Monday, March 28, 2016

On the Bright Side

As an update on my last post- things have been going great! We made the switch to formula (or rather- my body stopped making milk in spite of my efforts and we wanted to keep feeding our child). Though I've been disappointed, I'm so grateful we have options. We're all happy and healthy, and Emma has even slept through the night on her own the past few nights- fingers crossed she keeps doing that!

So now for the good stuff- pictures! It's crazy to me that in just 7 weeks, Emma has grown from this... this! She is smiling all the time! We are loving it and are grateful for our cute and cuddly little baby!

She is a funny little baby too. We're not sure exactly why, but the changing table is her absolute favorite place to be. Whatever mood she's in beforehand, if we put her on the changing table, she's suddenly all smiles and enthusiastic wiggling. Also, nothing soothes her as well as some firm pats on the back. She will often fall asleep while we're burping her!

We are loving our little sugar!

Also, this Easter season has me especially mindful of our Savior and the hope He brings to my life and the lives of others. Because of His divine help, I know I'll have my little family even after this life and also receive strength along the way.  

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Intro to Motherhood: Flexibility!

I've read and received a lot of advice and personal experiences about motherhood in the past few months. It's what happens when you're expecting your first baby, you don't have a job, and a lot of your friends have kids.

The best insight I received? Nothing can prepare you, and things will not go how you expect.

Starting with the birth. I wouldn't consider myself a zen master, but I used to think I had a pretty good grip on mind over matter and thus a high pain tolerance. Birth is natural, it's part of the cycle of life, and let's get real- I already have the hips of someone who's had 5 children, so how bad could it really be?

Fast forward to 2:30am on Monday, February 8th, where I was being blindsided by a pain I never could have imagined. I woke up to a contraction and my water breaking, and contractions every 2-3 minutes after that. The contractions were manageable at first, but quickly picked up in pain and intensity. In less than a half hour, it began to feel like I was being branded with red hot irons from the inside, all through my lower back, hips, and legs.

When we got to the hospital, they checked to see how dilated I was. The day before, Sunday, I had my 41 week appointment and I had been dilated to a 2. After the two hours of pain searing through my lower body, I was sure the birth was moving fast and I would have made significant progress.

"You're at three centimeters," the nurse informed me. I almost started crying, but then a contraction came. The pain was so great, I had to spend the "resting" time trying to catch my breath and coax my body through the shock of what just happened. And all of this work, for one centimeter of progress?

The nurse then turned our attention to the baby's heart monitor. Her heart rate would be between 135-150, and then drop to 80-90 whenever I had a contraction. "We know you wanted to have birth naturally, but when we see the heart rate drop like that, we usually recommend an epidural in case we need to do an emergency c-section. We're not sure, but the cord could be wrapped around her neck, or she could quickly go into distress. At this point, we'll let you decide though."

SOLD. Obviously the safety of my child was the most important, but I also wasn't sure I could take the pain anymore. I was running on two hours of sleep and I didn't have the emotional or physical capacity to get through seven more centimeters if they were anything like the first three.

So, we changed rooms, and they started setting up to give me an epidural. After two tries and what felt like eternity, the epidural was in and they handed me my little clicker. Whenever I felt pain, I just pushed the button for another shot of the medicine. I've never done hard drugs, but I can't say the appeal is lost on me anymore. We watched the contractions on the monitor, and instead of my vocal chords indicating the intensity, we just watched and said, "Oh- looks like that was a big one!"

The epidural allowed me some much needed sleep, and I dilated fairly quickly from there. In about two hours, I was at a seven or an eight. However, the baby's heart rate continued to drop whenever I had a contraction. The doctors kept an eye on it, but I don't remember any sense of alarm.

Around noon, I reached a ten, and then my contractions stopped. The nurse gave me a small amount of pitocin and my contractions sort of picked up again. The nurses checked the monitors regularly, and then suddenly there was a team of doctors in the room. They introduced one woman as the head doctor, and informed me that this baby needed to be born very quickly.

On one end of the room, a few of the nurses/doctors laid out tools for the potential emergency c-section. Because the baby wasn't engaging in the birth, the doctors also prepared to use a vacuum to help guide her through the birth canal. The doctor told me to push when she said, and to give it everything I had for a chance at a normal birth. So, I did.  Her head came out on the first push, and we heard a little cry. Two more pushes and she was out and laid on my chest.

