I remember learning various psychology theories as a freshman in college. The developmental theories seemed to always end with a stage that I would deem contentment. I would study these theories, ace exams on these theories and think to myself, ” I wonder how many people actually make it to Erikson’s stagnation v. generativity?“
This past Christmas I experienced something for the first time in my life. Idle joy. I realized that I was rising each morning, and aside from being sick, I was feeling like life was finally good. Together, my husband and I make a modest living. One that allows us to not have to go without. In a region with more poverty than most people imagine, I recognize that our lifestyle is fortunate. But my husband always reminds me, that we also work 6-7 days a week, and always have numerous irons in the fire.
New Years started to roll around and I didn’t even care to make a resolution. In hindsight, I realize that’s because all of my woes had been resolved.
A year ago I was working in a toxic work environment.
I had unbearable back pain.
I was still battling the last legs of postpartum depression.
I was complacent with my new Mom body…that I didn’t love.
Today I’m happy. I’m regularly hitting PR’s in the gym. I choose to be thankful for a job that is 20 minutes away from my family. I spend free time with my loved ones. I don’t waste an ounce of energy on people who can’t return a text, a favor, a kind word… their time.
I once paid for my friends to go places with me, ran to them when they needed something, called them to check-in. Then, I realized half of them would never do the same for me. So I made the difficult decision to stop toxic behaviors that left me feeling sad. I walked away from some people.
I stopped avoiding my favorite place, the gym, all because of someone who assaulted me that also goes there. Why should I sacrifice what I love?
I quit censoring the inequalities I experienced at work.
For a lot of my life I was reactive. I felt gross and angry when people did shitty things to me. I felt bitter at my employer. I felt betrayed by “friends.” Parts of my world have shrunken. But one thing I can say is– that whatever is left is good. I am far more at peace. My body literally felt like it vibrated with anger and pain for so many years. All of those vibes, if you will, are gone.
As a child, I would watch my sister leave for Kindergarten and sit looking out our picture window, as she walked to the bus. I remember vividly feeling a burning in my stomach. My mind raced, “what if she doesn’t come back?” Looking back, I recognize that these were my first bouts of anxiety. And wow did I have a lot of it.
On top of anxiety, I somehow managed to pull off being highly ambitious. As a child I was known for being bull-headed, independent and stubborn.
In first grade I began getting picked on for being “fat” by someone who I later thought was my best friend. In my diary, I drew a woman with sunken in cheek bones, protruding collar bones, and wrote on the drawing, “when I grow up I want to be anorexic.” And that, my friends, is how one thing ruins a child.
Thank God, the times have changed. Because in high-school, although I didn’t want to go to college, I would call Harvard’s admissions staff and speak with them. I thought to myself, “wow, they actually answer the phone!” Those phone conversations made me realize the ivy-league was a possibility within closer reach than I thought.
In college, I didn’t want to be anything but a high achieving student. Right before I started college, someone told me I’d never get my life together and be anything. Those words marked the backs of my eyelids…it’s like they were imprinted on my eyeballs. They were words that I challenged with every ounce of my being. Every single damn day I walked into a classroom in college, I had one thing on my mind: winning. I viewed every course as a game. The syllabus was the rule book. I would highlight the rules I knew I needed to focus more of my energy on. I calculated the absolute amount of points I could lose before I would get a “B” instead of an “A”. I ate disciplined meals, tracked my calories and always made sure to burn more than I ate on the treadmill or elliptical. I sat in study lounges reviewing my notes and completing all readings and supplemental readings. I was a fucking rockstar when it came to college. After all of my work was done, I would occasional attend a party. I never drank and drove, and I didn’t associate with underclassmen. I did my own thing. I managed my life so well.
I then went on to attend Yale University, which I have often referred to as the pinnacle of maxing out one’s intellectual potential.
I focused so many years on becoming something. Achieving something. Dreaming of something.
This past year all of those things stopped.
In my own stage theory: I’ve departed the reactive stage of my life and entered into the contentment stage. I realize that at any given time something awful could happen. I accept it.
Sure, I’m still interested in losing 8 more lbs, getting shreddy and being a Mom that does crafts with her child. But the difference is, I’m not ruined if it doesn’t happen.
