Here comes Hadley Rose

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Spencer and I met seven years ago today.

As I type, our infant daughter — our sweet second child — is snoozing next to me, her tiny hands clasped beneath her chin.

Hadley Rose arrived on March 10 — 17 days before her due date. At nearly 38 weeks pregnant, I wasn’t technically full-term, but you know what? After our premature journey with her brother, it wasn’t even a blip on my radar. She arrived hollering and beautiful, 6 pounds and 12 ounces of joy.

It started that Thursday. I actually had my stuff together enough to throw steak and vegetable soup in the slow cooker that morning, chopping vegetables before Oliver woke up. I wore a cute tunic. I did my hair. As though I knew that would be my last “normal” morning, I enjoyed a cup of coffee over “Good Morning America” and rejoiced in the quiet before my toddler started calling from upstairs.

Dropped Ollie off at daycare. Drove north. When I ran into a Wawa before work, I noticed quite a few men tripping over themselves to help me as I dropped or reached for things. I’ve been visibly pregnant since the fall, but I can’t say I noticed much “special treatment.” Which, you know, is fine. I consider holding doors to be a basic human courtesy, you know?

But these guys were holding doors. Like, standing there and waiting for me because they were concerned such a super pregnant lady wouldn’t make it over the threshold unassisted.

I texted my husband about that afterward. “Guess I really look ready to pop,” I wrote.

My 37-week appointment with my doctor was just after noon. Her office is directly behind my own, so I usually walk, but something told me that extra exertion wasn’t a good idea! So I made the 60-second drive and headed in, taking in the curious glances of other patients. Seeing their tiny bellies for contrast, I definitely felt ready to explode.

My blood pressure was slightly elevated during my exam. After my experiences with preeclampsia, developing the severe complication at 32 weeks pregnant with my first child, we’ve been on red-alert for any anomalies since I learned I was expecting. But my blood pressure has been fine. It was still OK that Thursday — but had jumped 20 points from the previous week.

My OB initially ordered blood tests and said she’d call me the next day with the results. But after a third high-ish reading with a nurse, she met me in the hallway instead. I knew what she was going to say.

“Labor & Delivery?” I asked, already mentally running through who I needed to call (Spencer, namely). We’d been through this rodeo before.

“I would just feel better,” she said, noting that they could run tests and hook me up to monitors that would confirm everything was fine sooner than she could.

At the hospital where I’d once hoped to deliver Oliver, I hung out in a triage room in L&D listening to another woman in labor down the hall — just as I had two years ago, waiting to learn our fate as I got sicker. Honestly, I’m proud of myself. I did not panic. I had serious post-traumatic stress after Ollie was born and that moment — hearing another woman having a baby, while I desperately hoped to hold my own baby in — is very sharp in my mind.

Less than 12 hours later, I’d be the one with screams echoing down that hallway. But I didn’t know that yet.

My labs all came back clear: no preeclampsia, no issues. But while I was being monitored, the nurse kept hovering around a snake-like print-out, looking it over periodically. “So everything looks good,” she said, “but do you feel all those contractions?”

Apparently I was contracting every five minutes or so — a pressure I guess I’d noticed, but only in passing. I’d been experiencing uncomfortable Braxton-Hicks contractions for months. These weren’t painful or particularly noteworthy, though they were consistent.

As always, I kept thinking a doctor was going to come in and release me with instructions to “take it easy.” I kept in touch with Spencer as he got Oliver home, reminding him about the soup in the slow cooker. “I’ll probably be home soon,” I wrote.

When the nurse popped in to check on me an hour later, she was dressed in scrubs for another patient’s surgery. She checked the print-out of my contractions again.

“Do you think I’m heading out of here soon?” I asked. “I’m just trying to get my son situated, and wondering if I should call my family? I don’t want to alarm them, but . . .”

She gave me an incredulous — though not unkind — look. “I would call them,” she said. “You’re definitely in labor.”

My hands began to shake, but I called my husband and relayed all this information. I contacted my sister next, then my dad. Everyone answered the phone warily, as though they knew immediately what I was going to say: it’s time.

I finally had that moment. It was scary, but also felt good.

Spencer arrived with our hospital bag after getting Oliver settled with my sister and brother-in-law. My parents stopped by to see me at the hospital. My contractions were already picking up. By midnight, they were so intense that I was struggling to breathe through them — but I clutched the rail of my bed and just held on, riding the waves as long and calmly as I could.

