hospital soon, they would just… stop. I’d sleep fitfully for an hour or two, frustrated but exhausted, and hope that things would pick up again soon.

It was so very different than the first time around. We really had no clue how things would play out.

So I sat on the bed that cold and sunny Sunday, and my mom made bacon and eggs and potatoes and toast while Julian played in the living room, and Mike sat at his computer and wrote, and Kirby curled up at my side like a furry little doula, and Cat and PJ and Stevie and Ella sang through the speakers, and I breathed, and timed, and waited. I hadn’t had much of an appetite for most of this pregnancy, but it had finally come back in recent days, and the sizzling bacon smelled so good but I was too queasy to eat when it was offered. Mom and the boys enjoyed theirs, and I stayed in the bedroom, timing, breathing, waiting.

At some point I finally had a small plate of potatoes and toast and a couple of strips of bacon, but mostly I sipped as much water as I could hold (which came out seemingly as fast as I took it in). The contractions had been building in intensity over the course of the day, to the point where I had to stand or get on my hands and knees and brace myself to breathe through them. They were still no closer than 8 or 9 minutes apart, though, and while I was really hoping for an unmedicated birth this time, I was beginning to doubt that I could hang on much longer without some sort of pain relief. The sun dipped low in the sky, my mom pressed forward with dinner prep at my urging, and Mike and I decided that as soon as my contractions got to about 7.5 to 8 minutes apart, we’d call my doctor’s office.

We reached that point a little after 5 pm. I called my doctor’s office, and then their answering service, at 5:15. I gave my info to the nice lady on the other end of the line, was given the name of the doctor on call and told someone would call back. I relayed this info to Mike and said that if we didn’t hear back from anyone in 10 minutes, we should go ahead and call a car anyway.

We never did get a call back. Luckily, we didn’t wait for one.

I went out to the living room to tell my mom what was happening. She had a pot roast cooking and a football game on the television, and Julian was still down for his afternoon nap. I burst into tears as I was talking to her, and started shaking as she hugged me tight. It took only minutes for a car to arrive to take us to the hospital, and Mike and I loaded in and were on our way at around 5:45.

The contractions started coming harder and faster while we sped through the Hugh Carey Tunnel and up the west side of Manhattan to St. Luke’s at 58th Street. Mike fired off a couple of quick texts to family to let them know we were en route. I was sweating and shaking and struggling not to show it; every time our driver stopped at a light he’d look at me in his rearview mirror, so I was trying hard to remain calm and composed. He let us off at the curb right around 6:15, and I clutched a newspaper box while Mike paid up and gathered our things. Then we hobbled slowly up a flight of stairs from the sidewalk to the entrance, and from there to Maternity on the 12th floor.

L&D

My memory gets a little fuzzy from this point on. We arrived at triage to check in, and though I had pre-registered I wasn’t in the system. I answered questions and started filling out forms as best I could, stopping at one point to bend over and breathe before being taken back to be examined. I was given a gown to change into and a cup to fill, then was left alone while the nurses tended to a mama who had arrived just after us, and who was clearly in distress. I made my way to the bathroom and tried to pee, but it was agony, then I went back to the curtained area to change out of my clothes. I put on the gown and again doubled over, trying to breathe and stay calm.

Someone came back after a few minutes that felt like an eternity. I was finding it harder to focus on my breathing, so I started singing, then humming (“Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”, of all things – it’s one of Julian’s favorites, and it was the first thing that came to mind) to try to calm myself. I had to get onto my back on the bed, but I couldn’t, and to make matters worse, I was feeling the very distinct urge to push.

When I heard the resident who was examining me say that I was about 9 cm dilated, I almost lost it. That minute between the nurses getting a monitor onto me and then locating the sound of the baby’s heartbeat was probably the longest minute of my life – I can’t recall ever feeling so terrified. Mike was still in the triage waiting room, nobody could reach any of the doctors from my OB’s office, and my body was telling me that this baby was coming out NOW.

Mike was finally brought back, and at this point, things started happening fast. I was transferred to a gurney for the short trip across the hall to a Labor and Delivery room. I was summoning all my strength to NOT PUSH, while trying to answer more questions from the nurses about my Group B Strep status (negative), whether I’d like an epidural (“OH YES but I don’t think there’s time?!”), and the like. Mike’s favorite part of this story is that I apparently yelled “JESUS!” very loudly at this point, legs splayed in the hallway of a Catholic hospital, which garnered some laughter from the nurses who were with us.

Once in our L&D room, Mike tossed our bags and coats onto a chair while I was hooked up to more monitors, answered a few more questions, and was again reminded “DON’T PUSH!” My legs were propped up and a whole team of people swirled into the room for the endgame. I fixed my attention on the guy who seemed like he was in charge (Dr. Lee, and he was), standing just beyond my right foot. He told me that I could push (finally!), and that when I did, I’d feel my water breaking. I did and it did, and I don’t think anything has ever felt so weird or so good.

