motherhood

my dream birth

I didn’t realize how traumatic Atlas’ birth had been for me, until I experienced something remarkably better. Phoebe’s birth was a dream come true. It was fast, relatively peaceful, and — dare I say — easy.

Phoebe, like Atlas, arrived on her due date. The night before, I didn’t sleep well, and eventually got up at 4a to start timing my contractions. They were already 2.5 minutes apart, but I didn’t want to wake anyone up until it was absolutely necessary. I made a pitcher of tea, unloaded the dishwasher, and took a hot shower.

I woke Noah up at 5a. Our friend Ruth arrived at 6a to watch Atlas. When we got to the hospital, I was 7cm dilated. The nurses commented on how much I was smiling for someone so far into labor — but there were definitely tears, too.

We chose to go to a midwifery center in a hospital instead of having another home birth because it was less stressful and more affordable. I knew I wanted a natural birth, to stay fully present in my body, mind, and spirit. I also wanted a way to deal with the pain that didn’t numb me from my experience.

When I was pregnant with Atlas, I read lots of books, but giving birth is so abstract on paper. I assumed I would just listen to my body and figure it out when the time came. But during labor, I had no idea what to do. I felt like an animal, wild and hysterical. I bellowed until I was hoarse. I used Noah as my punching bag.

With Phoebe, I needed a better plan. Or at least, some kind of plan.

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Some people find euphemisms effective. They call a contraction: “rush, surge, birthing wave,” they call pain: “sensation,” and hard: “challenging.” I would rather call things as I know them. Labor is actually hard. Contractions are really painful. This is what’s real to me.

But I still have choices. I can choose to be a victim and be overcome by pain. Or I can choose to be a creator, and though I am not in control of my body or my baby, I am always in control of my experience. It’s a life principle that I somehow previously never applied to birth, but once I did, it changed everything.

Whatever I focus on grows. When I focus on pain, pain increases. When I focus on something else, pain doesn’t go away, but it no longer dominates. So I concentrated on something I had power over: my breath.

I asked Noah to count my exhales, and each contraction became a dynamic meditation. For me, it was a powerful example of real-life yoga: staying present in self-awareness, intentional breathing, and the greatest union of breath and body I have ever practiced.

Inhale deeply through my nose, exhale audibly out my mouth, one. Inhale, exhale, two. After nine or ten breaths, the contraction is done. Now rest. Close my eyes. Enjoy the stillness. Gather my strength.

I never felt the primal need to scream. I never felt overwhelmed by pain. At 7:30a, when I felt a sudden onset of pressure, I turned to my midwife: “I forget the stages of labor — is this the transition? What do I do?” Jessica answered in what could either be considered very helpful or completely useless: “Just do what your body tells you to.”

It was exactly the reminder I needed to hear.

I was on my knees, gripping the side of the bathtub. The inflatable birthing tub was being filled, but I never had time to use it. After three pushes, just 15 minutes later, I felt Phoebe’s head come out, the slippery release of her shoulders, then someone was helping me lift my leg over the umbilical cord so I could sit down and hold my daughter.

I had a difficult postpartum time with Atlas. For the first several days, I couldn’t stand up unassisted without fainting. I could barely do anything. I felt lonely and isolated. I mostly stayed in my room, and didn’t leave the apartment alone with Atlas until my 6 week postpartum appointment.

After birthing Phoebe, I feel wonderful. Swollen, sore, and tired, but giddy with awe and excitement. I am stronger and more energetic than I was after Atlas’ birth, and am able to focus on simply enjoying my newborn. I had the empowering, redemptive birth experience my heart longed for and it far surpassed any expectation.

“This is how people get tricked into having more babies,” Noah observes. But I already knew I wanted a third baby, when the time comes. This birth encourages me that when I get a second chance, to believe the best for it and make the most of it.

Things can always get better, and life can surprise you with just how sweet it can be.

Photo credit: my husband. We couldn’t afford a birth photographer and I love photos more than most things, even more than NY-style pizza.

differences between my first & second pregnancies

A lot of moms are more easygoing during their second pregnancies, but I was pretty laid-back the first time around. I didn’t follow any rules about what I shouldn’t eat, drink, or do. I listened to my body and practiced headstands well into my third trimester. I felt confident and strong and looked forward to an empowering birth experience.

