Thursday, April 20, 2017

Ember Anne's Birth Story

Many of you have expressed an interest in reading about the birth of our newest baby. It was certainly exciting and not what we expected. But, as we did expect, and just as with our first, the delivery of our second daughter was beautiful and amazing. Details below. And, as it is a birth story, be prepared to read about things like placentas.

Ember Anne Leavitt was born at home, and was delivered by a fireman. Her first name has nothing to do with this fact, but it's a fun coincidence nonetheless.

At 2:00 a.m., while laying awake in bed and feeling some contractions, I felt a familiar little pop and knew my water had broken. I woke up my husband and directed him to finish packing our hospital bags so that we could be ready to leave at a moment's notice. I called my midwife and received the instruction to head to the hospital when contractions were five minutes apart and I had to stop and breathe through them. At 3:00 a.m. I instructed Preston to call our doula (I had not intended to hire a doula, but had a feeling like there was something missing in our preparation for this baby and the answer came to me that we needed a doula) and have her come sleep on our couch so that we could have her available whenever we needed. She arrived by 3:45 a.m. Meanwhile, Preston had gone back to sleep and I was laying in bed doing my best to rest in between contractions, which had been ten minutes apart since my water had broken. This is how we passed the next few hours of the morning--Preston sleeping peacefully while I held his hand and labored next to him, breathing through contractions and meditating for the ten minutes in between, waiting for the five minute distance my midwife had told me to watch for.

The thing is, when people talk about how intense labor is, you build up an expectation. So no matter how tough my labor got, I kept thinking it had to get harder. I had intended to labor at home for the majority of my labor, spending as little time in the hospital as possible. I'd also been primed for the marathon labors that are common with "first timers," and since my first delivery was by c-section, I considered myself a first timer and had no idea what to expect of myself. I was planning on a long day ahead. For three hours I laid in bed as much as possible, standing up only when I was really desperate, breathing through my contractions and trying to relax through the intense pressure, not recognizing how far into labor I truly was.

Finally, around 5:30 a.m. the contractions became so intense that I could not hold still or stay in bed. I decided to jump in the shower for some relief and then wake up Preston for labor support afterward. I was trying to preserve his energy for him for when I thought I would need it later.

The other thing is, hot water can speed up labor. I did not know this. I got in the shower expecting some relief and instead found myself unable to go on by myself. I got out, got dressed, and woke up my husband. I told him we needed to leave for the hospital soon and that I was going downstairs to Desirae, our doula, for support. He told me to get some breakfast if I could.

Then the party started.

I went downstairs around 6:00 a.m. Desirae began timing my contractions while she got me breakfast. I could not talk through contractions very well, gritting my teeth, and had to stop often. I couldn't eat my breakfast and began to feel nauseous. Preston had still not come downstairs, and my contractions had gone from ten minutes apart to three minutes apart thanks to that shower. I was past ready to head to the hospital.

In an emergency, I'm the kind of person that gets into business mode. I survey the scene and start giving orders to get help going. At this point in my labor, I jumped into this business mode in order to get us out the door, and discovered how highly irritating it is to have a contraction interrupt my girl boss groove. We could not seem to make any progress toward the car.

Between contractions, I instructed Desirae to go upstairs and get Preston. Believe it or not, the man had fallen back asleep.

Over the next twenty minutes, beginning at about 6:10 a.m., elapsed what seemed to be to be very inefficient running around, fueled by my inability to complete an instruction without having to stop for contractions. Preston came downstairs carrying our toddler, who had woken up. He was chatting with her and being sweet, and I stopped him mid-sweetness to get back upstairs and get our stuff STAT. I gave my toddler a kiss and then got back to laboring and girl-bossing. The contractions were so powerful by this point that I was gasping during each one, Desirae rubbing my back.