The real pushing (and yelling) began after that, and it felt very much NOT GOOD, and while in the moment I thought I was going to split right open and die, the actual time it all took was relatively brief. Mirabelle Marlow Dietsch came roaring into this world at 7:15 pm, not two hours after we left home for the hospital.

Well. We have some story to tell. But first we rest.

They handed her to me briefly, then whisked her away to be weighed and measured and examined. I held her again while they cleaned and stitched me up, this little pink-cheeked bundle, and despite the physical pain I was in, I was pretty exhilarated.

mama and Mira

The experience was not at all as we might have planned, but in a weird way, I got the birth that I had wanted. And of course, most importantly, our little girl was healthy and perfect.

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So now we are four. We are figuring it out. Every day is different, but I couldn’t ask for more.

uncommon courtesy

Commuting While Pregnant

This morning’s commute on the B train. And it wasn’t the first time.

I know some of you must be thinking, “wait, aren’t you pregnant too?” And you’d be right, of course. About 8 1/2 months along now, with baby girl due to arrive 44 days from now. I feel huge, and tired, and cranky, and generally uncomfortable in all sorts of places you don’t want to hear about. And I’m still commuting from our home in Brooklyn to my midtown Manhattan office five days a week, for an hour or more in each direction.

I stand on trains and buses a lot.

The more often it happens, the more often I see others who are pregnant, or elderly, or walking with a cane or crutch, or who just generally look like they could use a little help, standing on the train too while a bunch of bankers and dudebros and others who could maybe stand to stand for a stop or three ignore our presence or worse, the more pissed off I get about it.

So of course, I vent all over the internet about it.

But it mostly makes me sad. I was raised to have some awareness of my surroundings, to have empathy for others, to help those less able, when and how I’m able to. Have manners just disappeared from our society? Has common courtesy become that uncommon?

Now, I’m the first to admit that as a bigger girl, my pregnancy might not be so blatantly obvious to some people. But the other pregnant woman on the train this morning was teeny, aside from the very obvious bowling ball-like protrusion in her belly region. She was grimacing like her back was killing her. She clearly needed a seat. I caught her eye, and the look of relief on her face said it all. And then when she noticed I was pregnant, too, she said “oh no, no! I can’t take your seat!” I told her I was getting off in 2 stops, and I wasn’t going to argue – she clearly needed to sit more than I did this morning.

After (presumably) seeing and hearing this exchange, did any of our fellow riders get up so we could both sit? Nope.

I can hear the arguments already. As someone who has lived with an invisible chronic health condition for more than a dozen years now, I know too well that sometimes you can’t always tell at first glance if someone might need a seat more than you do. But there are signs, if you know to look for them. And there are people who very clearly, obviously need a seat… pregnant ladies, elderly people, people with canes and crutches. People for whom it can actually be dangerous to stand on a train. And yet so often, too often, those people stand, because “nobody sees them,” or truthfully, they pretend not to.

People ride with their faces buried in a book or a newspaper or an electronic device, and they’re so caught up in their own little worlds that when their train pulls into a station, or their bus pulls up to a stop, they either don’t take that one little minute to raise their eyes and take a quick look around to see if someone is boarding who might benefit from a seat, or if they do glance up, they try not to let on so they don’t have to move, or act, or care.

It’s so easy, not to see. If you don’t see, then you don’t have to feel bad about your inaction, right? “Oh, I didn’t see that 90 year old lady trying desperately not to fall while holding onto her pocketbook with one hand and a crowded subway pole with the other.” “I didn’t see the young father with the tiny baby strapped to his chest trying to balance the baby and a briefcase and a diaper bag and the grocery bags on a rush hour train.”

I didn’t see. It’s so easy, not to.

This isn’t just a New York thing; I dealt with the same crap two years ago when I was pregnant with Julian and commuting between Providence and Boston every day. I’m sure it happens everywhere, to some extent. And of course most people won’t say anything in the moment, because who wants to make a scene? Who wants to look like an asshole? Never mind that the true assholes are planted in seats, ignoring the people around them for whom a small gesture would make a huge difference.

Open your eyes, people. Take a moment to see those around you. Show a little common courtesy, and hopefully it’ll come back to you or someone you care about at a time when you need it.

where do we go from here

somerset

My parents worked their asses off until they retired, to give us more than they had when they were growing up. My brother and I went to the best schools they could afford. We enjoyed dance classes and tennis lessons and tae kwon do. We had a nice vacation every summer, often with a friend in tow. There were nice clothes, dinners out, toys and books and bikes and more. Things my parents could only dream of having themselves, as kids.

