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“You can make anything by writing.” ― C.S. Lewis

Posts for Friends Family Category

An 18-Month Letter to My Daughter

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[previously in this series…]

Dear Ariadne,

I told myself I wouldn’t have to write another letter to you until your second birthday. That seemed like a relief, at first—sometimes I am amazed at myself, managing to write a letter each month of your first year. I’m glad I did, it was worth the effort – already, once or twice, I have enjoyed going back and rereading, reminding myself what life with you was like at two months, at six, at nine. You have changed so quickly, the weeks and months fly by – and it’s nice to remember days when we just cuddled, or you sat still(!!) in my lap. But still – finding the time each month was difficult, making the effort to pull together words and phrases that remotely captured what it’s like to be your mom. I felt relieved to think I’d cut it down to once a year, a letter for each birthday.

And here we are – I’m writing you an 18 month, year-and-a-half letter.

I can’t help it! You, my darling Ari, are too fun and too silly and too loving and too precious not to take a few minutes to try and capture what life with you is like, right now. You’ve changed so much from 12 months, a year old – already, only 6 months later, I look at pictures of you from your first birthday, and think, she’s so little, her hair is so short compared to now, she’s changed so much, already!

I think I had feared, like most first-time moms, that moving out of that baby stage and into the toddler phase would mean losing some of the specialness of our bond. Having a baby is so soft and sweet and lovely – sure, messy as well, sleepless often, stressful, definitely – but cuddling your baby, knowing you the mama are the thing a baby needs most – it makes mamas feel so special and so unique and so needed, so necessary. The older you get, the more superfluous I will become, it seemed like – the less you will physically need me, maybe the less you might need me, period. It’s a silly worry, I know – I am thirty-nearly-thirty-one years old, and I still need my mama, all the time. But you are so precious to me, I always want to be your best friend.

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But happily – so happily – this second year has begun so wonderfully, and has been just as fulfilling, emotionally and spiritually, as your first. Friends had told me one-year-olds are a delightful mix of baby and child, and it’s so true. You have your toddler moments, sure, you’ve learned to arch your back and go limp everywhere except your kicking little feet, you whine when you don’t immediately get your way – but for the most part, you are such a happy, joyful little girl. Every day with you is so entertaining and funny and tender and sweet.

At 18 months, you are brimming with personality. You’ve learned people think you’re funny, or cute, and you like to ham it up. You give Sylvie Ann so many kisses, and then grin at the adults. See how sweet I am? You have this bashful little grin, and you duck your head into my shoulder if I’m holding you, or press yourself into my legs if you’re standing near me. Shy, sometimes – but so sweet when you are. And among friends, family – you are a firecracker. You crawl in your little shark tent at Marmee’s and hide, and shriek when you’re spotted. You chase Ziggy and Kitty and Alice Kitty and Big Kitty Boi, out of an earnest desire to love them, pet them, play with them! You’ve followed Alice and Big Kitty Boi all over Marmee’s yard, chirruping and singing to them, trying to get close enough to touch.

Friday.

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Birthing Ariadne, Part Six: Reflection

PART SIX: REFLECTION

There were so many parts of this birth story that were hard to write — and this final section has become one of the hardest. The truth is my feelings on my birth change, sometimes from day to day — depending on how I feel, my general mental health, what kind of comment someone has made lately. Every other post in this series has been 90% ready to go for weeks — but I keep coming back to this one. I keep feeling like I haven’t said enough, or I haven’t said what I meant clearly, or that there’s another message or lesson I need to explore.

Months have passed since I gave birth to Ariadne. Although I began writing her birth story the first week we came home, as I am finishing it, her first birthday is on the horizon. Before I had my own baby, I wondered why mothers waited so long to share their birth stories. Weren’t they burning to share their experiences, their joys and pain? Now, I understand. Now, I realize what a transformative, life-changing experience birth is, whether it happens perfectly as desired, or is massively derailed. It’s not so easily tossed out for the world to digest – sharing your birth story is incredibly overpowering, intensely vulnerable.

I found, the deeper I got into my birth story, the more confusion I felt. Even in the first weeks home, I was moved to tears – sobbing tears, neither wholly of pain nor of joy – when looking at pictures from our days at the birth center, when trying to put into words the huge wealth of emotions I felt that week. My birth struck me as a many-layered experience. Parts of it were painful in the extreme, both physically and emotionally. Parts of it were beautiful, spiritual, and empowering, despite the frustrations. I struggled – do struggle still – how to make peace with this juxtaposition, this dichotomy of the two very different sides to my birth that somehow inhabit the same space of my heart.

Even just writing my birth story forced me to face the parts of my birth that I found painful, disappointing – even traumatic. Writing this has been a form of therapy, certainly – but there were times I did not feel up to the task of working through the disappointment, doubt, and guilt that I felt during that week, and have felt from time to time since. The idea of sharing my birth story makes me feel intensely vulnerable. Giving birth is both the most vulnerable and empowering time of a mother’s life, and sharing our weakest and strongest moments takes a lot of guts, and a lot of strength.

I confess that I delayed writing and sharing this post, because at times, I feared people would judge me. Directly after my birth, I did not feel much doubt about the decisions I’d made. At that point – the aftermath was still very evident, from the huge bruises on my arms to my hideous feet still grotesquely swollen from the magnesium to the follow-up doctor’s appointments to make sure my blood pressure came down and stayed down, and that I remained out of danger for a stroke or seizure. It was easier to take the danger of my ill health seriously, in the first weeks after I gave birth. The scariest moments, the biggest risks and dangers had left their mark on me, physically, and they were not easy to forget, at first. For a few weeks, I continued to feel justified in every decision I had made, because the evidence of their necessity was printed on my skin.