Besides powerful contractions, some other things that happened during those twenty minutes:

K-"I need to call Halle's babysitter. (Heather)"
K-"Preston, we still need to switch out the car seats."
K-"Oh my gosh, are we going to make it to the hospital?"
D-"You're doing great, everything's going to be okay."
K-"Preston, hustle like you have never hustled before!!"
P-"Kels, have you seen my wallet?"
K-"You're kidding me."
K-"Hi Heather. Halle's stuff is...hold on...upstairs to the right...hold on...find the'll figure it out!"
K-"Are we going to make it to the hospital?!!"
K-"Forget everything else, I'm going to the car.....NEVERMIND."
D-"Preston, call an ambulance, please."

Preston made the call to 911 at 6:35 a.m. and two policemen arrived at 6:38 a.m. Then four firemen. Then two EMTs. All with blue and red lights flashing bright in the early morning sky. Our poor 92 year old neighbor. By this point I had thrown myself on our couch (a detail Preston wants me to omit--he thinks no one will come sit with us again. Never fear, the firemen brought plastic! My rug was unscathed, too! High fives all around.) and whipped off what needed to be whipped off to have a baby. As the men ran inside I heard someone say, "She's crowning!" and a nice fireman named Matthew knelt at the edge of the couch to help me.

What followed was a scene very similar to that at the end of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, when Millie is having her baby on the Oregon frontier and all the women are running around the cabin in their heavy quilted skirts, bustling and hustling to grab towels and water, except instead of seven women in skirts we had eight men in uniforms, boots, and badges. They held water to my lips, stuffed towels on the floor and on the couch, let the dog out to go potty, helped hold my legs, and cheered me on. Desirae sat on my left and Preston on my right, holding my legs and talking me through the intensity as I relaxed into my body for about 5 minutes.

And then I decided things needed to move along faster, pushed really hard three times (and thought to myself, "Ah, the infamous ring of fire") and the baby was born.

The time declared was both 6:47 a.m. and 6:50 a.m. We were a little busy chatting about how unfair it is that you have to deliver a placenta after pushing out a kid to know which time exactly.

Our baby girl emerged strong, healthy, and substantial. She curled right into me, covered in kitchen towels, and the whole room looked at her in awe and reverence. As the eight kind men, the doula, and my sweet husband circled around our little couch in our corner of the world, we felt a tangible peace together, this group of people who participated in this miracle. A sense of rightness settled on the room.

Other notable things:

Between pushing, one of the fireman asked what we should do with the dog. I said, "Leave him, he's fine." So our little dog sat among the semi-circle of men, supervising the goings-on in his house.

When it was time for me to leave for the hospital, the courteous men assembled some shoes, pants, and underwear for me. One man held up the hot pink underwear I had been intending to wear to the hospital and said very concerned and respectfully, "Are you sure you want to ruin this?" I laughed and said, "It's not my usual stuff, I bought it specifically for labor. Thanks for asking!"

At some point during clean up, while I was still sitting on the couch, somewhat disheveled and covered in various towels, I told the room that despite appearances I'm actually a pretty fun, put-together person. I think everyone must have laughed at this, because their laughter is the only thing my toddler noticed from upstairs during the whole affair, where she had been reading books with our good friend who never made it out of the house with her.

I'm not sure how I'll feel if I run into any one of these men in public. Glad to be fully dressed, I guess.

I got a much wanted excuse to buy all new towels for the entire household.

So, come visit us, where you will enjoy fresh towels, a perfectly clean and sanitary couch and rug, and a beautiful new baby girl!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

From Little Children Learn

I'm no self-help writer or anything, but while traveling a couple of weeks ago, I nailed down one tricky little way to increase your faith in humanity:

Take a toddler to an airport.

On my various trips wading through airports and flying with a baby, I have been awed by the emotional encouragement strangers have invested in me and my child, ready at any moment to help as I wrestled with the demands common to traveling alone with a kid--

The kind old couple sharing our five hour flight who held six month old Halle, though she screamed with separation anxiety, so I could use the restroom.

The exotic looking woman with flame red hair, rough tan skin, and fading tattoos who stopped to say, "God bless you."

