Monday, March 17, 2014

If I could do it all again…..

I am quickly approaching the 18th birthday of my first baby.  A few experiences I have had recently have given me pause to think, if I was just starting this journey today, would I do anything differently?
Here we are, Mark and Kristin…and our furry baby, Chickie, at the very first moment we realized that we are on this journey, each posing with the positive pregnancy test.

Right out of the gates my initial reaction in looking at these pictures, is that I may have bitten off more than I can chew here, writing this.  In these pictures, I now feel like we were standing on the shore, about to embark on an unfathomable voyage that had no known destination…but I didn't feel that way when the camera flashed.  I, at 23 and pregnant, was genuinely (and naively) happy. And Mark…sweet Mark.  At 22 years old, just look at his eyes.  It makes me fall in love with him again. He was happy, against all better judgement, against all parental advice, against all family and cultural expectations of doing things in the proper order, meaning waiting to do all this AFTER college.  We were bright eyed, in love, couldn't stand to be apart, got married, had an apartment for a couple years, bought a town house, got a puppy, had secure jobs (though neither of us intended to make them careers) quit smoking cigarettes, worked and played, and then we were here.  Expecting.  
Somehow, without the internet, we managed to navigate through family doctors and obstetricians. With an attitude nothing short of rebellion, we rejected it all.  We opened the yellow pages and found the only local midwifery practice listed…if memory serves.  I had never even heard the word "midwife" before my family doctor told me he couldn't deliver babies and illuminated the fork in the road ahead.  OB or Midwife.  We interviewed, connected with one of the ladies immediately and accepted the other.

My pregnancy went on, no real challenges, I was so tired though.  I remember going out to my car to nap on my lunch break and asking my boss to wake me if I didn't come back in time.  Sometimes she did, and sometimes, out of pure compassion she covered the front desk long enough for me to stagger in with pillow creases on my face.  She was so understanding.  There was the occasional mild nausea as well, but otherwise, it was just fine.  I accepted all the changes and minor discomforts pretty easily, I don't remember complaining much.
Ok, one thing I would change…the clothes.  I envy the way women who are expecting today can still, pretty easily, maintain their own personal style.  At that time, the belly was not accentuated in pregnancy fashion….it was draped.  Granted, I could not afford to shop much at the fancy shops, like Motherhood and the like, but even the one boutique dress I remember buying for the holidays was a giant black swathe, draping down from the widest part or my body, making me seem even wider than I felt.  I had changed enough from before pregnancy, true.  I had added a little weight above and beyond the baby, true.  But these clothes…were an abomination, you can't tell but the leggings are covered in roses on a blue background.

Style demo: Before and during pregnancy.
Cut me some slack on the left, it was the 90's.
Left is about a year prior to pregnancy, right is about 8 months pregnant, early 1996. In an effort to try to show off my bump underneath all my drapes, I look like I'm about to pee my pants requiring me to hold it in manually.  I'd also like to point out that due to my fear of exposing my baby to chemicals…I invented the concept of "Hombre" in 1996.

Also, I'd change the bathing suits.  I wish I had a picture of that monstrosity.  Picture this….Black, Halter style top that would cut off the circulation in my neck trying to hold up my heavy pregnancy knockers.  Then, in a style they probably called "empire waisted" from under the breast, a "dress" drooped over my beautiful bump and ended right at the hip, accentuating my larger thighs. Under that was bottoms that, although black, were nothing short of shiny granny underwear, additionally covering the belly.  It was actually dangerous because when I went in the water, all that excess fabric floated up around my neck, I could have died.  I honestly can't believe that my rebellious nature didn't reject these prescribed ideas and rock a bikini the way Mama's do now…it makes so much sense.  Ok, fashion rant over.

We planned and were lucky to be able to have a home birth.  It didn't go exactly as I had planned it, but I would not change a thing about it.  This one is easy.  I would go through labor again, without a doubt.  I sometimes wish that I could take a shift while I'm attending a woman in labor…I'm sure they wish it too in the moment.  But honestly, the challenge of the contractions was never something that I even wished away.  I felt prepared for it, and unafraid.  I had taken 12 weeks of classes with Mark, we had read and practiced and I felt confident.  Plus everything went normally, and I had (I suppose) a level or perception of pain that was manageable.

Hanna joined the world and our hearts grew to envelop her.  It was the most wonder-ful Springtime of my life.  My darling Markie had to return to work after only a couple days, working as a young carpenter he only had one week of vacation per year and paternity leave was not a thing.  I cherished my time at home, taking Hanna and Chickie on long walks to visit Daddy at work for lunch. Four months flew by in an instant.  Again, my boss was very understanding.  Beth Norton, Customer service supervisor at Edmark Corporation had created a flexible, 3 days per week schedule for me with a promotion to managing the front desk and data entry staff.  No one else in the company had a gig like that.  She also knitted Hanna a sweater.  I was grateful, but it wasn't enough for my heart. I asked Mark to take these pictures the night before I returned for work.  I never wanted to forget how I felt. I really didn't want to go.
It is so much like the way I feel now, at the precipice of her 18th birthday.  

