Sunday, January 31, 2016

Our Little Fellow

Oh, this little fellow. This round, rolypoly nugget of a baby boy.

He has been all I dreamed of for years and was worth the years of waiting I went through in hopes of experiencing raising a baby for the second time. He has surpassed my expectations and made my heart grow five sizes. He has given me new confidence in my ability to be a good mother and has helped reframe my sadness over how I felt I let Maggie down as a baby, when I was such a young mom and struggling to keep my head above water. He has expanded my capacity to love. He has given me a fresh perspective on life.

In our little family we are all utterly enamored with this boy. A coo or squawk from him brings us running, as we try to parrot his baby noises back to him gleefully. Maggie is the sweetest big sister and is so tender with him. She wipes his spit up and adjusts his carseat shade in the backseat, patting his leg if he fusses and informing us when he finally falls asleep. He adores her and looks at her like she's a celebrity; he's always completely absorbed in whatever she's doing. Josh is the most amazing father, changing almost every poopy diaper and singing nonsensical songs and rocking him to sleep when nothing else will soothe him. We all make up songs for him, inserting his name nonsensically, like so: "Old McVirgil had a farm, EIEIO!" My phone memory is filled with thousands of photos of his every little expression, capturing every angle of his luscious fat rolls of babyness.

He's slept in our room from day one, at first in my arms every night and later in a crib sidecarred to our bed. I lie in bed staring at him as he sleeps, overwhelmed with how much I love him and how cute of a a baby he is. I can't imagine having him sleep in a different room -- the night he was born, I went to lay him down, all swaddled and snug, in the crib next to our bed only inches away from me... And I couldn't leave him there for even a couple minutes. I had to have him in my arms. Now, as he approaches greater mobility and will soon be rolling over and need a little more security, the idea of putting the fourth side on his crib and moving it half a foot away from the bed breaks my heart. I routinely feel sad about the day he will go off to college and leave me. At this point, it's unfathomable, the idea of being without him. He's no longer a physical part of my body as he was during pregnancy, but he's attached to me through the beautiful relationship of breastfeeding for hours daily.

We love this little man, Virgil Emerson. I can't imagine a life without him and am grateful every day for the privilege of being his mama. I'll write soon about his birth: it didn't take long as far as hours go, but it felt like forever and I thought I would die but I didn't and it hurt more and was harder than anything I've done but I'm glad I did it and would do it a thousand times again if it meant getting to meet Virgil. He's just that kind of baby, the kind that I would do anything for.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Acceptance and peace

I felt sad when we saw the evidence on the ultrasound screen that this was a baby boy. Disappointment. Anger at myself for feeling sad and disappointed and conflicted.

From the beginning, I thought this baby was a girl and more than just thinking it, I had hoped it was a girl. Carrying another son seemed too hard. It seemed too close, like it impinged on the memory of my first son. Like it somehow replaced Wendell. How could I hold on to my love and memories of Wendell when this baby now inside me was also a boy?

I felt anger at myself because, of course, this baby was a different person from Wendell. He was his own, then-unnamed individual. I knew logically, as I had told myself over and over, that each of my children are different and unique, there is no issue of someone being replaced or bumped down in status. But it didn't feel that way, in the days following the ultrasound gender reveal. It felt hard to accept, this baby being a boy.

Some of the hard feelings that have surfaced have to do with how fast this pregnancy happened. We didn't expect a baby to pop up within the first month of trying for one. As much as we longed for another baby, another try at fulfilling the longings we'd had for years to grow our family, and as thrilled as we were to know that we had been given what we hoped for, it was a shock when it happened so soon. We didn't expect to be fully recovered from Wendell's death before conceiving another child, because we knew that Wendell's death wasn't something we could "move on" from or "get past," it's simply part of our lives now - but I think we did think there would be more time in between to process difficult emotions and get them out of the way before moving into a new pregnancy.

But the timing happened as it did and as glad as we were to have another baby, there were these very hard and uncomfortable feelings - sadness, disappointment, fear, grief. When I felt these things after the ultrasound, I wanted to be angry at myself, to condemn myself for being an awful mother who couldn't accept her child as he was. But I recognized quickly that treating myself in that manner was not helpful or kind. I couldn't change what I felt. If I could have controlled my emotions, picked out exactly the set that I would have liked to have felt, I would have chosen to feel immediate joy and excitement over the news that I was carrying a son. But I couldn't control my feelings, so the next best thing was to accept them and choose kindness towards myself, allowing myself the space to feel those hard things without fighting or suppressing them.