Finally living through several weeks of peace has completely altered my thought patterns. I am light. I am more trusting. I am less involved.
Nine years ago I shared this quote on my Facebook wall,
“Living with integrity means: Not settling for less than what you know you deserve in your relationships. Asking for what you want and need from others. Speaking your truth, even though it might create conflict or tension. Behaving in ways that are in harmony with your personal values. Making choices based on what you believe, and not what others believe.”
I read this quote today and realized how much these words still mean to me. At times I struggle to house both my personal and professional identities in the same day. What I mean to say is, I believe so whole-heartedly in being authentic that I am okay with the consequences that I may earn for being myself.
The other day someone at work told me I was a good public speaker and that’s my call: to be a public figure. I immediately began shaking my head and mumbling, “No, no, no.” If you only knew how foreign all of that feels for me– there is no way that’s my calling.
To be a counselor in higher education is a serious challenge. It’s one of those “practice what you preach” type of scenarios. My mission is to guide students towards lives and careers of meaning and purpose. In layman’s terms, I teach students how to be their authentic selves. It sure would be awfully destructive to my therapeutic relationships if I, the person telling them to be authentic, was not living an authentic and meaningful life. My students would eat me alive if they sensed any in-congruence with my counseling style and identity.
So I lead a pretty darn awesome and authentic life. Seriously. Hands down I am probably the happiest and healthiest I have ever been. But that happiness does not come void of survived traumas or bumps along the way.
I live in constant paradox. Some days I arrive to work buttoned down and in leather pumps. My students tell me things like, “I hope to be like you someday”, “You always look so professional”. But then I leave work, throw on a vintage tee (either from a trash bag of clothes my father tried to donate to Salvation Army, or literally a tee purchased from Salvation Army), turn on my XM radio stations 45-47 (which are of the heaviest rap genres), and tune into being 100% authentic Clarissa. And authentic Clarissa is a loser who has few friends and does way too much social media because of her near non-existent social life in the friend dessert known as rural Pennsylvania.
I curse. I make messes. I sometimes lose my cool on my husband (babe– if you’re reading this I’m sorry). I cry when I watch the news. I try to keep all of my laundry washed, folded and neatly hung or pressed– but sometimes that shit piles up! My son isn’t allowed to drink juice or eat foods with dye in them. Half of my family thinks I’m a crunchy nut job. But my husband somehow tolerates all of my requests and sees that they come from a place of ultimate concern for our child.
The masks we wear in life sometimes make this whole thing feel like a bit of a tragedy. How can in one moment my students revere me, but simultaneously, not know that I probably have some of the same quirks and flaws as they do?
Like when I walk up to a microphone to give a speech, I am running about 3 different teleprompters in my own mind:
One is running the speech that I am holding in my hand, in case I forget where I’m about to go.
Another is running the improv piece of my speech that I allow for in my written speech so as to carve out a “real moment.”
The other one is giving my cues:
Relax your face.
Look up and out.
Smile, and laugh if you’ve got it in ya.
I spoke earlier this week at an event with just under 100 people in the room. As I returned to my seat from the podium, I clenched my hands together. They were vibrating with fear. My face felt hot, like back when I was in Drama Club under the stage lights. Except, there were no stage lights.
I remind myself often, that I am not on a stage being judged in some “How professional are you?” pageant. I make choices everyday that nix me a few points on “professionalism.” However, most of these do not occur at work. But I do this so as not to lose sight of the person I am when I am not at work. I challenge myself to be the same person I am in all spheres.
But if you’re curious as to what I mean by losing some points here and there, I’ll be fully transparent:
I pick at leftovers without sitting down and making a plate. In fact, 98% of the time I eat at home– I’m on my feet.
On occasion when things get too heavy, I start to cry and ask my spouse for a hug. I can’t be tough as nails all of the time!
I say the word “FUCK” entirely too much. I joke about it, but seriously, it is way too much. You guys, I’m really trying.
I don’t have time to get my nails done or keep them painted myself. So yes, I’m that professional with naked nails.
I have a pea coat that has been missing a button for like 8 years.
If one is trying to be one person, the same person, at all times it is absolutely impossible to not have blurred lines between the person they are at work and the person they are outside of work.
I don’t think this bothers everyone, but this notion bothers me. I am constantly trying to figure out what my “How professional are you?” budget will allow me to nix before I’m disqualified from the category altogether.
