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I think my kid is trying to break me.

January 13, 2014

I knew it was a Code Yellow as soon as I unzipped Asher’s pajamas. The onesie underneath was soaked in pee, the diaper below an immense bulge. Peeling back the wet onesie, I saw the urine-saturated globbies emanating from the burst diaper, filling his belly button and cascading down his sides. (I’m declaring “globbies” a word. As a tech writer, I’m licensed to do that.) Globbies are the absorbent material inside diapers, and they behave quite nicely when they remain there. But once escaped, they have the troubling tendency to stick only to the things you don’t want them to—skin, clothing, bedding, flooring….and not to the things you want them to (i.e., whatever you are using to wipe them up). Plus, they smell like super-concentrated urine. So, even before he had consumed the warm milk sitting on his nightstand, Asher earned his first bath of the day.

Things were looking up until the solids part of the breakfast. (Does anyone else take issue with calling baby food “solids?” There’s something unsavory about that term.) Sitting in his high chair, Asher unmistakably made The Poo Face. Redness, breathlessness, tensed muscles, and raised eyebrows.  I routinely hauled him back to the changing table, where I relearned an old lesson: Never let your kid poop in a sitting position. All of the poop had gone up his back, and much of it had exited the diaper. I resigned myself to another bath for my boy, and rolled the poopy portion of onesie up inside itself. I shifted the boy onto his side so I could wipe his back, and that’s when he made his move. The potted plant next to his changing table (long dead, I must admit) had tantalized him all his life. He had peed on it many times (not enough times to keep it watered, poor thing) and reached for it many more. With me preoccupied, he grabbed the lip of the pot and swiftly tugged it off the shelf. I saw before I could react, and was sure it would smash. It amazed me by remaining intact, but my relief was brief as the pot rolled all the way across the room, spewing dirt from both ends the whole way. I froze in horror. Asher gazed up at me as if to say, “Did really do that?”

“Yes, Asher, you did a bad thing,” I said. “That was very, very naughty!” Thus reanimated, I slid Asher to the floor and began undressing him. It was a trick to slide several layers over his head at once, and he became stuck. Still fixated on the sheer volume of dirt on the floor, I shook the clothes to get them off. Little bits of poop peppered my feet and the floor surrounding them. Bad, bad idea, Shayla, I thought. This whole day was a bad idea.

Can you spot the poop?

Can you spot the poop?

Once Asher was naked and my feet were passably de-fecalized, I plopped him in the empty tub. He wasted no time in peeing on my shampoo bottle and subsequently falling flat on his head. I rinsed the tub, comforted the boy, placed the safety mat, and ran the water. And broke one of my cardinal rules. I’m normally quite strict about remaining in the room with Asher while he’s in the bath, but desperate times call for desperate measures. I trusted him not to drown. How much trouble could he get into with me in the next room, just 10 feet away?

I’m not really sure how that pot held that much dirt. Perhaps it was made in the same place as Mary Poppins’s purse. But it required a lot of sweeping, and it wasn’t until I had dragged the broom through poo crumbs that I realized I had overlooked some fecal matter. I would have to mop too.

When Asher’s room was cleared of debris, I returned to sanitize him. Gobs of toilet paper and hair floated in the tub, extracted from the adjacent garbage. I was beyond caring at that point, and scooped the more sizable floaties back into the trash. I managed to wash, rinse, and dry him without further incident, and thanked the powers that be for naptime.

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I was sure the day would be redeemed by a date that night with Ragnar. Technically it was a “family date,” as Asher was (and always is) included. But I was excited just to get out and have an excuse to look pretty, to see something outside my familiar circuit of home-church-grocery store. Ragnar had a class downtown for his master’s program that got out at six o’clock, and I was to meet him nearby for dinner at a restaurant of my choosing. Naturally, I picked a sushi restaurant. I gave no more thought to my choice than to select food that I liked at a (comparatively) reasonable price at a location within walking distance from Ragnar’s campus. (And they had a gluten-free menu for Ragnar.) There was no fault to this line of thinking, except that it left out all consideration for Asher.

My first clue should have been that I had to park three (city!) blocks from the restaurant. That may not seem like a lot, but try carrying 25 wiggly pounds through a dark and unfamiliar urban area. I was relieved when I turned the corner to see Ragnar standing in front of Blue Sushi, waiting for us. My relief turned to disappointment as soon as we opened the door. Dozens of edgy 20- and 30-somethings crowded around tiny tables in the dim blue light. A cacophony of voices assaulted us, and I immediately knew that Ragnar and I would not be sharing leisurely conversation. I didn’t have to look around to know that there were no children in this restaurant. We were, at least, seated in a booth. I didn’t even bother to ask for a highchair. In the unlikely event that the restaurant had one, there would be nowhere to fit it between our table and the folks sitting 18 inches away.

Ragnar and I sandwiched Asher between us and speed ordered. Asher was entranced. I read the menu and very loudly exclaimed, “That’s terrible!”

Kids these days are SO cruel!

Kids these days are SO cruel!

Thankfully the restaurant was loud enough that no one was perturbed.

Our food came quickly, and Asher was eager to help us eat it. Ragnar is a man of many talents, and he somehow (with little help from me), managed to assemble and eat several lettuce wraps while simultaneously restraining and feeding Asher small bits of chicken. I inhaled my portion as quickly as possible and scarcely paused to consider how excellent it all was. I knew it would be my turn soon.

And so we bounced Asher back and forth between us in the booth, trying to keep him from grabbing any of the assortment of tiny plates and bowls that are somehow required for consuming Japanese food. I’m no good at juggling Asher while eating, and so the task mostly fell to Ragnar. At one point a man in a suit (I assume the manager) approached us and said, “Want me to hold onto the little guy for awhile while you enjoy your meal?”

I recognized it for the joke that it was and politely declined. But I wondered aloud to Ragnar, “What if we said yes?”

Eventually Asher became restless to the point of yelling, and I was again thankful for the high-decibel atmosphere. We tried feeding him bits of food on a plate, but he was immediately more interested in flipping the plate. A highchair, a highchair, my kingdom for a highchair I thought morosely.

Ragnar and I rigged up a system for feeding Asher Cheerios, which consisted of each of us sacrificing one hand to hold down a Cheerio-laden napkin, while simultaneously eating sushi with the other hand. That got him through until the check arrived.

Mourning my lost youth, I left the blue-lit restaurant for the orange glow of the city pavement outside. Surely I was younger than many of the diners behind me, but it was time to start considering a new criterion for my future restaurant selections: a family-friendly atmosphere. Suddenly it didn’t matter if I looked like a smokin’ 26-year-old. I needed roomy accommodations and a kids’ menu and a nice activity sheet with crayons. I felt old.

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Because Ragnar had another round of college classes today, it fell to me to take Asher to church alone. I don’t understand why the meetings are so much more packed on Ward Conference Sunday, but I was pleased to find a seat in the pews, where I could theoretically contain Asher between the rows. Little did I know, I would later regret not sitting in the very, very back.

Asher was wild from the outset. It started with simply dropping everything in impossible-to-reach places that required my neighbors in all directions to stop, drop, and fetch. “Thank you!….Thank you!…Thank you!” I began to feel like a broken record. Soon it became a wrestling match to keep him in my lap, but as soon as I set him down he insisted on wandering out into the aisle. I compromised by holding his hand so he couldn’t stray far, but then felt guilty for causing such a distraction. I yanked him back and tried to occupy him with toys. He protested. The more conspicuous he made us, the more I slumped in my seat. Surely everyone must be watching us! I had never understood why mothers seemed so mortified at their children’s behavior in church. I had always been on the other end of it, and I had always been very understanding. But now I knew. All these people had come to hear the bishop and the stake president speak, and from what I heard of the talks, they were excellent. But my son was detracting from everyone else’s experience.

When Asher again dropped his pacifier, my rear neighbor returned it immediately and I muttered the perfunctory “Thank you.” I then recognized the woman sitting behind me—a member of the Stake Relief Society Presidency whose husband was currently on campus with my husband. I was relieved that someone in the congregation could commiserate with me, and a little mortified at not recognizing her before. I turned and muttered an awkward, “Hi!” before slumping back in my pew. It wasn’t the first time that the distractions of motherhood made me feel like a jerk.

I soon landed upon the ultimate Asher containment device: food. The little baggie of Cheerios from the night before came in handy, and I was starting to relax when, well, I relaxed a little too much. My hand slipped, and out spilled half the bag of Cheerios INTO THE AISLE. I was mortified, but half-a-dozen helpful hands soon dropped to the floor and helped me collect the hordes of honey-coated escapees. I tried to politely excuse them all, “Oh it’s okay, I can get them after!” I said unthinkingly. It seemed the polite thing to say. But of course there would be a stampede of people “after,” and so that was impossible. “Thank you!….Thank you!…Thank you!” I repeated. My ego was gone.

When at last we could find no more of the little devils, I sat upright and glanced back at my son. To my horror, he had emptied the other half of the bag onto the floor, and was wasting no time in double-fisting handfuls of Cheerios into his mouth. It was too much. Hot tears of humiliation sprang to my eyes before I could even think what to do.  I soon realized I must intercept those handfuls before he choked himself, and of course I was rewarded with an indignant cry. Again I was humbled when the little girl next to me—with absolutely no bidding—began collecting handfuls of spilled Cheerios and returning them to the bag.  “Thank you!….Thank you!…Thank you!” I tried to make myself useful while concealing my streaming eyes, but she picked up most of the Cheerios.

When the meeting finally ended, the woman behind me reassured me that she too felt alone and overburdened with her husband in school and working. She said just what I needed to hear, and I was so glad to hear her say, “Call me if you ever need to vent.”

Several people approached and told me just how cute Asher looked, and I replied, “It’s a good thing!” But really I was thinking, Looks can be deceiving. Nonetheless, I felt buoyed enough to attempt another hour of church. I sat by some very Asher-friendly friends, but it was no use. Despite the allure of string cheese, Asher ran from the front of the room (I held my breath when he approached the piano) to the back, and screeched every time I intercepted him. I wondered just how much he was detracting from the lesson by the Stake Presidency. But before long Asher relieved me of wondering by smacking his forehead into a table, and I dashed out of the room with him. I waited in the hall until class was over, supervising his play with a doorstop (fine by me) and an easel (not okay).

I gave up. Threw in the towel. It was a shame to miss Relief Society, particularly because it is my favorite meeting. But I just couldn’t do it anymore. In the amount of time it took me to return my unused scriptures to the library, I was gone.

Basically, I felt like this:
Image 2

Yeah, at least he’s cute.

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The Curse, Revisited

January 12, 2014

The Medieval Fair at Lincoln Elementary was the ultimate event of a child’s seven years at that institution. Every year, the sixth-graders would each research a different medieval occupation, dress the part, and set up their own booth in the school gym. There were jousters, minstrels, bakers, candle makers, blacksmiths, and many others. All the gradeschoolers would visit the fair, and at the end of the day bring their families. You could go and try the maypole or the rack, get lost in the maze, and get a painted coat of arms. From kindergarten on up, all the children looked forward to the year that they would get to host the Medieval Fair.

