Wednesday, March 26, 2008

four years ago today

Today is Iris' fourth birthday. Taking a page from Sarah's book, I thought I'd tell her birth story. (Iris', not Sarah's.) Settle in, get comfy: it begins two weeks before her birth.

March 12: Baby's original due date (according to my doc's Magic Due Date Predictor Wheel). No action.

March 15: Baby's alternate due date (according to mid-pregnancy ultrasound). Still nothing.

March 16: An ex-boyfriend's birthday. Gosh, he was such a nice guy! Haven't thought of him in ages! But yeah, I can see how this would be maybe not such an auspicious day for this baby's birthday. Showing early solidarity with her father, baby stays put.

March 17: I am relieved my baby will not be forced to share future birthdays with shamrocks, leprechauns, and green beer.

March 19: All right, baby, listen up. The first week overdue was fine. I was actually kind of grateful for the extra time. But now I'm starting to get performance anxiety. Of all things, I dread an induction, so let's get this show on the road, shall we?

March 21: The first day of spring and my friend Beth's birthday to boot. What a perfect day to have a baby! Unfortunately, the baby does not agree.

March 22: I am so tired I can barely walk to the bus stop. I remember a coworker telling me that one day at the end of her pregnancy, she felt she couldn't go another step, and sure enough, her labor started that night. I call J to tell him to get ready, I think tonight may be the night. But no.

March 23: I never thought I'd have to make this presentation at work. I was so sure I'd be cozily ensconced at home on maternity leave by now. Members of the audience regale me with folk wisdom for going into labor: "Drive over bumpy roads!" "Eat grapes!" Don't they know I've tried everything by now?

March 24: My grandmother's birthday, but clearly this baby is not interested in sharing her cupcakes with anyone.

March 25: Leaving work for my weekly doctor's appointment, I wearily inform my boss that I don't think I'll be back. How right I am. Dr. A says I am to check into the hospital at 6 P.M. for an induction to begin at midnight. Furthermore, I am 2 cm dilated, 80% effaced.

I temporarily forget my dread of Pitocin in my excitement that things are finally moving. J and I go home, pack, call friends and family, and spend the warm, sunny, spring afternoon walking to our favorite video store two neighborhoods away, renting a movie to entertain us in the hospital. The marathon walk is a last-ditch effort to get labor started on its own. It sort of works – by the time I'm examined in the hospital (we walk there, too), I'm up to 4 cm. But they don't have any birthing suites available, so the induction is put off till morning.

In the miserable little room we're stashed in to wait, I get stuck for an IV and weep bitterly at my fate. "What's the matter?" asks the nurse. "I don't want to be induced!" I sob. She looks at me quizzically: "Why not?" If she has to ask, how can I answer her?

Unable to sleep, J and I walk laps around the maternity wing all night.

March 26, 6 a.m.: Things are looking up. We move into a big, beautiful birthing suite. The day dawns overcast but warm, and I take pictures out the window of the day that will be my baby's birthday.

7:00 a.m.: The anesthesiologist pays a visit. "I hear you're going to try and go natural," he says skeptically. I nod, though as I look the reality of Pitocin in the face, I'm not as confident as I may seem.

8:30 a.m.: My doctor arrives, voicing annoyance that the hospital staff kept me overnight for nothing. She examines me and determines that I am still 4 cm dilated, now 90% effaced. Pitocin drip begins.

10:00 a.m.: 5 cm: halfway there! We're watching Moonstruck and I'm snacking on the cranberry juice, chicken broth, and tea from my liquid breakfast tray. A nurse comes in to ramp up my Pitocin every 20 minutes. She's nice and pregnant, too. I feel the contractions as a rock-hardening of my abdomen, but so far, no pain.

12 noon: Feeling some pain now, nothing I can't handle, but it's not what I expected. It feels exactly like sharp intestinal gas, whereas all the descriptions of labor pain I've heard/read refer to backaches. My back does not seem to be involved in this at all.

12:15: My doula, Laurie, arrives. I'm on my birthing ball, talking on the phone to my father in Holland. "I'm having a contraction right now!" I tell him cheerfully. The pain is getting more, well, painful, but I'm still in control. Maybe I'm having one of those beautiful, easy labors, after which I'll tell everyone, "It really wasn't that bad!" Yeah, I can totally handle this.

