A Reflection: 365 Days Later

“It shouldn’t be this hard.” Those words were uttered exactly one year ago today. Sitting on the floor in my son’s room, holding my three-month old daughter, I had what was perhaps the most honest conversation in years with my husband. We were both exhausted from trying to love, like, and tolerate each other. It shouldn’t be emotionally and physically draining to make a marriage work. Granted, I am not an expert on what one needs to do in order to make a marriage be successful and thriving. I don’t have lists and diagrams to use when you are trying to decide if your marriage is worth saving. All I have is the knowledge that there is a line; there comes a point when you’re no longer attempting to fix what is breaking but instead are holding the jagged pieces and admitting it is shattered beyond the repair of super glue.

Over the past 365 days, I have felt many emotions. I have had triumphs, failures, and moments that I found myself drowning in all the things that were being thrown at me. I experienced moments of clarity and moments that I begged the universe to please give me a win because I couldn’t handle another failure. I have leaned on people when my soul ached for support and accepted help I didn’t realize I needed. I’ve navigated through issues that I was not prepared to face and I’ve been forced to wade into the muck to acknowledge the multitude of emotions these issues have brought to the surface. Despite all of this, I have never wavered in knowing that the decision to separate was the correct one.

Last year, if you had told me that I would be carving out time to sit at my desk and type out a blog post, I likely would have laughed. Last year was filled with such a contradiction of emotions; relief from finally admitting it wasn’t working, sorrow to admit that we failed. Writing has pulled me close and whispered “It’s okay. Feel your feelings. Write about them. I’m here.” I need to devote more time to translating my swirling emotions into words, but that will come. There’s so much adjusting, tweaking, scrutinizing, and readjusting going on currently.

When I try to think of a timeline, my mind becomes muddled. We decided we wanted to divorce on St. Patrick’s Day. Yes. That fact is solid. The kids had Spring Break the following week. Lee left for the week. He started being gone most of the time after that. Weekend trips to Georgia, staying at friends’ homes. I’m not entirely sure when he no longer “came home.” Maybe it was May or around then? I know it was later in the year that he moved in with a woman he claimed was just a roommate. For those curious, they’re now dating.

The kids began spending more time with him around October, roughly the same time he moved into a one-bedroom apartment with his now-girlfriend.

This is where my entry stopped. I don’t remember what called me away; I’m sure it was a kid. I have chosen to end this here.

Odd Moments

Tonight, as I was choosing a lotion to use in hopes of moisturizing my terribly dry skin, a little thing stopped me. By habit, I picked up the lotion, paused, put it down, and went to take off my wedding ring that wasn’t there. It was this odd little moment that made me realize how many little things are changing.

I haven’t worn my ring in months; before we decided on a divorce, I had been very pregnant, then very newly postpartum, and I had barely begun to wear my ring again before we called it quits. After saying the words out loud, it felt weird to wear the ring. It felt off and wrong. Wearing a ring felt like playing a role, pretending to still be a loving wife. It was almost a relief to take it off; a sign that I wasn’t clinging to hope that things would magically change, a sign that shit had gotten real.

At the most random times, I find myself using my thumb to rub against where the band used to lay; an old habit to straighten the ring so that the stone was centered on my finger.  I’ve noticed that I also do this when talking about Lee. What do I call him? It feels disingenuous to call him my ex-husband; technically, we are still married. Ironically, it also feels deceitful to call him my husband. It is a word used to describe a man who is still 100% married, not in this limbo of separation and divorce. If I use it, it feels like I’m glossing over the elephant in the room and omitting the real truth. Yes, legally we are married. Truthfully, we have never been further from being married emotionally.

June was a trying month. I’ve alternated between pissed and exhausted. My anxiety kicked in some days and I found myself letting it take the lead. I did not take my children to a birthday party because I knew they would swim in a lake. They’ve went to this party for two? three? years in a row. This year I couldn’t. Earlier in the week, I had read the story about the Florida woman who was attacked, and eaten, by an alligator when walking her dogs. I was crippled with fear that an alligator would have somehow gotten into the lake and would attack my children. We stayed home instead.

Depression, which often goes hand-in-hand with my anxiety, has also reared its ugly head. I despise the fact that it can creep up on you, slowly winding its way through your brain, zapping your energy, and making you feel numb without you realizing it. My house is a mess. I can’t keep up with all the cleaning and maintenance four children, a bull mastiff, three cats, two hamsters, and a beta fish require. I’m pretty sure the laundry alone is a full time job that should include a 401k and benefits. Instead, I’ve been juggling all that, dance classes three times a week, two speech therapy sessions a week, and two therapy sessions a week, with a third being added for Violet. There was also a major dental appointment for Violet, an emergency one for Noah, and then a scheduled one for Ella next week. Thrown in there were also a 6 month check up for Penelope, a vaccine visit for Violet, and other things like Sadie’s annual vet visit, the annual HVAC tune up, and the multiple grocery pick-ups that three constantly eating children require. Every day is exhausting and I’ve found myself just wanting to sleep. 24 hours of sleep sounds deliriously delicious. There is major Sleeping Beauty envy going on right now. If you showed me a spinning wheel, I’d be very temped to prick my finger.

Currently, I’m trying to get in to see my doctor. I know my meds need adjusted; maybe they just need bumped up slightly. Maybe I need a script for when it’s 1am and my mind won’t shut up. Of course, I could also use some premium tequila, a nanny, housekeeper, and a vacation to somewhere that I don’t instantly begin sweating when the door opens. Such is life, am I right?  I need to have time to curl up with my journal and pour my heart out. It just seems to impossible lately. If I do find a moment to myself, all I can think of is everything else that needs done. If I ignore the list of shit that needs done, I still avoid writing because I know it will trigger the inevitable ugly cry. I feel it building. It’s been building for so goddamn long. I’ve shed a few tears, but it’s just been letting the pressure off slightly. It’s still there; it’s still pounding. Once I start, I won’t be able to stop until the tears run out. With three kids who will be upset by a very ugly cry, I’ve been pushing it down, stamping on it, barricading it. A breakdown is coming, but I don’t want my kids to see it. I don’t want them to see me broken.