I was no exception. When my turn came, I chose to be an artist and proudly took my seat at one of the on-stage booths. But we were less than an hour in, when I felt the all-too-familiar churning of my innards. In full costume, I ducked under the table, ran out of my booth, off the stage, across the gym, and barely made it to the girls’ bathroom in time to barf. That is how I spent the rest of my day, at home, while the Medieval Fair carried on without me.

That was, in fact, how I spent many of the most eagerly-anticipated events of my childhood. I had a propensity for drumming up a severe stomach bug just when something really exciting was about to happen. Once, when I desperately wanted to attend a family reunion, I spent the entire day vomiting. The next day I was barely strong enough to walk, but I begged my mom to let me go. Such was my childhood. I outgrew that unfortunate tendency…or so I thought.

December 2013, you have proven me wrong.

It all started on a Tuesday. Two days after we returned home from The North Country after Thanksgiving, I noticed a strange rash on Asher’s arms and legs. It didn’t seem to bother him, so I didn’t worry. Soon thereafter he developed a nasty case of diaper rash, such that I had no other choice but to let him spend a good deal of time each day running around his bedroom naked to air out his little bottom. His room is the only finished room in the house with a door and without carpet, but he didn’t seem to mind the confinement as long as I was with him. He quickly decided that this was the ideal time for both numbers 1 and 2, and frequently he did both. I groaned a little every time, but kept a stash of paper towels and cleaning rags handy.

On Thursday I noted that Asher had a couple of strange blister-like sores, one on a hand and one on a foot. All day I mulled over his strange consortium of ailments, but none of my Google searches seemed to match up. On Friday I sent my sister an off-handed text describing the symptoms, and her immediate response was, “Hand Foot and Mouth?”

In 30 seconds I had confirmed it. The pictures, the description of the onset of symptoms—I had little doubt that Asher had Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease. Just to be sure, I took him to the pediatrician’s office that very morning. I knew that there was no treatment, but I wanted a confirmed diagnosis. That night was my friend’s long-awaited Christmas party, and I wouldn’t miss it for anything less.

“Yes, it definitely appears to be Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease,” said the cheerful PA. “But he shouldn’t be contagious once the blisters have healed. I’d give it a few more days, but he’ll most likely be better within a week.” I worried a little that I had been so thoroughly exposed alread. HFM is highly contagious via coughing/sneezing, fecal-oral transmission (I readily remembered the many Asher-paddies I had wiped off the hardwood), and even through the blisters, if one should pop. And considering that the incubation period could be as long as a week, it would be quite awhile before I could stop worrying. But everything I read and everything the PA told me reassured me that my odds of contracting HFM as an adult were very low.

It was a blow, but I was grateful that I would at least be better by the next weekend. I had a full roster, and I couldn’t bear to miss all of that. I hadn’t had a kid-free date night since Asher was born. In fact, I hadn’t had a single date without Asher in the past year, besides one temple trip when Asher was just a few months old. That next weekend I would have TWO date nights with Ragnar. The baby-sitters were all lined up. Ragnar had been given two suite-level tickets to a thursday-night Broncos game, and we were going to his company Christmas party on Saturday. It’s a little silly to admit, but for a stay-at-home mom of one baby, an adults-only, “cocktail attire, please” event made me feel like Cinderella going to the ball. I’d never been to a cocktail attire event. I wasn’t even really sure what “cocktail attire” meant. But I’d been scheming about what to wear for months, and I was soooo excited. I was also looking forward to meeting Ragnar’s coworkers that he’d been talking about for years, whom I frequently mixed up. The first year we lived in Denver Ragnar had been callously overlooked for an invitation (he always worked out of town and they forgot about him); last year I had been a jillion months pregnant with Asher so we both sat it out. Finally we would be able to go!

Of course, the truly BIG event was Asher’s first birthday party. He would be turning one year old on Saturday, and that afternoon I planned to have friends over for a party. Nothing elaborate—just some cake and ice cream and gifts from Ragnar and myself. Perhaps a few balloons and streamers. But I had planned to have a party that day pretty much since Asher was born, and I was looking forward to getting together with friends that I’d hardly seen in months. As a bonus, both of Ragnar’s brothers were going to be in town from out-of-state, along with a sister-in-law, a nephew just a few weeks older than Asher, and my brother-in-law’s fiancee.

I counted the days and the blisters. The blisters waxed and waned along with the rash, and the days dwindled to just a few until The Big Weekend. It was tedious to quarantine Asher for that entire time, as it also meant staying home myself, save for a few brief outings to the store when Ragnar was home.  HFM was not a serious illness for Asher. Except for the diaper rash, a little more clumsiness than usual, and a small decrease in appetite, he was mostly himself. But I had heard of someone who had lost her baby shortly after birth because she had been exposed to HFM while pregnant, and I shuddered to think I could do that to someone else. I washed my hands obsessively to prevent spreading the disease, washed them until I could no longer ball my hands without my knuckles turning white, my skin cracking and bleeding. The house would have to be disinfected before Saturday.

By Tuesday, Asher appeared much improved and I declared him healed. I was so happy to be free again, and eager to prepare for Asher’s party and my out-of-town guests. My rejoicing was short-lived. On Wednesday morning I woke to find four inconspicuous but tender sores on my hands. “No, NO NOOOO!” I screamed in my head. I’m pretty sure I looked something like this:
z luke-skywalker-noooooo
Even though my hand just looked like this:
Image

I hoped it was a fluke. Something else. Maybe my hands were having a bad reaction to the expired steroid cream I’d dug up the day before, an attempt to remedy my tortured skin. But as the day passed, more and more of the sores sprung up and the early ones began to grow and hurt. There was nothing else I could do. Asher’s birthday party, Momma’s night out on the town, even the ward Christmas party—I would miss it all. Save for my Hawaiian adventures, it was my most exciting weekend of the year, and it just wasn’t going to happen. I was sick with disappointment.

The next night, Ragnar took a friend to the football game, and I stopped counting the sores on hands around 40. They made it downright painful to grip anything, and soon they were joined by even more painful sores on my feet. Those ones were near impossible to see, but in walking I felt as if I had a couple-dozen very small pebbles stuck to the bottoms of my feet and toes. I understood now why Asher had been so clumsy—those suckers hurt! The silver lining to not being able to leave the house was that I wouldn’t have to wear shoes. Any shoes I wore were quite painful. I hobbled around the house feeling very sorry for myself that Friday, and informed all of my friends and family that the party was off.

I held out the slightest glimmer of hope that I could somehow make it to Ragnar’s work party the next night. Maybe my fairy godmother would appear and I would wake up miraculously healed? Maybe I could make a fashion statement by wearing gloves! I wasn’t sneezing and coughing and obviously I had outstanding hand-washing hygiene….what if I just didn’t breathe too close to anyone? What were the odds, really, that I would give it to someone when I felt perfectly fine? I’d been soooo good, behaved myself through a whole week of quarantine already—why not be bad just once? I doubted that most people would have been so well-behaved. But could I pretend for a whole two hours that my feet weren’t killing me? I decided that I would leave it in Ragnar’s hands. If he didn’t really want me to go, then it was selfish of me to persist in the face of infecting others. If he did, that was my excuse. He had told me he wasn’t even going to go if I stayed home.

“Hi, Hon. Say, how badly do you want me to go to your party?”

“Oh, not really that badly. If you stay home it gives me an excuse to get out of it.”

That was it. I had no justification.

“Umm….okay. I guess…if you don’t really care…”

“I mean, it’s not like I don’t like my coworkers. But I see them all day during the week, and I don’t really want to spend my Saturday night with them.”

“I guess I won’t go then.”

“Are you, uh, crying?”

“Maybe,” I sniffed. I shouldn’t have been surprised. Ragnar is a country boy, and he does not like fancy parties downtown or getting dressed up. But when a trip to Walmart is the only thing that gets you out of the house all week, it feels like canceling a vacation to miss such things.

“Well having a pity party won’t help.”

“A pity party is the only party I’m allowed to attend!”

And so it was. I made cupcakes for Asher’s birthday, which he didn’t really like. Ragnar worked all evening on a paper for his master’s program. Once I put Asher in bed, Ragnar and I spent our “date night” at the kitchen table trying to figure out how he was supposed to apply Chicago Style to his citations.

As the next week rolled around, the pain in my hands and feet faded. On Tuesday I declared myself “safe.” It was time to prepare for Christmas and the Shaggybritches’ next sojourn to The North Country. We were to embark Friday for our first ever Christmas spent with Ragnar’s family, followed shortly by Ragnar’s youngest brother’s wedding and our nephew’s baptism. With Christmas less than a week away and our departure much sooner, I had a lot to do. I hurriedly set about my last minute shopping, relieved that Asher and I were finally well at last. That night, Asher cried and cried in the middle of the night. Usually an excellent sleeper, I couldn’t understand why he took so long to settle back to sleep.

The next morning when I entered Asher’s room, his sheets were stained with green vomit. To this day I don’t know how the child produced green vomit when I hadn’t fed him green food, but honest-to-blog IT WAS GREEN. He was pale as I fed him his bottle. Almost immediately, he upchucked all eight ounces right back onto himself and the floor. I had never seen him truly throw up before, and it was a spectacle.

For the next two days he continued to vomit theatrically, and eventually he began to erupt similarly from the other end. During the day I would sit with him in his room each time I fed him a bottle, waiting to see if the contents would resurface. At night I would rush out to finish my shopping as soon as he was in bed, trying to compensate for my home-boundedness during the day. I joked with my sister that it would be just my luck to get this bug too. But really, even my luck couldn’t be that bad.

On Thursday night the shopping was done and the bags were packed. We were at last ready to leave for Ragnar’s folks, to escape the prison-like confines of the house. I prayed that Asher would be well, that he wouldn’t regurgitate all over himself on the eight-hour car ride. Ragnar and I enjoyed a particularly sumptuous meal of my homemade Chicken Tikka Masala.

“Something is different about it this time,” Ragnar noted. “It’s richer, has a lot more flavor. It’s better!”

“I know, right?” I had been waiting for the praise. “I think this is the best I’ve ever made it!”

We enjoyed our last dinner at home, and gave Asher his bedtime bottle. But he was acting a little funny—both Ragnar and I could sense it. We rushed to him, but Ragnar got there first. I think he tried to get him into the bathroom, but too late. Asher spectacularly hurled all over the wall next to the bathroom door, and I narrowly avoided a direct hit. The sour slush cascaded down the wall and splattered at our feet. Hot, steaming, and horrifying. As I had done so many times recently, I cleaned it up and tried not to think too much of it, even as Ragnar and I mopped ourselves off. But I do believe—and so does Ragnar—that that vomit was our undoing.

