2018 Intentions, part 2

I left off with the word “pause” as my one-word mini-resolution for the new year. One month after the birth of our son, I think I’m ready to pick up that thread again with my reflections on how I’d like to spend 2018.

A big part of it, in fact, has to do with spending money. As in, I want to try not to.

I’ve been inspired, as I mentioned before, by an interview in The Sun and a book by Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove. He writes about downward mobility, and investing in relationships with one another, particularly the marginalized in culture and society. He suggests that Jesus’s life showed us that real happiness comes from experiencing God’s kingdom in our daily lives, where it is hidden in plain sight, when we are truly living in community with one another and sharing resources.

Downward mobility is just about the exact opposite of everything I’ve been taught growing up in the U.S. I wouldn’t say that I was raised to believe the purpose of life is to make a lot of money and have nice things. And yet that’s the implicit message in a consumption-centered culture. Thinking about God’s kingdom in terms of economics is exciting because it begins to answer this anxiety I’ve had for a long time about the tension between what I do and say in church and how I behave the rest of the week. How can I follow Christ and ignore someone who asks me for money on the roadside? What does it mean to be a Christian driving a brand new car?

Reading God’s Economy shook me up, the way the Gospel does when we are ready to hear it or see it with new eyes. (Not that his book is the bible, of course, but that it is basically telling us the same things Jesus tells us, through personal stories and from a modern perspective.) I read it with a sinking feeling in my stomach, the sense that I was at the beginning of a much larger conversation I need to have with God about material wealth and the state of my heart. My friends in more Evangelical circles would say I felt “convicted.” I saw myself for the first time in Jesus’s parable about the rich man.

I’ve been listening to the Upside Down podcast Tribe and joined an accountability group for A Year of Enough (I’m not really sure where this idea originated but it’s not terribly complicated, just a year of not spending money on extra stuff). I think this idea of enough already is what was truly calling me in the Seven challenge, and what has troubled me since my early twenties when it comes to possessions. This fine edge between perfectionism and minimalism, and the simplicity of bare faith. Being motivated by a heart that longs for freedom not from stuff, but from clutter in my heart.

Okay, but what does that actually mean?

Maybe it means I’m kind of done with resolutions, or that I think the only resolution I want to have each year is to grow closer to God. This year I want to explore doing that through simple habits of prayer, through loving my children and my husband, and showing up to help and be helped by my community– from my closest friends and neighbors all the way to perfect strangers. I get that “help” is a loaded term. People in privilege like me who want to do good can get into the habit of seeing others as “less than” simply because they “have” less. I want to challenge that assumption in myself this year. I know that there is so much I need to learn about true love and true fulfillment, from people in all parts of my community.

So maybe “pause” is more like a prayer this year than an intention. Lord, help me to pause.

And because prayer is my hands open to receive from God as she sees fit to give, let me not be too rigid and bullet-pointed about what that’s going to look like. Let me say maybe. Maybe pause will mean:

Little bits/ habits of prayer. “Be still and know that I am God.” Lord help me practice some of the super simple, tired-mom friendly devotional practices Catherine McNiel writes about in Long Days of Small Things.

Not buying things. Lord, help me pause before making a purchase and remember that you are at the center of this experiment, and the whole point of it. Spending only on consumable necessities, avoiding Amazon and Target, buying from local business people and companies with a commitment to ethical production practices.

Compassionate parenting. Lord help me remember that Lyle and I are a team, and our children are small humans who deserve our respect. Help me pause to connect first with Sky, instead of yelling or “disciplining” when she’s too upset to learn anything.

Keeping things simple. Not adding too much to the calendar. Not taking on more commitments. Not bringing more stuff into the house.

Being present. Truly listening and practicing presence with people in conversation. Not rushing around, high on the “drug of efficiency,” as Shauna Niequist writes in Present over Perfect. I have such a tendency to want to cross off my to-do list, scrub the counter instead of sit with Sky as she eats her snack, check my email or bank balance while I nurse Robin. Enough of that. Lord, let me just be with people this year.

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Sigh. This post is kind of a brain dump. There’s so much I want to write and think about here, and my mind feels like my desk looks. A mess of sticky notes with passages copied from the reading I’ve been doing while nursing Robin. Piles of paid bills to file and unpaid bills to pay alongside recipes for chocolate beet muffins and a DVD on Dunstan baby language. The material I need to cut out for toddler hand towels at Sky’s preschool. A plate smeared with peanut butter from a hasty snack while Lyle, Sky, and (somehow, miraculously) the baby were napping.