This time, I feel more protective. This past winter, we lived in a basement without much privacy, without a real bedroom or a door to separate our space. I had a threatened miscarriage, which increased my feeling of vulnerability. I’ve gained more than the “recommended” weight and feel big and mama bear-like, ready to fight for my babies.

Every pregnancy is different because every relationship is different.

I’m not sure what is true about being pregnant with boys versus girls, but I know my relationship with Phoebe is different than my relationship with Atlas, and so her time in the womb is different as well. She sits lower, as most subsequent babies do, and stretches more than she kicks. Perhaps she’s already practicing yoga poses?

My relationship with myself is also different than it was in 2015. My first pregnancy taught me a lot about connecting with myself and being present, but this pregnancy shows me I still have a lot to learn. I’m not a fearful person, but the past few months I’ve felt frustrated with my body and anxious about the future.

It’s easier for me to be hopeful when lack of experience leaves room for any possibility.

With my first pregnancy, I had heard of pain-free and orgasmic births, and I believed anything was possible. Intellectually, I still believe anything could happen, but experientially, I know birth and postpartum can be hard and indeed very painful. Dealing with eczema again when I thought I was healed makes me wonder if I can trust my body.

I know my body is more prepared to birth a human this second time and it remembers what to do, but in many ways, my heart and mind are not as ready. I have to make a conscious effort to choose peace instead of stress, to choose to live in the “now” instead of jumping ahead to next week or next month.

In some ways, I am giving birth to myself.

In my last post, I wrote about becoming new. With Phoebe’s birth, I will become a new mom, again, but I feel like she is also a retelling of my own story. My birthday and her due date are just a few days apart. Thinking of her brings up thoughts of my relationship with my own mother, and all the emotions that come with it.

Though this won’t be as drastic a transformation from maidenhood to motherhood, it is still a big change from one child to two, from three family members to four, from just my boys to my boys and my girl. This pregnancy, I’m more cognizant of how nesting is not only preparing a place for a new baby, it is also preparing a place for a new me.

Noah says, “There’s always room for more love.” And so, in our hearts, and in our home, we make room.

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I would love to hear how your pregnancies and birth stories differed! As well as any tips on how to parent two under two :)

 

the only time we have

Noah is in Colombia this week. I’ve been so excited for him ever since he was invited to go.

I consider myself a strong, powerful, capable woman. But I got married to spend the rest of my life with my husband, so when he’s gone, I feel like part of me is missing. When he’s away, I eat a lot of snacks and watch a lot of TV and have a lot of emotions. Before he left, I asked him to download several movies for me and I signed up for a free month of Hulu. But I’m not watching any movies and I canceled my subscription early.

I don’t want to waste my time.

I’m not a “busy mom.” Some people need to leave the house every day or they’ll go stir crazy, but I really like my home (and I really don’t like wearing pants, which are often necessary when going out in public). There have been times in the past when my days are over-scheduled and there will be times in the future when I’ll have more commitments. Right now, I don’t need to create more things to do.

When my days aren’t filled with plans, there is time and space to be in the moment.

Atlas and I are on a babymoon of sorts. Traditionally, a babymoon is a romantic vacation you take with your partner before you become parents. Atlas and I are on an intimate staycation before he becomes a big brother. We get dressed together, we eat together, we bathe together. We read more books (or the same book, many times), take longer walks, and play for hours just because we can.

This is the last time that it will be just us.

Atlas has my complete and undivided attention. No one else to care for, no one else to consider. We’re celebrating our last hurrah by doing special things we don’t normally do. Like going on dates. Wearing matching headbands. Swimming at the neighborhood pool. Visiting the botanical gardens. I also cut Atlas’ hair (and had no idea what I was doing, poor kid). But mostly I’m just savoring the one-on-one time with my little boy.

Parenting a toddler is tiring, especially being 8 months pregnant. If I let myself, I can easily get caught up with the weariness of daily mundane tasks. I can feel lonely without many friends and frustrated with my direct sales business. When I’m single parenting, I can feel withdrawn and overwhelmed. But I can also look at it another way.

This is the only time I have.

The only time I’m a graduate wife with a young family. The only summer Atlas is 1 year old. The only month left before Phoebe is born. Motherhood helps me stay present and appreciate the twinkling moments of time that promise to pass as quickly as the rest. Next month, Noah and I will celebrate our 5 year anniversary. I will turn 29. I will have a baby. And then there will be a new adjustment, a new rhythm, a new normal.