One day I walked into a Country Fair in my 90 degree 7/8 Spandex leggings, Nike slides, sunglasses and a hoodie. As I walked up to the cashier I noticed that they were one of my students.
The student’s jaw dropped.
“I just realized who you are. I am not going to lie, this is so weird for me.” I smiled and said, “We all have personal lives. I’m a human.”
I’m a Mom.
I’m a [really successful] farmer’s wife.
I once paid my bills by wearing a tool belt, jeans and work boots everyday. And if I’m being honest, I’m still looking for ways to make this my only gig.
One of the perks of working in higher education is that (per your contract) you have a pretty nice holiday schedule. As I worked through this extremely front heavy semester, I kept my eye on the prize: Christmas Break. I dreamnt of Great Lake’s Christmas Ale, the smell of our fresh cut Christmas Tree, the soft glow of Christmas lights on my banister outside of our bedroom. I began listening to WHAMS! Last Christmas in October. My son and I watched The Grinch literally like every single day.
All of those warm thoughts of Christmas break kept me diligently pushing forward. As break neared, I prepped a mental list of “to-do” items. It went something like:
Re-paint pine trim Polar White where it is turning brown (the cons of painting pine)
Clean out all traces of maternity and postpartum wardrobe, newborn baby clothes/ toys
Schedule truck detail appoinment (my birthday gift from my husband that I have yet to use)
Work on marketing materials (work related and super LOFTY of me)
Do some DIY arts and crafts with my son
Make homemade meals as much as possible
Get back into Ketosis and work out…lose the last of the baby weight.
What I didn’t know at the genesis of this list was that: My entire family, self included, was going to be sick for ALL of break. Yup. I actually get depressed just thinking about how much time I spent sitting on my couch. Daily I have had to remind myself: Clarissa you are in the right place. You are taking care of yourself and your son. It doesn’t matter if you do anything else. Something magical happened these past 2 weeks. My son and I grew closer like in the beginning. Sometimes he would just say to me, “Mumma?” and I would answer, “Yes, baybee?” and he would merely be checking in; sitting with me even in my sick state has been completely comforting and wonderful to him.
So what did I accomplish over this break?
Administered albuterol, via spacer and inhaler, to my son every 4 hours throughout the daytime
Baked 5 PERFECT pumpkin rolls (with age comes perfection…and the longer I’m on this earth the better I get at both baking and cooking)
Drove my Grandma home for Christmas in the thickest fog I have EVER encountered
Made an incredibly delectable homemade chicken noodle soup that had thee best herbal flavors (rosemary, thyme and parsley)
Lifted legs twice, shoulders (who knows how many times), done several hours of cardio ALL TO GAIN 5 LBS
Created a DIY sensory activity for my son
Baked several breakfast casseroles
Drank an absurd amount of coffee
Shampooed and scrubbed our carpets
Took our son to see Santa and then out to dinner
Took our son to the Zoo and fed a giraffe
Took our son to the playground for the first time
Lately I’ve been wrestling with this idea that I’m now in a space where I feel like saying “I’m too old for this or that” while simultaneously feeling like the young person.
Tonight I was prepping my pork and sauer kraut, and I dug into my fridge for a bottle of beer. I excitedly remembered that I had a brand new bottle opener from Sandbridge, VA and like a REAL adult I could pop the lid off of this bottle of beer. When I went to open the bottle, I realized that my beer mug/bottle opener/ magnet must be defective because I couldn’t work it. And then I realized: No Clarissa, you’re just an old boring lady who doesn’t know how to drink.
Once the beer was opened, I poured a little in my crock pot, a few sips in my mouth and then passed it to my Netflix-ing husband in the living room. He had a few sips and then offered it to me. And thats when I realized: WE ARE BOTH OLD AND LAME! Haha. Seriously, what people share half a beer (actually less than that because the pork loin drank some too)? Guess we do.
So whatever this new half-old stage of life I’m in is…I guess I’m ready? This is the first time in my life where I am so content that drafting a new years resolution seemed meaningless to me. But then– it hit me.
I thought this week would never come–but here it is; the end of the semester. And much to my dismay, another year is about to come to a close and I am no where near meeting my goal of writing…daily.