Mom and Dad bought a little brick house on the east side of Detroit when I was just a baby. I lived there well into my twenties, until I moved into an apartment with the man who would become my first husband.

It was a family-friendly, working class neighborhood. Until it wasn’t.

Detroit declined, people moved to the suburbs. My parents considered it too, but never made the leap. I don’t know why, but I never questioned it. It wasn’t – and isn’t – my place to.

So we stayed in that little brick house for years, as the neighborhood changed around us.

I was the first to walk into the house after we were robbed. My dad’s swing shift had him working afternoons, and on many of those kinds of evenings, my mom, my grandma (who was living with us by then), my brother and I would head out to a local family restaurant for dinner. I was probably 10, maybe a little older but not much, and as I bounded into the living room after my mom had unlocked the front door, I remember seeing a pillowcase in the hallway. I didn’t think anything of it, assumed it was the work of the cat… but within a few minutes, we realized something wasn’t right.

Lights were on where they hadn’t been before. There were open spaces on shelves where electronics had been. I felt sick, and my mom quickly shepherded us to the front of the house while she called the police, and my dad.

The Detroit P.D. sent a chaplain along on the call, which was odd and confusing to me, until I realized why a chaplain might have been needed, and then I felt even sicker.

They discovered a trail of blood in our driveway later, leading from the backyard where our sweet old dog had been locked into the garage (thankfully unharmed), his dog door barricaded by the heavy wooden patio furniture my dad had built. The glass panes on the door leading from our sunporch into my little brother’s room had been smashed, enabling the intruders to get inside.

I reminded myself for years that it was only stuff, and that except for some of my mom’s jewelry, it was all replaceable.

The bad guys hadn’t hurt any of us, but I never slept well in that house again, not even after my dad walled in the sun porch, and put metal screens over the glass paned doors, and installed more and sturdier locks on every possible point of entry, and showed me where he kept the shotgun, and explained how it was loaded (two shots of bird shot, two buck, two double buck), and taught me how to brace it against my shoulder in case I ever needed to use it.

In the 28 or so years I lived in that little brick house, I recall three shootings right on our block – one down by the corner, and two right across the street from us. One of those took place when I was a teenager, home alone with my grandma, and a little kid I didn’t know knocked at the door for my help. I forget if he was the shooter, or if he had just seen the accident, but his sister had been shot in the thigh in their home. I called the cops for him and sat and waited for them to arrive while he ran back across the street.

The girl came over several days later, on crutches, and thanked me.

The victims of the other two shootings weren’t so lucky, and I will never forget the sound of the mother screaming in her driveway over her son’s body, or the sight days later of family members crouched in that driveway with a bucket, scrubbing the bloodstains away.

Many years later, I was again home alone with grandma, when a man I didn’t know knocked on the front door. It was an old, heavy wooden door with a small, round stained-glass window you could open to the outside. I did just that, though the man’s voice was still muffled by the locked storm door between us. He pointed toward our driveway and said something that I couldn’t make out, and after a few more exchanges, I realized that he was telling me that our garage was on fire.

The garage that was just feet from the room at the back of the house, where my grandma, at this point very old and frail, was sleeping.

I had no idea how bad this fire was, what caused it or how quickly it was moving, but having seen many a burned-out shell in our neighborhood by that time, I called 911 immediately, then ran back to my grandma’s room to get her the hell out. Trying to gently but quickly shuffle a large woman in her mid-80s with congestive heart failure, who had been napping just minutes before, out of a house, down the street, and up a flight of stairs to the safety of a neighbor’s living room without having her collapse in panic or worse, is one of the more nerve-wracking things I’ve had to do in my life.

The fire burned so hot that the concrete slab and the whole of our driveway had to be torn up and replaced. The garage and everything in it – bikes and other sports equipment, patio furniture, tools and gardening implements, the grill and extra propane tanks (nice accelerants, those) – all of it was destroyed. There was smoke damage to the back of the house, but we were lucky – it didn’t spread to the house itself.

To this day I am so grateful I stayed home from work that day.

An investigation was done, and the fire was determined to be arson. The garage was rebuilt, and items replaced, and not long after, we all said goodbye to the little brick house.

Despite it all, I loved that house. I have at least a dozen good memories for every bad one, but those bad memories still creep into my dreams at night. I’ve lived with crippling anxiety for years, with an intense fear of being home alone, fear of the dark, of shadows on the wall, creaking stairs, things that go bump.

I believe in the bad guys. I’ve seen what they can do.

And now I’m a mother, and the decisions about where we live, about what kind of neighborhood my kids will grow up in, about who and what they will be exposed to, and what kind of memories they’ll carry with them into adulthood, are on me.