The peppy flight attendants who learn Halle's name and repeat it throughout the flight, making her smile.

The business man who simply gave me a smile as I chased her up the airplane aisle for a fifth time, her little legs taking her anywhere but her seat.

The people who have let her crawl on them and play with their stuff, chew on their bracelets or watch movies on their laptops, who have smiled and waved and played peekaboo when they really wanted to read or sleep.

Most recently, at 9:00 p.m. in a Chicago Midway airport gate waiting to board our final flight home, I found myself laughing to tears along with thirty other tired and disheveled travelers as we watched little Halle stumble around like Jack Sparrow on her new walking legs, going from stranger to stranger to show them her most prized possession: her belly button. In a moment of willing vulnerability, the crowd laughed together as we watched this carefree toddler roam, assured and proud of her belly.

These are people caught in the weariness of travel, the gray layers of an airport, and yet the kindness emerges in ways that give me the most tender of feelings for these people. Taking a toddler to an airport has not discouraged me, but shown me the power of innocence to encourage good.

...And now, on a less formal note, pictures from our visit! A dreamy afternoon at Grandma and Grandpa's house.

The girl loves to show off her belly button:

She refused to touch the grass with her hands, and every time she began to fall forward, she would throw those hands back, tighten her abs, and scrunch up her nose in concentration, determined to defy gravity.



Forget her belly button, Halle found out her finger fits perfectly in her nose...



Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Stripped: To the soul who found my grocery list

The other day as I was unloading groceries into my car, the wind picked up my grocery list and carried it into the sky in a whir of motion. I watched the white paper against the storm clouds flit at an impressive pace across the parking lot, rising toward the city buildings beyond the street. The paper rode so high I watched it sail for what seemed like a mile at least. I stood by my empty grocery cart, bewitched. (Really. The baby was chillin' in her car seat, the milk getting warm, and I'm just standing there all wind-blown, my mouth hanging open.) Who is going to find that? I thought, and then felt the sudden need to make sure I'd fully dressed.

If you are the innocent who stumbled on that list and read it, you know these things: I didn't get my sweet potatoes, black beans, granola, or eyeliner. You might wonder why some items were highlighted blue, others circled, and others with black dots next to them. The answer is that I often wonder this, too. Why did I circle the cremini mushrooms? Maybe you can tell me.

If you've read my list, you have definitely noticed that sometimes I just don't have time for vowels. You might assume I'm some healthy foodie because I buy nonfat plain yogurt and black strap molasses. But what you won't know is that I accidentally bought 10% milk fat Greek yogurt last time and I will now have to spend the next two months mixing it with the nonfat plain in an attempt to remain in my current pant size. You also won't know that the entire jar of molasses turned itself over while we slept, the stuff slithering over three shelves of food and under my fridge, where it still sits in a sticky pool, mocking me.

If you read my list and thought, "A female wrote this," you'd be right.

Once, back in my undergrad days, my boyfriend and his roommates found a shopping list on the ground inside the local grocery store, and its contents amused them so much they brought it home to display on the fridge. That list--its quirky spellings and obscure ingredients that I can no longer recall (mom brain)--popped up in conversations for months and I know we shed plump tears from laughter. Yet I remember even then feeling a little bit like I had trespassed.

If you discovered my flighty shopping list, know this: I felt naked as I watched it--two weeks worth of collection--slip away.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

It's a One Year Old!

Though she is nearly fifteen months old now, I still want to share some of the photos I took of my little Halle after she turned one, as well as some nursery details, since both are always changing. (Please forgive the many focus fails. Baby on the move!)