12:30: I'm still telling myself that, but something has shifted. I can't find a comfortable position. I feel sick. The pain is becoming overwhelming. I'm not so in control anymore.

12:45: I am desperate to find a position that eases the grinding band of pain around my stomach. As I lean forward over the counter on one side of the room each time a contraction hits, my skimpy hospital gown falls forward, exposing my naked rear end. At this point, modesty is the last thing on my mind, but Dr. A kindly ties another gown over my behind.

1:00: The counter isn't my friend anymore. I lean against the wall. It doesn't help either. Nothing helps.

1:15: I am back on the birthing ball when I realize that the nausea is going to get the better of me. "I'm sorry," I tell J. "I'm going to throw up." "It's OK, go ahead," he says, and I do. "That's worth a centimeter!" says my doctor congratulatorily. Everyone seems so unconcerned, even cheerful, about my losing my breakfast, I feel a smidgen less miserable myself.

1:30: I don't especially feel like getting into the bed, but Dr. A wants to examine me again, so I do. She determines I'm 8 cm dilated and 100% effaced. Now I'm free to get up and move about the cabin, but it's out of the question. Contractions, coming fast and hard, pin me to the bed. There's no time between them to do anything but catch my breath.

1:50: J gets in bed behind me so I can lean back against him, my human armchair. I've begun uttering a low, moaning, mooing sound.

2:20: Dr. A is sitting lightly on the window ledge, watching me moo. Serenely, she says, "If you feel like pushing, go ahead." After a few more contractions, I think I feel it, so I give it a try. I didn’t realize I had to learn how to push. For some reason, my response to each contraction is to want to elongate my body by stretching it back; Dr. A shows me how to grab my legs and crunch forward, over the contraction, to compress my uterus even more.

2:30: Agony. That is the only word for this. I want to beg for the epidural, but I know it's too late. I look at the clock on the wall and tell myself: I will push this baby out by 3:00. Then it will all be over. Another half hour: I can do it.

2:40: The fetal monitor begins showing that the baby might not be getting enough oxygen, so the nurse gives J an oxygen mask to put over my face between contractions. I don't know if this helps the baby, but it definitely helps me. Its weirdly pleasant smell is a sensory distraction from the enormity of the pain, and its presence reminds me to try to relax and breathe deeply between contractions. Then I feel the stirrings of the next contraction, meet J’s eyes, and he removes the mask so I can hold my breath and moan.

3:00: There's a flurry of excitement in the room. The baby’s head! They can see the head! They try to position a mirror so I can see, too; I'm giddy and relieved, fully expecting to see the baby crowning. But when I do catch a glimpse in the mirror, I feel crushed. That, that dark spot, way up there? The head is visible all right – way up in the birth canal. I have a long way to go.

3:15: The baby is bobbing up and down in the birth canal. Dr. A is perched on the edge of the bed now, and during every contraction, she locks eyes with me, saying, “Five seconds. You can do anything for five seconds.” I'm so tired, I fake pushing through some contractions just to get a little rest.

3:23: So that's what they mean by the ring of fire! This is it: I'm done. I'm determined. From where the sun now stands, I will push no more forever. Just as the contraction is fading, I give it an ounce more effort, and Iris Susanna slides into the world, her clenched fist pressed up against her pink, swollen face.

J is red-faced himself and weeping. I'm too wasted for that kind of emotion. Not to mention I have to brace myself for the next contraction... which doesn't come. Instead, a baby, my baby, is placed on my chest. I look into her sweet face for the first time and see, clear as day, that she has my nose.

Happy birthday, sweet little love of mine. The waiting, the Pitocin, the pushing... it was worth every second.

Monday, March 24, 2008

what's cooking

Our kitchen is!

It may still look like a construction zone to you – and believe me, it very much still is – but it has come a long way from last week, when it was a stripped shell of a room, empty save for dust, drywall, lumber, tools, and a disconnected dishwasher and stove huddled forlornly in the center of it all. We were relying on restaurant reviews, take-out, and the kindness of friends for our meals. Let me tell you, washing dishes by hand in the laundry sink in the basement wasn't pretty.