Once I started talking to her, Emma stopped crying almost instantly. This was a really cool and also surreal moment- I'm her mom! My voice is soothing to her! I still can't really believe it- there's someone who considers me a source of comfort and safety. Crazy.

While I held her, the doctors cleaned everything and started stitching me up. I'll try to keep the details minimal, but let's just say three pushes is a fast way to give birth and I have a lot of stitches. Nate saw the damage, I've decided there are some things it's best I never see.

I want to give a quick shout out to Nate here- he handled the entire thing like a champ and the medical staff was very impressed. Always very calm and trying to help me through it, and always very supportive. I wish I could give more details about him, but I was a little out of my mind for most of the whole thing. I know he didn't cause any problems! We also had our friend Julie with us- thank goodness! She's fluent in both French and English, and she provided a much needed link between us and the doctors.

Despite a somewhat traumatic birth, Emma Grace came into this world perfectly healthy with a little head of ginger hair. The birth was nothing like I expected, or thought that I wanted. However, I'm fine with how it happened. I'm mildly disappointed I didn't give birth naturally, but the epidural was what was needed at the time, and we have a healthy baby girl.

My next shock came in the form of breastfeeding. I had always assumed that because I was healthy, my pregnancy was healthy, and the baby was healthy, this would be a challenge but not overwhelming. I could not have been more wrong.

We were in the hospital for a week (standard for first time moms in France) and multiple nurses checked to see how nursing was going. It seemed to be going ok- a little painful, but the baby had a good latch and was gaining weight, so there didn't seem to be a problem.

After we got home, it continued to be more painful for me. Having heard this was pretty common, I kept going. A day or two later, I was bleeding. I was told that though this was less common, I should keep going, adjust positions/check the latch, and it would work out.

We visited with a lactation consultant. She suggested a few things, and scheduled an appointment for a few days later. She was optimistic, and said things should improve by her next visit. I was excited (nursing was starting to make me cry each time at this point) and implemented her suggestions. For a day or two, it worked and things seemed to be improving. Then they digressed, and became even worse than before. The consultant returned, confused, and offered a few more suggestions.

I tried everything she said. I took the advice of two other midwives, and I asked my mom, sister, and friends for ideas. This is the sensitive part for me- I did everything others suggested, I met with the lactation consultant two more times that week, and nothing seemed to help. My skin was torn up, nursing was excruciating, and Emma never seemed to get enough, meaning she would want to nurse more. I was sleep deprived and insecure, and felt like a failure.

Finally on Sunday I told Nate I couldn't do it anymore. We hadn't slept for more than an hour straight in over two weeks, and I was gasping in pain every time I fed our daughter and she was crying because she was still hungry. I know breastfeeding has a learning curve, but not like this. I was devastated, but I knew my disappointment about not being able to breastfeed properly wasn't a reason to let Emma be hungry. So, I asked Nate to go to the store and get some formula.

Unfortunately, stores aren't usually open on Sunday afternoons in our part of France. Nate went to 5 locations before returning home empty handed. I don't know if words could really convey my disappointment in this moment- I couldn't successfully feed my child, I was in a lot of pain, and the solution I felt like I was caving into wasn't going to work either.

Thankfully, we were graced by a miracle. A friend texted me, saying she wanted to visit and see the new baby, and asked if I needed anything. In my mind, I thought, "No. Unless you can give me a new body, there's not much anyone can do!" But instead I texted back and asked if she knew anywhere that sold formula that would be open. She didn't, but she said she'd ask friends. Within a half hour, we had an unopened can of newborn formula- the exact kind we needed. One of her friends just happened to have it on hand and no longer needed it as her babies were past that stage. Well played, God, well played. We made her a bottle, she drank the entire thing, slept for 4 hours straight, and woke up smiling. Quite the contrast to before.

Similar to Emma's birth, I really wanted feeding her to be completely natural. In college, I wrote multiple papers on the benefits of breastfeeding for my health classes and have always been a big supporter of it. However, for my situation, formula is the current solution. I've been doing my best to give her as much natural milk as possible, but she needs more for her little tummy to be satisfied. I'm hopeful that in time, I'll be able to go back to exclusive breast milk. In the mean time, formula is keeping my little girl fed and healthy. It's actually been amazing to see how much happier she is now that she's completely fed!