 

Rip tide

There are times that I feel the need to spill words onto paper, whether by typing or through writing. The urge is nearly overwhelming; it feels like the tide is rushing in, the white crest of the wave flooding the shore with words, phrases, feelings, hopes, fears. They scatter across the sand, eager for me to walk by and pick them up, rinse them off, and tuck them into my pocket.

Life has been the hectic, chaotic, swift dance of ending school and beginning of summer. Mornings appear to be filled with frustration and held back tears or glide by so smoothly that I’m left wondering how it was even possible.

Big things happened in our home last Friday. Things that I’m terrified to face and beyond eager to put behind me. I’m fervently wishing that doors will open and things will start to get easier. I need easier. Simpler. Smoother.

Years ago, I stumbled across a piece of writing that resonated so strongly with me that I’ve held it close for years.

Someone once told me that if you wanted a perfect metaphor for life, look toward the ocean.
For the most part, life is pretty constant,
like the gentle rolling of the tides;
life is a balance between the high points and the low points.

Every drop of water causes a ripple in the ocean,
just like every event we experience affects our lives.
Sometimes the storms roll in and stir things up.

There are times when the waves break too close to the shore
and crash down upon us.
And we have to pick ourselves back up before
the next wave knocks us even further down.

There are times when the rip tide pulls us out,
and we get lost in the enormity of life,
and we wonder if we will ever make it back to shore.

Well, right now, I feel caught in that rip tide.

As of today, I am caught in the rip tide. It feels like there was a major storm; Hurricane Divorce. It swept in and caused catastrophic damage. Once the flood waters receded, the clean up began. The clean up feels like it’s been littered with the typical government red tape. The sticky tape that delays aid, reroutes supplies, and requires five different signatures, all notarized, before allowing you to begin your life again. There are moments that I’m treading water, desperate to keep my head above the salt water that threatens to choke me with each breath. To quote Lin-Manuel’s genius, there are moments when you’re in so deep, it feels easier to just swim down…and learn to live with the unimaginable.

Yesterday, the ocean felt like it was pulling me further away from shore. I felt the sand scraping my body, my lungs struggling to inflate, and the sting of salt water in my throat and eyes. Through it all, there’s Lee standing on the shore, just watching. Maybe he’ll occasionally throw out a suggestion like “Hey! You should really try to keep your head above water!” or “I’ll go get a lifeguard, let me finish this game.” Instead of finding a lifeguard or wading in, he stands on the sand; eyes glued to his phone, it being ever more important.

I find myself in an odd place. I want to curse his name but want to stay above it all for the kids. I have a few trusted friends that I allow myself to message with profanity-filled statements. These conversations serve as my lifeguard, my buoy. They help bring me a little closer to shore, give my tired legs a reprieve while the tide ushers me back in. Thank you, my buoys. I owe you a debt of gratitude that will never easily be repaid.

Yesterday, we decided to abandon the house and move into apartments. Yesterday, we decided to tell the kids about the divorce tomorrow. Yesterday, I began looking for apartments while trying to figure out what kind of budget I’ll be on. Yesterday, it felt more real than it had in a while. Today, I drank my coffee and just enjoyed the moment. Today, I took the time to finish this post. Today, I will scrawl words into my journal. Today, I will hold each child tight. Tomorrow, I will carefully choose words to explain why life is changing. Tomorrow, I will answer questions, listen to concerns, and give hugs. Tomorrow, I will rip off the band-aid. Tomorrow, I will.

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It started, and ended, with a hamster.

It has been one of those weeks. I had to pick a sick kid up from school, drop off a backpack, remember to make a lunch for a field trip, figure out a flea market project, deal with a fussy baby, and conquer sixteen loads of laundry. Oh, and keep four kids alive.

Turns out, while doing all this fun stuff, I would also add hamster savior to my list. Yeah, you read that right. Hamster savior. It started on Monday. I was laying down with the baby, nursing her to sleep so I could hopefully accomplish something. Our back patio runs nearly the full length of the house; there are two windows from my bedroom that are covered by it as well as a sliding glass door in the kitchen. Trust me when I say you can hear everything that goes on out there. That’s why I heard the glass door slide open, and heard HRH out there plotting world domination. It’s fine, it’s all cool. That means I’m a step closer to actually getting the baby asleep without hearing a never-ending monologue that is peppered with demands and questions.

“STOP THAT! DON’T EAT THAT!” Ah, the battle cry of HRH. Usually this means that one of our idiot cats has managed to escape into the great outdoors and is hunting a lizard. We have tried to keep them indoors, but have given up. These ferocious beasts have plowed through screens and have nearly killed us all on multiple occasions as they barrel through your feet if you open the door. They’re cats. They’re assholes. Two of them particularly enjoy killing the lizards that gather on the back patio. My outrage is exhausted after the shit of this year and I just can’t with the damn cat/lizard war anymore. Besides, HRH usually fights off the cats and the lizard races to freedom while its persecutor is given an emotional lecture.

“NO SADIE! DON’T EAT THAT!” That got my attention. Sadie, our three year old bull-mastiff, eats things. Things like human food that she isn’t allowed to have. Things that most definitely require me to carefully detach from the sleeping baby and race out to investigate. As I was entering the hall, there was a loud crash. I sprinted to the kitchen. I saw Sadie racing into her crate, tail tucked between her legs. The sliding glass door was open, HRH was still yelling, and one of my kitchen chairs laid broken near the island. There was also a hole in the wall from the chair’s ear. The broken cross rail was nearby. HRH told me that Sadie got her head stuck and ran off, hit the wall, broke the chair, and GUESS WHAT! SHE SAVED A HAMSTER.