At first Mark had the blessed opportunity to work 4-10's and stay home with her one of the days I was working for about a year.  His Mom took care of her the other 2 days through the first summer and then his sister, who ran a daycare in her home, took care of her after that for the 2 and 1/2 years that it took me to become certified to teach birth classes at home and not work outside of the house.  During this time we also moved into a little dumpy house with a big yard.
That's the next thing I would change.  Our town house was little and lovely.  No yard to care for, easy to live in.  A community (usually empty) playground right outside our door and a pool/hot tub that we did not have to maintain. What could we have been thinking….or, if I were honest, what could I have been thinking…because Mark did not want to move as much as I did.  We agreed though, that we would fix up this dumpy little house and sell it, but then we got pregnant again and I was less helpful that we had anticipated.
Me, expecting again with Hanna asleep on my lap and Chickie at our side, as always.
My second pregnancy was a total blur.  So much focus on parenting a toddler, working, and working on the house left little time for the prenatal bonding I had the time and energy for during my first pregnancy.  As a testimonial to what I said earlier about going through labor again, I had the same midwife, the professional yet maternal, focused yet warmhearted Christine Thain. I planned another home birth, in my unfinished little dumpy house.  We fixed it up as nice as we could, Mark even installed a jetted tub for me to labor in….although the walls were still draped with plastic and the drywall was marked with pink waterproofing membrane before the tile could be installed.  Again, you'll have to use your imagination.  The labor was actually longer than my first, which is rare, but little Ethan was more than worth the extra 5 hours.  I'd do it again in a minute.  Ethan joined our world and our hearts grew again, to make room for the unique love you have for each child.  It took nothing away from what we had (contrary to the fears of every woman expecting her second), but added depth to every relationship.  I mean really...
Hanna's first words after Ethan was born were: "He's mine". 
 He eventually earned the nickname "Cub" because we had been calling 
Hanna "Little Bear" and when she claimed him, he became her cub.  
Their young childhood was spent in the dumpy little house, constantly under construction because we were not motivated to work on it much.  There was not much money…at all…but we were so rich, so I wouldn't even with to change that, except that I know it caused Mark considerable stress, so I guess I'd like to change that part.  We had a family sleepover every night (family bed was a fun and precious time of my life) with mattresses covering about 80% of the floor space in our tiny master bedroom.  We had fun with little or no money.  We did not adhere to any particular schedule or method of parenting; we built a life around being together. It is the time of my parenting career where, looking back, I was totally in my sweet spot.  I would gladly take every minute and do it over again. 
Reading Winnie the Pooh, neck deep in kids I love.

 Mothers Day at the Japanese Gardens, nursing Ethan while admiring Hanna's new ladybug friend.

 Sharing moments of my childhood with my own children and my parents, on a road trip to Wisconsin.

 The best way to end a day.

Father and Son. This is a pre-pinterest "pinterest fail".  We couldn't afford a professional photographer, so I tie-dyed a sheet fro value village as a back drop and took our own pictures.  Some turned out better than this one, but I thought it was cute and proves that I was ahead of my time.

 Backyard adventures with Daddy.  Their first BIG snow.  

This is one of our first outings with Ethan. Please no "bjorn-smashing" comments.
It was all I had AND my son would have nothing to do with the sling.
He survived and his hips are just fine.

Backyard in the summer. 

When she'd let me kiss and hug her.  I'd give that tan, thin, right arm, to be here for a minute again.  To feel the weight of her, to feel her little arms around me, to hear the sound of her little voice, to hear her singing, to wake up every morning to her sweet nature, to feel needed by her.

It's incredible to look at these pictures. Of course they won't have the same meaning to you, my guests, but for me this is a part of the process of letting go of my children's childhood, and allowing it to live here, and in my albums, in my mind and in my heart.  They, too, will always carry these moments with them, but they don't remember them the way I do and they have grown.  They will never be these children again.  It is a grieving process, even as I sit here and know that they will be home in a matter of hours.  My little girl is much taller than I am, and she breezes in and out and doesn't cling to my neck anymore like this.  She keeps me at arms length as she individuates herself from me.  Since I eat healthy, she likes junk food.  I like chocolate, she doesn't like the ones I like.  I love nature, she hates hiking.  Whatever I value, on principle….she doesn't value.  There are fleeting moments where I can glimpse a snapshot of her essential self, most days.  But nothing is what it once was.  

He liked to sneak in while I was teaching.

My son has grown from the bobble-headed, giant browned eyed, killer baby-voiced one liners, little boy into a video game and guitar playing, soccer obsessed, messy, HUNGRY, teenage man child.  His deep voice still makes my heart jump sometimes early in the morning, not recognizing the voice of the man in my house.  
There are many more stages ahead, and I adore my children as they are today, but I guess I was unprepared for the ongoing, really un-ending, feeling of being in limbo.  I have now, and always will have moments that I wish I could return to.  The stage I am currently in, as all of them have inherent challenges that seem overwhelming when you are in it, feels unstable under my feet and the stakes feel really high.  And I have a future that feels, as the years pass and I grow in experience and wisdom, just uncertain. 

Would I do it differently?  I won't lie. There are a few things.  Things that I can see clearly now, looking backward, but at the time I could never have foreseen the need for change.  So I forgive myself those incidental regrets that may or may not have created a different outcome.  I allow for my humanity and any mistakes because I know that my intentions as well as my actions have always been rooted very deeply in love.  I could never have known how much love I would have for this family.  It grows and grows and grows from those deep roots.  My heart has enough space for loving them then, loving them now, and loving them and anyone they choose to add to my heart going forward into their futures.  
Even though all that space can feel quite empty when they are out there living; I'd do it all again. 

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