I am constantly out of time. Lately, when I get a moment of silence I’ve caught myself reflecting on how over time I’ve watched my personality (in the MBTI sense) morph. Old me documented everything in a planner, my own custom calendar document and an Outlook calendar. New me– just sticks to Outlook.
Old me would memorize appointments for the following day prior to logging off at the end of the night.
Old me planned and prepped meals.
The list goes on– you get it.
I have become SO MUCH MORE chill. And I’m not sure why? Is is that I am a one woman office now? Or, that I am a new Mom who has learned that she can’t get caught up on the little things–you simply won’t survive. Or perhaps it’s that I’m no longer in constant pain.
Things are different. I’m not complaining, but I’m wondering “why?”
Last night I was on my way home from the gym and grocery getting. My neighbor invited to me come have a glass of wine while he decorated for Christmas. Despite feeling like I was completely out of time, I made a point to take the time to visit while he placed family heirlooms on his perfectly trimmed live tree. We sipped wine and filled each other in on life, while beautiful orbs of light danced across the tops of what I call his “dueling pianos”. I sat Indian style atop an ottoman, sipping my wine, as he told me the significance of the day’s date and week. The date was an anniversary of sorts.
In a bit of a wine mood– I rattled off some of my upcoming projects involving my college’s Lutheran identity and explained a bit of my own ideas regarding the afterlife that involve Jung’s theory of synchronicity. My neighbor remarked that he wasn’t familiar, but knew what I meant when I defined what makes a moment synchronicit. We both sat, with what seemed to be a mutual understanding that we haven’t had one of those moments in a while.
Then out of nowhere my neighbor says, something about numbers and that his most significant numbers are 8-22. I grinned and blurted out, with one hand waving a glass of wine and the other over my heart “THAT’S MY BIRTHDAY!” And if anyone knows me, I take great pride in being a Leo, but also a Leo-Virgo cusper.
The hair on my neck and arms stood up, and I looked at the painted, family portraits displayed on the living rooms walls and felt a mixed sense of superstition and glee.
One thing my neighbor and I have in common is a sense of urgency to cling to tradition and preserve things to stay close to the people they represent. For example, my live tree is decorated with my Grandma’s wooden, vintage ornaments. My neighbor’s home is filled with significant treasures, especially those that represent his mother and father.
Sometimes in a world filled with electronic devices, blue light, constant meeting reminders and excel documents a girl needs to sit down with a glass of wine and a good story teller. Last evening surrounded by paintings, pianos, an organ, a beautiful black cat and my endearing neighbor I remembered things that I had long forgotten about due to the selfish ego of work needing to occupy all of my head space.
Why does this oddly feel like I am setting up a scene straight out of Goodnight Moon? #momlife
Like my neighbor’s mother, I had an aunt who was a painter. Her paintings can be found in my home and almost all of my relative’s homes.
My mother was a music teacher, and I grew up playing a baby grand piano.
My beloved cat, that my aunt picked up for me from a shelter while she was battling cancer, was a black cat named Snoop that snuggled me through 15 years of highs and lows.
And here I was surrounded by these things that made me visit a place of deep nostalgia. In the dark appreciation of the person I was once before work consumed about 92% of my identity, I sat starkly wondering if the childhood I knew would be anything like that of my son’s.
I arrived home to a house warmly lit by our Christmas tree. The very tree that this year as a mother to a toddler seemed like more work to put together than joy. But as I withdrew to my upstairs, and took one last look at our tree, I relished that I was still partaking in a rich tradition that took me back to a memory of being a hopeful little girl, drunk on the smells of a fresh-cut pine tree, wondering what this season was all about.
There wasn’t any ACTUAL water in this watering can– so we had to improvise.
We trusted each other to know what to do. But you see, this plant died. It was trying to survive on the ideals of a society that is far removed from nature.
Today all of our plants are thriving. We water them often, but not too much.
Though, I have found it seems that my plants grow best when I whisper to them words of encouragement.
Happy Anniversary Gary. May we never again think to ourselves that doing what society expects us to do will make us happy. Rather, let’s pretend there are no rules. Let’s continue blasting disco while we clean the house. Let’s walk barefoot in the grass with our son. Let’s spend nights under the lights of our patio, petting our dogs, razzing on eachother. Because that’s where love grows best.