And you know what? I don't feel those feelings anymore. The same day that we found out we'd be having a second son, we picked out a name out of the blue for that little one. Virgil Emerson became a named individual, one who had just begun to interact with me daily with little fluttery kicks and bumps. Now, 13 weeks later, he is a baby who probably weighs well over 4 pounds, whose hiccups I can feel reverberating through my hip bones, whose movements aren't felt only as sharp jabs but also slow deliberate rolls within the depths of my belly. I feel deep love for him and love for him as his own, unique self. His kicks feel different from the kicks his big brother administered last year. He feels like a different baby, because that's what he is. He hasn't superseded Wendell, he's got his own place in our family as his own person.

I'm grateful to have had that hard time of working through emotions I wished I didn't have. I know it won't be the last time on this journey with Virgil. As desired as he is, as much as he is loved and we are so excited for him to be out in the world with us, I know his arrival will also mean the arrival of sleepless nights, endless dirty diapers, and all the tough emotions that can accompany physical exhaustion. All of that is ok. All of that is normal. A joyful event can come alongside many other harder feelings. I can accept and be at peace with the joy in tandem with the struggle.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Being at peace with fear

I've come to a place of accepting fear as part of this journey. I used to judge myself harshly for feeling fear. I felt that if I was fearful, it meant I didn't have enough faith. Fear felt like a massive failure - which meant that on top of the fear, I was adding even more fear (of being a failure) plus a heaping serving of shame and inadequacy. Not a helpful pile of feelings to try to dig out of.

This past year I've learned a lot about accepting my feelings for what they are without trying to change them. That first meant accepting my grief last October. Allowing myself to feel everything that came with losing a baby. Sadness, jealousy, hopelessness, fear, anger. Then this pregnancy with Virgil has been an experience in all the emotions, some pleasant and some much less so.

Guided meditation around acceptance of where I am has been so helpful. I've found myself giving myself more space to feel. Permission to acknowledge when I'm feeling things that seem ugly and are hard to look at. Grace to see those feelings and not judge myself for having them. 

I think having acceptance of all my emotions is going to be important when Virgil makes his big debut in about two months (or maybe less!). Yes, of course when he arrives I'll feel joy and gratitude and flat-out in love with him, this baby we've loved and waited for for so long. But having a newborn is still hard! And just because this particular newborn is so long-awaited and loved doesn't mean that there won't be sleep deprivation and a host of difficult emotions that naturally come along with such a huge life transition. Letting myself know ahead of time that it's ok to feel those things, that I'm not a bad mother if I feel anger, sadness, and exhaustion, helps me feel more realistically prepared to enjoy welcoming Virgil into our family.

I do feel gratitude because - at least for this moment in time - I've been feeling less fear and more excitement about getting to meet Virgil soon. Days when the fear is overshadowed by the anticipation are days to be thankful for, and I am.

I'm at 31.5 weeks today, and in two and a half more weeks I'll be the most pregnant that I've ever been, since Maggie was born at the end of 33 weeks. Virgil's due date is in 58 days, which means in 44 days he'll be considered full-term and can come out whenever he pleases. It's wild and wonderful to realize we may have a baby at home in not much longer than a month!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

25 Weeks and Counting

My body is preparing for Virgil's arrival, getting ready to nourish him when he enters the outside world. I've already begun leaking milk for the baby who continues to grow and kick in my belly, which swells fuller by the day. I feel gratitude in this fullness but also fear. With each day that I feel Virgil's tangible presence I fall more in love with him, as my desire to meet him burgeons along with my belly. With that great love comes the great fear. What would I do if I lost my second son to death? How could I survive burying a second baby? How would I live? 

Time is drawing close to the gestational mile marker when Wendell died, a little over nine short (and long) months ago. It is hard to approach this mark. I fear that whatever silent hand took Wendell away will also steal Virgil away, secretly and without my knowledge. Yes, we have specialist doctors who are checking up on Virgil every other week and on the ultrasound machine we are able to watch his amazing flexibility as he stretches his leg out straight until his toes are practically touching his forehead. We can see his heart, all four chambers intact and working hard, pumping blood out to his body, his bones measuring what they should, his organs all intact and the size they need to be. So we have that reassurance twice a month but what if something happens in between ultrasounds? Or in spite of the fact that there is nothing obviously wrong? There were no warning signs to alert us that Wendell struggled, only his stillness to alert me that anything was not as it should be. And of course by that time it was far too late for anything to be done.