Just trying to coax some of these ideas into some kind of coherent shape.

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This is why the one-word intention is right for me, right now. It gives me a kind of shorthand for all the ideas percolating, like a flashlight through the brain fog. A way to set it all down so I can let God do the work in me.

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It’s not going to be perfect, and the desire to make it perfect is probably going to get in the way sometimes and distract me from the real purpose. But I’m tired of not doing something because I can’t do it perfectly, of feeling like I need to wait until I know what I’m talking about before I start writing it down. I want to just begin, taking baby steps, going slowly, learning and messing up and starting again, because I’m in it for the long haul.

In the name of not being perfect, then, here’s a more traditional list of goals, the old bucket list style of resolutions I’m used to. This style hasn’t gotten me far in the past. I mean, I may have crossed things off a list, but I definitely found myself about as close to fulfillment at the end of the year as I was in the beginning. Maybe I’ll think of them more as projects, and remember that if I don’t do them or they turn out differently than I expected, they’re not what’s going to bring me real satisfaction anyway.

But I’m excited about:

  • Dipping my toes into homeschooling Sky
  • A summer of fun camping trips and family hikes
  • Finding a great babysitter for both kids
  • Returning to work with grant writing in spring
  • Publishing some essays and poems
  • Planting a “rainbow garden” with Sky
  • Going on 12 dates with Lyle
  • Meals with my IF table women
  • Finding new ways to journal

Maybe I’ll draw from this list for some blog posts in the future.

Meanwhile, talk to me about all of this. Help me make some sense of these scattered thoughts if you can. Or tell me about your own resolutions/intentions/prayers for the year. It’s almost the end of February so the pressure’s off!

 

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Robin Thomas: A Birth Story

Our son Robin Thomas was born just after midnight on January 12– three days before his official “due date.” His birth was amazing: fast, scary, messy, strange, difficult, near-impossible and then suddenly possible, and then suddenly over. And then suddenly we have this beautiful baby boy!

Sky’s birth story is half-finished in my pregnancy journal, written in Lyle’s handwriting (which I love.) I remember we tried to tell each other the story, and he wrote it down while I nursed Sky. But we were also preparing to move into a new house, and somehow we never went back to finish filling in the rest. One day I’ll write her story here, too. This time, I don’t want to lose all the little details to the brain fog of these precious (but overwhelming) newborn days, so I’m writing this in installments, one-handed, while Robin sleeps in the sling on my chest.

The day before

Looking back, I can see how my body was preparing for labor beginning early in my 39th week. I just felt this intense need to stay home. I had things on the calendar like acupuncture, massage, and coffee with my pastor. Things that would ordinarily be restful and nourishing suddenly felt daunting. So I canceled as best I could, but was still planning on the coffee date. My priest walked with me through my miscarriage last year, printing out a special liturgy from the Episcopal BCP for pregnancy loss, and even officiating a little ceremony in the chapel. She is just so gentle and funny and real, and I wanted to talk to her about some big spiritual questions milling around in my heart as Robin’s birth day approached.

Instead, the day before our coffee date, I went for a long walk up Mt. Tabor. In Portland birth circles, it is often called Mt. Labor, because it’s a beautiful but hilly climb that often helps women encourage labor to start. Lyle and I walked it many times in the week leading up to Sky’s birth. I didn’t feel like I was in a hurry to have Robin, but I was feeling restless in my bones and thoughts, and it was a Wednesday, when the main roads are closed to traffic.

A light rain fell and it was wonderfully still. I walked slowly and stopped to listen to birds and watch raindrops bead on bare tree branches and green fir needles. I was wearing my poncho, so when I accidentally stepped in some slippery mud coming down a hill, my arms were tucked in along my sides and I didn’t catch myself easily. It felt like it happened in slow motion, and I remember thinking, “Don’t let me hit my belly, Lord, please.” But I think I did. I came down pretty hard on my left side, covered with mud and crying.

Fortunately, babies are resilient, and the womb is a heavily-padded, protected place. Plus, both my babies have preferred to camp out on my right side, so when I went in to the clinic for monitoring, everything looked just fine. Still, I felt bruised. For the rest of the day, I cried easily and kept dropping things. I was shaky and emotional.

Labor day

The next day, I was really sore. I texted my priest to let her know I wasn’t feeling like myself and needed to reschedule. Then I tucked myself into bed while Sky was at preschool, and just slept and read and listened to podcasts.