Well, we celebrated our little one’s first birthday yesterday. I dreaded this event like the looming deadline of a term paper in college. Just like a young, procrastinating, scholar– I was capable and competent to plan the party little by little in advance. Yet, I chose to wait until the end. To be fair, I had made my mind up early that we were just having cake, ice cream and a small gathering. Then at the last minute, I realized this was selfish. It is not my husband’s fault that he was born into a large family. So that little idea turned into 50 relatives, a taco/nacho bar and so much joy.
Honestly, I told myself “You are going straight home from work today and resting.” I woke up feeling 70+ years old. Kind of like when I was in chronic pain but different. And yes, I felt 70+ years old on the regular, before my surgery. But…like a typical Mom I got home, started putting clothes away and setting mental goals for what I needed to accomplish for the evening to feel like a validated human for the day. Instead, I ended up at urgent care (just not feeling well).
Last week was my first week back to work. I ended up flying to a conference with the President of our college, the new campus pastor, Assistant Dean for Diversity and Inclusion and my mentor (the chair of the religion department). This was all VERY good, and warrants a blog post of it’s own. BUT, I really have overdone it now for several weeks. Earlier I remarked to Gary, “You know how when I first got my job I said ‘I could never do my job hungover’? Well with this promotion, I have added a degree– I can’t do this job tired.” And today I was very tired.
Once I arrived home last Thursday, I worked on Friday and then started prepping for Rhett’s first birthday. I did not sleep much. I did, however, blow up a lot of balloons. I even joked on social media that my new maladaptive coping mechanism was blowing up balloons to keep my son from turning one.
Ever since the birth of my son, and my surgery, I have had serious issues in the way of memory and recall. Add sleep deprivation, pain, and recovery to the list and it is quite a concoction. Although, I’m supposed to be sleeping in bed right now– husband’s orders– I’m at our tiny desk that is littered with balloons, typing this post.
You see, I know that my blog is far from perfect. I had a livejournal in high school and would even type in html code for THAT blog. Those days are gone. I’m in a hurry to get things done. My biggest flaw is that I don’t edit anything. I constantly feel like I have a dragon breathing down my back (especially since my near death experience). And that dragon is pushing me to accomplish as much as possible (aside for my wasted time on social media) with as little as possible. I guess I assumed after my NDE, that people could figure out my message whether or not it had a typo in it. I kind of live in this space of today might be my last day…again. And if it is my last day, I sure as hell would hope that I wasn’t wasting time proofreading messages (or scrolling social media) that were already clear.
Well no matter how many balloons I blew up, how many times I told myself our party wouldn’t be a big deal, or how many times I thought my summer vacation would last forever…Rhett still turned one. And I still had to return to work. And returning to work this week felt like that time I was concussed. I was able to juggle multiple thoughts in the air, but I couldn’t make any progress on those thoughts. Today a colleague of mine sharing this feeling described it as mental purgatory. To which I told him an anecdotal story, that my superior told me, regarding the virtues of a leader.
I arrived at work this AM with full intentions of moving linearly down my to-do list. As I began chipping away, an admissions counselor approached me about a student. The student’s parents had some questions about reasonable academic accommodations for their student with a disability. So, I walked over to admissions to meet the family. I firmly shook both Mom and Dad’s hands and introduced myself (prior to this I memorized their names and their student’s concerns that they sent me via my online self-disclosure tool). To my dismay, their child/new student was not happy to be discussing the sensitive topic of being a person with a disability. Mom and Dad talked over the student and on his/her behalf. And like any good counselor, I acknowledged the silence and asked the student how this experience felt for him/her? I was getting nothing.
This reminded me of a time at Yale– in my pastoral care class. At that time in my life, my goal was to work in a VA hospital doing clinical pastoral care. In a role playing exercise, I was playing the role of chaplain. Our scenario was that two parents were at the hospital with their child who was comatose. Now, if you did not study psychology nor counseling, you may not understand just how intense role plays can get. In my role as quasi-chaplain I addressed everyone in the room, although the person role playing the patient was not going to acknowledge me. Yes, this is truly where my mind went as I sat with the non-verbal student. Who by the way, can speak. Sometimes though, when we try to speak for others we actually silence them. Mom and Dad were unintentionally doing this.