“The days are long, but the seasons are short.” Oh, but the days! These precious days are the only days we have, never to be seen again. And I treasure them.

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What is special about your current season? How can you savor the time you have?

 

immune to failure

There is a famous question that shows up, it seems, in every single self-help book ever written: What would you do if you knew that you could not fail?

But I’ve always seen it differently. I think the fiercest question of all is this one: What would you do even if you knew that you might very well fail?

What do you love doing so much that words failure and success essentially become irrelevant?

-Elizabeth Gilbert

“What would I do even if I knew that I might very well fail?”

I’m always up for self-reflection and knowing my heart a little deeper. And so I pose this new question to myself, excited for what I may uncover, and I feel stuck. As if I am providing an answer to the wrong question. Then it dawns on me: I’m doing what I love, and I cannot fail. This may sound presumptuous, but let me explain how failure and success have indeed become entirely irrelevant in my life.

I cannot fail at what I love most.

The first love that comes to mind is motherhood. I have felt weary cleaning up after another messy mealtime and bewildered as to why Atlas won’t stop crying, but I have never felt like a failure as a mom. I am not claiming mastery at parenthood, but I don’t need anything from my kids to constitute success. I may not be as consistent with discipline as I would like, but the only way I could fail at motherhood is if I no longer mothered, if I no longer loved.

The second love is writing. I have yet to be published and I have yet to write a book, but writing is the one and only thing I have loved since childhood that has always loved me back. Writing is my artistic outlet, my internal processing, my life documentation. I have created things that aren’t well-written, and I may never produce a bestseller, but I don’t need writing to accomplish anything in order for me to keep returning to it.

The only way to fail at doing something I love is to reject it.

Since mother and writer are core facets of my heart, I can no sooner deny those labels than I can refuse to be myself. As long as I am mothering and writing, I am succeeding at being a mother and writer. While ideas and projects may flop, they do not inform my identity. I can do things that fail, but I am not a failure. Motherhood and writing are fulfilling in themselves and not for any level of achievement that they might generate.

Only if I require a certain outcome, e.g. insist my children exhibit good behavior or depend upon a book to make a profit, am I at risk for expectations falling short. But when I love truly, I don’t make any demands and there are no attached conditions. I am free to be me and do the things I love, simply because they are what I love to do and who I love to be.

I love nurturing, caring for, and being with my children. I will continue to be a mother, no matter what happens to them or how their lives unfold. I love partnering with inspiration and expressing my thoughts in a tangible way. I will continue to be a writer, regardless of financial success or if anyone reads another word I write.

So the questions: “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” and “What would you do even if you knew that you might very well fail?” are more appropriately rephrased: “What would you do if you believed it was who you are, if you could not fail as long as you kept doing it?”

Whatever question resonates with you, whatever it is you love that makes you come alive, I hope you’re doing it, and that you never stop <3

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I’d love to know about the things you love to do, the ones that connect you to the deepest part of yourself. Feel free to leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you :)

 

love letter to my daughter

Dear little Phoebe,

You are so loved, so wanted. I have been patiently waiting for you to enter this world at the perfect time. Your name means “bright, shining one.” In a season of hiddenness for our family, you come at a time of transition to hopefulness and light.

It took a lot of work for me to love being a girl. But I don’t want it to be as hard for you to embrace who you are. To love yourself. My heart longs to share with you what I have learned and to walk alongside you as you discover your own way.

Even now, though you are so little and do not yet understand, I speak truth and love over you — truths I never heard from my own mother, truths that took me years to grasp. That it is possible to be both strong and feminine. Both logical and emotional. Both powerful and gentle. Both independent and reliant on others. Both ambitious and content.

I want you to see me look in the mirror and smile at my reflection. To see me comfortable in my skin. I want you to see me put on bright red lipstick and a fancy dress for a date with your dad, but I also want you to see me feeling just as beautiful and confident in chapstick and leggings.

I want you to see me excited about my birthday. I want you to see that life is a blessing and every year is worth celebrating. I want you to see me go back to school. I want you to see that it’s never too late to start something new. I want you to see me practice yoga in our kitchen. I want you to see that it’s important to take care of yourself.