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Way to bury the lead there, kid. She began to tell me how the cat caught a hamster and she saved it. She said she held it in her hands and was going to put it in her shirt so it would stay warm, but Sadie was trying to eat it (also known as sniffing it), so she put it down to make Sadie go inside. When she put it down, the cat tried to catch it again, she yelled at the cat, and the hamster ran off into the woods. Okay. Got it. Now, to be honest, I assumed she meant a baby bunny. Last week, I had to clean pieces of a baby bunny off the back patio. Before coffee. The cat, Dorito, is a killing machine. I’m currently looking for a barn that needs an excellent mouser.

I told HRH that the hamster was probably fine; it was in the woods looking for its family. I stressed how we need to keep doors shut to keep the cats inside so they can’t catch anything. She nodded and chased the cat indoors. I thought we were through. Life is never that easy. For the next several hours, HRH would venture outside every 15-20 minutes to loudly call “HAMSTER! COME BACK HERE! I SAVED YOU! COME BACK!” This kid is quite determined. She really will either become a fabulous CEO or blood thirsty mob boss. It’s still up in the air.

It became afternoon. HRH left the door open when she went out to beg the hamster to return and Dorito escaped. I went out to round her up, my shadow following me closely. The cat, knowing I was trying to catch her, avoided me at all costs. At one point, she walked over to the grass by the rain spout, sniffed, and stayed still. I walked over, hoping to grab the demon, and made the mistake of looking into the grass. There was a hamster. An honest-to-God, living, breathing, hamster. “YOU CAME BACK!” Great. Her savior spotted her.

The cat was shooed inside, and an empty fish tank was procured. The stupid little hamster allowed itself to be captured. I was in shock. I didn’t really think she had saw a hamster. How the hell did a hamster make its way to my backyard? How did it survive a cat attack? I examined the little fluff ball and saw several puncture wounds. Googling “hamsters after cat attacks” didn’t exactly give me much hope of its survival. I called Jess, my go-to course for all animal info, and she agreed it didn’t look good. Hamsters, after being attacked, tend to have a euphoric state she said. It will probably act fine all day, but expect to find it dead in the morning. Morbidly I knew I could handle a hamster funeral, so we shredded paper, taped the lid on, and waited.

Heart Heart

Heart Heart 1 in the glorious fish tank

It survived. I woke up to see shredded papers rustling and a very happy almost-four year old. It was one of those take a deep breath, hold it, release, and move towards the coffee maker type of mornings. The hamster, named Heart Heart, stayed alive the rest of the day. I purchased a hamster cage, bedding, and food. Heart Heart was placed inside and immediately scampered onto the wheel and spent a long time spinning. Personally, I feel like he was showing off. “HA! TAKE THAT CAT! TAKE THAT LADY WHO WAS PLANNING MY FUNERAL!”

Friday rolls around. I’m sitting on my bed trying to be productive. I had my curtains open, enjoying the sunshine while I folded a never-ending basket of laundry. I glanced to my right, looking out the window at the glorious green grass. In that grass, I saw a little ball of fluff and an evil grey tabby batting at it. I sprang from my spot, raced outdoors, and began cursing the little jerk hamster who repaid my hospitality by escaping its new cage and trying to commit suicide by feline. I scooped it up into a handy Easter basket and walked back inside, cursing its little rodent self with every step. I opened the cage door and was about to dump the hamster in when the bedding moved. Heart Heart stuck its fuzzy little brown head out. I gasped. “NOW I HAVE TWO PETS!!!!” my very excited shadow exclaimed. My heart sank. My mind was blown. How in the everloving universe is this my life? Anyone?

I had to tell someone. I needed someone to fully understand what my life was this week. The solution was obvious. I texted my friend Richée. This conversation is gold. I can’t try to recreate it blog form. It has to be seen in its organic form. The pain is slowly turning into laughter. It has to. It has nowhere else to go.

It began with this video and the tag This is how my week started…

This is how my week ended…

On Call Parent

168. That’s how many hours there are in a week.  87,600. That’s how many hours there are in a decade. On April 25, I will have been on duty as a parent for 87,600 hours. It’s a sobering thought. Hell, it’s an exhausting thought.

This past week has been basically been a series of Mondays tossed together. Nothing has gone according to plan. There hasn’t been enough sleep, coffee, or moments of silence. In the 168 hours of this week, I feel like I was the on call parent for 160 of them. I’m exhausted physically, emotionally, and mentally. Instead of sleeping, like any sleep-deprived parent should do, I’m sitting here in the dark. To my left, there is a wiggly baby who just let out a high-pitched squeal. She hasn’t been sleeping well at night. This has also translated into barely napping during the day. Being overtired contributes to not sleeping well at night. Baby not sleeping well means I’m not sleeping well. Being overtired leads to sitting up after midnight typing out the words that are swirling around in my head. It also means I’ll be drinking too many cups of coffee tomorrow and fervently hoping to take a nap at some point during the day. Fingers crossed, y’all.

Hope, however, isn’t a plan. I hoped this week would be different than last week. Oh, it was. No more hamsters were found lurking in the backyard (Hallelujah!), but I did have to hear how I’m the worst mom ever and how I should just run away. Today I was told that I don’t care about anyone and that I treat everyone like crap. Six year olds are thrilling.

St.Patrick’s Day. The beginning.

     The hardest truth is the one you are not ready, or willing, to accept. It is the one that lingers in the back of your mind, that you push down and lie to yourself as you pretend you will deal with it later. Tomorrow, you promise. Tomorrow, I’ll think about it. Tomorrow, I will open the box and unpack my emotions. Tomorrow never comes.

     It is hard to realize that you can love a person, treasure their friendship, enjoy their company, but not be their ideal life partner. It hurts to know that this person you’ve spent eight years building a life, a family, with deserves someone more than you. Your best friend deserves someone who wants to go to concerts with them, someone who plans a cruise gleefully, someone who can rock out to the same music and understand the importance that melody holds in their soul. It is frightening to also decide that you deserve someone who wants to take a slow walk through the forest, wake up early with you to drink coffee, and who can understand the need to devour books.