It felt awful, all-consuming. But I was only 2 centimeters dilated.

So I never intended to have a “natural” birth. I wanted drugs. All the drugs. My labor with Oliver was long and traumatic and painful, capped off with a failed epidural. I didn’t want that again. I wanted to feel calm and in control — as much as one can, anyway — and had planned to try the epidural again.

Given I was already in the hospital, I never imagined that would be an issue. But things move fast.

After one of the longest nights of my life, I was checked about 6 a.m.: just 3 centimeters. The doctor said she would check again in an hour. If I didn’t progress more, they would start pitocin to move me along. I moaned and cried and clung to that rail, with Spencer next to me trying to provide comfort. I was back in Pain World, where nothing exists outside that pressure and hurting.

When the team came back in around 7 a.m., 7:30, the announcement was equivalent to getting struck by lightning: I was “complete” and ready to push. I’d somehow gone from 3 centimeters to 10, and now there was no time for the epidural.

If I thought I was scared before, now I was terrified.

After squeezing my eyes shut against all the lights and instruments that descended from the ceiling, I felt the calm presence of my husband and OB at my side and just did the darn thing. I pushed for a long time — long enough to feel totally exhausted, wanting to give up; long enough to pull my leg muscles — but eventually the pain gave way to relief, and she was here.

Hadley arrived at 8:16 a.m. with a head of dark hair. They put her on my chest immediately, both of us crying. That sweet weight is not something I’ll ever forget. I held her for a while — an opportunity I never had with her brother, who was whisked off immediately to the NICU. It was surreal.

And quick, I guess — in hindsight, anyway! I was so flooded with relief afterward: no longer anxiously running through possible labor scenarios in my mind; not obsessing about having to be transported to Baltimore again; not worrying about delivery complications. No more fears about preeclampsia and it coming back, being worse. Stealing one or both of us away.

It was over. We were fine. I’d done it!

We have a daughter.

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Hadley is a sweet, calm, quiet little baby — so quiet that I frequently stare at her chest to make sure she’s breathing, watching her snooze in a bassinet next to the couch. From the time Ollie came home, he would snuffle and coo and whimper and whine; you never doubted he was nearby. But Hadley? She’s so chill that it almost . . . makes me nervous.

And so far, none of Ollie’s antics seem to disturb her. Which is kind of a miracle. Our almost 2-year-old toddler has lately earned the nickname “the tornado,” ’cause this kid is sweet chaos in sneakers. He’s nonstop action and energy, a 30-pound tank of opinions, and we love him so very much — but he is exhausting.

Hadley, it seems, is his opposite.

Of course, she was born 11 days ago — hardly enough time to make sweeping judgments on her little personality. But given the Tornado really has been the Tornado since he left the NICU, perhaps we’ll get lucky with our second.

And if not? That’s OK, too.

Because we have a little more figured out this time. We are all adjusting. Having just found our footing as parents with Oliver, I knew the transition to mom-of-two would be easier in some ways and more complicated in others. The lack of sleep is less soul-destroying this go ’round, certainly, given Ollie is still up many nights and we’re used to existing in a zombie-like state. That’s what coffee is for.

Spencer and I have our “shift work” arranged pretty neatly: he takes the first one, staying up with the baby and sleeping intermittently until 2 a.m. or so, when I come downstairs and take over. So far we’ve avoided disturbing Ollie too much; though with as quiet as Hadley is, there isn’t much to disturb him. This process allows both of us to get a three- or four-hour chunk of sleep, as well as other cat-naps, and I actually . . . don’t feel that bad. All things considered.

It’s weird being home so much. I’ve been fighting some of the old anxiety that emerged after Ollie was born. But I know this is the only time in my adult life I’ll have this uninterrupted time with my newborn daughter and son; as hard as it is (and does often feel hard), I know I’m also fortunate. I’m trying to just take everything as it comes and not project too far ahead.

For the moment, my job is just to be their mom. No need to multitask, obsessively check email or hop on conference calls. Though my go-go-go personality has struggled a bit with this, I’m embracing the blessing of time. Of sitting. Of just . . . holding my baby.

Oh, how I know they don’t keep.

 

 

 

 

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A room of her own

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When we moved into our house three years ago, I immediately marked one upstairs bedroom as “the nursery.”