Growing up, I was often reprimanded, “Don’t be too much Bethany.” It hurt me to think that being myself was a bad thing. But oh my darling, it is impossible to be “too much Phoebe!” My hope for you is that you would increasingly become more and more yourself. Being you is the best thing you could ever be.

I want you to be free. Free to be a little girl when you are a little girl and not have to rush your childhood. Free to pursue the dreams in  your heart no matter what stands against you, because I will always stand beside you. Free to explore all the wonderful ways to be a woman. Free to create a path that empowers you.

I want you to see me free in my motherhood. If it is something you choose one day, I want you to know that you can find freedom in it, too. That staying home with your children is a powerful choice when you are already a powerful person.

I place my hand over my belly and feel you move. I am overwhelmed with how proud I am of you. You are my favorite daughter. My bright, shining star. You are full of life, full of radiant brilliance. It is your name, it is who you are. My dear little Phoebe.

<3

one year anniversary of motherhood

It does not matter that Atlas will not remember his first birthday. The decorations, the presents, the photos — they were centered around him, but they were all for me.

Turning one is not a big deal for Atlas. From the womb until now, he is constantly reaching developmental milestones. His “normal” is to grow leaps and bounds every week.

But that’s not my normal. Every year, I clarify beliefs, shift priorities, and gain insight on relationships. I evolve, albeit rather slowly.

But I have never changed so instantly, permanently, drastically, as when I became a mother. The day I become a whole new person by giving birth to a whole new person.

Today marks one year.

One year of hard work and sacrificial love.

One year of surprise at how well I can function with so little sleep.

One year of recognizing the difference between loving your child and loving parenthood.

One year of wearing nursing-friendly clothes, i.e. bras that never properly fit.

One year of traveling with more stuff than I ever thought I would bring on a plane.

One year of telling anyone who will listen how I kept Atlas’ penis intact. He was perfectly made and I want him to love every part of himself.

One year of staring at the sweetest face I have ever seen.

One year of falling so in love with this person who has never spoken an actual word to me.

One year of learning the Father’s heart is just to be with me, to love because it would be impossible for him not to love.

One year of knowing the greatest responsibility for another life, and the greatest freedom for my own.

One year of never feeling insecure about my body. Now that it has carried a child, I could only ever be grateful for it.

One year of experiencing the purest love I have ever known, giving me hope that greater love is always possible.

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Happy first birthday, Atlas. Thank you for being you, making me a mother, and sharing with me the most life-changing year.

living my dream

For several years, Noah and I were in a dreaming season. We asked, “If resources were unlimited, what would our life look like?” At night, we drove to the beach with a cooler of beer & cheese and took turns sharing our heart’s yearnings. We gazed into the starry sky and across the endless horizon, exploring the infinite possibilities of life.

A year and a half ago, we began walking out some of our long-awaited dreams. We left Florida and moved west — closer to Noah’s parents and his two youngest sisters. Noah started his PhD in Neuroscience. I became a mother, completed my yoga teacher training, and launched a business. It has been quite a journey.

Sometimes you dream, and sometimes you work towards that dream. And it is work. I love motherhood, but my days can be long and tedious. I love my direct sales company, but the system can be inefficient and unsupportive. I love Colorado’s mountains and family-friendly culture, but I am still trying to create home, find belonging, and make friends.

I did not anticipate the transition to Denver would be this difficult. Life still feels unsettled, shifting — and maybe rightly so. Dreams unfold as life unfolds. My daily life may look monotonous, for the laborious actualization of one dream and the steady investment into the next is not for the faint of heart.

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” (Proverbs 13:12) But before that tree is big and beautiful, its roots dig deep and there are little signs of life above the ground. In the beginning, from the outside, it seems that nothing is happening.

On the surface, I do not feel I am making much progress, but I know my roots are digging deep. Being confronted with the difficulties of how to live well in this hidden season has matured me in ways I did not know I needed. And instead of running away, I am more self-aware, receive more wisdom, and feel more free.

Living my dream is not a dream life. But I look at the snow-capped mountains and see grandeur. I look at my marriage and see a wonderful friendship. I look at my 10-month old and see joy. Hearing Atlas laugh and teaching him to walk — all of this is treasure. It is not always shiny, but it is still beautiful.

{Photo Credit: Jonathan Sharpe}