     Realizing and accepting are two very different actions. I realized years ago that I hadn’t taken the time I needed, and deserved, to grow up. I needed time to figure out who I was, who I wanted to be, and what I needed from life. Now, at 32, I’ve learned who I am. I am a badass who deserves to be the best version of herself. It just happens that the best version of myself happens when I am an awesome friend and co-parent, but not wife. These past 48 hours have been full of hard truths. These truths have been realized, expanded, discussed, examined, and finally, after many tears, accepted.

     Acceptance has been hard to embrace. It requires admitting fault, raw emotions, and the terrifying fear that you are not enough. It also demands that you be gentle with yourself and extend grace; you may not be enough for this person, but you are enough for yourself. Acceptance allows you to admit that you need to focus on the inner workings of your mind and open that damn box. It’s time to sort through those emotions. Discard the anger, resentment, and fear. Hold tight to the joy, freedom, and hope.

     Fear is the most difficult to discard. It has a way of winding through your soul, whispering softly, and planting seeds of doubt. Yes, I am scared. I’m apprehensive of going back to school and finally getting my degree. I’m terrified of starting a job search that will hopefully end in a promising career. I’m absolutely petrified to tell my children about this new change, this new path that our future holds. Oddly enough, I’m comforted knowing I’m not alone. I’m not the only one feeling this way. We will face this together and separately. Together we will do our very best to make sure that our children never doubt for a second that they are fiercely loved, wanted, and the very best thing that ever happened to us. Separately, we will mourn, grow, and find joy again.

     While there are so many unknowns concerning the future, I am holding tightly to what I know. I know that I respect and admire both the man that I married and the man I will divorce. I’m keeping his last name because we built a family. We are keeping our family. We won’t be the same as we were before, but I know we will be better in the long run. There will be growing pains and bumps. I know that more tears will be shed and that at times I’m going to wish we could return to “before.” It will be challenging. It will be heart-wrenching. It will have joyful moments, sorrow filled pauses, and calming soul-soothing experiences. It will be good. It will be bad. It will be right.

     Throughout it all, our top priority will never change. Ella, Noah, Violet, and Penelope are the most important tasks we have ever undertaken. We are both committed to making sure they have the best lives possible. We want them to grow and be strong, compassionate, brave souls who change the world for the better. We want them to know love; deep, rich, pure love. We are going to give them our best. We may be opposites on so many other things, but this is the one area that we have never faltered on. We may have failed as life partners, but we are going to kick ass and be amazing co-parents. For now, that’s enough.

 

03/17/18. Seemingly innocent date. I was determined to get Noah and Violet’s rooms cleaned. My sister and her girlfriend were coming to spend their Spring Break with us. I had already gotten Ella’s room in decent shape, so I was even more determined to tackle the messy room that was Noah’s and the disaster that was, and still is, Violet’s. Lee offered to help and I accepted.

I honestly do not know how the conversation turned into what it did. He asked what I thought of him as a roommate; did he have any living habits that were negative? Somehow that simple question morphed into a tear-filled conversation that left us both emotionally exhausted. I remember him saying “We have tried so hard for eight years. We have tried so hard. It shouldn’t be this hard. I don’t know if I have any try left.”  Hell, I didn’t know if I had any try left either. The more we talked, the more it became obvious that it wasn’t a lack of work that was missing. It was something more complex and hard to fully explain.

Some things simply do not mesh well. Oil and water. Orange juice and mint. Great by themselves, not so great together. As we talked, things unraveled. It wasn’t mean-spirited; it wasn’t meant to hurt or to be harsh. A day later, as I stumbled trying to explain how I felt to Lee, it came to me. We don’t have much in common; we have no shared passions beyond our children. There are things we both enjoy; for example, taking a hike. Lee’s idea is to get in and get out, similar to a boot camp hump. You don’t take your time. You take the shortest distance to your detestation and you make it in the fastest time possible. Which, honestly, is perfect for some people. That’s what they want; the accelerated heart rate, sweat, and sense of accomplishment. It becomes problematic when your hiking partner isn’t interested in racing. I would rather take my time, examine the scenery, look under rocks and leaves for animals with the kids, have mini science lessons and discussions about what they’ve found. I’m not in a rush to find the end. I’m sure you can imagine the difficulties when these two hiking styles are presented in partners attempting to finish a trail. Throw in children and it basically devolves into chaos.

We both enjoy music, but even that statement feels a little false. I enjoy music. I like a wide variety that ranges from Hamilton to Lady Antebellum, Prince to The Supremes, Billie Holiday to Ja-Rule, Miranda Lambert to Cross Canadian Ragweed. It’s clearly an eclectic mix. I’ve been to concerts. They were fun, but they weren’t life altering. I have tattoos, but not ones dedicated to my favorite bands. I hate singing in front of people because I’m fairly positive my voice is terrible. I certainly have never made a video of me singing and posted it to social media. I enjoy music, but it isn’t my passion. Lee spent years in band and choir in school. He was in bands, a regular at karaoke bars, and has sung at events. He plays several instruments and can belt out a tune without hesitation. He hears pitch and notes; I’m basically deaf in that regard. I’ve never been to an Incubus concert and Lee has seen them every time they’ve toured. He is a huge, unwavering fan of Brandon Boyd. I only know his name because I’ve been married to Lee for nearly eight years.

When we announced that we were getting married, my mom was ecstatic. She told me that Lee was what I needed; he was the fun to my seriousness. She hoped he would help me lighten up. I’m sure it worked for a while. He does make me laugh. After a few years, however, I was tired of all the fun. I was tired of being the serious one. I was tired of his brand of humor just as he was annoyed by my dry, sarcastic comments. In the interests of total transparency, I am going to be honest. I am sick of being the boring parent who never does the fun stuff. I do the doctor, the dentist, the speech therapist, the clothes shopping, the grocery shopping. I rarely have time to be fun. When fun opportunities present themselves, I still am the responsible parent. The planning parent. The parent who finds the socks, the shoes, the sunscreen, and find out the opening/closing hours and directions. I’m still the serious one. I have to be.