I have a good job, great benefits, a sense of stability in a field that is going through changes. We need to live in the city, or at least somewhere I can have a livable, reasonable commute, but we are watching wide-eyed as all around us, the safe, clean, quiet, affordable neighborhoods become less so. And I’ve realized recently that what we can afford is far less than what most people expect.

We just got back to New York. We love it here. We were looking forward to settling in and putting down some roots in what we thought was going to be a great place to raise our little family, and now, just one year later, we are trying to figure out where to go next.

So far, our options aren’t great. It’s disheartening.

I know there will be tradeoffs, wherever we land. There always are. But I feel the pressure building, already, to make sure that that those tradeoffs are the right ones, or at least, the best ones, for Julian and his sister-to-be.

I will never be able to give my kids even a fraction of what my parents have given me. I know I can’t shield them from every bad thing that might happen in the world around them. But I owe it to them to at least give them a sense of safety and security in their own home.

I have to do whatever it takes to prevent them from having memories of a pillowcase in the hallway, shattered glass on the floor, of a woman’s screams as she cradles her son’s body in the driveway across the street, of bloodstains being scrubbed off the pavement.

girl talk

[I wrote this on June 4th, after my last OB appointment. At that time, my doctor told me he was "90% sure" our baby was a girl. I had my 20-week ultrasound this morning, where it was confirmed. She's apparently healthy, which is really the most important thing and which I don't want anyone reading this to think I am not grateful for and appreciative of; but while I've had 10 days to wrap my head around the idea of parenting a daughter, I'm still struggling with it. So I'm just going to go ahead and hit publish.]

I’ve said all along that all I wanted was a healthy baby. Through rounds and rounds of tests, the countless vials of blood taken, the seemingly endless ultrasounds, that was our goal. And finally, after weeks of waiting, of anxious days and fitful nights of sleep, we have the numbers, and they are good. I called Mike from the doctor’s office to tell him as soon as I left my last office visit, and tearfully gave him the news. Like me, he was thrilled and relieved.

But I’m ashamed to admit that when I gave him the second bit of news about this baby, my tears were less joyful.

We’re having a girl.

And that terrifies me.

I’ve never believed I needed to have “one of each” to feel like our family was complete. Heck, having a kid at all was an amazing surprise; being able to have a second feels like an even bigger gift. And apparently, some people in this country are willing to go to incredible lengths to have a daughter. But I am completely freaked out by the prospect, and pink bows and princess stories are the least of it.

The thought of bringing a little girl into the world, a world in which a mother has to explain to her 8-year old daughter what rape is because the little girl was threatened, in which incredibly hard-working and talented women have to write posts like this to explain/justify their success? A world in which women still can’t expect equal pay for equal work, or to make decisions about their own bodies? It’s depressing, and that’s just some of the crap that women in this country have to deal with.

Then there’s the day-to-day stuff, which is worse, perhaps, than those “Big Bads,” because it’s so pervasive. Little girls can be unspeakably cruel, and grown women even crueler. I’ve witnessed it and dealt with it at every age and stage, from the playground to the classroom to the conference room.

We are so quick to tear each other down, so quick to pass judgment, so quick to hinder rather than help. So often, there’s an edge of jealousy and insincerity in our words of praise or congratulations. What should be healthy competition is often shadowed with malice. We attack other women for everything from their hair to their parenting choices. We seem to be incapable of being truly happy for and supportive of other females. Hell, there are entire blogs dedicated to talking shit about other (female) bloggers.

Why? How is that okay? And how on earth am I supposed to prepare a little girl for all of that?

There is so much about BEING a girl that I feel poorly equipped to deal with. Raising one? Feels damn near impossible.

Baby Talk: What Worked for Us

We’re almost a year into this whole parenting thing, and I can’t believe how the time has flown. While I can’t even begin to think about the possibility of having another little one of our own just yet, I’m incredibly excited for friends of ours who are expecting new additions to their families in the coming months, so I’ve been thinking a lot about baby gear.

I remember all too well how thoroughly overwhelming it was to figure out just what and how much (or how little) STUFF we truly needed for the baby. Mike and I did our own (extensive!) research, of course, but in the months before Julian was born, I also received a lot of wonderful recommendations and advice from friends who had started down this road before us. I never like to offer unsolicited advice or opinions to other parents-to-be, but I would like to share what has worked for us – the products we ended up loving and why, and what we would recommend to others who may be looking for baby gear in the near future.

Eat

I feel so lucky that I was able to (and continue to) breastfeed Julian, but it wasn’t always easy. Two things I was especially grateful for while we were getting the whole process down were Dr. Sears’ Breastfeeding Book, and a good nursing pillow. I hadn’t intended to get a special pillow for nursing, thinking I could just use one of the standard bed pillows we already had around, but my mom brought me a Boppy when she and dad came up for J’s birth, and it was so helpful, especially in the early weeks when we were working on Julian’s latch and he was so wee he needed the firm support it provides. I’m all for minimalism, but this is a specialized item I am grateful we had around.