If you're the praying sort, keep us in your prayers as this time approaches. We don't know when Wendell actually died - it could have been any point between 26 and 28 weeks, so that two week period will be a tough one to walk through and it approaches quickly. This Sunday, June 28, marks 26 weeks of gestation for Virgil. It is heavy, feeling fear about my baby's survival. I hope we can breathe a little easier once the 28 mark passes and Virgil surpasses his brother Wendell in age.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A Little Baby with a Big Name

For the first nineteen weeks and six days of this pregnancy I was entirely convinced that I was carrying a little girl in my womb. This pregnancy has been very physically similar to my pregnancy with Maggie, which was the main fuel for my speculation.

However, at nineteen weeks and six days we found out that I'm carrying a baby boy. Our second son. I panicked a little - we had a baby girl name all picked out and decided firmly on! But no boy name! Figuring out a boy name had been much more tricky. After the ultrasound (which also let us know that our baby is growing well, is a very bouncy fellow, and looks perfectly healthy) we ran down the list of boy names I've been compiling (most of which we have disagreed wholeheartedly about... I may always be a little sad that I can't name a son Gilbert after the beloved Gilbert Blythe). 

After much debate, Josh and I felt like there was a name we both felt happy with: Virgil Emerson. A big name for this little boy who is growing daily. 

I had already been leaning towards literary names for this baby if it was a boy. When we began discussing the name Virgil I did some internet research and reading up on the historic epic poet of the same name. I knew a little about the epic poem that Virgil is most famous for writing, The Aeneid, which chronicles the foundation of Rome through the hero Aeneas, but hadn't read much of it.  As I read through some of the more famous quotes from that poem, I was moved to tears with how much I identified with these words, spoken by Aeneas to his fearful and disheartened men:

The poet Virgil wrote the Aeneid about great battles and hundreds of people and wars being lost and won and cities being built and destroyed - but he also wrote it about a man's heroic quest, through great tumult and many seemingly insurmountable obstacles. That resonates with me so deeply. To me it made a lot of sense to name our second son after the great poet who wrote about such a great journey. These first twenty-four weeks of being pregnant with Virgil have been a mighty quest, a journey to do all in my power to care for him and nurture him and keep him safe. He himself is an intrepid little traveler, forging ahead through uncertain times towards an outcome that is not yet clear. We are only a little over halfway done with the journey of pregnancy but there may be trials ahead even after Virgil is born. We can't know the outcome of this pregnancy. We can only move ahead in courage and hope.

My hope is that we can look back on all these years that we've waited for a baby to bring home, all the months that I've carried babies in my womb (thirteen out of the last sixteen months, at this point), all the fears and scary moments and grief, and find that it has all been worth it and was a worthwhile journey.

So we've got a small son named Virgil, on his own quest to reach the shores of life in the outside world safely. I feel already that he's a brave, strong little soul with the tenacity and courage to reach us and join our family in life.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Sewing projects, tiny kicks, and hope.

Anticipating this baby's arrival has been a beautiful thing. I've been teaching myself to sew the last few months and getting to make things for the baby to use (a changing pad cover, which the cat thinks is for her, a cozy fleece jumpsuit for chilly winter days, tiny hats to go on a tiny head) has been a wonderful way to look forward to October.

This baby has begun to make its presence known tangibly. I wondered a few times whether the sensations I felt could signal a baby rolling around in my uterus, but on Monday, May 4, I knew with certainty that the bump I felt was the baby. A thrill of excitement ran through me - hello, baby! You're in there and you're real!

Grief is not a linear journey by any means. I was amazed at how immediately healing it was to be pregnant again after losing Wendell, but looking back even to that wonderful day in early February when we found out that I'm carrying another baby, I realize that that day was four months to the day from Wendell's birth. Four months between losing my dear second baby, my first son, and learning that my third baby was growing inside me, the size of a grain of rice. Four months is not a long time, not in the lifespan of grief. And it isn't that my grief has disappeared, but it has become much more bearable. The new life inside me is not a replacement baby, but does offer a sweet balm of healing and holds the promise that my arms will be filled with a baby soon. I'm looking forward to the process of giving birth so much, not because I think it will be easy or picture perfect, but because I'm holding on to the massive hope that at the end of the hard work of labor I'll get to hold my living, breathing child in my arms and cry tears of joy over his or her safe arrival into this world. 