I have privately vowed to never talk badly about Lee to the children. I am vowing here and now that I will not use this medium to bash him. This isn’t meant to paint him in a horrible light or to present myself as a long-suffering saint. I am aiming for transparency, honesty, and, perhaps, a bit of grace. I want to express my feelings, my hopes, my fears, my triumphs, and my defeats. In these past eight years, out of everything, I have learned that I have to be honest with myself. That means facing unpleasant truths. It means looking deep into my soul and doing hard, frustrating, and terrifying work. This will be my safe place, my way to untangle the various strings that have been in place for years.

My name is Savanna. I’m going through a divorce. I’m parenting four children. I’m handling being the adult child of an alcoholic. I have general anxiety disorder. I fight depressive episodes. I bake, I cry, and I love a good margarita. I am a badass who is learning her strength. I’m a tea bag in a cup of hot water. I will be strong.

Violet Shalom

Since she is now 7 weeks old, I should probably put the words that have been swimming around in my head and organize them. I’ve composed her birth story many times when I’ve been driving, in the bath, or doing laundry.

The story truly begins when I found out I was pregnant. Sweet Violet’s pregnancy was a roller coaster. There were ups, downs, and surprises that I never saw coming. During the end of March and all of April, I listened to “You Know Better Than I” every day. It sums up how I now feel about those crazy 42 weeks!

I found out I was pregnant at the beginning of August. We had been trying so I peed on a stick and walked away when it didn’t turn positive immediately. I came back later and saw a line, but the line was faded and past the time limit. For fun, I posted it to ICAN and had others confirm my evap suspicions. Took another test on 8/10 at 7:30am and it was positive! Aaaaaggghhh!!

With Ella & Noah, I didn’t find out I was pregnant until after my period was due. I knew very early this time and it drove me insane. I took multiple tests trying to see if the line would get darker or appear more quickly. During this time, I tried to not to get too excited. I was incredibly anxious that the test was somehow wrong or that I would have a miscarriage. It wasn’t until the morning sickness came with a vengeance that I began to feel that the pregnancy was healthy.

One of the first people I contacted about attending my birth was Talitha. I desperately wanted her to be my doula and I had heard she wasn’t attending births anymore. Luckily, she told me she was still attending births for family and close friends. Whew. But, that put me in a difficult position. I also really wanted Paige to attend my birth and knew I couldn’t afford both of them. I figured if Talitha wasn’t attending births, then my decision would me made and I wouldn’t have to choose! Life is never that easy, right? Then I talked to Paige and she confided in me that she was taking the first steps in becoming a midwife and was waiting to hear about her acceptance as an apprentice. I thought this was perfect; it solved all my problems. I’d have a home birth with that practice and boom! Paige and Talitha. Then I took my own advice. This wouldn’t be the first time it would come back to bite me in the ass. I apologize to everyone I’ve ever given advice to. My advice may be sound, but damn! It sucks to actually follow through.

I interviewed two home birth practices. It made things worse. The first practice was one that I always assumed I would home birth with…but they weren’t who Paige was the apprentice with. The midwife I spoke to answered all my questions in a way that immediately put me at ease. I had an extensive list of questions that ranged from would Lee be able to catch the baby to what degree tear were they comfortable with repairing. I liked her frank answers and I felt we really would line up with our birth ideals. Then I interviewed the practice Paige was with. This interview was face-to-face and I had Lee and both kids with me. There were things I loved; the atmosphere of the office, the open arms for my kids, how close they were, and the fact they were much cheaper than the other practice. Since we were paying out-of-pocket, money was definitely a deciding issue. I wanted a doula and a birth photographer; neither things were negotiable to me. I had them picked out and contacted. I was not going to have another birth without either.

Advice ass kicking came when I realized I didn’t feel the connect I wanted. I felt like our birth ideals weren’t meshing up 100%. I decided to grin and bear it because surely these were just pregnancy hormones, right? I wanted a water birth. I wanted a home birth. I was going to have to give a little in order to accomplish both of those. As this was going on, I was also seeing the OBGYN office that I used with Ella & Noah. I went there on September 18th for an early ultrasound to ensure there was only one baby, otherwise there was no point in looking into a home birth! There was only one small bean and the home birth was still on. I used the office for testing (prenatal and thyroid) because it was closer and cheaper than driving to downtown Atlanta to see Dr.Bootstaylor or Quest labs. The infamous “shadow care” was alive and well until I found the midwife that had delivered Ella and Noah at her new practice.

Back in August, I had called her new office to try to get in there. I knew she would understand why I wanted shadow care and would be 100% supportive of my desire to have the baby at home. I left messages and no one ever called me back. I chalked it up to being life and continued to attend Cartersville OBGYN. My mom is a self-taught computer tech who handles the midwife’s computer. She just happened to have computer trouble and called my mom. This midwife not only delivered Ella and Noah, but 4 of my siblings and my niece. There is a long history that has turned into a friendship between my mom and her. During the visit, my mom told her about how I had called, left messages, and never got a call back. Jean, the midwife, was shocked. She told my mom that there had been major problems with their phone system when they first opened and to please call again. I did and switched to her for my back-up care around 16 weeks.

Cartersville OBGYN was not pleased with Jean leaving their practice. I knew this from my mom and Jean. It was proved to me when I requested my records and received a phone call from the office manager asking me if I was quite sure I wanted to switch! They also took nearly a week and a half to send a single page of records. None of my previous records OR test results. I was in the middle of one of the genetic tests: I had the ultrasound but needed the blood work portion still taken. This caused a great deal of anxiety for me; since the end of summer, I had been having horrible dreams about the baby being born with birth defects. The anxiety from these dreams would wake me up in the middle of the night and follow me around all day. It was always the same defect and only with a blonde girl. I began to desperately hope the baby was a boy because then my dream would be wrong. When the tests came back without any inkling of potential problems, I began to relax. It was around then I really began to get excited about the pregnancy; until then, I was too focused on all the anxiety.