It’s bright and sunny, getting the best light in the house, and also the one closest to our bedroom. I was pregnant by the fall, and the nursery transformed from a Pepto Bismol-pink monstrosity to the pale blue little guy’s room that Oliver enjoys today.

Down the hall was another room: lime-green walls, purple carpet. Dark purple. A third bedroom above the garage was set up for guests while the middle bedroom — now affectionately dubbed “The Hulk Room” — became a storage space. A very cluttered, nonsensical storage space.

When we learned we were expecting our second child, one of my early thoughts — aside from, you know, oh my God — was the need to transform this dumping ground of childhood memorabilia and outgrown baby equipment into a haven for Baby No. 2. Until we learned she is, in fact, a she, we were toying with the expense of replacing the grape purple carpet — but given a little lady is less likely to find it bothersome, we decided to keep it and save the money.

It’s a bold decorating choice, for sure.

“Preparing the nursery” is a rite of passage for expectant parents — even if “the nursery” is nothing more than a corner of their current bedroom or family room. No matter. Babies need love, nourishment and a safe place to sleep. Truth be told, Baby Girl will likely be sleeping in a bassinet in our room for the first six-ish months of her life, just as Oliver did. Still, I feel this pressing weight — this nesting need, I guess — to get her bedroom ready.

valspar-comet-dust-5006-1aSpencer painted the walls last week, instantly transforming the space from eye-assaulting Hulk chic to calm, placid gray. We chose a color called “Comet Dust,” which seemed just right for encouraging this girl to dream big dreams.

I have no problem with pink. I grew up in a bright-pink bedroom with bright pink accessories, bedding and feminine touches, and I think pink is upbeat and fun.

But I wanted something else. Taking the walls down to that subtle gray has completely transformed the space — just as we hoped it would (no carpet replacement necessary). My husband was up late painting, so I didn’t see the final results until the next morning — and in that weak light, standing there before Oliver called out in the room beside this one, I thought, Yes. This will work.

I’ve spent hours browsing for artwork for these fresh, neutral walls. I want to adorn this space with hope and love and optimism, just as I did with Ollie’s. Oliver’s room was completed during the month he spent in the NICU — a welcome distraction and a focus for my anxious energy. But this time? Well, I’ve seen what can happen if you wait too long. I feel better have items checked off the ol’ to-do list as soon as possible.

HomeGoods is a good place to kill time and paychecks, and I ran there last week on a lunch break to “look around.” I was there for a curtain rod, actually, but it’s impossible to leave with just a curtain rod in a place like that.

In the children’s decor section, the blue/pink contrast is stark. Boys’ items on one side; girls’ on the other. For boys, of course, are step stools covered in footballs, “Travel the world!”-style posters, ceramic trains and robots. And for the girls? Ballerinas and princesses, pink fur-lined lamps and handheld mirrors.

To be honest, I was there to inspect a castle. My mom texted me a photo of a canvas print featuring an ornate princess castle the day before, and the bright purple was similar to our carpet color.

I found the castle. It was pretty. And big. Large enough to fill half of one of those blank, blank walls.

But then I saw the map.

I’ve always been fascinated by geography — other places, other cultures, other lives. I won a globe in elementary school and used to spin it as hard as I could, letting my finger fall on some far-flung place I’d then look up in my world atlas. What and who would I find in Korea or Cambodia, Jamaica or Portugal?

Maps hold a strange fascination for me — and this one is bright. Bold. It’s playful and unique — unlike any I’ve seen before.

At $40, it was a little more than what I’d wanted to spend; I’ve been doing pretty well finding items at thrift stores and on clearance at Michael’s. But I fell in love with it. This map spoke to me. I knew that if I left it there, I wouldn’t stop thinking about it until I’d returned . . . and would probably find it gone. So that was it.

I hadn’t bothered to take a cart at HomeGoods, so I shouldered it all the way to check-out: a very pregnant lady on a mission, waddling with the world in her arms.

I don’t know if baby will care about geography, or world history, or physics, or Jane Austen. But I want to believe she and her brother will find more inspiration in a world map than they would in a princess castle.

Dream big, my babies.

Comet Dust, indeed.

The third stretch

28 weeks

Despite being terrible at math, I tend to find patterns in numbers and place (too much?) stock in their importance . . . almost to a superstitious degree. Even when I know being order No. 18 — my lucky number — in a restaurant is just a coincidence, I can’t shake this feeling that it “means something.” Though the something? As yet to be determined.