Halle is hilarious right now, and I'm doing my best to soak in this kid as she is in this very moment. I know phases at this stage of childhood enter and exit quickly and all could change the minute she wakes up from her nap, but right now the only thing annoying about her (ha, I can say that about my own kid, right?) is that she screams when she is frustrated (it's an art form she is exploring). Otherwise, she smiles and babbles constantly, gives kisses all day (with her mouth closed! huzzah!), says please in sign language whenever she needs something, waves "na-night" when we lay her down to sleep, plays happily by herself while I cook dinner (this was most definitely not our experience last week--phases!), and is teaching herself to walk, which she prefers to do in private while holding a T.V. remote. She brushes her hair, brushes Mama's hair, brushes Sonny Boy's tail, and I honestly get the butterflies regularly she is just so cute.

Besides comments about her big blue eyes, one of the most common phrases we hear about her is, "You've got yourself a serious baby." And we do, and we love it. She is her own authority, she has opinions, (The other day, before she would let me get her out of her crib after a nap, she pointed me around the room, directing clean up of any stray toys and books that had been missed before her nap. Serious.) and she has an inner stability that makes me proud.

She's a good one.

(Note to future, tired, fed-up self: you really did feel all the happy feels you wrote about above, Kels, you'll feel it again! Ha.)

(Note to those who think this sounds too perfect: she also pooped in the bath three times in two weeks.)



Parenthood has been good to us.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Tip Me One Way, Internets

Today while the baby napped I

cleaned up breakfast
unloaded the dishwasher
started laundry
let the dog out
did my hair and make-up
painted my toe nails
super glued a broken mirror that had been waiting for days to be fixed
and entertained the thought, "I'm going to start a small business."

I brainstormed product, marketing, creative angles, colors. From task to task around the quiet house I floated on excitement. Then the baby woke up with pink eye and I thought, "Or not the business."

I do this constantly, swaying back and forth between lighting the torch for my own ventures and blanketing myself completely in the demands of being a mother to a toddler. My dreams ignite usually within the comforts of a clean home and a healthy family (and, let's be honest, a sleeping kid). Then one of us--and soon the rest of us--gets sick or injured or sad, and I fall behind on dinner prep and I didn't walk the dog and I feel so tired and I just want to watch Gilmore Girls and suddenly I could care less about my creative business. And I usually end up thinking, "How the heck does Joanna Gaines do it?"

My husband--awesome dude that he is--gives only encouragement. The only thing he asks is that I commit to my dreams and stop with the swaying. (And, to be transparent, to decide on a dream. I have a few.) You don't want to know how many blog post drafts I have sitting around, just waiting for a loving moment of focus to dot those i's, cross those t's, and get that cherry on top. (A real cherry. Maraschino who?)

This post doesn't get a cherry. (Or an edit. This is raw, y'all.) I don't even have a conclusion. I don't have a wise crack or a lesson learned or a sweet story reminding me how it will all work out. Instead, I'm writing this free form, mid sway. So, internets, what say you?

And, since this is a blog, a photo or few:

Friday, September 4, 2015

Aphorisms By Way of a DIY

If you've heard the TED talk by Liz Gilbert on the creative genius, you'll know what I mean when I say I've been hit by the genius--more than once, if you can believe it--regarding this blog post, every time in the most inconvenient of places, as it seems to go; which means I could not capture the genius. It got away. So instead I'm left with whatever I can force out, and you are left with what follows:

My husband and I received his parents' old oak dining table and chairs upon our move to Indiana--a beautiful set that had been in storage. I appreciated the craftsmanship, but in general I have never liked the oak color and so intended to refinish the table.

I never remember to take before pictures. We know this. This is the only picture I could find.
The big project finally happened, and immediately I have to declare that it is a very, very good thing I did not try to take on this project alone. I would have ended up with a half-sanded dismantled oak table and an ulcer. As it was, my parents came to town to help us move in and I'm left with a nearly perfect refinished oak table. (And a personal declaration that I will never again take on a "DIY" this big.)

About the nearly perfect: at the project finish line, I made a major mistake that resulted in my re-learning a few vital life principles. I have thought about these principles daily since the debut of le tableau des horreurs:

Pay attention to your instincts
Break rhythm
Ask questions
Slow down
It'll all work out

#1--The first is pretty obvious. Go with your gut, listen to Jiminy Cricket, and all other cliches about conscience. It's a real thing, y'all.