Still, even with our kitchen in its somewhat put-back-together state, our house is in no condition to host a birthday party for a flock of four-year-olds right now. So we're having Iris' at a county-owned working farm and crossing our fingers that March get its lamb on by then.

In other news, J and I stayed up much too late the other night cross-referencing between a baby name book and the Baby Name Voyager (warning: highly addictive!), searching for the perfect boy's name. Conclusion: it doesn't exist. The problem is not that we can't agree on a name, but that we can't find one that we really love. We ended up making a short list, but in truth even it is padded with names we pretty much already know we aren't going to use. The only serious contenders are defined as names I can imagine using in the grocery store in the following scenario: "[Insert name here], please don't put your hand in the lobster tank!"

Thursday, March 20, 2008

not because of Sam Walton, that's for sure

"Why is it called Wal-dorf if it doesn't have any dorves [dwarves] in it and it isn't a wall?"

Sunday, March 16, 2008

oh boy!

What with all the excitement in the kitchen – still in the worse-before-it-gets-better stage, but definitely coming along – it's been easy to forget that anything else is going on.

But wait, I've got another major project in the works, haven't I?

I mean aside from taming the atrocious bedhead in this picture. I am now 24 weeks pregnant and feeling almost as big as I did when I was about to pop with Iris. Pictures from that pregnancy reveal otherwise, but it's clear that my abdominal muscles long ago threw up their metaphorical hands at the challenge of holding this one in check. Through the miracle of ultrasound and a cooperative baby, whom I deliberately jacked up prior to the procedure with a banana and some chocolate, all three of us got to see inside that belly last week. As a result we now know with crystal clarity that not only is my placenta high and dry (hooray!), the baby attached to it is (drumroll please) a boy!

Now, if it had been another girl, that would have been great. We'd have four years' experience parenting a girl under our belts, an entire wardrobe on hand, even a name already picked out – and Iris would have the sister she's wanted since before I even got pregnant. But oh boy, a boy! This will be a whole new adventure. Thorny circumcision question aside, and despite the fact that I think choosing a boy's name is really, really hard, I'm thrilled.

Other reactions have included the following:

Iris: "I'm going to be the big sister to a little brother!" [Notable for her enthusiasm at the news. I asked the ultrasound technician to whisper it to her, so she got to be the first one to know and the one to tell mom and dad. Female-centric that she is, she'd hoped for a sister, and we were a little worried about how she'd take it if it happened to be a brother instead. But as my yoga teacher pointed out, "A brother is different from a boy."]

My mother: "I'm speechless! We don't have boys in our family!"

My father: "Now I can start looking for tiny lederhosen!"

Fellow parent from Iris' preschool: "That's perfect – now you'll have a complete set!"

Thursday, March 13, 2008

that was then, thank goodness

Posting about Iris' big-girl room inspired me to hunt up this picture of what it looked like before we redid it. You can see exactly why we used to call it the Pepto-Bismol room:

That, plus all the current action in the kitchen, inspired me to dig up some more "before" pictures of our house. It was pretty much a shambles when we bought it from the estate of a 98-year-old widow (I once wrote a little more about her here) in 2001. The last time she had any work done on the house was 1962. We have dated these renovations, including the kitchen, from scraps of newspaper we found under "new" flooring, behind cabinets, etc. At some point, the stairs clearly became too much for old Mrs. Armstrong, and she converted the first floor to her living quarters while renting rooms upstairs. That explains the sinks in two of the bedrooms and the cedar closet in the dining room, which she made her boudoir.

Here's J cutting it out with a Sawzall shortly after we moved in. Man, that closet was built like a fallout shelter. The dining room is far from done, but this corner currently is Iris' play kitchen.

(I pried out all the cedar and stashed the planks in the closet of a then-unused upstairs bedroom, thinking we would re-line another closet with it someday. Then, in a mania of nesting toward the end of my pregnancy with Iris, I came up with a higher and better use for that closet and relocated all the cedar to the basement. Last year I moved it again to a heap in the backyard, where it sits still, awaiting its next incarnation as a child's picnic table. When that happens, you'll be the first to know.)