As of Monday, I am 28 weeks pregnant. With Oliver, I gave birth at 32. So if I were to follow that same pattern, I would be giving birth to my daughter in less than a month.

I am not ready.

When we initially considered a second child after Ollie’s early birth and my long recovery from preeclampsia, I assumed I’d be too anxious and worried to possibly try again. But then I was pregnant, and there was no debating — I had to surge forward, stay calm and be informed without troubling myself with endless “what ifs.”

I’ve done a good job of not losing my mind during the last six months, but approaching that number — 32 — is making my palms sweat. Flashbacks of the last few weeks I was hospitalized while expecting Oliver keep flying back, and all those old memories — our corner room in Baltimore; the doctor finally telling me we couldn’t go home; getting steroid shots to help his lungs — bring the panic back anew.

But this time is not that time. My blood pressure has been fine . . . low for me, even. I have no symptoms, no other issues that could be attributed to anything other than just feeling big and tired and worn down, partially from the pregnancy but also from chasing Oliver — now 20 months — around the house.

I’ve started nesting. Post-Christmas clean-up combined with this almost physical urge to work on the new baby’s nursery has me whirling around the house like a tornado. According to ye ol’ Fitbit, I logged more than 5,000 steps on Monday and barely left the house. On a regular work day, I’m lucky if I hit half of that.

I am on the move.

Moving helps me stay out of my own head, for one. More than once lately I’ve snapped awake from a nightmare about pre-term birth, about being back in the NICU. I’ve blocked so much about those early days with Ollie out, but it filters back at strange moments. Being in my third trimester with this little one is definitely whipping memories up from the murky waters into which they’d sunk.

But I’m trying to be OK with that, too. I’ve done a lot of emotional work to move forward from April 2015. I’m trying to focus on what is going right this pregnancy — everything, so far — instead of went so wrong the last time.

And anyway, more than anything, we do have a healthy son. And I am here. And we are here. And our family is strong.

This is a ramble. But it’s 2017, a fresh year, and I’m as big as a house (and getting bigger) and my brain is … well, it’s hard to form coherent thoughts these days. Last night I fell asleep at 8 p.m. and I can’t get out of bed without a tuck-and-roll technique I’m still mastering, so everything feels weird right now.

Before I had Oliver, I was terrified of childbirth. We took classes and I read books and countless blogs and thought I was “prepared,” but then I was induced at sunrise on an April Sunday two months early and I was … well, I was not prepared.

But it didn’t matter. In the end, is anyone prepared? Can anything really prepare you for parenthood — how it will build you up and break you down and sneak up on you with its moments of pure joy and pure exhaustion, fear and beauty all centered on one tiny little body?

I’m not ready to give birth again, but I will soon be ready to meet our daughter.

I have some things to tell her. And I can’t wait.


Soon to be four

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Where to begin, where to begin?

Remember when I wrote this post about people asking if we were planning to have a second child and how stressed that was making me and how we were just so undecided and nervous and … blah?

Well, I was already pregnant. I took the positive test that night. My first clue came in the form of my emotions being all. over. the place., which isn’t necessarily unusual for me — but I remembered that out-of-control hormonal feeling from a previous experience. Namely: a previous pregnancy.

It was … surprising. Exciting! And scary.

It’s different this time. While I was blindly, happily naive to any sort of possible “complications” during my first pregnancy, I’m approaching this one with open eyes. Putting aside Oliver’s traumatic birth and my preeclampsia, my husband and I know what it’s like to have a newborn in the house. We know what those sleepless nights and early mornings will require of us. We know we’re going to have to invest in a king-size can of coffee, like, every few days. We know we’re going to be tired.

I’m almost 13 weeks along, preparing to bid adieu to the first trimester and generally coming back to life. This pregnancy has been easier on me physically — less nausea, less exhaustion — but tougher mentally. Having a 17-month-old during the early, awful days when I wanted nothing more than to lay in a dark room eating crackers was tough. I can’t just concentrate on me this go ’round; I have sweet Oliver reaching for his Puffs. My husband has been awesome (as always), but it’s always Ollie and me getting ready for work and daycare in the morning. Mornings are hard.