#2--However, in order to succeed at #1, you must succeed at #2, and this lesson was perhaps the most acute of all: break rhythm.

I am a dancer. I always will be, even if my body can no longer do what my soul wants it to. I am a pianist. Rhythm matters to me. My rhythm is a powerful force, causing my husband to get home from work and say, "You got how much done today?!" But it can also hurt me. Recently, my husband brought to my attention the need to get out of rhythm, to step back and consider. He said this as I was about to dig in to a giant bowl of ice cream that I knew before first bite I would regret. He told me that just because the ice cream was scooped, the spoon in hand, my mouth open, I did not have to eat the ice cream. I could simply put it back in the freezer for later. This is probably obvious to all of you, but I had a major paradigm shift. I am a committed person and a finisher. I plan to eat a bowl of ice cream, I follow through to the bowl being licked clean (okay, not quite, but you know) even as the little voices in my head (you guys have those too, right?) are frantically waving (apparently they also have arms) at me to stop, stop! you will regret this! while I squash them out with the sound of my train engine plowing (like this sentence) through my commitment. Are you exhausted yet? I didn't realize I was until I began to see in my daily routine where that drive and rhythm was not actually helping me.

Rhythm is important. Sometimes it needs breaking.

#3--Slow down. In order to break rhythm, you have to slow your thought processes down enough to acknowledge those little voices and decide if they need heeding. Deliberate and realize that just because you have committed to a thought in your head does not mean it cannot be reversed before it reaches your hands (or your mouth, as in the Case of the Ice Cream).

#4--As a help-meet to slowing down, ask questions. Doubt, wonder, contradict, reconfigure, ask some more. Be a gatherer of information.

#5--It'll all work out. God often sends you little hints to help make your life easier, but these do not determine absolute outcomes. (The heavenly messages that do are a different topic.)

By now you are probably wondering what any of this has to do with a giant solid wood dining table.

I'll spare you the details of the actual table transformation since this is not a how-to post, so let's fast forward--

past the sanding

(gotta keep that hair protected...)

 and staining

to the varnishing.

The evening before my parents' departure, we stood around the table admiring it. We had three coats of varnish applied to the table and it looked beautiful. It was complete. We had been working for six days on this thing. Yet in a moment of over-protective haste, we decided to add a fourth coat that night. Both my dad and I had the gut feeling to stop! put away the ice cream! you'll regret this! But we were in rhythm, our supplies handy. We were eager--my parents flew home the next morning. My dad is quite a handy man, and I didn't question.

So that night I added fourth coat of varnish by the light of the garage and a cell phone flashlight (are you cringing? you should be), unknowingly setting myself up for hours of extra reconstructive work.

The next morning we went out to check our work before my parents left town and discovered a bubbled, streaked, tacky mess.

All of our work over the last few days had been undone in one evening. Standing there filled with regret and disappointment, I recalled each feeling of warning from the night before. We would have to sand down to the earliest layer of varnish and try again.

But wait, wasn't my dad leaving? Yep. He gave me some instructions, a vote of confidence, and flew away with my mom to the other side of the country.

I spent the next two days sanding that baby back down to the second coat of varnish, wearing away all of my fingernails in the process. The perfectly smooth surface was irretrievable and I had to touch up some areas with more stain, but eventually it was prepped once again for the real final coat of varnish.

I think I held my breath with every stroke across that table.

Finally finished, with the flaws hidden enough to the ignorant eye, I was reminded that things work out. Sometimes you just have to change your expectations. It is strange that a table refinish can be so instrumental in my character development, but I'm glad for it. 

God is forgiving.

So is oak.

Thank goodness for sand paper, mineral spirits, and dads.

PS--If I ever break my word and refinish a table this big again, I need to remember:

Use two brushes when varnishing--one for each side. The brush gets too heavy with varnish.
Tape the hardware
Wear that mask when sanding. Gross!