At around 4:00, I called my sister to talk and told her I was starting to feel some cramping, but it didn’t seem rhythmic or regular. I thought it might just be my body recovering from the fall the day before, or maybe just early pre-labor, like I had for a few days leading up to Sky’s birth.

At 5:30, we packed Sky into the stroller and headed up to the park for a “night walk” before dinner. Sky loves this. In September, when we visited Lyle’s parents in Truckee, we had taken a long walk from their house to a brewery downtown, using an unlit nature trail. In the early evening, it was dusky and beautiful, but by the time we headed back, it was pitch black. We all had flashlights, and Sky loved being cozy in blankets in her stroller, looking up at a sky full of more stars than she’s ever seen. We saw a snake in the path and a family of deer.

Our city park is well-lit, and it’s hard to see stars when the sky is socked in with rainclouds, but she still feels the same kind of excitement whenever we walk at night. We did two laps and I began noticing that the cramping was coming in waves and starting to feel more like contractions. I let Lyle know, but still felt like it couldn’t be the real thing yet, or even if it was, I thought it could be like this for hours, like it was with Sky. I started counting the duration and the time between, and was surprised to find that they were pretty regular, and starting to become a little more uncomfortable. “Hmmm…” we thought.

We went home and had dinner– a butternut squash curry over rice that Lyle had made. I still thought I’d be spending the night at home, and maaaaybe going into labor sometime the next day, so I went ahead and had a full dinner, feeling suddenly pretty hungry.

These pictures were taken around 7:30 pm, before Sky went to bed. I was having pretty regular, but manageable contractions at this point. We thought there was a good chance we’d be heading to the hospital that night. I just love these pictures. I knew my baby girl wasn’t going to be my baby for much longer, and I felt more than a little anxious about leaving her during the birth, and about how she would handle the big change of having a little brother.

After Sky went to bed, I lay down and texted our doula, Jennifer. She suggested I try taking a bath, to see if that lessened the contractions. Instead, they seemed to pick up speed and strength as soon as I got out. It was like my body had been waiting for Sky to be safely asleep before getting down to business. It started to get pretty painful, so I told Lyle to start packing the car. He ran around (only slightly panicked) while I breathed and vocalized through contractions. I timed them until I couldn’t keep focus any more. At that point Lyle called our doula and his brother, and they both got in their cars to head our way.

Jennifer arrived and came in to check on me, and said it was probably time to leave for the hospital. I really didn’t want to get in the car, and it was getting hard to change my position from lying on my side on the bed. I also threw up, which had all been signs it was time to go with Sky.

Bryce arrived a little before 10 and we left for the hospital right away. As before, oh how I hated the drive and the parking garage and the long, winding walk to Labor & Delivery. I hated arriving on the floor and seeing all the nurses behind the desk staring at me calmly, telling me coolly to “sign here” while I’m doubled over and moaning with contractions. I hated being directed to triage to be checked, even though with both kiddos I was at 7 or 8 cm by the time I arrived at the hospital– ready to just get the show on the road already. I am beyond grateful for access to good care and the support of a medical team: I’ve had two healthy, safe, low-intervention hospital births, and I know that being in the hospital has helped relieve my anxiety about something going wrong, allowing me to be fully present for labor. And yet. There’s a lot I really don’t love about hospital birth.

My doctor didn’t make it to the hospital in time to deliver Robin, so we had a room full of strangers who quickly scanned our birth plan and started trying to convince me to get hooked up to an IV or at least a port.  They also tried to overrule my request to avoid routine Pitocin postpartum unless necessary– both requests I had discussed and had approved with my doctor. I felt frustrated and scared. Jennifer helped advocate for us and we were able to delay both decisions while I focused on progressing.

Contractions became stronger and closer together, and I was having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that I was actually in labor. It had all happened so quickly, and by the time we headed to the hospital, I could only focus on getting through each contraction. Being suddenly in L & D, surrounded by strange faces, I began to feel some anxiety about the birth. I thought I had more time. My heart rate sped up and I started to lose focus, but Jennifer and Lyle brought me back to my breath and reminded me to just get through the next contraction.

At some point I threw up the rest of my dinner, and the force of that made my water break, which hadn’t happened with Sky. It was a big dramatic gush I could hear, which surprised me. Shortly after I started to feel like I wanted to push. The contractions were coming so quickly I barely had a chance to recover between each one. I wanted something to “do” with the pressure.