I couldn't say that I've "recovered" from Wendell's death, but I also never felt that his death devastated me. It was immensely painful and felt very wrong, as I knew intuitively that his proper place was with me, his mother, and that anything else was against how things should be. But I didn't feel broken from losing him, no matter how desperately I missed him.

Grief has come and gone in waves. I don't cry much anymore when I remember Wendell, but it happens at times I don't expect. We've tried a new faith community lately and the first couple times I attended I felt a sense of Wendell's presence and fought back tears the entire time. I couldn't say what brought it about, he was just very close to me at that time.

I feel that Wendell's life and death have become integrated into who I am, into my life's story. With some distance from the initial loss I can see the path that I've been on that is due to his life and I feel enormous gratitude and peace. I can see how my son has taught me so much. I'm a better person because he existed and was real. I feel a great sense of honor that I was privileged to be his mother and to hold him in my body for his entire life. He was a special little being, one that was a part of me yet separate and unique in his own way. I don't believe that it was any god's purpose for Wendell to die, that it was for a greater good, yet I do believe that his death was not in vain and that his life was not meaningless. It was sacred and precious and he touched people who never got to meet him.

That's something I hold onto. And in talking to friends, I can see how he affected lives beyond my own, leading to spiritual growth.

I was talking to a dear friend recently and realized that this pregnancy feels like it's stretched on forever because in a sense, it feels like I've been pregnant since last March. Like I've been gestating for 14 months already and have four and a half yet to go. In fact, when I added up the time, I've been pregnant for about eleven of the last fourteen months. No wonder it feels like this has been a long, long journey towards the hope of a baby in my arms. 

When I was pregnant with Wendell and eagerly awaiting his arrival, I dreamed of nighttime snuggles, the bond of breastfeeding, carrying him with me everywhere -- but those longings weren't able to be fulfilled with his birth. His birth brought an absence rather than the constant presence that I hoped for. It feels like I've been longing for my arms to be filled for over a year and makes it seem that this pregnancy has stretched much longer than the 20 weeks that have passed. The presence of a baby in my life has been long awaited for years now; we anticipated a baby's creation years before Wendell was conceived. In truth, the longing to meet a living child has been over three years in the making.

As this tiny, thirteen ounce baby bumps around inside me, beginning to make his or her presence known as it grows bigger and stronger by the day, I feel that much more excited to hold this baby in my arms and give it the mama love I've been growing for years now. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

My Body is Strong and Providing All That My Baby Needs

It's hard to grasp that I'm in the midst of - over a third of the way through! - my third pregnancy. My second pregnancy in less than a year. These last two babies sure did come back to back, to our surprise. Wendell took his sweet time in getting conceived - we waited for him to be created for well over two years - but this new baby decided to come along within two months. And we are so glad it happened that way. I can call myself the mama of three children now.

I've been amazed to be experiencing my most peaceful and calm pregnancy yet. This pregnancy is the one where I have the most reason to be fearful - with my first, Maggie arrived way ahead of schedule at 33 weeks, and of course Wendell didn't make it out safely into the world. I did have some fears early on in this pregnancy, having such a great awareness now of all that can and does go wrong in some pregnancies. After my first short doctor appointment a few weeks ago, I felt like I hit a turning point. At that appointment we got to hear the baby's heartbeat briefly, which was amazing, but something else came up that was concerning to me and the doctor did not do a good job of reassuring me. After working myself into a panic and spending a couple hours scouring the Internet for information, I came to this simple but profound epiphany: I did not want a pregnancy filled with fear and I was the one responsible for figuring out how to do that. I had to CHOOSE peace and trust over fear, had to make an active decision, because otherwise my hormones and fearful thoughts would be running rampant. 

Somehow that has made all the difference. A wonderful new friend suggested using affirmations, such as, "My body is strong and is providing all that my baby needs." Actively replacing the negative, fearful thoughts with positive, affirming ones has been huge. Do I know that these positive ideas do not always come true? Well, yes. Obviously things do not always work out as I'd like them to. Babies die and that has always been a part of the story of motherhood. But I can choose to believe that this pregnancy will be a different story for me than the story of Wendell. 