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Things continued into fall and things began to get difficult. I wasn’t attending births any longer. Until that point, I didn’t realize how much that extra money per month was helping. Money was getting very tight and Lee’s paychecks were getting smaller due to smaller commission checks. It came to the point that I realized I either could pay off some outstanding debts or pay the midwives for a home birth. I knew that I had to take care of the debt before anything else. It was a hard and bitter pill to swallow, knowing I wouldn’t be able to have a home birth. I cried, regrouped, and then cried some more. Lee was willing to sell a kidney at this point, but I smacked myself back into reality and told myself things would be fine. Then I realized I had to contact the home birth midwives. I cried some more. I wrote email after email only to delete them. I tried to figure out a way to squirrel away money for 2 weeks before it became painfully obvious it wasn’t going to work. The midwife was loving and amazing. At least, that’s what Lee told me. I never read the response to my email. I was too afraid and too ashamed. Lee said she offered different options, but at that point I couldn’t fathom spending thousands of dollars on a home birth when we were having trouble paying bills. I cried some more and painfully said goodbye to my wonderful birth that I had daydreamed about.

Surprisingly, I began to feel better. The anxiety from the money situation had lessened greatly. I told myself I would still have an amazing birth. Then I realized I wouldn’t be able to have a water birth in Cartersville. That realization knocked the wind out of me. Since witnessing my first water birth, I had been unable to picture myself giving birth any other way. Yeah, I cried some more. I did a lot of crying at the end of 2013. Advice about switching providers came back around and I found myself silently apologizing to all my doula mothers who had heard the same speak I was giving myself. “It’s okay to switch providers late in pregnancy. You want to choose a provider who offers and supports what you want out of your birth.” It hurt because I knew Jean would support me in everything, but the hospital where she has privileges would not. They did not offer water birth, nor would they be okay with me bringing in my own pool. Trust me, I thought about it! I knew if I wanted a water birth, I would have to go to North Fulton hospital and a new midwifery practice.

On Christmas Eve, I switched again. My first appointment was as great as it could be with two kids who were flipping out. It was then that Noah informed us he had a baby turtle in his tummy. Lee heard the heartbeat for the first time. I began to feel okay about switching. The next couple of appointments were letdowns. Logically, I know the midwife had a lot going on in her personal life for one of them. The next, my records somehow had my blood type as O+ and I was quizzed on why I was refusing to rhogam shot. I started to freak out because this was never a question during my last two deliveries. We did blood work and I furiously researched for the next 48 hours until we got the results back. My labs came back showing I was O-. Somehow, my records were all sorts of screwed up. Probably because they’d been passed on to 3 different offices by now. Lovely, right?

Then the Snowpocalypse of 2014 happened. Lee was stranded in Atlanta for nearly 48 hours. When he got back to the office, he had a job offer for Jacksonville, FL. It seemed like a no-brainer! He was offered a significant raise, promotion, and all in a place where it is likely to never snow. He had been offered promotions before. They never materialized into legitimate job offers. This one was different. It was legit and they wanted him there in two weeks. They needed an answer fast.

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I was 34 weeks pregnant. It sounded insane. We talked about it. We agreed it was truly an amazing opportunity. I told him it would be career suicide with this company to turn it down. We decided to go for it. He made the call and accepted the offer. I was supposed to start looking for a place to live and arrange the move. It began horribly real and I bawled. It was an awful ugly cry that resulted in Lee offering to cancel the entire thing. I sobbed about how I wouldn’t have my doula or my circle of friends to support me. He offered to search high and low for a FL doula. With tears streaming down my cheeks, I refused saying it wouldn’t be the same and it wouldn’t be Talitha. Oh, it hurt. It hurt to have to give up so much. I had given up my dream of a home birth, doula, and birth photographer. I was leaving my people who understood me so well. I had half-baked dreams of staying up here until the baby was born. I looked into it for about an hour before realizing it wouldn’t work either. Time to switch providers for the 5th time.

When Lee first breathed the word Jacksonville, I immediately typed in “midwives in Jacksonville, FL” in Google. I was elated to see birth centers and home birth midwives among the top 5. I quickly emailed two birth centers after checking out their pages. It was a bit of a balm for a hurting heart to see two birth centers, both that offered water birth. However, I was worried I would have a hard time being a late transfer: my due date was April 15th and we were moving in on March 5th. The Birth Center of Jacksonville replied quickly and reassured me they had room and would take me. That began an email correspondence that took away all my fears about switching. I scheduled my first appointment for the March 7th!

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I walked in and felt at home. It was lovely and smelled fabulous. Cecilia sat down and went over the paperwork with me, explaining it as she did. There were toys and books for Noah to play with and they weren’t fazed by his crazy self. I met Shea and instantly knew she was the midwife I had been waiting for and dreaming of. Through the rest of my pregnancy, she remained that person. She introduced me to several people and my first official Jacksonville friend. It’s official because she said she was now my first friend in FL. 😉

After this, I felt confident that I would be okay without a doula, but I still wanted one. I felt like I would need someone before the midwives got her. We weren’t sure what we were going to do with Ella and Noah. I knew Lee may end up taking care of them, leaving me on my own unless I had a doula. I had contacted someone before moving, but after asking around, along with my own interactions with her, I decided it would not be a good fit. Cass, my official friend, told me of one of her friends named Kara who was just beginning as a doula. I called her and clicked. We met at Starbucks and I loved her. She was upbeat, positive, and I knew I would welcome her presence during labor. She was upfront and told me that she would be out-of-town at the end of April. I laughed and reminded her my due date was April 15th and my last baby had been born at 38 weeks. I didn’t see myself going past 40 weeks. Oh, sweet naive past self, bless your heart.

March 30, 2014. March 30, 2014.
April 18, 2014. April 18, 2014.

Things had fallen into place it seemed. I had a kick ass birth team assembled, I had survived a move, and I was feeling great! 38 weeks passed. So did 39 and 40. Shea and I were amazed. The baby had been engaged since around 38 weeks; her head was well below my pubic bone. She was LOA and doing great. I was having prodromal labor, which I had with Noah. His was due to him being posterior. With Violet, I practiced Optimal Fetal Positioning techniques from 24 weeks on. I was determined to not have a malpositioned baby. The start and stop contractions play a game on your mind. You get excited only to be let down. I tried to ignore them for the most part. There were a few that caught my breath and gave me a little hope, but they’d soon go away. I began to worry Kara wouldn’t be able to make it. We began talking about back-ups. One was a woman who I had met, but decided not to hire her. I asked Kara to not call her. We settled on a different doula, but she would be out-of-town for several days as well. Then there was the third choice. I met her but was very “meh”. I didn’t dislike her, but I didn’t particularly like her either. I told Lee if he felt like he needed her, he could call her. I didn’t care either way.

