My friend Nicole has told me I should write an autobiography. I’ve written pieces, to be honest, but lately, my chapters come out on this blog.
Nicole, I’ve entered my next chapter.
And it’s my favorite one yet.
I don’t take being a mother lightly. I don’t ignore the immense blessing that it really is, or the fact that Scott and I have had more good fortune than I sometimes think I deserve. In the past year alone, I’ve learned of three people in my life circles who have lost babies. I know a couple of very good friends, friends I know would be or already are amazing mothers, who have been trying for months and months and more months to try and get a positive sign on a pregnancy test. I’ve sat in another’s empty nursery and cried through prayers wanting their dreams, not my own.
But for whatever reason, I’m a proud Momma of two healthy children. I will never take that lightly.
Life does not always make sense. And we don’t always have the answers.
We were given a planned C-Section for our daughter. We spent the entire pregnancy going back and forth with different doctors about which birth method we should or would go for and it wasn’t until eight days before she was born that we finally had an answer, a deadline, a game plan. If you know me, you know I need a game plan.
Momma Plan. Momma Do. Repeat often.
The thing about eight days to think about a C-section is that you have eight days to think about a surgery. Even though I had done it before, I had only 45 minutes or less to “plan” for that emergency one with Zack. Adrenaline took over then. Nerves took over this time.
The nerves crept in slowly at first — just a thought here and there, every now and then. Then it was a dream that woke me up in the middle of the night. And then I was just gazing off into space with 10 or 20 minutes totally flying by while my mind was somewhere else entirely.
When I wasn’t pondering my mortality or whether or not a C-Section was the best decision for my baby’s birth, I was enjoying the last few seconds of Zack being our only child. As if right on cue, he began blossoming like never before. There were new tricks and new games; there was more babbling and bigger smiles, deeper belly laughs. There were a lot of hugs and a few embarrassing kisses from his Momma. And then there were the times I watched him sleep or told him one extra “I love you.”
And then we dropped him off for a three-day sleepover with his buddy Owen and the emotional roller coaster began.
It’s only been two and a half weeks, yet it’s amazing how quickly the negatives disappear, especially when a tow-headed boy is driving his car backwards and his little sister is snoring on your chest. These are the moments that make incisions heal, bruises disappear, pain melt away, worry evaporate.
My friend Allison laughed when I told her about Addie being born.
“How do you always have the craziest birth stories?” she squealed over the phone.
The kind of story where your planned C-Section gets delayed by three hours, you’ve gone into labor on your own and you apparently bled much more than the doctor would have liked and the baby seriously will.not.come.out.
Yup, she was stuck. Or stubborn. Or both.
First there was the doctor mumbling something about the incision not being large enough. Followed by a request for scissors. Yup.
Still no luck. A vacuum was brought in. Luckily for Momma and Addie, that popped right off and we moved on to the next method.
Which was two larger nurses body tackling my chest and ribs to push Addie out like a good girl. Scott later said that one of the nurses’ feet were off of the floor while she pounced on me.
When Zack was born, he didn’t cry or scream. He let out one little quiet grunt and that was that. Scott can look back and say that was when he thought something was wrong. I just remember the panic over not seeing my baby due to the curtain and then not hearing anything. In the movies, the baby comes out, screams, Mom smiles and they start a great world with a white picket fence.
In those last few stressful moments as they were preparing to pull Addie out, I kept saying her name over and over, first in my thoughts only, then a quiet whisper from my lips. And then when the pressure let me know she was almost here, I changed my whisper to a simple, “Be OK. Please, please be OK.”
And then I heard a scream.
A loud, shrieking, high-pitched squeal.
And she didn’t stop for her entire time in the operating room, getting cleaned off and first glimpses from both parents. She didn’t stop the entire way down the hospital hallway to the nursery. Scott said one of the nurses at the nurses’ station laughed and said they usually hear the wheels of the baby’s bassinet down the hall before they hear the baby. Not our girl. She was here, for crying out loud!
And she was OK.
Smaller than we and our doctors thought at only (haha only) 8 pounds, 1 ounce and 19.5 inches long. She had this ridiculous mop of long dark brown, almost black hair and these huge blue eyes that were taking everything in around her.
She passed her hearing test on the first try a couple of days after her birth. And we never had any doctors concerned with jaundice or anything else. She took to nursing immediately and was a pro at latching on and getting her food.
When I was in the recovery room an hour after the surgery, Scott came in grinning like a Proud Poppa. He talked about her screaming down the hallways and how much she hated her first bath. He told me he got to hold her in a rocking chair in the nursery and I was so, so happy for him.
But I didn’t want to hear about the bath or the rocking or the screaming. There was only one thing I needed to hear.
“But she’s OK…?” I asked, trying to not be a freak-out Mom in front of the recovery nurse.
“Oh yeah, she’s fine,” he replied. Stupid Man, I thought, he just doesn’t get it.
“No, babe, is she… OK…?
He got it. He smiled. He grabbed my hand, nodded and told me how the one nurse remembered our story from helping us with Zack’s birth and checked Addie herself and then asked the doctor to very thoroughly check for any Down Syndrome indicators. (shape of the face and facial features being flat; a single palm crease; a large space between the first two toes, etc., etc.)
Addie showed no signs of Down Syndrome.
I still wasn’t convinced.
Not until 24 hours later when one of the hospital pediatricians came into our room and performed the series of tests in front of me.
I still couldn’t exhale more than two years’ of holding my breath.