When I awoke early the next morning, all was not well. The innards….the churning. That horrifyingly familiar feeling of Get-thee-to-a-toiletness.  After an extremely brief visit I collapsed back into bed. My twisting, aching stomach kept me on the verge of consciousness as this cycle repeated itself. Eventually I became vaguely aware that I was not the only tousled-haired specter trudging from bed to toilet to bed. The bathroom door had become a revolving one, and Ragnar was on the other side.

“You too?” I asked.

“Unnnghhhh,” was his tortured reply. I inquired no further.

Ragnar was the first to vomit. I held off a few hours longer, but was no less fervent. No matter how excellent the previous night’s dinner, I had not wanted to see it again so soon—so recognizable and yet so degraded. It made me sniff a little. Or maybe that was just the barf in my nasal passages. Ragnar kindly hurried in to hold my hair for me, but I had seen it coming and got my hair tied up in time. Nontheless, as my desperate fingers fumbled behind me to wipe the dangling paprika-hued spittle, I knocked the toilet paper to the floor. He saved me from my predicament, and it was as sweet a thing as a dozen roses.

Asher awoke, and we switched off caring for him even as we switched off in the bathroom. I fed him and then laid myself on his bedroom floor to supervise until I deemed him safe to enter the carpeted areas of the house. He busily pattered around his room as if nothing was wrong, occasionally pausing to pound on my stomach. Once, he tried to sit on my head.

The amicable feeling between Ragnar and myself disappeared as the day wore on. I began to shudder with fevers, chills, and body aches. Ragnar was hit harder in, lets say, other ways. More vomit came to pass. For a five-hour stretch, Ragnar disappeared into our room, and though I heard him periodically exit and enter the bathroom, I didn’t see him. Eventually Asher did barf, on the rug in the kitchen. And himself. And the cabinets. When Ragnar finally reappeared, I asked him—in a voice as sour as yogurt-based vomit—“Did you even think to check in on me in the last five hours?”

The conversation sort of deteriorated from there. Eruptions of various sorts occurred, punctuated by bickering. I drank the Pedialyte that Asher had thusfar refused, and realized that he was merely demonstrating good taste. Pedialyte is awful. At Ragnar’s request, our blessed home teacher delivered some groceries. We didn’t have much to eat, considering that we had planned to be gone for 13 days.

Then again, I wasn’t exactly eating much anyway. This proved to be very problematic when my hands started shaking. I realized that a mental fog was descending around me. Before my hands stopped working entirely, I googled “hypoglycemia” and decided I most likely have it. I made myself drink and eat a little, but still my hands cramped to the point that I could no longer use my thumbs. Eventually I fell asleep, and the last thing I remember was Ragnar kindly covering me with a blanket.

The next day was better. Only Asher vomited, and our other eruptions were becoming less frequent. I was weak and tired though, and we opted to stay another day. On Sunday I felt human again, and equal to our northward journey. Ragnar felt less so, but was brave. And so, with copious towels and cleaning rags at hand, we ventured forth.

Around hour three we hit snow. Asher was crying, and so I sandwiched myself into the backseat to calm him while Ragnar drove. It was a mostly useless attempt, as the only thing wrong with him was that he wanted out of his carseat. At the halfway point we stopped to refuel both ourselves and the car. Out of idle curiosity, I googled “contagious window of gastroenteritis.” I wish I hadn’t. The results: “Adults sick with gastroenteritis are contagious three days past the disappearance of symptoms, and children are contagious up to two weeks.” I suddenly pictured us getting the groom sick the day of his wedding, and the wedding being canceled. Ragnar’s family had not all been together for four years—what if we got all of them sick?

“What are we going to do Ragnar? We shouldn’t have come.”

“I dunno,” he replied. “Get a hotel? Turn around and go home?”

It appeared that we were only capable of transmitting the illness by our poop, and potentially vomit. Ragnar and I could easily keep such things to ourselves, but Asher? Of course everyone would want to hold him and kiss him. How would I ever keep him contained?

Ragnar decided to call his mom and clear it with her. She was concerned, but reassured us that we should continue. So we did. Hours more of slow travel through snow-packed roads, Asher wailing next to me. If he did fall asleep, Ragnar would have to stop and use the facilities, which would wake him up. Asher threw up. It was the longest drive to Ragnar’s homeland to date.

When we finally arrived, most of the household had gone to bed. Weary but relieved, I performed Asher’s nightly routine hours later than usual. We were staying in my teenage sister-in-law’s room, and I laid down with Asher on her bed while he eagerly sucked his bedtime bottle. But no sooner had he finished it, than he threw up all over himself. And me. And the bed. I was at my wits’ end, but I had just enough presence of mind to remove my own top layer of clothes, strip Asher naked, and throw him in the tub. My mother-in-law helpfully fetched new bedding, and I tried to calm myself down as the tub filled with water.

It’s okay. I thought. It’s going to be okay. 

But it was not okay. Because that’s when IT happened. $#it happened. Though Asher had only done it once before in his whole life, he picked that moment to poop in the tub. The tub that the groom was using. I panicked. I freaked. I nearly screamed. I couldn’t believe it.

“Ragnar! RAGNAR!” I called through the cracked bathroom door. “Asher pooped! He pooped in the tub!”

Ragnar burst into the room, witnessed my improbably horrible predicament, and he laughed. Oblivious to the open door and my semi-clothed state, he just stood there and laughed. It was a wonder that I didn’t deck him. Thankfully my mother-in-law appeared momentarily with a roll of paper towels and bleach spray, but I did not demonstrate my gratitude.

“Can you at least  shut the door!?” I hissed at Ragnar. “I’m not dressed!”

We both stood there, waiting for the tub to drain. There was something wrong with it, and it took an interminably long time. (It was not just my perception at the time–I later found myself calf-deep in bath water when I took a shower.) Ragnar laughed and laughed, and I spun from him to Asher and back again, scolding.

“Can’t you do something? Don’t just stand there!”

“No! Asher! NOOO! Don’t play with your poo! That is soooo disgusting!”

“Why aren’t you helping? What is wrong with this drain?”

“What am I supposed to do?” Ragnar replied with mirth.

That was a good question. Both Asher and the tub needed disinfecting, but as soon as I washed one the other would just re-contaminate it again. There were probably bits of poo stuck under the bath mat, so I couldn’t fill the tub again with Asher in it. Covered in poo water as he was, Asher should not leave the tub. That was as far as I got in my reasoning.

Eventually, the water did drain, and I scooped the blobs of soggy poo out of the drain. I sprayed everything—except for Asher—with bleach. I then gave him the most aggressive scrubbing of his life, rinsed him off in the shower, and passed him to Ragnar. Once Asher was out of the picture, I was free to scrub every inch of the tub and mat. At long last, I removed the rest of my vomited-upon clothes, and disinfected (showered) myself.

The next morning, I still could not shake the smell of bleach from my nose. Whether it was a physical or psychological artifact of the night before, I could not tell. I committed myself to living every moment of the next week in a state of hyper-alertness, ready at a second’s notice to swoop down on Asher and clear the perimeter of civilians should he erupt. But he calmed my nerves that day by not vomiting. After six days of barfing, I thought maybe he was finally better.

But the next day, he did it again. With all of the family together for once, we were having family pictures. I had shopped carefully for matching clothes for all of us, but no sooner had I dressed Asher for pictures than he threw up on himself and the carpet. The carpet got the worst of it, and I wiped Asher off and carried on. At that point I decided that, as Asher seemed to feel fine and his vomiting was infrequent and often right after eating, it must just be that his tummy was feeling sensitive. He wasn’t really sick anymore.

But that didn’t mean that he wasn’t contagious. I soon learned that Asher’s six-year-old cousin (Ragnar’s sister’s daughter) was throwing up. “I am so sorry!” I told Ragnar’s sister. But “sorry” doesn’t cut it for such a serious offense. She seemed to be a trooper about it, but I felt terrible. I prayed that the buck would stop there, that there would be no outbreak. But I was not hopeful.

The next day was Christmas. I don’t think I saw my brother-in-law the whole day, as he was in bed the whole time with the same affliction. The poor guy almost never gets vacation, and here he was spending it flattened with this abomination. I felt even worse.

The next day, my teenage sister-in-law reported  that she had thrown up the night before. “I think yesterday’s lunch didn’t sit well with me,” she reassured. “I’m not sick.” But any reassurance she offered was superseded by her sleeping the rest of the day. Even Ragnar’s father claimed to feel unwell, though he’s the stalwart type and I could never discern just how ill he was. Thankfully, everyone was well enough that night to attend my brother-in-law’s wedding reception, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

On Friday, Ragnar’s sister reported that she too had been hit by the bug. She was a trooper like her daughter, but I continued to apologize. It was the day of the wedding, and I was immensely relieved that the groom, at least, had avoided getting sick. The wedding was lovely, as all temple weddings are. I felt a weight lifted from my shoulders when it was over.

There was only one last hurdle to cover before our departure, and that was my nephew’s baptism on Saturday. Just as my ill-fated stars could have predicted, he fell ill with the abominable bug that day. But when asked, he insisted that he wanted to be baptized. He did not do as I would have, and vomit all over in the font. All went smoothly, and finally I could breathe again.

With the curse now visited upon the heads of my family, I wonder if it has been exorcised. Am I finally free? Or will the curse merely lie dormant again for years, ready to rear its ugly head when I am again faced with a series of important events? Time will tell.

And maybe, with time, everyone will forgive me for getting them sick.

Happy First Birthday!

December 14, 2013

Dear Asher,

One year ago at this hour I could not comprehend the life that I was about to bring into the world. I had just a few hours left before I became a mother, your mother. I had a lot of expectations about what it would be like, and most of them were wrong. The level of joy that I anticipated fell far short of what I experienced, as did the level of hardship. But even in the most challenging times, simply looking at you would give me a sense of awe, and I would wonder what I had ever done to deserve you. Now, as then, I pray that I can live worthy to be your mother.

I wanted to call you Asher as soon as I knew you were a boy. I loved the sound of it, I loved that it was both traditional and unusual, and I loved that it meant “happy.” Your dad held out until the day after you were born. I thought it would be strange to hold you and not have a name for you, to face this little person who was first called “Baby Boy Shaggybritches” on the hospital records. But you were such a tiny thing that it seemed impossible to saddle you with a name. Your dad prayed to know if Asher would be a good name for you. He felt right about it, and he was right. If I had to describe you in a single word today, I would say you are happy.

Like any new mother, I could stare at you for hours and try to drink in your perfection. You had very big hands with long, delicate fingers, and long skinny feet like a rabbit. Your legs were strong, and your dad and I were amazed at how you could nearly support your own weight as a newborn. (“See, Ragnar, I told you he was a kicker!” I would say.) Even in your tininess, we could see you had a good set of shoulders. Your enormous eyes would study the blurry shapes around you, and your visitors would say, “This kid is going to be smart. You can just tell.” Everyone (except perhaps your dad) said that you looked like me, and I nearly exploded with pride. When I compared you to my baby pictures, I thought, “Yes, he looks like me. Except where he has upgraded.”