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Birthing Ariadne, Part Five: Postpartum

[part four]

PART FIVE: POSTPARTUM

While I had been finishing up in surgery, Shaun had gone with our daughter back to the birth center. While Kristin stayed in surgery with me, Nurse K helped Shaun to do some skin-to-skin of his own with our daughter Ariadne in a quiet room. He sang to her and held her all alone for a good fifteen minutes, and I’m so grateful he got to have that time as well. Skin-to-skin promotes bonding between baby and parents, and it was important to us that both Shaun and I got to experience that.

After his alone time, he and Nurse K took her to the nursery, and my mama, Laureny, Jeannie, and Emi got to see her for the first time. Everyone was both in tears but also couldn’t stop smiling, watching Shaun bring her close to the windows so everyone could see her. He sang to her as he held her, then they got her a cap and a blanket before returning her to me in the recovery area.

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When I returned from the recovery room with Ariadne, they had moved us into a different birth suite for some reason – I’m not really sure why. I don’t know if that’s standard procedure for after C-sections when rooms are available, or what. (There had been a lot of construction in a hallway just outside my room too, drapes and drills and ladders, maybe that had something to do with it too.) For whatever reason, when they wheeled me back to a new room, the change felt nice. The other room had become a place of strain and worry, and this new room was a place of joy and ease.

One of my biggest regrets about how my birth ended up was this time back in the room. Not that it was bad – but at this point, I was exhausted and doped up on pain medicines. I wish I had been a bit more clear-headed for my daughter’s first few hours earthside, I wish I had had that rush of adrenaline that comes with a natural birth.

As it was, I was pretty out of it. Yet again, I kept passing out, often in the middle of sentences. I had my daughter on my chest, with my friends and family gathered around, glowing, beaming, looking at her – I remember Laureny’s face in particular, the sunlight from the window framed her face in a sort of halo, and she beamed at my daughter and me – and I kept ordering myself to stay awake, but was drifting in and out. Still, Laureny and Emi and Jeannie and Mama all cooed and awed over my daughter’s little pointed elf ears, her head of hair, her dark serious eyes. Even from her first few minutes and hours on earth, Ariadne was such an alert and aware baby, looking at everyone, taking them all in, seeing and learning her grandmother and her aunties, her mama and papa.

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Birthing Ariadne, Part Four: Birth

[part three]

PART FOUR: BIRTH

I still couldn’t believe those words – I believe I need a C-section – had left my mouth, and then I had to say them again, about 45 minutes later, to the doctor when she returned. In the time in between, I felt a curious sense of relief, this lightness like a huge weight had been taken off of my chest. I felt that I had made the right decision – that voice that had been shouting at me louder and louder to listen to my instincts quieted for a while.

Telling the doctor what I wanted and why was difficult, again. While she and I had our differences then, and have had differences again since, I do firmly believe she had me and my best interests at heart. I believe she was listening to my midwife when she said I really wanted a natural birth, and that’s probably honestly why she let me go as long as she did – under different circumstances, without my midwife’s warning, she might have called for a C-section earlier, but she wanted me to have the chance to birth the way I wanted, even if that wasn’t her way. Even on that day, I understand we had a sort of impasse of worlds, different outlooks and lifestyle, and I didn’t waste a lot of time trying to explain too much to her. I told her the basics of my decision, and after some discussion, she agreed we would do it.

I had thought maybe things would move very quickly at that point, but this wasn’t an emergency caesarian. They had to get the staff, wait for an open OR, to prep me – we had a bit of time, still, before the moment would finally arrive and I would have my baby in my arms.

That time in between ended up being a really beautiful, loving time, and I’m so glad we had it. Lauren arrived back from the dance studio, and just sat by my side and held my hand for a while. She told me she loved me and was proud of me. I felt safer and stronger, having her back with us, having her hold my hand and not say much, but look me in the eyes and tell me silently that she believed in me.

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All of us – Shaun, Lauren, Emi, Jeannie, Kristin and Mama – sat and just – talked. Processed. We discussed everything we had just talked about, all over again, and the more we talked, the more I felt convinced this was the right decision. I was able to calm myself, and gather my strength again – because what was about to come was almost scarier to me than giving birth vaginally might have been. I remember feeling very peaceful during this time, and very grateful for everyone there.

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Birthing Ariadne, Part Three: An Agonizing Decision

[part two]

PART THREE: AN AGONIZING DECISION

During that long night, a few things started to worsen in my condition — not terrible things, but small little warning signs. My urine output had gone down, they’d been monitoring it all night as it can be a sign of kidneys shutting down, and mine had lessened in the wee hours of the morning. I’d also developed a headache — another symptom of preeclampsia.

Around seven AM, my nurse T was off duty and she brought in a new nurse, K, to give her report on me. Listening to the long list of what was happening to me and what they were doing about felt a bit discouraging again, particularly when T looked over at me and asked, is there anything I’m forgetting? I mentioned the headache, and the nurses told me they’d get me some Tylenol to help.

Now that I had had Nurse T for a 12-hour shift, I was attached to her similar to the way I’d been attached to Kristin the day before. You never know with nurses, I’ve found they either tend to be super wonderful, or super frustrating. I’d tried really hard all night to be super positive and friendly and polite with any of the nurses who checked on me — as much as I could, out loud, even I was feeling grumpy inside. So far, I’d had excellent experiences. I was nervous to be meeting a new one — but K was absolutely fabulous, and played a huge part in my birth experience that day and the next.

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