And, you know, work. I’m probably busier at my job than ever before — and working in a completely different environment this pregnancy. Different building, different coworkers, different boss… different company, actually, though we’re still the same newspaper. This is good, really, because I love our staff and get a lot of joy from what I do. But? You know, it’s work. I don’t want to fall behind in any area: as a parent, wife, employee. The balancing act is tough.

It probably sounds selfish, but we are all finally sleeping again and I am … scared about what adding another child to the mix will be like. Maybe all second-time parents feel this way. (I hope?) I feel like we’ve just gained our footing as a family of three, and now we’re expanding to four. While I’m thrilled and feel very fortunate to be having a second child, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared, too.

The difference between this pregnancy, so far, and the last one? Well, I’ve come a long way from the woman whose chief concern was how quickly she’d be able to shower after childbirth. (Seriously? Yeah.) Being hospitalized for a week beforehand will do that to a lady.

So many of the concerns I had as a first-time parent have softened with experience. We have already taken care of an infant. Of a premature infant. Of a fresh-from-the-NICU infant. We have driven home with a 4-pound baby. We have been away from our child and close to our child and we have stayed up until 2, 3, 4 a.m. listening to him breathe. We’ve driven to the ER in the dead of night, and dashed to our son’s hospital bed after surgery.

And we have laughed together, cried together, watched endless (endless, endless) episodes of “The Muppets” together. Sometimes I still look at my child and think, I have a child. A child who now reaches out to run his little fingers through my hair, who croons “Mama” in my arms just before he falls asleep.

We have known fear, and we have known grace. So much grace.

So no, I’m not the pregnant woman I was before … but I think I’m someone stronger. And hungrier.

Someone who desperately wants tortilla chips and super-spicy queso all the time.

And cake. Brownies. Cookies.

You know what? Just bring the whole dessert platter. Let’s do this.


Handing him the spoon

Oliver

We’re inching closer toward sippy cups, not bottles. At meal times (which are now breakfast, lunch, dinner — same as us), Oliver grabs the spoon to “feed” himself. He’s cruising along the furniture, scaling walls and gripping ledges. He said his first word: “baby.” Now he says it all the time.

These developments fill me with joy, of course. We’re making strides! He’s growing up! At 15 months old, Oliver is a toddler. He toddles. His face his slimmed — along with those rubber band wrists. His legs are long and strong. He is tall enough to reach door handles and drawers, to pull down objects I never imagined he could reach. He surprises me daily by what he absorbs and parrots. He misses nothing.

Oliver is growing. And it is wonderful. I just didn’t expect to feel so . . . sad.

There is one blank date left in his “milestones” book — the one I’ve used to mark all his firsts since birth. It’s for first steps. And though I’m happy thinking about slipping on his first pair of shoes, about leading him along sidewalks and down new paths, I also feel intensely nostalgic when I realize the “firsts” are nearly done.

Will I miss the 3 a.m. feedings, the temper tantrums, the many bites of sweet potato that wind up in my lap — not his mouth?

Well . . . no. But yes. But no.

It’s bittersweet. Everything.

Parenthood is a study in opposites. It feels laughable to say I’ll miss washing bottles every night when it’s been the bane of my existence, but here’s the thing: it became our new normal. It’s a ritual, even a soothing one — and the idea of everything changing, as it so often does, fills me with apprehension. I just got used to this.

In some ways, I feel like I’ve only just found my mama footing. This stage is now comfortable, knowable. I don’t have to remind myself I’m a parent anymore — it’s been absorbed into my bones. And with my son now reaching for me, patting my cheek, resting his head on my shoulder — the only shoulder he sometimes wants in the world — well . . . that’s it. That’s it. What could matter more than that?

It isn’t all sunshine, of course. It never is. After a great visit with our family in New York, Oliver came home with a fever that burned him up for five days. The doctors couldn’t figure out why. It would climb to 102, 103, 104 — and just when Spencer and I would start to panic, fumbling for our car keys in the dark, it would break. He would rest. And then it would start up again.

There were many 4 a.m. baths in lukewarm water, frantic phone calls to the after-hours number, lots of pacing as we debated whether to drive to the hospital or urgent care or wait until morning, waiting and waiting and watching his chest rise and fall.