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41 weeks came. People got on my nerves. I blocked people’s numbers for the last week or so. I disabled my Facebook wall way back in March. I didn’t feel like talking to anyone who was going to utter the words “When are you gonna have that baby?!” or “Have you had that baby yet?”

I began to get nervous. Ella was 41w3d and was induced. Would I get induced again? Did this mean having a hospital birth after all? Sometime near the end of March, Shea had asked me if I was having a home birth or coming to the birth center. I told her I thought home birth required me to pay the entire fee out-of-pocket. She said nope! It’s included. The only difference in the birth kit would be buying a pool if I wanted a water birth. I brought it up to Lee and he was 110% on board. It solved a lot of logistical problems and we decided to go for it. We didn’t tell anyone. Partially because I was afraid of jinxing it and partially because I didn’t want to hear anything but positive, supportive comments.

Until that point, I hadn’t wanted any cervix checks. They’re a let down and I didn’t want them to mess with my head like they had during Ella and Noah’s labors. When I got one, I was relieved to be dilating and effacing. I had set myself up to be prepared to hear “no change”. Thankfully, I was wrong. At 41 weeks, I had a BPP  to check on Violet and make sure she was doing well. She passed with flying colors and the nurse scheduled my next BPP for 42 weeks on 4/30. Shea went out-of-town for a week for a conference and I was on pins and needles that Violet would decide to come when she was gone! Nope, kid stayed put and waited on Shea!

At nearly 41w5d (4/28), I got a frantic phone call from the midwife who was taking over while Shea was gone. The nurse had screwed up; I was supposed to be getting BPPs every 3 days. She told me I needed to go in today. I called Lee and burst into tears. He came home and we all went up to the hospital. Since I didn’t have an appointment, I had to be worked into triage. My BP was good, unlike two weeks ago when it had been high. Went back into an exam room and encountered my first problem: the tech.

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Went into the office on 4/29 to talk about a game plan. We decided to try to strip my membranes, which didn’t really happen due to the cervix position and the fact her head was so low! We decided to try Labor Enhancer and B&B Labor Formula. I took some that night and had contractions, but they stopped when I went to bed.

IMG_3109 4/29, right before bed. This is also the picture that made me realize I had gained more stretch marks.

Woke up that morning to a huge glob of mucus and I knew my cervix had significant change. Shea confirmed this with a quick cervix check. I took some more of the tinctures and some nasty castor oil and nothing. Shea and her apprentice, Angie, went to grab some food and encouraged me to be positive. Lee, Noah, and I went for a walk, ate some lunch, and then it was time to go get Ella from school.

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At 3:44pm I sent Shea a text that said “They are much more intense. And start very suddenly.” She replied that she was in the parking lot, to let her know when to come up because she didn’t want me to feel like a watched pot. At 3:48 I told her to come up and active labor was in full swing. Actually, it felt like it picked up and ran straight into transition.

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This is how I spent a good bit of my labor. I was listening to HypBirth tracks, which made an amazing difference. I had been listening to a mix of these tracks and Hynobabies for a few months. At first, the contractions matched up rather nicely to the labor tracks. They’d last roughly the same time as each timed segment. All I did was hit pause and play. At some point, however, they no longer aligned. I switched to the next track aka longer contractions, less time between them. It got to the point when nothing was aligning and I was angrily skipping to the part of the track that had the directions like “Relax your shoulders. Relax your bottom.” etc. At some point, Lee got home with the kids. I don’t really know when or even remember him coming in the room. I know at one point, Ella brought me a cup of blue Gatorade that I swear I drank all at once. It tasted delicious.

I remember getting up at some point and going to the bathroom to sit on the toilet. I remember telling Shea and Angie that I didn’t “give a damn about the goddamn bear!” that the Hyp birth track kept mentioning. I think I also went on to say how I didn’t care about fresh-baked bread and whatever other illustrations the track tried to have you imagine. The one mental image that helped was when you’re told to imagine a circle of women. The circle widens as a new woman comes and joins hands with the existing women. I pictured MMT, Maria, Julie,  Richee, Meredith, Zoe, Ashley, Aubrey, Shea, and many more. It helped me on such a deep level to know these women were thinking of me and holding my space, though a state away.

Our bathroom was nearly pitch black and I liked it. I liked how cool it was in there as well. I know at some point someone asked me if I wanted to get the water and I managed to say yes. They began filling the pool and I swear it felt like it took forever. I got in and it felt amazing. Ella was my fantastic little helper. She held my drink so I could have some and made sure I had cold wash cloths. I don’t know how long I was in there, but I did get out because I had to pee.  I think it was at this point in the bathroom that I had Lee take the kids to the neighbor’s. Looking back, I must have been in the bathroom for a while for Lee to get the kids to the neighbor’s and come back. I vaguely remember him saying something about “The kids are at…” and then blocking him out.

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I remember walking out from the bathroom and laying on the bed because the 7 feet or so to the pool was unbearable during contractions that felt like they were coming right on top of each other. Laying down on the bed felt better for about a minute and then the contractions hit again. I just laid there moaning. It alternated between “Ouch” and “Fuck.” It was a lovely chorus of “Ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch, ouuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuch.” and “Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.” There were “It hurts.” peppered in. I do remember those. Lee also was applying counter pressure to my lower back. One time he pressed too hard. I do remember yelling something at him and the pressure decreased immediately.