Oh, those eyes

Oh, those eyes

I never doubted that I wanted you, but at first I doubted that I was good enough. Breastfeeding was hard. I would almost go through labor again before experiencing pain for that duration. But I wanted to do what was best for you, and I persisted. I fixated on your all-too-visible ribs, your matchstick legs and flat tummy, and thought, I am starving this child to death. He is perfect, and I am failing him. Add to this my insecurities about my new mommy body—my belly that was not a cute “baby bump” anymore. My body was not mine. Not only did I not recognize it as my body, but I couldn’t feed it, shower it, rest it, or even clothe it without pain. And of course I couldn’t get a thing done. Your dad took such good care of me; he did the dishes and laundry and shopping and cooking, all while working full time. But he couldn’t do everything forever, and it took me awhile to assume those responsibilities. He was frustrated. I was frustrated. I wanted to do better. But above all, I was so, SO tired. I never knew what it was to be bone tired before. I never knew how dark the world could be when I’d barely slept for weeks. Nothing was good enough. I was not a good wife, or homemaker, and I couldn’t even feed my baby. My self-worth took a nose dive.

For several months, he looked perpetually hungry

For several months, you looked perpetually hungry

But things got better. You began to sleep, and so did I. You smiled; I melted. I could leave you for little spurts here and there while I made breakfast, or even showered. I got a stroller and started running again, made myself get out and see friends. Inch by inch, we both gained ground. I attended a weekly breastfeeding group to monitor your growth, and a successful weigh-in could give me a high for days. You got a little chub, and I breathed a sigh of relief. But then my thyroid, which had been running double-time after your birth, crashed. I did not have enough milk for you, and you nearly stopped growing. At six months, your weight was 3% on the chart. I struggled not to take it personally. We had our ups and downs, clear until you were weaned at ten months. I felt like a failure at first, not making it to the golden mark of one year (today!). But your happy demeanor meant that you wouldn’t tell me when you were hungry. You never did nurse as much as other babies. And, if I were to assign you a second descriptor, it would be “active.”

As soon as you could crawl, you had to follow that red light under the crib

As soon as you could crawl, you had to follow that red light under the crib

You are a go-er! At three months you began to roll over, at five you could go both ways, and at seven you were crawling. It was an army crawl, but still. I wondered if you would ever crawl like a “normal” baby, but once you did (at nine months), I kind of missed that ridiculously inefficient scoot. You were so excited by it, thrilled at your new ability to see and then do. You took your first steps at 10 1/2 months, and were primarily walking by Thanksgiving. At a year old, you are almost running. This has come with a large serving of bumps and bruises, but you are tough and cry less than I do when you get a boo-boo. You have always been eager to be set down, even before you could crawl. I am greedy to take any cuddles you give me, because most of the time you would rather play. I’ve learned a few tricks recently that will help me in this scheme. First, you are your father’s son: You love back scratches and will stay for a few minutes when I offer them. Second, if I make a book fun (silly voices and actions) you will actually stay on my lap for more than two pages and let me cuddle you. Third, a cuddly blanket helps you to stay put until the bottle is empty–sometimes, anyway.

Belly-crawling through the grass to get me!

Belly-crawling through the grass to “get” me!

You are expressive. Though you like to study things out when placed in a new situation, you acclimate quickly and let everyone know how you feel. Since you were tiny, you have entertained your admirers with your repertoire of expressions, which I have eagerly photographed.

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Ohmygosh you're cute!

Ohmygosh you’re cute!

Blurry, but great.

Blurry, but great.

I don't even know. But it makes me laugh every time!

I don’t even know. But it makes me laugh every time!

Mugging!

Mugging!

Pleased as punch to be along for a hike

Pleased as punch to be along for a hike

Too happy for an early wake-up

Too happy for an early wake-up

"You don't say?"

“You don’t say?”

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Fierce!

Fierce!

At first, you mostly smiled with your tongue out

At first, you mostly smiled with your tongue out

Trying solids for the first time

Trying solids for the first time

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You did this every time I put him in his car seat. Or moved you suddenly

You did this every time I put you in your car seat. Or moved you suddenly

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I will have to keep a close eye on you. You are confident and friendly, almost to a fault. Any stranger could (and would!) scoop you up and take you home without a decibel of protest from you. You love to go to the pool, where you flirt and make friends. If I’m not saving you from drowning, I’m chasing you across the deck as you pursue one of your new fans. I could take your around the world and you would be happy as a lark. In fact, I did, and you were.

I love your current size. You have ballooned to a whopping 23 pounds and 30 inches, much of that in just the last three months. You tanked up and shot up when I started feeding you formula, and I anticipate that you will be “up there” on the growth charts at your one-year wellness appointment. You are just big enough that I can throw you in the air, drop you on the bed, bounce you on my lap, spin you around, and let you ride on my head or shoulders. But small enough that it doesn’t wear me out. And I can still mush on you like a teddy bear.

You are the perfect age! Though I sometimes miss your lack of mobility, your newfound capabilities make you extremely fun. I never knew having a kid would be this fun! Everyone told me to enjoy my fun and carefree days while they lasted, and it’s true that your dad and I have not had a night out by ourselves in a year. But you are a new and very special kind of fun. I am tickled to death every time I go downstairs to switch out laundry, and when I return your chubby legs are dangling below the bars of the gate at the top of the stairs as you wait for me to come up. I might have been gone 10 seconds or five minutes, but you are nearly always there with a wide smile when you see me. (Your legs are usually bare, because you abhor the process of getting dressed and I don’t demand that you be re-clothed every time I change your bum.) I stomp, STOMP, STOMP! up the stairs with my scary monster face and growl. I bare my “claws.” And you giggle in anticipation of the tickles and kisses you will receive.  I blow raspberries on those little legs, which makes you squeal and arch. And makes me laugh.

You love to pull the cord on the ceiling fan and watch the blades take off, then pull again and watch them slowly putter to a stop. You will stand at the door of my bedroom and watch, transfixed, until they are still. You are learning about light switches. I am trying to teach you “no,” mostly because of your advances on the Christmas tree. I want you to learn to sign “more” and “all done” at meals, but mostly you just yell really loud if you want more, and start squishing your food in your fist if you’re all done. I tried to put a latch on the garbage can lid today to keep your hands fish-skin-free (true story!), but you soon walked in with half the latch in your hand. I didn’t stop you this afternoon when you tried to empty your dad’s sock drawer. Even when you’re a stinker, you are SO MUCH FUN!

Up to something!

Up to something!

Laughing at the air coming out of the vent

Laughing at the air coming out of the vent

Pulling the socks out of Daddy's drawer

Pulling the socks out of Daddy’s drawer

This mom gig is a lot better than I thought it would be. I worried that I wouldn’t really enjoy it, that I’d get bored and miss my job and not be “fulfilled.” But between you and me—not trying to impress anyone here—being your mom is the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done. I thank God every day that I can stay home with you. I wouldn’t miss your growing up for the world!

I’m not the best mom in the world. I probably play Words With Friends more than I should and don’t roll the ball with you as much as I should. I should push veggies more. It just occurred to me that I should probably start brushing the two teeth you got last month. And I’m a little embarrassed about your general pantslessness. I need to get the house properly baby-proofed, and not rely on bungee cords. But in general, I think I’m doing okay. I’ve figured a lot of things out in the last year, and I think we’re in a real sweet spot right now. You are probably the happiest child I’ve ever been around. After, “His eyes are so blue!” the thing I hear most is “He is so happy!” And while that is mostly to your credit, I’d like to think I have something to do with it. I’d change a hundred things about myself, but I honestly wouldn’t change a thing about you. You are perfect, and I wish I could keep you like this. I can’t, so I hope I can at least do a better job of documenting your second year than your first. I think this one will be easier.

I love you more than words can express, my tricksy little hobbit! Every day I pinch myself to think that you are mine. I hope this is the first of many very happy birthdays!

Mom

P.S. You’re absolutely gorgeous! And I’ll keep saying it as long as you’re little enough to not complain about it. Who could argue? I’m jealous.

Ash5mobeaut

I wish my skin was this perfect

I wish my skin was this perfect

Again and again with the eyes!

Again and again with the eyes!

Nightmares and Realities

December 11, 2013

When I was little, I would dream that my father had died. I felt sick, lost. My sister perished too, on at least one occasion; she fell asleep on the couch in our living room and never woke up. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had very vivid and emotionally intense dreams that I could often remember in detail. When I compare myself to Ragnar, who very rarely remembers dreaming at all, it feels like a superpower. Except when those dreams are nightmares.

I never did dream of my mother’s death. Though I was a very imaginative child, it was beyond me to comprehend a tragedy that so fundamentally violated my sense of self. I could more readily dream of my own death. There was a very disturbing one in which I died and was consigned to go on living with my family, except that they could no longer see or hear me.  I could not imagine my mother’s death. When she was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I told her of this anomaly. “I could handle anyone else, Mom,” I said. “But not you. Anyone but you.”

I heard a radio program the other day in which the host discussed the preponderance of world leaders and successful businesspeople who had lost a parent in their youth. The theory goes that, once you’ve experienced the worst thing that could happen to you, and you’ve moved on, you realize you can do anything. I’ve lived through the worst thing that could happen to me. But I don’t know that I could do it again.

The flip side of having conquered you own hell is this: You are no longer naive. You know that the worst can happen to you, and you have no difficulty imagining it. This morning, as I was sleeping, Asher died in my arms. He woke up gasping for air, and though I rushed to him there was nothing I could do. A sense of disbelief and violation pervaded the rest of the dream. Everywhere I went, everyone seemed to know and stare at me, the woman whose son had just died (a throwback to my senior year, no doubt). Though many of the situational particulars of my dream make no sense, my feelings were very real, and traceable to my feelings after my mother died.

To quote Isobel Crawley of Downton Abbey, “When your only child dies, you’re not a mother anymore. You’re just nothing.” I was just nothing, What would I do? Go back to work until I had another baby, tread water until my life came together again? But it was impossible for me to have another child. I couldn’t risk it again. And I couldn’t experience that same motherly happiness again with another child. It would be betrayal. I was doomed to revel in grief and uselessness until I died, and I prayed that would be soon. Perhaps I would make it be soon. I began to breathe faster and faster. I couldn’t stop. And then suddenly, my eyes opened to the dark and still bedroom around me, and my breath slowed. Asher was peacefully and healthfully sleeping in the next room. All was well.

My mother’s death robbed me of my sense of complacency. Many times when Ragnar has been late getting home from work I have imagined that he’s been in a car accident. My mind quickly traces what I will do, how I will proceed with the business of living and making a life again. It’s reflexive. This tendency has guided many of my biggest decisions, particularly the choice to earn an education and prove to myself that I could provide for my family if anything were to happen to my husband, all before I decided to have a child.