The panicky dread of those moments isn’t unique to us, certainly. No parent wants to see their child sick. But every time Oliver gets ill, I sink back into unpleasant memories of our month in the hospital. Sometimes I have to physically force myself to sit, take deep breaths and remember this time isn’t that time. Our 3-pound baby is now a 27-pound tank. He can handle it. We can handle it.

But that is easier said than done. One of my guilty pleasures is “Little Women: LA,” a reality show chronicling the lives of a group of friends, and several ladies are pregnant this season. Elena is expecting twin boys — and toward the end of her pregnancy, which is being documented now, she develops preeclampsia. Noting that she’s only 34 weeks pregnant, everyone is panicking at the idea of an early delivery — how risky, how dangerous, how life-threatening. “She can’t deliver this early!” they cry.

And I delivered at 32 weeks.

Preeclampsia changed everything. The idea of becoming pregnant again — and possibly not having the same happy ending — is terrifying. Thinking about adding to our family, well . . . I could get preeclampsia again, or I could not. And there is no way to know. There is no way to prevent it, to predict it, to expect it. If anything, I have a higher chance because I’ve had it once. It was severe, and it set in early.

It’s a roll of the dice. And I’ve never been a gambler.

We’ve reached the stage where well-meaning folks ask if we’ll have a second child. I probably get asked this once a week: by friends, acquaintances, readers. To the outside world, the world in which I look like a “normal” woman with a healthy child, I understand the innocence of that question. But there is no easy answer.

“We’ll see,” I say. What else can we do?

Contrary to, well, this entire post, I actually try not to dwell on the past — or the future. We’re usually too tired for that, anyway. Things could have turned out poorly, but they didn’t. I look at my son and feel relief and love and joy.

Oliver has been working with professionals to get “up to speed” with developmental tasks — particularly physical ones, like crawling — for a while. One of his therapists recently pointed out that it was me who was uncomfortable with Oliver feeding himself, projecting my fears of choking and other harm onto his daily habits, well . . . that hit me like a slap.

But she was right. And now I think constantly about how I cannot let my anxiety hold him back. Even when that is hard — or feels impossible. Even when I want to bubblewrap him and never leave our house.

So we try new things at dinner, even when he gags on foods he cannot possibly choke on (pureed green beans, anyone?). Even when I know we’ll spend longer cleaning up the mess than he actually spent eating. I let him grasp the lip of the coffee table, ready to spring into action as he moves along. We stand by as he pushes a toy walker, looking so proud as he plants each foot. He’s always walking toward the door, seeking sunshine. He loves peeking out.

I barely breathe when he falls asleep in my lap — a rarity these days. I’m still even when my arm is asleep. Even when I can’t reach the TV remote. Even when I have to use the restroom, and I’m starving, and I don’t think I brushed my teeth that morning. Even when I need to rest myself.

Savor it, hold on to it: that’s all I can do. Nudge him forward knowing he’ll always have a safe place to land — as long as his father and I can help it, anyway.

We hand him the spoon.


Addition, not subtraction

Me with Oliver

I’m sneaking this post.

My son has been asleep for the better part of an hour already, which means we’re on borrowed time. Spencer is outside changing a series of parts on his car — don’t ask me which — and I “helped” by holding a few bolts in place while he jimmied something together. We made lunch (frozen burgers), scrubbed a few random surfaces, and I made “progress” with the laundry by moving it from the dryer to the bed, where it is heaped and waiting.

But I am happy.

Now that Oliver is 14 months old, babbling like crazy and moving everywhere, showing his first signs of independence . . . I feel these little pieces of myself returning. For so long, I was too tired for anything that wasn’t an absolute necessity (and even some things that were).

But I’m reading again. I actually finished a real, physical book, and am making progress on another (and loving it).

I’m walking like crazy. My Fitbit has totally kicked my rump in the best way, and I — er, I mean Oliver — surprised Spencer with his own for Father’s Day so we can enter into a little “friendly competition” with our steps each day. I don’t always hit 10,000, but I remember many of your tips from my post last month and push myself to do just a bit more than I think I can every day.

When I think of my life with a newborn, I was a shell of a human being — and I am at peace with saying those were not the happiest days of my life. The months we’ve had with Oliver now, who is sweet and funny and mischievous, are easily better and more rewarding and more fulfilling than our hard, hard start.

I never wondered if I was cut out for motherhood, but I have wondered if it would always be that difficult. Putting prematurity aside, I didn’t know I could be so physically exhausted and still functioning. And working. And cleaning stuff.