But then our own pediatrician, whose daughter had Down Syndrome and who told us on our first visit with Zack that our little guy was perfect and the rest of the world was screwed up, gave our little girl a look over and said she was perfectly healthy.
Scott and I got in the car that day and I asked him if it was safe to exhale. He and I agreed that we were still skeptical, still scared, still sometimes trapped in that dark place from 22 months ago. But then we agreed to take it, appreciate it and yes, exhale. Just a little bit.
And so now we are parents of two. We are not quite outnumbered but not always in control. More often than not, one or both kids is crying at any given moment. But it is so worth it. And it’s not as difficult as I thought it would be.
I remember sitting in the car, both kids strapped in car seats in the backseat just moments after leaving the hospital while Scott picked up some prescriptions at the pharmacy. I listened to Zack’s babbling and then, suddenly, he stopped. I thought he must have fallen asleep, but when I looked, he was quietly peering over at his sister’s car seat, deep in thought, it seemed.
I didn’t think my heart could take any more that day.
And then Zack took his first steps.
Like no big deal, like he’s been doing it for weeks. He stood up on the floor while Scott was playing with him and took SIX very sturdy, very confident steps toward his Daddy. Scott and I were both in the room and didn’t even say a word to each other, we just kept looking at him and looking at each other.
And The Dude has been stepping a little bit every day. His record is seven steps at one time, but he probably does 10-20 a day.
And I’m still so amazed each time he does it that I freeze and haven’t yet captured it with a camera.
After all the time we spent waiting and praying and planning and worrying about those steps, he made them seem so easy. And he let us know that he was going to be just fine, too. It was one of the best moments of my life as a Momma so far, holding my newborn daughter, watching my husband and son play together in front of me, and then… then, those beautiful steps.
Having two kids is much more about staying one step ahead of the toddler and keeping the baby fed and clean and warm than anything else. Luckily, Zack has always been a relatively easy baby, although his new big brother attitude brings along with it frequent temper tantrums and a blatant disregard for the word “no.”
My favorite moments are when Zack checks out his little sister. He goes over toward her when she cries to check out what’s going on and has offered her three snacks and four toys, including his beloved cow this morning. That’s big stuff for a 22-month-old big brother.
That’s what it’s all about. These are the moments I imagined for the year leading up to our pregnancy and for every day of it. It’s what kept me sane and quiet and still when I was on a table in an operating room listening to measurements of blood and a request for scissors.
I know in my heart that Zack will be as good for Addie as she is for him. And I pray that they will be close, that they can count on one another for whatever they may need on their life journeys. I pray that I am the Momma they need and that I can always look at them with pride — in them and in myself and Scott for giving them everything they needed.
I love this new chapter, new Momma inside of me that came out kicking and screaming. I forgot the beauty of a newborn’s eyes and the daintiness of their toes and fingers. I forgot the smell. I forgot that incredible feeling that they truly and honestly need you in that moment. And that you can, at least for a while now, make it all better.
All that Mommy Glow Happiness is not at all hinting that I am perfect or that I am handling two kids flawlessly. Nobody’s perfect. I’d be lying if I said I haven’t let one — or both — of them cry for 10 minutes just so I can brush my teeth or take a shower. And I’ve most definitely created a changing pad/diaper/pajamas fiasco at 3 a.m. on more than one occasion because I’ve tried to change a diaper while still half asleep.
And I’ve missed my own mother more in the past three weeks than in any other point in my life so far. I imagined her with me during the surgery and looking over my shoulder the first time I held my daughter. I’ve pretended to know what her first few days with me were like, but it really is a game of pretend. It hurts and I’m sure it always will, but I take comfort in knowing that I will tell my children all about their maternal grandmother and hopefully in some way they will feel like they knew her — the good, the bad and the ugly. All of it.
We have had ourselves an amazing month or so. None of it would have been possible without all of our loved ones who helped make it an easier transition for us. I can’t count the number of happy tears I cried or deep breaths of relief I exhaled thanks to those who watched our son, visited the hospital and our home, brought us food, gave gifts, sent loving messages and surrounded us with unbelievable love.
The love from friends and family is an integral part of this new chapter, too. The way they still make Zack feel special without having to talk about him being a Big Brother because they understand there’s still more to him than just that title. The way they look into my children’s blue eyes with a love that could almost rival my own. The quiet moments and the laughs and everything in between.
I don’t take any of that for granted either.
I held my breath for so long, that now that it seems safe to exhale and take a few steps forward without nervously looking over our shoulder, I just want to scream at the top of my lungs. I want to run out to the middle of our yard, look down at our peaceful town and know that it is all okay. I want to look all those monsters right in the eye and watch them run away in fear.
We are just in such a good place.
We have a beautiful, healthy, happy family.
There are coos in our house again. There are squeals over accomplishments. There is laughter. It is a louder place now. It is a livelier place. There are darker circles under our eyes but it’s not as hard to smile.
There is freedom.
There is a new chapter.
And it’s my favorite one yet.
Scott and I put together a video with some of the highlights from Addie’s first week. You can see that here.
And please don’t forget about Zack’s fundraiser for the National Down Syndrome Society. As we prepare for our advocating family of three to grow into an accepting family of four, supporting the NDSS is as important, if not more important, than ever before. Every little bit helps and I still think we can reach $5,000 in time for Zack’s second birthday in August. Please spread the word! We are so excited to raise our daughter in a world that will accept, understand and appreciate her brother and others like him. We’ll be using those blue eyes of hers for some advocacy work here soon enough!