Scarlett O’hara is probably my favorite literary heroine, and one of the reasons Gone With The Wind is among my favorite books. Scarlett’s world collapsed again and again—starting with the loss of her mother—but she always came out swinging. I would like to say I relate. I wish I could say that losing my mother at a young age gave me a sense of invincibility. If you had asked me two years ago, I would have said it did.  But since I became a mother myself, things have changed. My very definition of myself, my role in life, is to raise this child. And if something were to happen to him, what would I be? How could I go on being at all? I can imagine it. I have imagined it so many times. But I am no better equipped to deal with it than I ever was.

Shayla and Asher’s Excellent Adventure: Part One

September 19, 2013

Last month, Asher and I went to see my brother and his family in Hawaii. As it was mainly a “my family” affair and vacation days were in short supply, Ragnar did not go. But The Hobbit and I saw and did some truly incredible things. Because we were there for nearly three weeks, I’ve decided to divide the telling of our exploits into three posts. Now, Part One of our excellent adventure…

Day 1: Saturday, August 10th was the longest day of my life. I mean that quite literally—for me, it was 28 hours long. It started at 2:30 am, after an hour or two of restless sleep. Asher and I, along with my oldest brother, Michael, embarked on the most excellent adventure of my life. Eight-month-old Asher will not remember a second of it, but for the rest of his life I will remind him that it was excellent nonetheless.

As you might imagine, the twelve hours between entering Denver International Airport and leaving Honolulu International Airport were very long ones, particularly with an eight-month-old. The pinnacle was probably when I learned that the plane (the one that we spent six-and-a-half hours on) had no changing table. That was after holding a poopy kid for several hours, waiting for my chance to take him to the bathroom. But really, I can’t complain about anything else.  Asher was great. Really, really great. Even the other passengers said so. And he handled seeing the ocean for the first time like a boss.
Asher on plane

I should note that I saw the ocean for the first time when I was 21. Michael saw the ocean for the first time when he was–Am I allowed to say this? No? Well, let’s just say, he saw it for the first time at the same time that Asher did. And remember that he’s my very oldest brother. So basically, Asher is very travelled/cultured for an infant.

When we had crossed the many waters (for what felt like the space of many days), we were greeted by my wonderful brother and sister-in-law—Ryan and Sarah–and their three fantastic kids, McKenna, Evan, and Alana. We got leied. My lei had orchids, LOTS of of orchids! I was sure that it had cost an arm and a leg, but Sarah told me that orchids are cheap there. That was perhaps my first clue that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. Just kidding, that was the humidity. Oh, the humidity…

R&S were keen to show us a good time, pretty much from the moment we stepped off the plane. For them, that was 11:30 am. For me, considering how early I’d gotten up and how little sleep I’d had, it was more like 7 pm. Still, we went to “The Nex,” which was kind of a mall with lots of discounted stuff for members of the military and their immediate families. That was the first time I realized how heavy the military presence is in Hawaii. There is lots of “military-only” type stuff.

Also—and I felt kind of racist saying this—but I asked, “Where are all the white people?” At the Nex, there were lots of Asians and Polynesians, but we were possibly the biggest group of white people around. For the first time in my life, I felt like I stuck out. You see, I had pictured Hawaii as any old state in the US of A, with a smattering of native Hawaiians and, oh yeah, it just happened to be an island in the middle of the Pacific. (That just sounds ridiculous now.)

“Whites are the minority here,” Sarah told me. “You’ll see a lot of Japanese and Filipinos. They’re the majority.”

“You mean, the majority isn’t even native Hawaiian?”

“No, there aren’t really a lot of native Hawaiians left. Most of them were wiped out.”

That blew my mind. Already Hawaii was much more different and interesting than I’d imagined. I probably spent the first week peppering Sarah with questions about Hawaiian culture and history. Sorry, Sarah, if I asked more questions than your four-year-old! I found it all so fascinating (more on this later).

After The Nex, I think I took a nap. I don’t really remember, because I was so exhausted. But I do remember that night going to R&S’s ward party and eating Kalua pork. Oh my land! Kalua pork. I must find some place that serves it in Denver. It has awakened my tastebuds to a new kind of yearning. Also (or “also-ly,” as Alana would say), I now want to go to a church that is open-air, where the Relief Society room and chapel open onto a beautiful courtyard. Mikey said even he would repent of his sinnerly ways and go to church if his church building was that cool.

Day 2: We all (except sinnerly Mikey and then-sickly Evan) went to church. I wasn’t too impressed by the friendliness of the ward, but I think I’m comparing it to R&S’s old ward in Lubbock, which is basically the friendliest ward ever (I hear this is typical of Texas). BUT, the speakers all start their talks with “Aloha!” which is echoed back by the congregation. And if that’s not friendly, I don’t know what is. AND, I got leied again in Relief Society. (Can I say that?) It was a cool lei, made of seashells. I forgot it when I packed, and I’m sad about it.

That evening, the four grown-ups played Cranium. Can I just say how much I love board games? And Cranium especially? And my family especially especially? And my family when we are playing Cranium especially especially especially? We are not a family-home-videos-type family, but when we play Cranium, I wish we were.

Day 3: Finally, we went to the beach. Evan’s sickliness appeared to be worse than a cold, and so Mikey and I took McKenna, Alana, and Asher (of course) to the beach while Sarah took Evan to the doctor. Now folks, I had been to “the beach” before. I’d been to Mission Beach, and Pismo Beach, and Venice Beach. And all of those California beaches were nice. But Hawaiian beaches are their own category. How to put this…Californian beaches are of a Terrestrial glory. Hawaiian beaches are 100% Celestial. (Can I say that?) The views are incredible, the sand is incredible, the warm water is incredible, the sheer number of beaches and their accessibility is incredible, and the people—what people? That first beach we went to, called Iroquois Point, was practically deserted. It was walking distance from the kids’ elementary school, and it looked like a Corona commercial, complete with those little grass hut things.

corona commercial

(You know, like this.)

It was lovely. Asher crawled around and got sand all over and ate quite a bit of it, which he pooped out the next day. I held him at the water’s edge and let him experience the waves coming in and washing over him. I sat on the beach and marveled at how gorgeous it was, looking out over Pearl Harbor. I played in the balmy water. And I just about decided, right from the start, that I might never go home.

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Alana showing off her seashells

Alana showing off her seashells

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I also developed a tiny scratchiness in my throat that day, which, I’m sorry to say, will also be discussed more later. I should also mention that Evan’s doctor diagnosed him with Strep that day.

Day 4: Hawaiian beaches are to Californian beaches, as Hawaiian hikes are to all other hikes I’ve been on. This was evident from my first Hawaiian hike, the 4.8-mile Aiea Loop trail between Ewa Beach (where R&S live) and Honolulu. Sarah was very kind and offered to watch Asher while Mikey and I went on our excursion. Asher was very kind and took a three-hour nap. (I love that kid!) Once we found where we were going—no small feat—it was a whole new world. It was humid, and dense, and hot, and it rained off and on the whole time, though we didn’t always feel the rain in the jungle. It was also surprisingly non-buggy (there are oh-so-many perks to being thousands of miles from anything).  I’m sad to say that the pictures really don’t do it justice.

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Some nice bare-footed hikers offered to stop and take our picture.

Some nice bare-footed hikers offered to stop and take our picture.

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When we got back to R&S’s I learned that Asher had been very well-behaved, but that he had a cold. Still, it was a pretty great day.

Day 5: There’s really no other way to say it. Day 5 was a bummer. Asher was sick, and very fussy. I spent most of that day in an internal struggle. I sent Ragnar lots of texts along the lines of “Asher is super-clingy but won’t sleep. Everyone else gets to go to the beach. This sucks.” On the one hand, I felt like a big cry-baby for complaining while I was in Hawaii, because my truly angelic son had a cold and was having a hard time with it. ON THE OTHER HAND, I was upset that I had travelled thousands of miles and was spending almost as many dollars only to sit around the house all day and wrestle a baby who wasn’t comfortable in large part because he wasn’t at home. In the end, I did get to go to the beach with my family, but I spent the whole time (AGAIN!) wrestling Asher and trying to get him to sleep. I couldn’t even set him down, because that beach had tons of little rocks and shells and plant debris that were prime choking hazards. Once I got him to sleep, I prayed that no one around me would yell or try to talk to me, so that Asher would stay asleep…and that I wouldn’t have to cough. Because that tickle? It was getting worse. Ragnar sent me the following text message: “Ya know I really feel sorry for you. You are holding your son at the beach. Yeah it’s not ideal but life is still pretty good.”

I vacillated between being really ticked off and agreeing with him. He had just come back from a long fishing trip to Alaska, and he hadn’t spent a single day of it canceling his plans to take care of a sick baby. And yet, this is what moms do. They take care of their kids, even when they’re sick, even when they’re on vacation, and even when they’re (justifiably!) feeling really sorry for themselves. It is always hard to accept when our expectations are dashed. I’m slowly learning that if I want to be sane as a mother I have to have very, VERY flexible expectations. This lesson was repeated several more times while we were in Hawaii.

I should note that the beach we went to that day—White Plains—had been the site of a shark attack just a couple of weeks prior. So, you never know. Maybe I would have died or something if I’d gone in the water that day. Plus, I have a touch of galeophobia.

That evening, one of Ryan’s friends from the ward came over to help give Evan a blessing. Evan had had a high fever for four days by then, and the antibiotics did not seem to be helping. Ryan offered to give Asher a blessing too, but I had planned to put Asher in bed. “If Asher’s still awake, I’ll bring him down,” I told him. Asher was exhausted (as was I), and I was expecting him to fall fast asleep. But instead, he fussed and fought and refused to go to sleep. I decided to bring him downstairs for a blessing. As they blessed him, he finally relaxed. They blessed him that he would be better. It seemed as if he knew that he needed to stay awake until he had that blessing. He went to sleep soon, and the next day he was so much better!

Day 6: Oh Day 6, how I love you.This was the day we went to Turtle Bay on The North Shore and went snorkeling with sea turtles. Yep, you read that right. Snorkeling.with.S-E-A-T-U-R-T-L-E-S. I had never been snorkeling before, and it took me awhile to wrap my head around the idea of breathing under water. Michael and I went out together to find the turtles. It was against the law or something to get close to them onshore, but out in the ocean, you could basically ride them. (Kidding!) But seriously, we were CLOSE. As in, I got close to one sea turtle, tentatively reached out to touch it with one finger, and then a wave washed me smack-dab into ANOTHER sea turtle! They were very polite about it too. I thought they might snap at me or at least flash some rude gestures, but they were cool. One dude didn’t even mind when Mikey and I camped out on either side of him and just watched him for a few minutes. Oh, and did I mention the fish? There were patches of rock (coral?) with lots of big, colorful, lovely fish. Snorkeling is awesome.

Asher had still not learned his lesson about sand, and I still hadn’t learned my lesson about slathering him in sunscreen. So, I slathered, and this is what he did.

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Followed by this:

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And so, after hastily snapping some photos, I attempted to rub off all the sand (AND all the sunscreen!) before it got in is eyes and orifices. So yeah, not really sure why I bothered with the sunscreen. He only kept it on for like five minutes. But maybe the pics make it worth it.