But it’s been more than a year, and I rarely forget we’re a trio now — not a duo. We take walks with Oliver in the stroller on the nights the humidity doesn’t settle like a wool blanket, and I love watching his eyes take in the swaying trees. He swings his feet now and leans forward, gripping the baby-sized cupholders, and whatever irritable mood he was in before that moment is carried off by the breeze.

Life is not perfect. Nothing ever is. But I don’t have to try and remember if I’ve actually brushed my teeth or used the restroom that morning, which is a huge step up from where we have been.

I am finding balance.

Thinking of everything that has happened since we married in late 2013, I do try to give myself a break. I mean, two years ago this week, we were moving into our new house. One year ago, I had just returned to work after Oliver was born in April.

If becoming a mom was an adjustment, becoming working parents certainly added a new dimension to our lives. But Spence and I have made it work — even when I wasn’t sure how we would. It’s taken a combination of a wonderful babysitter, supportive local family, flexible bosses and work schedules . . . but we haven’t missed an appointment, meeting or deadline. And Ollie has been in great hands.

This year? I breathe more. I chat more. I find time for the little things that make me happy — baking, reading three pages of a book . . . heck, even shopping — when, in fits of exhaustion, I didn’t know if I ever would or could again. Sometimes it takes creativity, and it’s not as seamless as it may have been before we had a baby. But even someone terrible at math can see he is an addition, not a subtraction. Never a subtraction.

And when in doubt, I walk it out. I’ve never looked forward to being outside or slipping on sneakers, but those quiet moments of movement are as close to meditating as I get. Just like with weight loss, it’s less about a number and more about a feeling.

And I feel better. Calmer. And I am so, so grateful for that.


Oliver at 1

Ollie is 1

My baby, sweet baby — he’s 1!

Last week was Oliver’s first birthday. After speaking with many preemie parents about approaching their child’s unexpected birth date, I worried I’d slip into a funk — remembering my hospitalization, steroid shots, the late-night ambulance ride, the blood pressure cuff that went off day and night . . .

But somehow, it never happened. There was no funk, no sadness. Spencer and I took the day off to celebrate — and we did! Oliver didn’t know it was his birthday, of course, but it wasn’t like we could concentrate at the office. I just wanted us all to be together.

We went for a walk, took photos, exposed Ollie to the magic of blowing bubbles. He laughed with us and grinned and squirmed in our laps, permitting my (many) kisses and trying his first cupcake. My parents and sister came by, too, and we sang “Happy Birthday” with gusto.

On Saturday, we hosted family and friends for a big birthday blowout — and, in a weird way, it was healing for me. Not to harp on an old subject, but I missed my baby shower while I was hospitalized last spring. It might seem silly, given the seriousness of that whole situation, but I was devastated. I still have a hard time thinking about it.

Having loved ones gathered at our house almost one year later to the day, when Ollie has come so far . . . that was therapeutic. And realizing I felt nothing but joy and gratitude on Oliver’s birthday? Well, I feel like I’ve turned a page.

Growing up, my parents would joke that it wasn’t technically “our birthday” until the exact time at which we were born. I came into the world at 10:21 a.m. on a hot July day, so we’d watch the clock until then. If my mom was at work, she’d call at that exact moment to sing “Happy Birthday.”

Ollie was born at 9:57 p.m. — about 14 hours after I was induced on a Sunday. I will always remember the sunrise that morning: the streaks of pink visible from our corner hospital room with the lights of Baltimore beginning to blink off. It was still dark when the kind Midwestern doctor came in to say we couldn’t wait: the baby needed to come that day. And by nightfall, he had.

After Ollie was born and whisked off to the NICU, I told Spencer he could go be with him — my first experience with having my child outside my body. Until that moment, I don’t think I’d processed that my little someone was actually someone: his own someone. We were no longer a unit. I could no longer protect him. And maybe I never had, with a failing body and fearful heart.

Clearly, I still wrestle with Oliver’s early birth. It can be hard for me to talk about preeclampsia. But as time presses on, I dwell less and less on how Oliver arrived and just rejoice in the fact that he did.

He is well. He is happy. He is so very loved.

Though Oliver was asleep by 8 p.m. on his birthday, Spencer and I stayed up to mark the hour. At 9:57 p.m. this April 12, we were sitting quietly with the television down low.