I kept reminding these incredibly sweet parents that our college is a small place and I will see to it that their son/daughter never gets lost. Little did the parents know, that I was the most lost little college freshman ever. I sometimes could go a full day without speaking to anyone. It’s in these moments that I hope Mom and Dad can feel my authenticity when I say your student will not get lost here because I do mean that.
Following my impromptu parent meeting, I had an impromptu meeting with a board of trustee member who just happened to be on campus. It was nice to catch the trustee with his wife and family, and in casual wear. Last time I saw him, I was hosting a networking event for our students to practice their skills– with one caveat– they had to network with our board of trustees. I especially appreciated this trustee’s skill of careful listening as young students told him about their hopes and dreams via rehearsed elevator pitches.
I then went on to start planning our Alumni Professions Panels for Homecoming 2019. This resulted in a spontaneous lunch with colleagues whilst taking notes on my yellow, legal pad. Strangely, I realized that despite my memory issues, my fatigue, and feeling out of it I was sensing that I was handling all of these things much better than I had in the past. A very toxic person is no longer involved in these planning processes. Now I’m the one calling the meetings. Now I’m the one pulling in cabinet level officials and thinking through, not just programs, but processes. And although I’m a bit off right now (also experiencing vertigo from flying) I’m still making some progress. And I no longer have someone speaking for me or over me (picking up a theme here?).
The rest of the day I spent thinking about what I MUST absolutely accomplish by August 14 (the day our first students move on campus). So suddenly I went from wanting to avoid everything at home, to planning everything a semester in advance for my job. That kind of duality is striking. I think about this everyday as I put on my business clothes. Who is this professionally dressed Clarissa? This feeling was once quite unsettling. I found something to be very inauthentic about it. But then I realized the pompous males around me were only going to get richer if I didn’t learn to play their game. Now I find that I’m dancing the dance of personal/professional sacred/profane a bit better.
I have no idea where I want to go with this post. This is the first time I set a time limit for myself, because truthfully I could spend all night writing. But– self-care is important and I need to rest to do my job, be a better wife and a Mom. But maybe, trying to get things done faster is not always better. When I let myself freely write I think I tend to produce better content, although it be laced with typos…thus diminishing it’s quality. My husband also just came upstairs to lecture me that I should be in bed. Awkward.
I am going to bed wrestling this notion of duality.
How can one person be in a hurry to get some things done, and yet, committed to the step-by-step slow process for other things?
How can one person pride themselves on being an authentic soul, yet, put on a costume and memorize a script before talking to parents?
This perception of two time-zones in one body is exactly what this year has been for me. Everyone remarked, as I mentioned in my previous post, that “I bet this year flew for you!” And while it did, it was also painfully slow at times. There were days at work that my pain was unbearable and the minutes were crawling by. Yet, there were nights that I held my son until my back hurt thinking, God, can I please just have 5 more minutes of his heartbeat next to mine.
I guess it’s kinda like that old jingle–
“You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have the facts of life!”
Lastnight I returned from a conference in Minneopolis and rushed home to look at my son, sleeping peacefully in his crib. Tomorrow he turns one. One is the milestone that everyone has talked about since the day he was born. “It goes so fast” they all say. Each and every time I heard someone say this to me I could feel a sinking feeling in my stomach, worse than that of the hunger pains that came with being a nursing mother. I knew it would come fast. I knew I would miss Rhett’s little coos and the way he needed me for everything. I somehow knew I would even miss nursing him. Which is completely nuts, because it can be a real chore. I knew that someday the adrenaline of a 26 hour labor would pass, and I would miss feeling like super woman too.
One year ago, I was in the hospital with a blinking, wireless, heart monitor stuck my belly button rolling around on a medicine ball. As I type this I can do nothing but smile, because one year ago whatever divine thing is out there, that I often refer to as God, was preparing me for the best job on earth: Motherhood.
Going into labor with no disc between my L5-S1 (lumbar spine lingo) was concerning for me. Gary and I decided near the end of my pregnancy that we would not go to any classes, that I would tap into my intuition and Rhett would come the way nature intended. The only planning I did to prepare for my delivery was think of creative ways to take pressure off of my spine. Laying in bed was almost impossible for me, so the thoughts of being in labor in bed were not pleasant thoughts. I walked around my hospital room. I bounced around on the medicine ball. I did ANYTHING not to lay in a bed.