After we went Snorkeling.with.S-E-A-T-U-R-T-L-E-S. we mosied on over to the little surf town of Haleiwa for some grub. We got some yummy Thai food from a food truck off the side of the road, as is the thing to do (so I’m told).

That evening, Evan was sick. Sarah had thought, after the blessing, that Evan was ready to go to school for the first time that week. Evan had thought so too. But as his fever spiked yet again, R&S decided it was time to take him to the ER. Ryan took him, and the rest of us talked logistics. Michael, Ryan, and I had planned to get up early (like, 2 am early) to hike the Stairway to Heaven on Friday morning. You have to go insanely early, because the hike is technically illegal and there is a guard that gets there at oh-dark-thirty to prevent people from passing. (And yet, if he sees you coming down at, say, 8 am, he just gives a little wave and carries on. Weird.)  Hiking the STH was one of the things I had most looked forward to on my trip. But we could all see the writing on the wall. Ryan was at the hospital with Evan, Sarah needed help getting ready for Evan’s big birthday party that weekend, and me? I was not feeling so hot myself. The Stairway to Heaven was indefinitely postponed.

Day 7: Ryan and Evan got home from the hospital at about 1:30 am. Evan had been dehydrated and malnourished (he hadn’t wanted to eat or drink much all week), so they gave him lots of IV fluids and steroids. He was very brave through the ordeal, as Ryan tells it (more on Evan’s bravery later!), and started to feel better soon after. I felt like crap. I had wanted to be a big help to Sarah that morning, but I think I mostly slept as much as possible. Asher was feeling fit as a fiddle, but I had a nasty cold.

That afternoon, the whole lot of us packed up and went to the beach at Bellows Air Force Station. We were to spend the weekend there at a cabin on the beach, where R&S were throwing a big eighth birthday party for Evan. I’ll discuss Bellows in-depth in my next post, but for now, suffice it to say that it was the most surreally beautiful place I’ve ever been.

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Simply Perfect

July 30, 2013

Ragnar and I recently started our own family home evening. Before, I would go to FHE with a group of LDS friends, and if I was lucky Ragnar would come too. Since starting his master’s degree, he has been squeezing homework in whenever possible, so Asher and I have mostly been on our own. But I was promised that this would change once Ragnar finished his class. Tonight was only Week Two of our new tradition, but I don’t think it’s too soon to call it a smashing success.

A lot of great things have happened (and are yet to happen) this summer…trips to visit family, fabulous getaways, races with fantastic friends. This summer is one for the books. I am sure I will have a lot of wonderful memories of Summer 2013. But too often I forget the perfect, simple moments that just happen naturally. They are usually the sweetest experiences, but they slip through the cracks so easily.

I don’t want to forget taking Asher to the pool with Ragnar for the first time last week. Asher kicked his happy little feet like a dolphin and splashed madly with his chubby hands.  Slightly bewildered at all the water in his face, he carried on nonetheless, flailing and sucking his bottom lip. Ragnar and I beamed at him like the smitten new parents we are.  Asher was perfectly content until he fell asleep on the drive home, and Ragnar and I stopped for the half-price late-night shakes at Sonic on the way home. That was the best Sonic shake I’ve ever had.

I don’t want to forget our picnic in the park tonight. We spread a big quilt on the grass next to the little pond. It was balmy and still, but not too warm. Ragnar and I ate and talked about outer space and Asher’s future wife. Asher made opportunistic lunges for various dinner scraps and wrappers. He climbed over us, tried to escape, contemplated the texture of grass, ate some grass (almost), pulled my hair, cuddled, laughed, and made us laugh. I laid back and held him up against the sky. His eyes were the only thing bluer than the sky.

Simple. Perfect.

“All the earth’s a garden sweet, making life a bliss complete…when there’s love at home.”

…or the pool, or the park.

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Blowing raspberries

Blowing raspberries

The Day I Became a Mother

May 12, 2013

At eight and a half months pregnant, I was used to attracting a lot of stares whenever I went out in public. But the looks I attracted at the crowded DMV as I waited for my number to be called were particularly unwelcome, considering the book I had brought. Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way was a book that I didn’t even want my husband to read. The book contained dozens of photos of laboring couples, from the 70’s judging by the hairstyles, in various positions and stages of labor. But it was the fact that the women were all completely nude that made me covertly fold the pages over. No cropping, blurring, or little black boxes. Ideally positioned for maximum viewing horror. I read meticulously, but I never did understand why the women were so, SO very naked. Nor did I understand why the husbands were all stripped down to their undies in what appeared to be commiseration with their wives’ exposed state. They all had the big, bushy mustaches that I inevitably associate with pedophiles, and there was something unsavory about the way they cozied up to their agonized companions.

But there was a lot to be said for the book. The general idea of directing attention away from the pain and controlling breathing was good. I learned that labor could be quick and hard, long and puttering, a mix of both, or it could stop and start. I asked every woman I knew who had chosen natural childbirth to bestow her wisdom on me. One woman told me she imagined herself swimming through a beautiful lagoon. Another told me to “visualize your pain is circle. Explore the edges of the circle.” My midwife said: “If you are a verbalizer, then verbalize! There is no shame in that. Our society glorifies the stoic woman who is silent, but you need to do what works for you.” It will come as no surprise to most of my handful of readers that I do not handle pain well. A stubbed toe or a burned finger is a small crisis. If incoherent wailing can be called verbal, then I suppose you would call me a verbalizer.

I took in all the advice, ruled nothing out, and attempted to arm myself for what I anticipated would be the most arduous and terrifying experience of my life.

~***~

When the pains began in the small hours of December 13th, I gave them no thought. It was not the first time pain had awoken me as I lay on the carefully propped couch pillows under the light of the streetlamp, which rudely invaded my makeshift bedroom through the drawn sheers. I’d been couching it for two months. And I was sure I’d be couching it for a week or two more. This baby would not come early. There had been no physical signs, and I was not ready. That day was a Thursday and I was going to get up and go to work. At work I would prep my coworkers to take over my project during my leave. That task would consume Friday too, and then I would begin my 12 weeks of leave. With my time off I would prepare Baby Shaggybritches’ nursery, and check off all my final “to-dos.” I would rest. I would not go into labor in the middle of my exhausting workweek. I was sure.

But I couldn’t get back to sleep, and that was a first. The pain would come and it would go, but it never stopped coming. At 5:00 I gave up and began timing them. I got out a notepad and a pen and recorded every one. They were roughly 20 minutes apart; there was a pattern. Calmly I began packing my hospital bag (one of the “to-dos”). I did not let my imagination take over—it  could stop as easily as it had started. Ragnar got up and showered. I went in to wash my face. I didn’t want to make a fuss. As nonchalantly as possible, I muttered through the shower curtain, “I might possibly maybe be in labor.” As nonchalantly as possible, Ragnar assessed the situation, kissed me goodbye, and went to work with my promise to keep him posted.

I showered and got ready. I could work from home, and I would have to. No one could even access the files for my project if I went on leave now. I had done nothing so far to prepare my coworkers, because I was sure. I breathed deep and steady through every contraction, though they were not bad. It was more for practice, and I felt pretentious. I worked and I labored. Had I not been a procrastinator, I might have tried sleeping. But at a certain point, I gave myself over to the thrilling and terrifying realization: I was in labor. I recalled that the average first-time labor was about 15 hours long, and looked forward to the late afternoon or evening as the time that I would finally have my son in my arms. As exhausted as I was—nearing the end of my workweek and having had only a few hours rest the night before—I would have been too excited to sleep. I probably would have succumbed to lying awake and dreading each successive contraction during my “breaks.”

After a few hours, I called my sister. I tried to downplay my excitement: “Well it could stop anytime now.” She listened to me stop and breathe through each contraction, now a necessity and not a matter of practice. The pain was increasing. “I don’t think they’re going to stop,” she said.

I texted my best friend, a teasing message that made her call me immediately. I laughed nervously and breathed and told her “It could stop anytime now” and breathed and confessed my fear and breathed. I went back to work and breathed. I began to time the duration of the contractions as well as their frequency, and they were getting longer.

I messaged my coworkers to let them know that I was conceivably, arguably about to have a baby. They called me insane and told me to get off the computer and I breathed. I messaged them back and reminded them that they wouldn’t have a clue what to do if I dropped off now—and breathed—and I would be locked out of the system for twelve weeks as soon as the baby was born–and breathed—and this was my last chance to help them—and breathed. They had to admit I was right, but they wanted the reassurance that Ragnar would be there for me. And he wasn’t. He had taken the bus to work, which was a half-hour ride. In the middle of the day he could wait up to a half-hour for a bus, and once he got home it would take a half-hour to drive to the hospital (assuming we could leave right away, which of course we couldn’t. He hadn’t packed because he’d been sure too.) So we would need a two-hour lead time before going to the hospital. I reassured my coworkers that I would ask Ragnar to come home “soon.” But I didn’t,  because it could stop anytime now.

Around lunchtime I finally called Ragnar.

“Honey, I think you might want to consider coming home early.”

“How soon?”

[Breathing]

“Well not now, but I’ll let you know.”

“Okaaaay…tell me something: Do the contractions actually hurt?”

I thought of some truly choice words at that moment, but constricted myself to, “What do you mean, ‘do they hurt?’ Of course they hurt! They hurt at 2 o’clock this morning! They really hurt now.” I trailed off into outraged muttering…

“Alright, well have you called the office to talk to the midwife on duty?”

I had, but the office was closed for the lunch hour.

“Well let me know what the midwife says when you call back, okay?”

When I talked to the midwife, my heart sunk. I had been in labor for nearly twelve hours, but at this point my contractions were averaging about seven minutes apart. The midwife told me to stay home until my contractions were only 3-5 minutes apart, for 2 hours. At that rate, I was not heading to the hospital anytime soon. I texted Ragnar, who told me the bus times and asked me to pick one. Completely unsure, I picked the one in the middle. It felt like a big deal, asking Ragnar to come home early. I had never asked Ragnar to miss work for me, ever. This was a commitment. I worked and breathed and worked and breathed, waiting for him to come home. He got home about an hour earlier than his usual time. He talked to me for a few minutes, made some phone calls, and stared at me with a mix of amusement and curiosity as I breathed through each contraction. I told him not to gawk, and he moved on to some home repairs that were on his to-do list. I remained on the couch-bed, and worked and breathed.

I had planned to be done with work by now, but of course my preparations were taking longer than I had projected. “I don’t think I’m going to be able to dial in for our meeting,” I messaged my coworkers. “The contractions are getting pretty bad.”

“Why are you still online?!” they replied.

“I’ll email you the information as soon as I can,” I answered. And breathed.

As the December sky darkened, the pain intensified. It became difficult to turn my thoughts back to work as soon as the pain had passed. I was apprehensive, but I tried to focus. I still had work to do.