“Well, we did it,” I murmured. “A year.”

We talked of Oliver’s arrival: the “practice push” that needed no practice at all; the soul-shattering pain that melted into instant relief; the doctor who called out, “Happy birthday!” and extended our baby for me to kiss before everything fell quiet, and I was alone.

I thought of the exhausted, overwhelmed, half-broken woman collapsed in a hospital bed after the strangest day of her life. I replayed the moment I saw my son through blurry eyes, frantically asking for my glasses so I could see his face (I didn’t).

That was only the beginning.

A year later, we are tired — and we have been tested. I have laughed and I have cried, felt like I was going crazy and stepped back from the brink. Spencer has been by my side through everything, every good and painful moment: and though there were times we were not our best selves by any stretch, we were still those selves together.

Our sweet boy is upstairs, asleep in the crib where I once slept, and I can’t help but laugh at how unprepared we were.

Unprepared. That word in this context? Well, it’s funny. Because being “unprepared” means you could, in theory, actually have been ready — and that’s just not true.

No one is prepared for parenthood. You cannot be prepared for parenthood. Even if you’ve changed 10,000 diapers, babysat all the neighborhood children, helped raise a niece or nephew, been a teacher or a nanny or just a concerned friend . . . until those little eyes look up at you, a face that leans always toward your own burning sun, needing everything you have to give and much of what you don’t . . .

How can you prepare someone for that?

When I creep into my son’s room and see his little face peeking at me from between the slats of his bed, the way he “growls” and now reaches his arms up for an embrace, when he lowers his head to my shoulder or gently strokes my arm . . . these moments shatter me. In a good way.

Nothing can prepare you for how much you’ll love this little person.

At 1, Oliver is sweet and curious, funny and charming, active and so good-natured. Our boy has never met a stranger, offers smiles easily and misses nothing in his observations. He plays well by himself, but prefers company. He’s patient to a point, but soon wants your full attention. Ollie loves daycare and his first friends there, and we are beyond fortunate to have his wonderful babysitter in our lives.

He lives for “The Muppets,” ABC’s new TV show. No “Muppet” movie or TV show or cartoon will do. Spencer and I have seen every episode dozens of times, even acting out the dialogue and quoting Kermit, Fozzie, Piggy, Pepe, Uncle Deadly, Rizzo and gang to each other out of habit. We live and breathe “The Muppets.” I’ll never look at them the same way again and, forever and ever, they’ll have a special place in my heart.


Ollie and Kermit


Oliver is still toothless (!), but we see the telltale white caps beginning to break through on bottom. We’ve been taking our time with feeding, still offering mostly formula in a bottle, but Ollie has been doing much better with a spoon. To date, the only food he has not liked is birthday cake! He gobbles up vegetables and fruits, and is starting to pick at Puffs and other small snacks. He’s more than content for you to feed him, though, and plays with utensils and sippy cups more than he actually uses them.

Ollie rolls anywhere he wants to go, which is usually to the front of the television cabinet to look at “the baby” in the glass — and loves to kick his legs and smack anything (and everything!) with his purple rattle. He’s doing much better with balance, sits completely independently and is now doing a combination scoot/crawl that gives him some independence. From the moment he’s up until the moment he crashes, he is a study in motion. The boy does not like to sit still for a moment!

Despite my best efforts, Oliver is just now starting to pay attention to books. His interest in them has mainly been to chew on and tear at them. But persistence pays off: I recently looked over to find my son reaching for a touch-and-feel book on his own. He runs his fingers across the “fur” of an animal or “wheels” of a truck, and loves turning pages by himself. The look of concentration on his face when he’s “reading” — bottom lip stuck slightly out; eyebrows furrowed — is priceless.

Ollie strings together sounds easily, but hasn’t seemed to connect them to the world just yet. Everything is “ba ba ba” or “bob,” and he loves to grunt and growl while flapping his arms like an eagle. He screams out of happiness and displeasure, and is easily the loudest person in any room.

When I get close to his face and encourage him with “Mama,” he often smiles coyly and puts a chubby hand on my arm or leg. We try again — “Mama, Mama, Mama”; Ollie giggles and looks away. I can’t help feeling like he knows I want him to say it, to say that “magic word,” and he’s just content to make me wait.

But that’s OK. It will be worth it.

Baby, sweet baby — I’ll always wait for you.