Category Archives: Life

Expecting Newborns, Winter

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The weather is changing here in Minnesota, no – it’s punching, it’s swinging. On Sunday evening I read the forecast: an estimated six to eight inches of snow would fall by Monday evening. Just like that, fall to winter.

I’m not ready, I thought. For the cold, for the darkness at 4:30 PM, for freezing hands on freezing car steering wheels.

My unborn baby boy is due in seven days. I feel like a ticking time bomb, knowing I will give birth anytime. It could be tonight. It could be after Thanksgiving.

But I’m not ready, I keep thinking to myself. I have awesome pregnancies. I don’t have awesome labors. But even once that part is over, once he is here, I will have two kids to manage in wintertime. Minnesota wintertime. Two little bodies to bundle into snowsuits and strap into car seats and drive through blizzards.

I couldn’t sleep on Sunday night. That anticipation, the cusp of major change kept my eyes open as I stared at shadows in our dark bedroom. My mind was awake, running ragged. Please sleep, I told myself. Instead, I kept thinking: will I be able to handle it? Will I be okay? The sleep deprivation, the nursing and diaper-changing whilst my toddler jumps on and off the couch, the putting on and taking off so many pairs of tiny mittens?

My mind scanned the mental to-do list. We still haven’t decided on a name; we still need to put away the air-conditioner that is sitting in our living room; we still need to pack a bag for the birth center. I need to write thank you notes from my baby shower. We have to sell our car.

I got out of bed and pulled out bags of last year’s scarves and hats to sort. I traded sandals for heavy winter boots on the closet shoe-rack. I pulled out my winter coat and put my hands in the pockets, uncovering remnants of life from six months prior: a granola bar wrapper, the set of dice I used for math games in my job as a tutor, a cheap pair of stretchy gloves. I tried to remember what I was doing in April when the last snows were here. Before the glory days of spring, summer and fall, back when I was putting my hands in coat pockets. I know winter had dragged on and on; that I was thankful when the snow began to melt and I put this coat in storage.

Anticipating a second newborn feels like that seasonal cycle; it feels like going back to winter you barely remember. I know it was hard the first time, really hard, especially those first 18 months. I know there were days when I felt like I was drowning in the needs of my needy infant, unable to detangle myself from my role as mother long enough to take a shower. But then it got easier. My daughter started sleeping at night, we had only one nap a day to worry about, and life got into a rhythm. I felt more confident. I started going to writing classes. I worked part-time.

Those were the spring, summer and fall days of life with my daughter, my one and only darling child. We were chums, just the two of us. We had easy days out on the playground or meeting friends or visiting the children’s museum. I had some flexibility in my schedule to pursue other interests.

But now it’s approaching wintertime of parenting again: time to pull out the baby clothes, install the infant car seat, and dig out the bibs and bottles.

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I actually like winter. I was born and raised here in Minnesota; I know how to layer long underwear and what brands of winter boots to buy. Some of the most magical moments of my life have been spent cross-country skiing through evergreen forests, their heavy limbs bending with snow. My sisters and I could tell you painful stories of our family’s epic winter trips to the North Woods: long treks on wooden skis in below-zero wind-chill and having our parents wipe our bottoms with snow balls after we pooped behind trees (true story). But we could also tell you about the muffled quiet of the cold and the brilliance of the blue sky and the steam from the sauna. I have so many good memories, so much love for this season. I’m a northern girl at heart.

But last winter nearly broke me. Last winter was a long string of subzero days, going on and on like pearls on a rope-length necklace. Just when you thought it would be warm enough to pull your toddler in the sled, 30 below zero winds would force you inside for another cabin feverish afternoon. The cold kept coming, the winds numbing our faces so our cheek muscles couldn’t flex enough to smile.

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I like babies. I remember hazy fragments from my daughter’s newborn days: the way she stretched her arms and arched her back in a milk-drunk stupor, the way she lumped on my chest like a warm potato. We have so few pictures of her from that stage; we were naïve to think they would stretch on and on and on. That we would always remember how she smelled or how she cooed. We were too fogged in by sleeplessness, too overwhelmed by new parenthood.

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My family of three took a walk around Como Lake on Saturday, before the snowfall. It was only 4:30 PM, but the sun was already dipping low and the Narnia-esqe street lamps were glowing. We wrapped up our toddler in a scarf, stuffed her hands in mittens.

“Look back,” my husband said. “Look at the sky.”

I turned. The sky was lit, alive, all oranges-pinks-reds with streaks of dark blue. It was moving, it was different each moment; it cast a pink-red sheen on the lapping lake water.

We kept walking, the sunset behind us, but we sped up to reach the curve that would place us in front of the colors all over again. We paused to marvel, and then started talking about baby names, about how we don’t have one that we can agree on, about how this name honors that side of the family but that name has a significant meaning.

And then I remembered to look up at the sky and it was gone. A few faint edgings of pink-purple laced the darkness, but the moving cosmic colors were gone.