As my maternity leave drew to a close and we started to transition him to bottle feedings during the day, we tried a couple of different brands of bottles. There were some that were specifically designed for breastfed infants, with a nipple that was designed to mimic the feel and flow of the breast, but Julian didn’t do well with them. I definitely wanted something without BPA and phthalates for our little guy, so we ended up going with these glass bottles from lifefactory. Julian took to them right away, and never experienced nipple confusion or any other issues. They are easy for him to hold himself, have sippy caps you can purchase separately, and the bottles have survived countless falls to the floor and other hard surfaces.

We did quite a bit of research before buying a high chair (and we waited until J was several months old to actually get one). We finally decided on the Inglesina Fast Table Chair, a nifty little number that hooks right onto our high dining table, and folds into its own little carry pouch for travel or meals out. It takes up a minimum of space in our apartment, and Julian loves being right at the same level with us as we eat meals together. The fabric cover is removable for cleaning, but it also wipes up well with a damp cloth.

Sleep

I cannot say enough about the Arm’s Reach Mini Convertible Co-Sleeper. It was recommended to us by some good friends, and I have in turn recommended it to countless other parents-to-be. Julian used it until he was about 8 months old, and while he often ended up in our bed at some point during the night (and still does), this was probably the single best purchase we made for him. I truly believe that co-sleeping is why we were so successful at breastfeeding, and why my return to work after maternity leave was so relatively smooth. I know my mental state was helped by knowing that he was right there next to us, literally an arm’s length away, and that he never had to cry longer than it took me to roll over, pick him up, and bring him to me for a feeding or other care or comfort during the night.

We also absolutely love our aden + anais muslin swaddles. They’re great, versatile blankets for swaddling, keeping sun or wind off baby when you’re out and about, covering up while nursing, really anything you can imagine. They’re breathable and butter-soft, and they wash up beautifully.

Julian never really dug the whole swaddling thing, so once we switched him to wearable blankets, aden + anais were a hit again. Their sleeping bags are sleeveless, and again very soft and breathable, which is great since Julian tends to get pretty warm when he sleeps. The fact that they zip open at the bottom means it’s super easy to change a diaper during the night, too. Now that he’s (mostly) in a traditional crib, we’ve picked up aden + anais’ muslin crib sheets. I love them so much I wish they made bedding for grown-ups.

Poop

We spent a lot of time looking into diapering options for Julian, and we feel pretty good about the options we chose. We started him in gDiapers, with their flushable/biodegradable/compostable inserts (there are cloth inserts available too). These worked well for us for the first 9 months – he never had even a hint of diaper rash, and the diapers were typically leak-free throughout the daytime hours, though having extra plastic liners on hand was an absolute must.

That said, we did decide after the first month or so to use disposables (Seventh Generation) overnight, and we moved away from the gDiapers entirely once J was on solid food, as the change in his diet made for bigger, messier messes that the g’s didn’t always contain well. I think if we had a washer and dryer of our own instead of having to rely on shared laundry facilities in our apartment buildings, we would have stuck with the gDiapers, and I’d definitely recommend them to anyone who is considering them. I also wish we would have been able to flush more of the soiled inserts as intended – unfortunately, both places we’ve lived since Julian’s birth have had older plumbing that wasn’t quite up to the task.

We’ve used Earth’s Best Tender Care Wipes from the start, and they are absolutely the best baby wipes we’ve tried. They’re big, thick, and really absorbent, they smell clean and fresh, and they really do the job on even the most challenging messes.

We used a regular step can and liner for diaper disposal until just a few months ago, when odor became an issue (ah, how I miss the days of sweet-smelling breastmilk poop… ). A lot of friends use, and love, the Diaper Genie and similar devices, but we decided on the Diaper Dekor Classic Pail and biodegradable bag inserts. So far it has worked really well for us.

Gear

We started out using two carriers: a basic Moby wrap and a handed-down Baby Bjorn Classic. The Moby was great when Julian was wee, especially for wearing him around the house. The Bjorn was great until he got to be about 15 lbs. or so. At that point, because we were using it so much, we decided we needed something with more lumbar support, and after A LOT of research, we decided on the Lillebaby NORDIC carrier. It’s very much like the ERGO carrier, but it is adjustable to six positions, and you can use it from birth until 42 lbs without having to buy any additional inserts. Mike and I both wear Julian in it daily, and it has been great for all of us. It’s super easy to adjust the straps when we switch off, and it’s also really easy to change Julian’s position in the carrier if, for example, he falls asleep facing out and we want to face him inward. We’ve taken him everywhere in this thing, even on airplanes, and it has been great. I have also had no problem nursing him in it.