I'm choosing to live each day, one at a time, in immense gratitude and hope. Every day I touch my belly and say, "I am so grateful that my baby is growing inside me, safe and strong, and that my body is nourishing my baby." I can't predict what will happen at the end of this pregnancy, at 28 weeks or at 33 weeks or at 40 weeks. I don't know if I'll have preterm labor again or if I will lose another baby to stillbirth. I'm not guaranteed anything. But I do trust that whatever comes, I will be ok. My needs will be met. And I am thankful that today, as far as I know, my baby is growing well and I am doing fine. I can't look beyond today, I can only do what is right for today.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Miracle of Birth: Twin lambs

Mama Tastebud picked the most idyllic spot to give birth: a peaceful corner of the pasture, secluded and surrounded by pine trees. As the sun filtered down through the trees and we sat on the ground, we felt exceedingly grateful to have been present at such a sacred moment. And I've got to say, as a pregnant lady it's majorly inspiring to see the ease of animal births.

I've read that though birth is now a highly medicalized event in American culture, most modern midwives (most notably, the wonderful and deservedly famous Ina May Gaskin) believe that something like 98% of the time, women are perfectly capable of having a fully natural birth without interventions -- and I've heard almost exactly the same statistic from sheep farmers. The vast majority of sheep give birth to their lambs easily and without incident, only very occasionally needing a helping hand from the farmer. Inspiring, indeed!

Here's the birth video: it's not too bloody, but there's definitely some gooey things going on and it's no holds barred! I think it's amazing to see how easily baby number two just slipped right out. (Pardon the heavy breathing on the video -- I was excited, plus have been short of breath right from the beginning of this pregnancy!)

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Not just one, but TWO new additions to our farm

Last Friday we welcomed adorable newborn ewe lamb Tallulah to the farm. Maggie and I got to watch her birth out of our kitchen window, then rushed to get to meet her within her first minutes of life, while she was covered in gloop and being licked clean by her mama. 

It was a pretty special experience, but we had an even more exciting experience the day before Tallulah's birth: we found out that we'll have another new addition to the farm in October 2015. That's right.  I am pregnant again and all three of us are absolutely overwhelmed with excitement and joy. When I first saw the two lines on the pregnancy test I couldn't stop grinning. Maggie bounced off the walls the rest of the day, she was so thrilled. 

 I feel peace in embracing the joy of expecting this new member of our family, my third baby. Do I fear that this baby will leave us as Wendell did, that we will experience another stillbirth or miscarriage? The thought is in the back of my mind, of course, and in my experience pregnancy goes hand in hand with anxiety naturally anyway, but right now the most prominent feeling I have is peace. I know I can survive losing a baby, that my marriage can survive, that my daughter can survive. And really, not only survive, but come out stronger and wiser and more in touch with life and love and reality. 

I suppose sometime soon I need to share in this space about the process of Wendell's birth. I feel deeply that how he was born, the support I had, the thoroughly spiritual experience I had of laboring naturally with my husband at my side, the connection I had with my dear midwife Joanne, has very much informed how I feel now about Wendell's birth and death. I look back at our story and think, "I was not traumatized by this birth. I am not afraid to get pregnant and give birth again." I had a birth that I am proud of. 

There's a lot to be thankful for with this new baby, even as we continue to miss having Wendell here with us. It is a bittersweet joy because I know that if Wendell had been born healthy on his due date, we'd have a seven week old baby boy instead of a six week old new pregnancy. This new baby wouldn't exist if Wendell was alive. But that is okay, to feel those conflicting emotions. I don't feel a need to separate my emotions and am okay with whatever they need to be during this pregnancy: joy, grief, gratitude, peace, anxiety, fear, sadness, anger. Whatever emotions need to come will come and we will all get through them and be all the stronger for them.

For now, I'm basking in the joy of carrying new life... and keeping my fingers crossed that with this pregnancy I can avoid the intense morning sickness I had with Wendell. ;)

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Little Homestead

Really, this is why I love homeschooling so much -- because a "school day" means reading one of my favorite childhood books in bed on a cold and rainy morning, snuggled under the warm comforter, still in our pajamas with the cat purring at our feet.

We've begun the Little House series of books, beginning with Little House in the Big Woods. This morning we read about Pa smoking venison in a dead hollow tree, a panther chasing Grandpa through the woods, and Laura and Mary helping Ma churn butter.

I've got plenty of wonderful activities and related projects planned for us - yes, of course we will be churning butter! Homeschool isn't always fun or easy, but it's often this enjoyable and I relish these moments spent together happily learning.