I feel like in my short three weeks of motherhood, I've learned some pretty poignant lessons about not passing judgement and asking for help- unfortunately the hard way. Epidurals and formula are not for moms just looking for the easy way out or who don't believe in their bodies. First, I don't think there is an easy way out with motherhood. But second, there are times when those things are necessary, and I'm grateful to have access to them! As for getting help, our prayers are often answered through other people. I just have to take that bite of humble pie and ask.  

It's not what I expected or wanted, but it is working, and it's what's best for our baby. I can't ask more than that. And we sure do love our little sugar!

Saturday, January 30, 2016

And Here We Are

One of my favorite questions to ask Nate is, "If someone came up to you X number of years ago and told you this is how your life would be now, what would you think?" It's probably my favorite because Nate always says he would have been ecstatic that we ended up married, and, in fact, he still is. Always reassuring to know your spouse is glad to be together. :)

When asked the same question, I always think I would have breathed a huge sigh of relief and congratulated myself on making at least one really good decision. I often can't believe how fortunate I am to be married to Nate. In the two years we've been married, I think we've crammed as many intense life experiences as the timeline would allow. However, the more changes we experience, the more in love I am and the more I can't believe how lucky I am. I married someone with an immense capacity to weather the storm and love me along the way- maybe those two are the same thing?

I also like to look at our wedding/engagement pictures and think, "Wow, you two have no idea what you're in for." I'm sure I'll think the same 5, 10, 50 years from now... but to be fair, 4 moves, new jobs, new countries, and a nice little brain surgery is a lot for two years. (And that's only the stuff that's light-hearted enough to blog about)

Like any good and thorough change, it turns out a successful marriage is hard fought. Or I guess it is for us. It's how we chose it, and I often think about the process of making steel when I think about the progress Nate and I have made since being married. (Again- I know we have more lessons to learn, but we've come pretty far!) To make steel, iron is heated and refined until all the impurities are gone, resulting in a clean and super strong metal. Marriage has taught me more about myself and others (specifically my husband, of course) than any other experience- it's been refining, and I often think about how it's helping us toward a partnership and life of steel. I love looking at the wedding pictures and also thinking, "Wow, you two have no idea how much more you'll love and understand each other in the future."

Moving to France has been just another stepping stone in the steel making process. I love the friends we've made, all the cool things we've seen (and posting fun instagram/facebook pictures), and we don't regret it one bit. However, being here has been really difficult. It's nothing out of the ordinary- it just turns out that going from employee to student, citizen to visitor, and native speaker to the comprehension of a 3 year old are all hard adjustments. But we're doing it (with a lot of help, mind you) and I honestly cannot imagine doing it without Nate. Our steel marriage is sustaining us. :)

Back to the idea of going back in time, one of the first times (it took several) I knew Nate was someone I should take more seriously was in the restroom of La Jolla Groves during a mid-date break.

As background, I would take a mid-date break on pretty much every date I went on before getting married, usually under the guise of needing to use the restroom. I've spent many a 5 minute self session in front of bathroom mirrors, seeing my reflection and knowing the truth about the date. Sometimes it was the realization that I was trying too hard- as great as the guy was, things really just weren't clicking, and I unfortunately couldn't force it. Sometimes it was the reverse- this guy was super nice, but I was not there, and I was savoring my break time. Either way, my self time was often the sad realization of something not fitting, again.

However, I can distinctly remember the break I took the first time Nate and I went out. Maybe it's because the restaurant had fancy bathrooms- you know, the gold handles and back-lit mirrors with marble counters. Looking in the mirror that night was awesome because I felt like I was living the high life. But it was also the first time where I thought, "Yeah, there's nothing wrong with this picture. I could totally be Nate Parkin's girl, and I'm not wishing there was something different about me or him to make tonight better. It's fine how it is. I think I'll freshen up and get back to the date now." Everything about the evening had been pleasant. It was well-paced, conversation was interesting but not forced, and for the first time, my break time was re-affirming instead of dismaying.

We continued to go on dates, and proceeded to break up and get back together a few more times before getting married, but I always came back to that feeling- things with Nate just fit. And in our refining moments, it's something I still come back to- it fits, and there's no one else I'd rather be on this journey with.

So I guess in conclusion, I knew Nate and I were a good match because of a fancy restroom... and other self-evaluation, soul searching moments. But, if I could go back in time to that first bathroom break and tell myself how the next few years would go, I think the 24 year old me would have said, "Sounds good!" And I would be right- it is good, and the outlook is good too.