We went with Britax for our biggest-ticket items: our infant car seat, stroller, and now a convertible car seat. Our Chaperone infant seat was subject to a voluntary recall for a possibly faulty screw, and we requested and received the replacement part in question within a matter of days. We never had issues with the seat, though, and although we used it far less than someone who actually owned a car would have, we thought it was great. Because of its size and bulk, we rarely used it as an infant carrier, but we did attach it to our stroller when Julian was very small, and that worked well.

The B-Agile stroller has been great. It’s lightweight but solid and sturdy, with great maneuverability and a single-handed fold. Again, we haven’t used it as heavily as some parents might since it has generally been easier for us to just strap Julian into a carrier and go, but when we have used it, we’ve been pleased with its performance.

We just recently purchased a Roundabout 55 convertible car seat for Julian, and used it for the first time while traveling in Indiana. It was very easy to get in and out of our rental car and Mike’s mom’s car, and the Britax rolling travel bag we purchased separately for it worked really well, too.

Extras

We didn’t end up buying a whole lot of “non-essential” stuff for Julian, but we did receive a couple of gifts that ended up being really useful and appreciated.  The Fisher Price Rock ’n Play Sleeper was particularly nice when I went back to work and Mike was home alone with the baby. Our model didn’t come with any added bells and whistles, and it provided a safe place for Julian to hang out and nap or just abide while Mike worked or did other things around the apartment.

The bathroom in our last apartment was tiny, so fitting a standard baby bathtub into our space would have been tricky.  Enter the puj tub, a soft and flexible baby bath that fit nicely in our sink. Julian seemed very comfortable sitting in it for bathtime, and I appreciated the extra layer of cushioning between baby and hard, cold porcelain.  Both of these items are now being used by our new nephew Solomon.

You can find all of these items (and a few others) on my Julian – Gear board on Pinterest.

(I should probably mention that every product mentioned here was either purchased by us or gifted to us by friends or family members.  I have not ever received any sort of free or discounted products or compensation from any of the companies mentioned in exchange for writing about them here or elsewhere, and all opinions are, of course, my own.)

I Like New York in June

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I got a call last Friday, just 20 minutes before I was scheduled to leave the office for the long weekend, and it turned our world upside down. The call was the result of a series of conversations that began months ago, a visit to old stomping grounds in February, and a giant leap of faith. It was a call that I didn’t think was going to happen – I was so sure of it, in fact, that Mike and I had planned to sign a lease on a new apartment just two blocks from our current space last Saturday morning. I had a cashier’s check in my bag when the call came. But that call changed everything.

The move we’re in the midst of now is not the move we had planned on making. We’re moving back to New York.

The call was about a job, a return to a place I never should have left in the first place, a return to a city we still love, and that I missed much more than I thought I would. Providence hasn’t been all bad – in fact, Providence will always hold a very special place in our lives and hearts as the birthplace of our little boy – but we have been less than satisfied here for a long while now. And we’ve talked about leaving for a long while, too, but every time we tried, something would happen that kept us here for another year. I joked that this town was like quicksand, pulling us back in again and again.

But right now, I’m sitting in a nearly empty apartment, air mattresses on the floor, the baby asleep in a travel crib, and nearly all of our belongings in storage until we know where our next home will be. We’ll move out of this apartment on Thursday, and spend the next week or so in a hotel outside Boston while I finish out time at my job there. And then, I hope, we’ll have a new address, a new roof over our heads, a place for our little family to settle while we start this next chapter in our lives.

I’m excited and terrified, but mostly, I feel like this is all happening now for a reason. I’m just trying to hold on tightly to my guys and trust that we’re supposed to be doing this exact thing, right now, and that we’ll end up right where we’re supposed to be. I took a huge leap, and I’m still not sure how it will all turn out, but if there’s one thing I want Julian to grow up knowing, it’s this: if you don’t like your situation, you have the power to change it. Things may not always turn out the way you want them to; you might struggle, you might leap and fall on your face, but at least you will have taken steps toward making yourself happy.

Say Don’t You Remember

Last September 19th, I sat at my kitchen table with my mom, breaking down the first part of an 8-quart box of tomatoes from the farmers’ market to be roasted and stored for future meals. Mike had a huge pot of chicken stock on the stove, and a plan to make chicken soup for dinner. My dad sat and relaxed in the living room with the news on, the hum of some talking head on MSNBC barely registering in my ears.

I was distracted and more than a little out of sorts; at that afternoon’s visit for monitoring and such at my OB’s office, an ultrasound revealed that my amniotic fluid was low. That, combined with my “advanced maternal age” and the fact that our baby boy was now nearly a week past his due date meant that I would be scheduled for a nonelective induction.