My contractions started sometime around 2:30 PM. Rhett was due on July 9th, and it was now the 18th. Each day I would cautiously go to my Mom’s new above ground pool and swim. It was the only activity that provided me relief. Yet, getting out of the pool was almost impossible. I would describe it as “it’s like nature has turned gravity up and it is 5 times stronger.” As soon as I would begin climbing out of the pool I was reminded how terrible of shape my spine was in.
On July 18th, 2018 I was walking back and forth in the pool when I felt a sharp pain in my abdomen, quite similar to a menstrual camp. It stopped me in my tracks but it was quick. Prior to this day, I recall reading many blogs about how women described their first signs of going into labor. In the moment, I didn’t get my hopes up. I remained calm.
I exited the pool, wrapped myself in an extra large towel and waddled into my Mother’s home. I sat down in the living room and said, “I am having some cramps.” My mom looked at me and noticed I was kind of almost panting. She replied, “you might be going into labor.” While I wanted to believe that, I didn’t get too excited. About 5 days earlier Gary and I made the novice trip to the maternity ward thinking I was in labor…but it was just braxton hicks.
I went home and got comfortable on our couch. Sure enough I was beginning to have more of these electric, quick cramps at random. I text my husband, “I think today is the day. I am starting to have contractions. Don’t worry, they aren’t close together.” I’m not sure what Gary was up to, but he was probably farming and out and about.
Gary and I knew that our plan was to have me wait it out at home as long as possible to keep me comfortable. I downloaded an app on my phone to time my contractions. They were still quite random (this is a theme). I sat out on our back porch, in my trusty gravity chair (the best piece of furniture ever for a large preggo) and I calmly waited. Around 8 PM, we knew we were closing in on our last moments as just two the of us. I asked Gary to go get us some ice cream from Shirley’s Twin Kiss. He didn’t believe me. Gary sometimes needs to be reminded that there are no rules in life, except for the ones that we create for ourselves. I smiled at him and reminded him that I was about to make one hell of a sacrifice, and if I wanted vanilla soft serve with sprinkles… in the grand scheme, that would be a pretty modest request. So we had our last date together, on our back porch, imagining life as three instead of two.
These were taken around 8:30 PM. Upon eating our ice cream, we packed up our GMC Sierra and headed North to the hospital where I would deliver our son the following afternoon.
Gary and I decided in October, of the previous year, that we were ready to risk it all and become parents. We had been planning for that moment for a couple of years. I bought a new truck, that we felt would be safe for hauling a child in. Gary worked extra long hours on the road to create a nest egg for renovations to our farm house. I, despite having a bad back, tried my best to be in good shape and eliminate as much toxicity from my life as possible.
In October of 2017, we decided we would never be completely ready, but we were ready enough.
Now, I know what I am about to say will be hard words for some to read, but please know that we (Gary and I) both know that WE ARE very privileged and blessed. We pretty much became pregnant on our first try. Ironically, shortly after Halloween (which was pretty epic) we were laying in bed. I looked at my husband and said, “I think I’m pregnant.” Which, let’s be honest, I had said many other times. But on this morning I had this flutter of possibility in my gut. I knew that with Gary being home (which he never was) that I should take a test. I went downstairs took the test and waited. It was positive. I quietly tip-toed upstairs, crawled back in bed and said to my husband, “I’m pregnant.” We smiled and spent the morning cuddled up in bed dwelling in all of the possibilities.
Around 2:30 AM on July 19th, I was running out of steam. I folded, and requested to crawl in bed and give my back a break. The nurses were able to inject me with some type of medicine that only made me feel loopy. My contractions were brutal. They never had a steady rhythm to them and no matter what I did to prepare for each one, it was nearly impossible. Sometimes they came back-to-back.
This went on all night long. The only thing that kept me going was my husband. He stood all night on his feet, at my bedside, holding my hand. Sometimes he even walked me into the bathroom and back out– all the while still holding my hand. He was exhausted. Men don’t go through the same physiological changes of having hormones and adrenaline that allow laboring mother’s to do unthinkable things. I knew this and could see that he really really did love me so much.