Just after 5 o’clock, I was startled by the doorbell. Two of my good friends had decided to drop by on a whim, in the midst of a jog. Each of them had had a baby just four months prior, and one had been in labor for 32 hours. The three of us had sat on my living room floor one evening just six days prior, ruminating about their deliveries and musing about mine. Acknowledging that I could be in only the early stages of labor still, I tried not to overstate the seriousness of the situation. They looked as if they could tell I was not myself when I opened the door, and I fumbled, “I’m uh…laboring.”

“Oh, I’m sorry…how exciting! But we won’t keep you. We wanted to see if you wanted help with the nursery, but we’ll leave you alone.”

Ragnar entered the room just then and intercepted. “No, go ahead! Come in! We can show you his room.”

I have blessed Ragnar’s hospitality many times, but just then I was cursing it. I was happy to see my friends in this desperate state, to have someone at hand who knew what it was like. But I also knew that I could not play the gracious host. I could not pretend that I wasn’t in severe pain, but I didn’t want anyone to get ahead of themselves. After all, this could stop anytime now. And then wouldn’t I look silly.

Ragnar ushered them along and narrated the changes we’d made and the ones that were still in the planning. I smiled and nodded and turned toward the wall as discretely as I could, as if I simply had to sneeze. And breathed. Apparently my friends were not as convinced as Ragnar was that this was no biggie, because they left after a few contractions.

I was finally able to finish work, and it was such a relief to click “Send” and be done. At last I could turn my attention back to personal preparations. Now was the time to tackle the most important “to-dos.” But I couldn’t. I couldn’t think clearly enough to make any decisions at all. Should I get something to eat, or go to the bathroom? Should I rest, or distract myself? I had focus for only one thing: breathing. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

Ragnar had made plans earlier in the week to go play racquetball that night at 7 o’clock. He wanted to know if he could still go. My contractions were about six minutes apart now, and I still hadn’t entered the two-hour window that was to precede me going to the hospital. “Is it okay if I go?” I didn’t know if it was okay or not. I didn’t know anything. I just clung to my little notepad and pen and breathed. And breathed.

“I guess so…”

“I’ll make you something to eat before I leave, okay?” And he did. A big healthy salad with greens and shredded carrot and broccoli and chicken. How nice of him to make me something healthy like this, I thought. This is a good meal to fuel laborOr maybe how rotten of him to leave me instead of staying and holding my hand, like they did in the movie at the labor prep class?  I didn’t know if he was nice or rotten. I didn’t know anything. Except that he would play until 8 o’clock unless I was “doing okay still,” and then he might stay longer and go swimming and sit in the steam room. He would check his phone between games.

My chicken-scratch record of contractions through the afternoon and evening.

My chicken-scratch record of contractions through the afternoon and evening.

He hadn’t been gone long when I entered the “window” of 3-5 minute-frequency contractions. I stared at my salad and wanted to be somewhere, anywhere else. Doing anything else. It was like the time last summer when I thought I was going to drown in the ocean. I knew the next wave would come and I wouldn’t be ready and how could I keep breathing but I had to keep breathing because that’s the only way I’d survive and then here it comes and I’d breathe…and breathe…and breathe. It was no longer enough to fill myself with air–I had to make it audible. I let out the air with a hiss and wrapped my focus around that novel noise. The salad slowly disappeared.

At 7:30 I texted Ragnar. “At this rate we are going to the hospital as soon as you get home. They are definitely getting worse. Some as close as two minutes apart, most are about five. Don’t stay for anything extra, please.” He texted me and asked if he should come home right then. I replied, “You can stay ’til 8:00 but then please come home.” I waited and breathed and hissed. By the time he got home it was well after 8:00. I didn’t have the energy to spare to scold him. I just told him that he needed to pack and I wanted a blessing and then we were going. This was not going to stop anytime now. He packed, and I breathed. You would have thought I was going to be in labor two more days. Apparently he did. Lots of food. Lots of reading and viewing material in case he got bored. He even packed me a little Tupperware full of sweet potatoes for the road.

He gave me a blessing. He said good things that I don’t remember at all because I was just hoping I wouldn’t have a contraction in those brief moments that he laid his hands on my head. I was so, SO tired. And somehow we were still not leaving. Ragnar was unloading the dishwasher. “Can I just finish unloading?” Ragnar asked innocently. I breathed. “Can I reload real quick? It won’t take long.”

No.” I somehow found the resolve to be firm about something. I was starting to get scared of being on my own. Ragnar packed everything into the vehicle, and we were about to walk out the door together. I paused just inside the door. “Can you give me a hug?” I asked. “Next time we come home it won’t be just us anymore.” He wrapped his arms around me for a moment—and there was a lot of me—and then we left.

We had not been gone more than a minute when Ragnar asked, “Do you want to stop at Sonic?” Sonic was our guilty pleasure, and it was probably a ten-minute detour. The baby was probably not about to fall out, but still…
“If you really want to we can. But if this is just some trick to see if I’ll say ‘yes’ and then you’ll say ‘Well it’s not time to go to the hospital if you feel like Sonic’…then we are not going to Sonic!”

He wouldn’t give me an answer, but kept trying to tempt me, which told me I’d hit the nail on the head. He kept on driving, and I kept on breathing. And eating my sweet potatoes. I was sure he wasn’t being careful on bumps and corners at all, and scolded him soundly. I wanted to smack him when he went over a set of railroad tracks too quickly. We came upon a Carl’s Jr that we had eaten at once after a breastfeeding prep class. “You wanna stop and get a burger?”

“NO!” I snapped. He laughed.

It was such a relief to finally see the hospital. Ragnar asked, “Do you think we can park in the garage, or do we need to drop you off at the ER entrance?” I couldn’t believe he had to ask. Once inside, I took a seat while Ragnar checked me in and asked them to send down a nurse from the Labor and Delivery ward. I waited and breathed, conscious of the stares from everyone around me. Fortunately there were only a few bystanders, it being 10 o’clock by now.

The nurse who came introduced herself as Erin. She was at least as tall as Ragnar, who is 6-foot, and she appeared calm and capable. I didn’t  have my little notepad paper anymore, but it seemed to me that my contractions were getting to be about three minutes apart now. We had to stop several times on the way to the Labor and Delivery, so I could close my eyes and breathe. It occurred to me that I had been in labor a long, long time, though I couldn’t have done the math to tell how long [about 20 hours]. I was eager to know how dilated I was, and desperate to hear “seven centimeters,” at least. I handed her a print-out of my birth plan, which stated that “I want to be allowed to progress as far as possible without being offered pain medication. Please do not offer me medication unless I ask for it.” I was about to find out if I could be true to that plan.

When at last she did check me, I was shocked to hear “four centimeters.” That meant I was less than halfway to the magical Number Ten, when I could push and be done. I remembered that my childbirth prep teacher had said four centimeters was an ideal time to check into the hospital, but still… There was so much left to go, and it had already been the longest day of my life. “Your body has been working hard to get effaced all day, and now you can focus on dilating. It will be much quicker now. We usually see about a centimeter per hour.” I could do that much math, and I knew that meant six more hours. I wasn’t going to have this baby today. I was going to have him at four in the morning. If I made it.

Ragnar left to move the car, and Erin hooked me up to an IV. I remembered being worried about that part, and was amused at how inconsequential such minor pain was now. “You’re dehydrated, but I see in your birth plan that you don’t want to be hooked up. I’m going to pump some fluids into you, and then I can leave you unhooked with a saline block if you promise to drink plenty.” Of course I was dehydrated—I hadn’t had the gumption to do so much as get a drink of water in the last six hours. I promised to drink. In the brief period that I had spent lying down while she hooked me up, I knew that the pain would be so much worse in that position. It was the first time I had laid down since 5 am, and it was agony. I wanted to be free to move.

I tried to be stoic as she strapped a monitor belt around my belly to watch the baby’s heart rate during contractions. Lumpy got the hiccups, and I watched the monitor (and my belly) bounce of its own accord. The midwife, Vicky, came in and introduced herself. She was a tiny woman who looked to be in her sixties. She also looked to be a no-muss-no-fuss type. Erin unhooked me, and suggested I try a walk. Ragnar returned, and both women left.

Alone again with my husband, I said, “I don’t know how I can do it.” “Four? FOUR? I’m already exhausted and it already hurts a ton. The pain is going to get worse and worse and I can’t imagine how it can get worse. I’ve been doing this all day and I’m only at a four.”

Ragnar had no answer for that, but said, “Let’s go for a walk.” Anything to get me of this bed, I thought. I heaved myself up and we set off for a stroll around the ward. We passed through a hall of black-and-white baby photos, beautiful cherubs that ought to have given me a rush of excitement. But I was no longer thinking about the baby. It was all about the pain, and keeping one step ahead of it. “You know Lumpy is going to be an only child, don’t you?” I muttered. We would walk a small distance and I would stop and breathe, and breathe, and breathe…I asked Ragnar to talk to me, say anything, just give me something to think about that was not pain. I remembered the instructor in my childbirth prep class showing the men how to apply counter-pressure on their partners’ backs, and I asked Ragnar to try. He rested his hand just below the small of my back, and rubbed little circles. It was a crutch, and from that moment I could not do without it. “Ragnar, quick!” I would gasp every time I felt the pain returning. He assumed his post, and I breathed.

We returned to the room, and an hour had passed. It was time for another round of monitoring, time for me to lay down and be still  and not scream, though I’d never come so close. “This baby doesn’t even seem to know he’s about to be born!” Erin said, impressed by Lumpy’s vitals. The baby? Oh yes, that’s what this was all about. I’d almost forgotten. I was dilated to a six-and-a-half now, which was good progress, but… I waited for Erin to leave again, and I started gushing to Ragnar.

“I really don’t think I can do this. It hurts so, SOOO much.” I gave him the most tortured look I could muster, which was not an act. “I mean, who are you kidding? You know I don’t have a high pain threshold. You know I’m a wuss. Why do you think I can handle this?”

It was all true. I was hoping he’d pull some epic “I-know-you-can-because-of-the-time-you…” pep talk out of thin air. But he didn’t. I felt like Frodo at the end of The Two Towers when he collapses in Osgiliath. I was looking up at my Sam with my big haunting Frodo eyes, and I was saying, “I can’t do this, Sam.” And he was not Sam, and there was no rousing speech to get me back on my feet and off to Mordor. I allowed myself to say the word I hadn’t dared to say. “Maybe it’s time for an epidural.”

He simply pretended that he hadn’t really heard me, and said, “Let’s keep going.” I imagined calling in the doctor, and it felt like waving a white flag. I had wanted an unmedicated birth to prove to myself that I could do it. I had made it 21 hours, and I didn’t want to give in now. And so I breathed and Ragnar rubbed my back, and I managed.

When Erin came in to monitor me again she told me that Lumpy was turned sideways. He was still head-down, feet-up, but he was  facing my side rather than my spine, as he ought to be. “He can come out that way if he has to, but it’s going to be easier on you both if he doesn’t.”

“What can I do?” I asked.

“You can kneel on all-fours, and sway your hips back and forth. Sometimes that helps.”