An induction. As anxious as I was to meet this little guy who had been living and growing and bopping about inside of me since the previous December, an induction was on the short list of Things I Did Not Want with respect to this child’s birth. So I halved and cored tomatoes, quiet except for the occasional benign exchange with mom or Mike, trying not to think about this induction business. Then Mike’s cell phone rang. It was someone from Women & Infants Hospital, calling for me, calling about this induction which we thought would happen the next day, but which we now were told would happen in a matter of hours. While I was on Mike’s phone, my own cell phone rang. Mike answered – it was my doctor’s office, telling us (a little late) to expect a call from the hospital, with instructions to report to the hospital that night. This induction was happening, whether I liked it or not.

Here we go.

So this was how this pregnancy, unexpected and blessedly uneventful, easier than I had ever dreamed it would be, would be coming to an end. It was not at all as I had hoped or planned. All of the calm I had felt in the months before was out the window. I sat in the bedroom like a petulant child and cried. I was feeling sorry for myself, and I was scared. I called my grandma and tried not to fall apart as I told her we were on our way, that her newest great-grandchild would be here in the world soon, and that we loved her.

The folks on the phone told me to make sure to eat something before reporting to the hospital, but I couldn’t think about food at all. Mike considered our options in terms of what was nearby and would actually be open on a Monday night, and with a smile, whispered in my ear, “how about Julian’s?” I managed to smile back through my tears, nodding yes. It was fitting and fun, a little inside joke, as my parents had no idea that Julian was the name we had long ago decided on for their first grandson. Julian’s it was. I had a cheeseburger and fries, basic, simple, and comforting, and despite everything that was going on, I somehow found my appetite and finished every bite.

I spent that first night in the hospital watching the minutes on the wall clock tick by. The drug I had been given to get things moving along (Cervidil) left me with horrible cramps, and by the time it was administered, my window for getting a sleep aid had passed. I was already exhausted when I was moved to Labor and Delivery the next morning and given Pitocin, but I was determined to labor without pain medication. I walked, with Mike’s help. I breathed through contractions like it was my job. I listened to our music. I used every position on the adjustable bed, I used a birthing ball, aromatherapy pillow, and every other tool available to me to help me get through. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I felt like I was managing it fairly well. The hours ticked by, slowly.

Dr. Sharp was the OB on duty, and she broke my water at some point on Tuesday afternoon. Things got very intense, very quickly. I’m not sure how much longer I held out, but at one point, I had three contractions right on top of each other, so strong and painful I couldn’t catch my breath to breathe through them. I soon began to feel like I was going to pass out – in fact, I was so exhausted that Mike said I kept falling asleep between contractions, little micro-naps that happened wherever I happened to be. The next time the doc checked to see how far I was dilated, she told me we were halfway there.

Halfway.

I asked for the epidural.

At one point earlier in the day I was alone in the room – I think the nurse on staff had taken Mike to show him where he could refill our water or something. All of the low-grade bustle of the previous hours had stopped for a moment, the afternoon light was soft and low, and I lay there, listening to Julian’s heartbeat, watching my contractions graphed on the monitor next to me, while the music Mike had loaded onto our iPod played in the background. He had chosen some great stuff for this very important playlist, without much input from me, and I smiled as one song in particular began: Rosemary Clooney singing “Corcovado”. It was the song that was playing when Mike asked me to marry him.

I remembered that moment in our apartment in Brooklyn with its deep red walls, the brother and sister cats who are no longer with us, curled at our feet. I remembered the Fung Wah bus trips between New York and Boston, the way I felt when I saw his face after those long rides, and how my heart broke a little every time we’d say goodbye. I remembered the unseasonably warm January day when we said our vows at a Manhattan municipal building, surrounded by a small, merry band of friends, then spent the rest of the day visiting some of our favorite places in our favorite city, eating and drinking and laughing, hearts full to bursting, with no idea what our future would hold, but ready to face it together.

I tried to summon those moments as the anesthesiologist tried once, twice, three times before finally getting the needle into the right place in my spine, while Mike held my hands and two nurses tried to fold me like a card table, to hold me still through my pain. The moment I began to doubt my endurance, the moment I questioned whether I would be able to deliver this baby safely without more assistance, I knew I had to go for the shot, to do what was best for the baby. It wasn’t what I had hoped for, but I had to get through this. It wasn’t what I hoped for, but I have no regrets.

The hours after the epidural are a bit of a haze. I remember how my legs felt, cold as ice and leaden, but when I brushed a hand against them my skin burned. I slept on and off, as Sue, the wonderful nurse who was with us through the home stretch (even staying after her shift had ended), rolled me from one side to the other throughout the night to keep the drugs working properly, a tangle of IV cords attached to my arm and back, and later, an oxygen mask over my face. The sleep wasn’t good, but it was enough.