At some point, while laying on the bed, I realized I hadn’t had any contractions in a while. It was the gorgeous “rest and be thankful” stage. Let me tell you, I was really freakin’ grateful. I decided to get up and go pee again. It was at that moment, I again mentally apologized to every laboring woman I’d ever suggested sitting on the toilet to. I’m so sorry, ya’ll. I am so sorry. It hurt. It hurt a lot. And I knew she was about to come. I could feel her. I thought about Ashley and mentally reminded myself I did not want to have my baby in the toilet, despite the fact I cleaned it yesterday.

I got in that miracle water again. Oh, it was so amazing.

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I didn’t have contractions, or at least none like before, this time around. I could feel her moving down. I reached down and could feel her head. What amazed me throughout labor was how clear my mind was. I could think! Things weren’t foggy. I understood what my body was doing and I had real thoughts. With Noah, the IV meds made me feel like I was stumbling around in a thick, horror film like fog. This labor was a bright, sunny meadow with delicious breezes and flowers. Yes. There was that much of a difference.

An inner dialogue began. It went something like this:

“I could push now. {pushes a little} Damn. That hurt. I’m never pushing again. My legs are tired. I’m tired. I could push and have a baby. But I don’t want to push. I’m not pushing. I can feel her head. She’s almost here. It’s almost over. You could push and have a baby. {pushes a little} I don’t like pushing. I’m not pushing. IF YOU PUSH YOU COULD HAVE A BABY. I DON’T WANT TO PUSH! {good, long push} OMG. She is crowning.”

 It was at that point I think I uttered the only words I said in the pool until she was actually born: “She’s coming.” Suddenly, there was a flurry of activity. Shea and Angie were at the side of the pool, I heard things being opened and two flashlights appeared out of nowhere.

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To my amazement, there was no “ring of fire”. I don’t know if it was because of the water or because I pushed when I wanted to and let her descend mostly on her own before even attempting pushing. I felt her head come out and then had a brief moment of panic. I remember telling Shea or Angie to help me with her shoulders. They couldn’t really given the odd position I was in, plus it was hard to see. Shea later told me she touched her shoulder and she slid out.

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I only pushed for about 15 minutes. Violet Shalom was born at 7:10pm, April 30, 2014. She weighed a whopping 10lbs, 3oz. & was 22″ long! I was so happy she was finally here! I didn’t stay in the tub very long; I wanted to get out and get dry. The placenta came out easily. I want to say someone, possibly myself, cracked a comment about how it was so much easier without bones.

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Lee held her while I got out of the tub and into bed. Angie checked and proclaimed with a touch of awe in her voice, “NO tears!” I was a bit shocked as well! I was bleeding more than they liked, so I smelled something in a glass jar. I don’t know what it was, only that it smelled good. Lots of palpitating to feel around. Got into the bathroom to try to pee and felt like I had forgotten how to pee. It was unnerving. I couldn’t pee. It didn’t matter what I did. They asked if I was okay with getting some pitocin. I agreed and Angie administered the shot. Bleeding still wasn’t to their liking and they did some more checking. Angie spotted a piece of membrane from the placenta and went fishing. Okay, really she just clasped it with some metal thing and it slid out. Fishing sounds more interesting. I took some cytotec orally because my body had still decided blood wasn’t necessary for survival. It calmed down and I was tucked snuggly into bed. Shea brought me some food that I think I scarfed down. Angie brought me some OJ with liquid iron in it. Jenn snapped some wonderful photos of Ella and Noah meeting Violet. I’m not sure when exactly Lee when to get them or if he even went to get them? Hmm.

Our first, and so far only, picture as a family of 5. Our first, and so far only, picture as a family of 5.
Noah offering to give the baby milkies. Noah offering to give the baby milkies.
I love this so so so much. I love this so so so much.

At some point, Jenn dropped her camera and one of her lenses broke. I think this happened when Shea was weighing Violet. They weighed her at the foot of the bed and I wish I had a picture of her and Lee’s face. They were in shock.

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It was magical. Being able to crawl into my own bed, surrounded by all my things…it’s an experience I can’t fully explain. It’s been almost 2 months and it still feels like someone else’s birth story. It was healing on so many different aspects. It fixed a part of me I didn’t realize was in need of repair. I’m still in awe that I did it. I had the birth I had been fantasizing about since May 2012. The players changed, but I’ve come to believe the people who were meant to be there were.

There were moments that I was terrified prior to labor. My heart ached when two close friends had surprise complications that resulted in births vastly different from the ones they had been planning. I cried for them and selfishly hoped it wouldn’t happen to me. I yearned to hold their hands and bring them meals. I wished my circle of friends could be here to celebrate with me. I was afraid how I would manage three children when Lee went back to work the Monday after she was born. I gained another friend in FL, our fabulous neighbor who also watched Ella and Noah with zero prior warning. She offered to take and pick Ella up from the bus stop. It was a life saver.

We’ve had our good days and our bad days. Violet is a wonderful baby. She’s snuggly, great sleeper, and a great (and painless!) eater after her lip tie was taken care of. Her middle name truly fits. “According to Strong’s Concordance 7965 Shalom means completeness, wholeness, health, peace, welfare, safety soundness, tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest, harmony, the absence of agitation or discord. Shalom comes from the root verb shalom meaning to be complete, perfect and full.” (thank you Google)

Her birth was peaceful and brought me an inner peace I needed. She completes our family in a way I couldn’t have imagined.

5/1. 5/1.

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Sample of Labor Playlist:
You Know Better Than I Dallyn Vail Bayles
Homeward Bound Kristene Mueller (Thank you, Zoe!)
Here Comes The Sun The Beatles
Defying Gravity 
Glee Cast
Points of Authority/99 Problems/Encore Jay Z & Linkin Park
When You Believe Mariah Carey & Whitney Houston
Diamonds On The Inside Ben Harper
Lullaby Dixie Chicks
Isn’t She Lovely Glee Cast
Don’t Stop Believing Glee Cast
Raise Your Glass P!nk
Sharp Dressed Man ZZ Top
Little Miss Sugarland

Obviously, I have the most eclectic mix of music known to man. There was also Elvis, The Temptations, AC/DC, Bon Jovi, and many others.