We all know that hospital gowns are open in the back. We can all imagine what would happen if you assumed the all-fours position in said gown. I won’t ask you to imagine. But I know you just did.

Ragnar tried to keep me modest. He held up the gown, and when that proved futile, he threw a blanket over me. But I was swaying and breathing and swaying, and he was trying to rub my oscillating back through the shifty blanket, and it wouldn’t stay put. “It’s fine,” I said. I knew that on any other day, this would so not be fine. But right now, I didn’t care if the President of the United States walked in. My bare butt was swaying and it was pointed straight at the door and I cared not at all. Pain can make utilitarians of us all.

In between contractions, I would rest my rear in a kneeling position, but I didn’t dare  sit. The pressure was unbelievable, and I wouldn’t add to it. I was propping myself on my arms as much as possible—they would be sore the next day. Even so, I almost fell asleep between contractions. My eyes would droop and I’d start to lean, but then the pain was mounting again and my whole world was breathing and swaying and rubbing. Ragnar didn’t leave me for a second, because I couldn’t have stood it. I was so fragile.

When Erin returned, she declared that the baby had turned, and I was dilated to eight centimeters. Every suggestion she had given thus far had been spot-on, and I was desperate for something new. I was desperate in every way. “I always tell people that if they can make it to an eight, they can do natural childbirth. You CAN do this! You’re doing great.” I saw Ragnar’s spirits rise at this. He didn’t know if I was doing great or not, but he took her word for it. I needed more convincing.

“What else can I try?”

“I think it’s time for the tub.”

We had been saving the tub as the final frontier in pain management, per Erin’s earlier suggestion. It was liberating to know that I’d made it, and terrifying to know that after this, there was nothing else. Ragnar filled the tub, and I cast off my ineffectual robe and climbed in. I stuck to the all-fours position that had served me so well.

It is probably best that I’d forgotten what “eight centimeters” meant. I’d read all about it, of course, but at that moment eight centimeters simply meant two centimeters from ten, which was the home stretch. I’d forgotten that eight centimeters meant Transition, the hell-hole of labor in which every woman switches from fearing death to begging for it.

The pain was beyond description. My consciousness retreated into such a remote corner that it was nearly an out-of-body experience. I didn’t have a body at all. All I was was a pair of lungs, breathing, breathing,breathing. I began to count the breaths, and found that if I could just breath ten breaths—ten slow, rasping, sucking breaths—the pain would begin to recede. But where was the break? The pain had no sooner retreated than it was back again. I was confused. I couldn’t even form the words to ask what was happening. All I knew was that off in the distance, Ragnar’s hand was keeping the vice from squeezing me to death. His palm, circling my back, was pressing down the pain that was rising to swallow me whole. With his other hand, he held the shower head over my back, drilling me with scalding water. I realized vaguely that the water was too hot, that it should have burned. But I cherished any distraction from the pain of the vice, even if it was only another kind of pain.

If Ragnar removed his hand even to adjust the water, even for a moment, I yelled for him to replace it. He rubbed and I breathed and counted and breathed. It was one eternal round and I couldn’t see anyway out of it. It was a whirlpool that would suck me back in as soon as I escaped. I realized vaguely that that body, the one off in the distance, was drenched in sweat, its hair clinging to its face. It shook its head, batted vainly at the tendrils. The body noticed that the water was dirty, that there were things floating in the  water. The body did all it could to block everything out, to brace against the vice so I could retreat and breathe and count and breathe.

Then something happened that brought me back to the body. So far, the vice was a giant funnel, diffuse around my belly and back and channeling the pain and the pressure down into one excruciating point. But it had changed. It was now a giant hand, pressing on the top of my belly with such precision that I couldn’t mistake it.

“I think I need to push.”

Ragnar called Erin in, and I explained.

“Try not to push yet, just do your best to relax,” she said. “You aren’t ready. I’ll check you again in another half-hour.” And then, before she left the room, she asked, “Do you need a hair tie?”

That suggestion sealed the deal. Erin was a genius, a goddess. A hair tie? Brilliant! Who could have thought of such a thing? I had been so far removed from my body that I had forgotten such things existed. I pulled up my hair and breathed and counted and tried to relax.

The hand continued to press on me, and I continued to try to ignore it. I breathed and counted and relied on Ragnar completely. I knew he must be exhausted. I knew that I was demanding more of him at this moment than I ever had. He was propping me up, and I knew that if he wavered I would collapse—physically and emotionally. I didn’t ask how he was doing, because he had to be okay. He had to be. For me, there was no other option.

The hand of the vice became a freight train, bearing down on me, laughing at me for trying to hold it back. “Has it been a half-hour?” I asked Ragnar.

“Must be getting close.”

“Get the nurse in here,” I demanded. “I’m pushing whether I want to or not.”

Ragnar pulled the cord above the tub. I suppose it was just for emergencies, because Erin rushed in with two other nurses a moment later.

“I need you to check me,” I stated flatly. One of the nurses held up a towel for me as I climbed back onto my feet. I tried not to laugh. “I really don’t care,” I told her. Not about being wet. Not about being naked. I just had to be done.

I teetered back to the bed, and Erin declared me dilated to nine-and-a-half centimeters, “ready to push!” Vicky was summoned, and I readied myself for the final leg. As the next contraction overtook me, I breathed, and breathed and….screeeeeeaaaamed. It seemed like the natural thing to do, to finally let the world know what it had put me through. I found myself very impressive just then. I wondered vaguely if Ragnar was impressed. Vicky was clearly not.

She said something to the effect of, “That was lovely, dear, but totally useless. If you put all your energy into screaming, you’ll never get anywhere.”

Slightly chagrined, I changed tacks. I let the contraction gain momentum, and rode it like a wave. As impossible as it was to believe, I was using muscles I’d never used before, and using them like a trained athlete. On the one hand, it was a giddy rush to finally be able to DO something. On the other, I was terrified at the damage I was causing to myself. Up to this point, labor had been all about getting out of the way, letting my body steer itself. So far, there was no “permanent damage.” The last coherent part of my brain reminded me that what happened now could cause permanent damage. Those two words haunted me. I played a tug-of-war with myself. I strained with all I had until the resistance was too great, then paused, and then picked up again. It was a delicate dance that I never could have managed under the numbing effects of anesthetics.  Finally, my refusal to give in was paying off. At that moment, I felt immune to the pain. Never in my life had I felt so strong. The end was in sight, and regardless of what pain stood between me and the finish line, I would cross it soon.

Nonetheless, I treated myself to a nice little scream at the end of each push, like a child claiming his dessert. “Very good, yes, that was a nice one!” Vicky praised.  See, I knew we could compromise, I thought. I pitied any woman who was entering the Labor and Delivery ward now. Hopefully these are sound-proof doors.

This pushing stage had other benefits. There were theatrics, even beyond the self-imposed sort. During one spectacular push, a gush of fluid shot clear off the end of the bed. It was another sign of how truly desensitized I was that I thought, Did you see that? That was me! My water didn’t break, it exploded!

I had long, lovely breaks in between the contractions now. I ought to have used those moments to thrill at the impending arrival of my son. But all I could see was the end to the pain. I had almost forgotten about Lumpy altogether. It then came as quite a shock when Vicky declared, “I can see his head!” My jaw dropped. Literally. I think I was just as astonished at the reminder that all of this was about a baby, as I was surprised at my quick progress.

“Can I see?” Ragnar asked eagerly, abandoning his post as aft-side leg holder. Any other day of my life, I would have been mortified. But I had given up all hope of ever being beautiful again. I was strong now, and that was all that mattered. I pushed again, and Vicky cried, “One more push ought to do it!”

It is a mark of how truly exhausted I was, that by the time the next contraction was over, I had forgotten Vicky’s promise. One second, I was pushing with all my might, and the next, there he was. There was nothing gradual about it. It was not like the movies. Vicky did not hold him up for everyone in the room to admire. I didn’t even get a good look at him, before she had thrown him up onto my belly. I wasn’t even sure that he had really turned out to be a “he.” But he was there, in my arms, and everything around him became a blur.  I didn’t even notice when Ragnar cut the cord. Someone pronounced the time of birth as 2:07 a.m., and a blanket materialized to cover us both. No one else in the room seemed to be focused on my baby—they were off in the distance, finishing up the business that no longer mattered at all. For me, there was this child, and nothing else.

The first time I held my son.

The first time I held my son

In weeks prior, I had wondered what profound words I would say to welcome my son into this life. When that time came, all I could say was, “This is myyy baby. This is my baby. This is my baby…” Ragnar seemed to be the only one listening to my lame announcement. On some level, I registered that he was too dumbfounded to say anything. He busied himself with studying the placenta (engineers want to know how everything works), and looked on from a distance.

The baby—my babywas more exquisitely beautiful than anything I had ever seen. As the adrenaline ebbed, I resolved to study him. He was both minuscule and enormous. I was impressed that my body had produced something so large, and astonished that something so tiny could be flawlessly complete. I had dreamed of a little blond boy, but I thrilled at his dark hair. I won that battle, I thought. I couldn’t see much of his face from my eagle’s eye view, but I was too worried about dropping him to risk moving him, so I just clutched him to  my chest. It appeared that he had inherited Ragnar’s nose. His hands were huge, with incredibly long fingers that he waved in the air and drew into his mouth. Vicky told me that he had been born with one hand in front of his face.

He was a total stranger to me, and I could scarcely believe that he had known me all along. Despite the ordeal I had just endured, it seemed just as likely that he had sprouted from underneath a rock. It was impossible that he was mine. But he was.

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My beautiful boy

“Oh Ragnar, if they’re all this cute, we’ll have ten!” I gushed. Already, the magnitude of the pain was fading from my mind. “He is, uh, a boy, isn’t he? I didn’t see.” Ragnar seemed to have found his voice.

“Yes, he is,” Ragnar assured me with a little grin. “I made sure. Let me get a look at him,” he said, pulling back the blanket. “Oh yuck!”

My sweet son had left me a gift—a great big pile of greasy black meconium. When Ragnar lifted the blanket, my boy responded to the rush of cold by kicking and flailing—and spreading the molasses-like poo in every direction (I’m convinced that there’s still some in my bellybutton). Nothing could dim my happiness then; I laughed.

At that moment, I didn’t care. Nothing mattered except that he was there, he was healthy, and he belonged to me. As long as this held true, nothing else mattered. It didn’t matter when I tried to get up, and immediately fainted back onto the bed. It didn’t matter that my belly now looked (and felt) like a semi-deflated basketball. It didn’t matter that my husband had surely seen things that would make me forever unattractive to him. I had my son. He was more than I had ever imagined. And my body was so much stronger than I could believe. I was strong. I also knew that I could not have done it without Ragnar. He had come through for me in the end, been attentive to a degree I did not think him capable of. We had worked together to bring this tiny boy into being and into the world, and I felt that this experience had bonded us as a family. My joy was full.

A proud and tired papa.

A proud and tired papa.