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When we started talking about when her baby brother would be born, I told my two-year-old: “When the snow flies.” On Monday we woke to a steady slow snowfall, the ground already layered in white. She raced to the window. Ready or not, it was here.

“Mama, it snowed! Let’s go outside!” she said. After sending her downstairs to where my husband was already making breakfast, I flopped back on the pregnancy body pillow, a thin white snake that supports my oversize belly. Of all the things about parenting, waking up to a chatty toddler ranks among my least favorite.

Later, after I had my cup of coffee and some oatmeal with chopped bananas, she asked me: “Mama, is my baby brother going to pop out now?”

I smiled to myself. Pop out, if only. I walked over to the window and looked at the transformed apartment courtyard, the way everything seemed closer together between stretches of white snow. It’s finally here, I thought. The acidity in my stomach was gone.

It was 20 degrees and we had errands to run. We got on our boots and our coats and our hats and our mittens. I grabbed my green winter jacket, the one with poufy ribs reminiscent of Michelin man. I tugged on the zipper, thankful that I could get it up and over my 9-months-pregnant belly.

I held my daughter’s hand as we walked across the parking lot and got into our car. I scraped the windshield. We drove through the icy streets, following long lines of snowplows and trucks. Despite the memory of last winter’s sub-zero weeks and lingering snowstorms, I found myself marveling the slow-moving snowflakes drifting by. How beautiful, I thought. And, somehow, I remembered how to steer in the snow.

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When You’re Having One of Those Days

Note: I’ll be back with more of the God is a Laboring Mother series soon, but I thought I write a quick post today about battling the blues. After all, it’s day five of rainy weather here in Minnesota and SNOW FLURRIES are predicted for this weekend. Take a deep breath, make some tea, and share your bad-day-survival tips in the comments.

Rainy Day

They happen a couple times each month, those dogged depress-o days where I can’t get outside my head. Often it’s tied to not getting enough sleep, of not meeting my own high standards, of comparing myself to other people who “have it together” in ways I can never seem to match. Sometimes I’m having an especially difficult parenting day – child won’t nap, child gets up at 5 AM, child is pushing ALL MY BUTTONS.

Do you have those days, too?

Maybe it’s the weather change, maybe it’s the impending due-date of baby #2, but I’ve been having more than my fair-share of these days lately. And, when I’m home with a 2 ½ year old, I can’t simply soak in the tub and light candles and binge watch some mindless TV show on Netflix. For my daughter’s sake, I know I need to pull it together.

So, how do you snap out of it? I’ve been working on my action plan for downward spirals and I thought I’d share some things that are working for me. Also, I want to hear your suggestions… God knows I need them.

  1. Go outside. Is it raining? 20 below zero? Blustery winds? Even if it’s just a walk to the car, getting out in the elements helps. The fresh air, the wild-waving trees, the sight of other people walking around reminds me there is a big ol’ world out there beyond my molehill-turned-mountain problems. If you can go for a walk or a run, even better.
  1. Take a shower. I realize this is hard when you have multiple kids or a newborn, but if you can find a way to shower DO IT. Feel the water streaming on your face, give thanks for indoor plumbing, do a few deep sighs.
  1. Call a friend. It’s hard to admit when I’m struggling, but I have a few go-to people who I know will listen and not judge me when I’m moping and ridiculous. Some of my best friends are the world’s greatest encouragers. So call a friend, and bonus points if you can schedule a time to meet-up with them in person.
  1. Turn off the melancholic music. Turn on the top 40 station. I have a long-standing love affair with sad music. Give me some Patty Griffin and I’m lying on the couch feeling deliciously forlorn. But add a toddler who is jumping on your head and, no, this is not working. It’s time to turn off the Bon Iver and find something more upbeat. Nostalgic music from your teenage years (for me it’s 90s grunge music or ska, remember ska?) also works, or Motown.
  1. Wash the dishes. I know, I know. You can’t get off the couch, why am I telling you to do chores? All I know is that, if I can just turn on the happy music (see #4) and tackle one thing (dishes, put away laundry, make the bed), I feel better. If you are lucky enough to have a toddler in your house, washing dishes is a great activity to do together.
  1. When you start wasting time online, have a plan. I really struggle with the internet time-suck, especially after my daughter is in bed for the night. The worst part about it is that it often compounds my negative feelings. I have some writer friends who use Freedom to help them block time-wasting websites (hello Facebook) for a set amount of time so they can focus on being productive. One thing I’m going to try is making a list called “THINGS I’D RATHER BE DOING” and tape it to my laptop. Things like: writing, reading a book, going to bed early. What things have you tried? I’d love your advice.

I should also mention here that depression is a real thing so if you are having more down days than not, it’s time to get help. Even if you’re not ready for counseling, try telling one trusted friend how it’s really going. Just make one step at a time. Life is too short to be ruled by this disease.

What am I missing? What do you do when you’re having a hard day?

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Image via Flickr’s Creative Commons can be found here.

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Filed under Life, Motherhood