This was our second-floor bathroom:

There actually was a ceiling in here when we bought the house, but then a friend set his baby in the third-floor bathroom sink (right above this bathroom) and... let's just say that by the time anyone noticed that sweet Alyssa had played with the faucet and accidentally turned on the water, it was too late. The plaster was utterly and completely drowned. Here's that bathroom now.

And here's the room that would become the nursery. Like every other room in the house, it was chock-full of stuff – Mrs. Armstrong's stuff – what was left of a lifetime of stuff after it had been picked over by her heirs. Our first task when we moved in was sorting through all that.

Mrs. Armstrong had another bedroom in the little room we now call the sunroom or, when we're feeling grandiose, the breakfast room. It looked like this:

That little headboard got a new coat of paint, and it's in Iris' room now... and so we've come full circle.

Actually, it's nice to be reminded of how far we've come.

I'm saving pictures of the kitchen for a dramatic before-and-after when the new kitchen is unveiled. Eventually.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

politics for preschoolers, or: Iris for Hillary!

Iris and J are in the car, listening to NPR (don't tell the Waldorf School!), which is, as usual, covering the presidential primaries.

"What's a president?"

"The person who is the leader of our country. The people in our country get to pick a new president soon."

"Who is the old president?"

"A man named George W. Bush."

"What did he do?"

"Some very bad things."

"What kind of bad things?"

"He started a war he shouldn't have."

"For no good reason?"

"No good reason at all. And a lot of people have died because of that."

"Is that why I'm always hearing about dying on the radio?"

[cue parental weeping]

* * *

"Who is going to be the new president?"

"It's going to be one of three people...." [briefly describes Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain]

"I hope that the she becomes president. It's not fair if the old president is a he and the new president is a he, too. Two he's in a row! It should be a he and then a she."

"You know what else is unfair? No one with dark skin has ever been president of our country. If Barack Obama becomes president, he will be the first president with dark skin."

Iris: unmoved. My daughter has clearly sworn her loyalty to the sisterhood above all else.

* * *

NPR on the radio again. Barack Obama's name is mentioned – some innocuous filler story about books by presidential candidates.

"They said Barack Obama!" [increasingly outraged] "Do they want Barack Obama to win?? Are they talking about Barack Obama because they're trying to get people to vote for him instead of Hillary Clinton?!?!"

If there's a media conspiracy at NPR, somehow I don't think that's it.

Monday, March 03, 2008

i don't mean to exhaust you with tales of my kitchen, but...

I'm so punny, I just can't stop myself.

So we bought this house in 2001. Good bones, total fixer-upper, God-awful kitchen. Among the many amenities, functional and aesthetic, it lacked was an exhaust hood over the stove. Evidence was that the previous owner didn't cook much, but we do, and we're not afraid of frying, either, so it didn't take long for everything in that kitchen to be covered with a fine, greasy film. Eventually, this collected dust and became a greasy, furry film. Eeeew.

I'm not sure how long we had lived here, but it was probably a year or more, at any rate an embarrassingly long amount of time, when one of us noticed a window on the outside of the house where there was none on the inside. And, my friends, guess where said window was located? Right over the stove.

You know what that means, don't you? There is already a hole in the house in the very place we need one to vent an exhaust hood!

Yesterday, J ripped out the inside wall that had covered up the window for 45 years. Seeing as how that wall was encrusted with hideous urine-yellow and black plastic tile, no loss there!

It's a beautiful window, or it was before its frame was hacked off like a bad haircut, and I will hate to see it go. But the fact is that our stove will cover most of the bottom sash, and our new exhaust hood will cover most of the top, and the window faces the house next door so it's not too great from a light or privacy point of view, anyway. We'll be able to keep some glass in the middle. And I think we'll really enjoy it most with smoke-free, grease-free, fur-free air and walls.

A front-loading clothes washer, a dishwasher, and now an exhaust hood... if, as I have long believed, adulthood is defined by the point at which you start to care deeply about major appliances, I am middle-aged.