We had been told that the doctor would probably come in for us around 1 am, and that then it would be time to push. It was several hours later when that actually happened, and I think Mike and I were both surprised at how this finale played out. For most of the pushing, the only people in the room with me were Sue and Mike, with each of them holding one of my legs, and Sue counting aloud. It felt counter-intuitive, taking a breath and holding it in while pushing – my instinct was to breathe out as I pushed – but I focused harder than I ever have on anything, and within just 30 minutes, we were ready for Dr. Sharp to return and bring our baby into the world.

In an instant, all the stillness in our room was replaced with the bustle of nurses and technicians, metal carts and warming lights. Dr. Sharp sang along with our Ella Fitzgerald tunes, then she stopped and instructed me to make my final push. I both felt and heard a POP as Julian’s head emerged, then Mike’s voice rang out, joyful and almost overcome with emotion, “oh my god! Oh my god!” There was another gentle tug and our boy was out in the world, finally, purple and wriggling and absolutely perfect.

brand new

What surprised me the most was that I didn’t cry – me, who is prone to crying at the drop of a hat. I didn’t shed a single tear at what was probably the most emotional moment of my life. I remained clear-eyed and calm as the nurses handed me our son, this tiny, squalling person for whom everything was brand new, and me perhaps the only familiar thing to him – and my only concern was to soothe him, to calm his crying. I spoke to him softly as I held him to my breast: “I love you. I love you, Julian. Everything’s fine, your mama’s here. Everything’s going to be just fine.”

And so it was.

one to go

feeling very round today

“I think I might be pregnant.”

It seems like forever ago that I was somewhat nervously saying those words to Mike. And some days it feels like just yesterday. But here we are, with only one month to go until my due date, this incredible ride nearly behind us, and a whole new life just ahead.

This pregnancy has been pretty much the exact opposite of what I was expecting at the start. I hate to say that it has been easy because there have definitely been some challenges along the way, but by and large it has been calm, steady, uneventful… completely and utterly normal, which is everything I could have hoped for.

After years of living with this dysfunctional body, I was expecting to have a much harder time of things, particularly since I had no time to prepare it for the task of growing another human being. I was worried about my age, my health, about those holiday cocktails I indulged in before we even knew there might be a reason not to – I worried about everything, really. But instead of watching my fears become reality, as the months have unfolded and each successive prenatal visit continued to reveal a healthy, growing, thriving little being, I began to relax and enjoy, watching this little boy and the belly he’s inhabiting grow and grow.

I get why people call this whole process a miracle. And I can’t really express how incredibly lucky I feel.

But try as I might to avoid it, the fear and worry are creeping back, as our final countdown begins in earnest.

I wonder sometimes if the price for my easy pregnancy will be a difficult delivery, or complications, or worse.

(Why does there have to be a price? Because there always is, it seems. I’ve gotten so used to things going pear-shaped after anything good happens that I almost expect it now. And I hate that feeling.)

We weren’t at all prepared for this. In many ways, the timing could not have been more wrong.

But here we are. Joyful. Excited. As ready as we can possibly be.

I have gotten a bit better over these last eight months at living in the moment, at realizing that there are things that are just plain beyond my control, at taking a breath and saying “okay, X happened, we’re fine, now where do we go from here?” or “we’ll get through this; we always do.”

Because we always do.

I can accept and even embrace the fact that while I have an idea about how I’d like the birth of our son to play out (full-term, no drugs, non-surgical delivery, healthy baby, we all go home and live happily ever after), there are no guarantees, and you can’t ever truly expect that all will go according to your plans or hopes or wishes. Life doesn’t work that way.

I’m not afraid of pain. I’ve lived with it, daily, for the last 10+ years of my life. I’m not even particularly afraid of the unknown anymore – so much has happened that we didn’t see coming, good and bad, and Mike and I have gotten through it all together, with the love and support of so many friends and family.

But there is still this anxiety, this fear of something creeping into my psyche at night, keeping me awake and unsettled, pushing the calm away. Even as our son bobs around, stretching, rolling, turning toward his daddy’s voice or pushing back at the cats’ paws as they poke curiously at my belly, I worry.

I worry.

When we learned we were going to have a baby, I thought I’d write a lot more about the whole experience, record all my feelings and memories from this time. I have a little journal I bought for our boy that has just one entry in it, one short letter to him rather than the series of entries I had planned to write, telling him about this time in our lives. I’ve had so many words for him, but something has kept me from writing them down, or saying them aloud. It all feels so fragile, like speaking or writing about it all would somehow bring bad luck, like the slightest shift in the wind would burst this shiny bubble and make it all disappear.

I worry.

And as we count down the last weeks and days of this time, I don’t want to worry. I don’t want the end of this wonderful ride to be marred by frayed nerves and anxious thoughts.

I just want to remember the beauty of it all.