Then the baby’s vital signs started dipping: his oxygen levels were getting low each time I had a contraction, so they put an oxygen mask on me and told me they needed to give me fluids and would be putting in an IV port. Afraid for my baby, I became really focused and quiet. The doctor on call checked me and said I was fully dilated and could start pushing if I felt ready, and man did I feel ready. It took some time to find the right position. We tried using a rail in front with a sheet tied around it so I could pull on something, but I quickly became tired out. Finally I turned backward on the delivery table and got onto hands and knees, which is how I had labored with Sky. After that it felt like it was only a few pushes later that Robin was born.

The nurses told me to reach down and pick up my baby! “Where is he?” I kept asking. I was crying and shaking with happiness and exhaustion and I felt totally disoriented, but finally I saw their hands passing his little ruddy body up through my legs toward me. He was slippery and warm and they helped me bring him to my chest, turn around, and lean back so he could rest on my chest. He was still connected by the cord, and just blinking around at me, totally aware and breathing but just completely quiet! “Is he okay? Is he okay?” I asked. Everyone assured me he was fine. The nurses rubbed his body to warm him up after the shock of birth, and helped Lyle cut the cord. It was so incredible! I think I was just crying and saying all kinds of things, just, “Hi baby! Hi Robin! We’re so glad you’re here!” and “Oh my God, oh my God, he’s here!”

They took him over to weigh and make sure he was okay, while I gave one last push with the afterbirth. Everything was fine. After the baby was settled back in with me to nurse, the room emptied out and with the lights dim and the warmth of the baby and blankets, I relaxed. Lyle and I settled in to admire our new baby. A nurse came to ask if I wanted any snacks, and I had about eight teeny tiny boxes of cranberry juice, which tasted like the best thing in the world, and a generic granola bar which tasted equally amazing.

Robin nursed and we talked about the birth for a bit, which helped me process it and arrive in the present moment a little more. My head was just reeling with so much change, and I felt electric with adrenaline and all the feel-good post-birth emotions. I don’t think I slept much the rest of the night, which was how it was with Sky, too. I was just so excited and happy.

Sky visited the next day with her uncle, and met her baby brother. The following morning we headed home, where I promptly got into bed with the baby and did my best to stay there as much as possible for the next two weeks. We had help from Lyle’s parents, so I was able to get some real rest and focus on nursing Robin.

 

I’m so thankful Robin arrived safely and swiftly, that he is healthy and thriving at home with us. I am all too keenly aware that it all could have been otherwise. Just getting through pregnancy felt like a marathon, a constant exercise in being present and managing my anxiety about miscarrying, even when we were well past the mark of probability. Both my babies are “rainbow babies,” born after a previous loss, and maybe the challenge of that is not letting my worry overwhelm my love and enjoyment. I just feel so lucky to have two healthy children… sometimes I look at them with their daddy and wonder how we all got here. I love my little family so much.

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Third Trimester and First Few Weeks

32 Weeks

I left off at 27 weeks, and it took us a while to catch up with our not-so-weekly pictures. Lyle caught the flu virus, Sky had a cold, and at 32 weeks I came down with the flu, too. It really slammed me.

35 Weeks

By 35 weeks I was finally starting to feel better, but I’d definitely lost some weight and strength after three full weeks of exhaustion and illness.

38 Weeks

This ended up being our last bump pic! We took this on New Year’s Eve, shortly after returning from church. The next day, we went for a walk at the Rhododendron Garden and I started having some deep pelvic pain that reminded me of the day before Sky was born. I remember being barely able to walk a short distance up Hawthorne with Lyle to get coffee, and having to stop and lean on fences and walls to breathe through the pain. I had zero appetite and just wanted to sit at the coffee shop while Lyle had coffee. So this time, it made us wonder if baby would be coming a bit early. Still, it was a gorgeous day, sunny and cold, and we took our time meandering along the paths and pausing every so often so I could breathe through the pain. I’m pretty sure it was cervical ripening and my body was just getting ready.

39 Weeks, 3 Days…

Our son Robin was born two weeks later, on January 12. It happened really fast (birth story to come) and we were SO happy to finally meet our boy!

40 Weeks

Here we are on his due date, Jan 15, going for our first (super short) stroll around the block. Thankfully he likes being in the wrap! I’ve mostly been resting, trying to stay in bed and slowly building up the distance I walk each day. We’ve been really lucky to have Lyle’s parents in town for two whole weeks to help while I heal and we adjust to being a family of 4!

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