Closer to sunrise I was reaching exhaustion. I remember sleeping for a few seconds in between each contraction and thinking how wild. I am not the type of person that can quickly dose off. Around 5:30 AM I was reaching my physical limit. Between my back pain, random contractions, and just being so far along in my pregnancy I was tapping out. I started whimpering to the nurses, “I can’t do this anymore…someone please help me”. I demanded to see an OB. I did not know, that you don’t see your doctor until delivery. So an OB came in, took a look at me and said, “Okay let’s manually break your water, and get this thing started.” UH what!?“Is this going to hurt?” I replied. “Not really, you might just feel some pressure shift.” So the OB did what she said she was going to do… except then she never returned. This is when my mental state took a turn for the worse. This woman got my hopes up that I was about to meet my son, and then poof– SHE GONE (as the kids say).
I began begging for something to help me with pain. For whatever reason I was not dilating the whole way. I was like a quarter of an inch from where I needed to be, and I could not make any progress. After begging the nurses, a saint of a man came in and administered an epidural in the midst of intense, irregular contractions. During that time, I remember telling myself “you must remain as still as possible and breath. You will remain still.” And that is what I did. My husband’s jaw was on the floor. From there, I became a lunatic of a human. Epidurals are thee weirdest phenomena ever. You are still in labor, still having contractions, but your mind is not aware of it. Okay!?
So then I was a loon for a few hours. Gary asked me if I wanted my parents to come into the room? Which I recall thinking was sooo weird. But, it was alright. So the nurses sat me up in my bed, and my Mom and Dad came in to see me. My Dad walked into the room very far away from my bed like I had something that he did not want to catch.
“So are you like still in labor?” he said. “Yes, it’s awesome. See if you look at the screen you can see that I’m still having contractions.” He was mystified.
After a few hours of resting, it was time to prepare for the final and hardest stage of labor…the pushing. I will spare everyone the details on this process. Most women I have talked to push somewhere between a few minutes to a half hour. I pushed for two hours. I was convinced I was going to be an emergency c-section.
Rhett was born at 4:23 PM on July 19. He was a WHOPPING 9 lbs. 40z. and 22 inches long.
Becoming a Mom is the only thing that I have ever done with familiarity without having ever done it. Read that again. Becoming a Mom is the most natural thing I have ever done. I remember thinking to myself over and over that no matter what medical interventions I had, or what building I was in…the very act of giving birth is something sacred that connected me with every Mother that came before me.
I’ve said it once in this blog, and I will say it again.
Women are goddesses that walk the earth clothed in societal norms that downplay their powers. “
Even after 26 hours of labor, I could not sleep after Rhett arrived. I stared at my him. I spent probably the next 24 hours staring at him. It got to the point that the nurses took him away from me, gave me an ambien and told me I HAD to sleep. Rhett gave me a peace that I had never known before. When I held him, the world would become very still. Sounds around me became muffled, and my senses focused on him with hypersensitivity. He made me appreciate not just moments, but literal seconds of each day. He brought me closer to nature. We would spend time together on my back patio nursing, in my trusty gravity chair, while tractors echoed in and out of our driveway. And I would sit with him thinking it was better than any vacation, drug, gift that I could ever experience. It was truly an incredible time.
So tonight as I sit here sharing this story, I have to say I no longer feel these things. After spending almost 6 months of Rhett’s first year on short-term disability I reflect with sadness that we were not able to have more of those experiences where time stood still. I am back to work, in a new role, that requires even more responsibility.
Today, as I left work, I remarked to a dear colleague of mine that I have a lot of guilt and sadness that it couldn’t have been different. And something he said gave me: this sassy, little, feminist (me) a paradigm shift.
My back problems, my surgery, my promotion– all of these obstacles forced my husband to become the primary nurturer of our son. And you know what? He is damn good at it. I’m not one to be quiet when it comes to equality between men and women. By going through my own obstacles this year, I think I made one of the coolest sacrifices a feminist Mom can make. I gave up a piece of my motherhood and trusted a male with it. And in doing so I gave Gary an opportunity that not all Dad’s get. And because of it, my husband is an extremely, incredible and invested Daddy.
Becoming a Mom is great, but I guess never really thought about what it was like to become a Dad.