Witch Project Was That, Again?

So, just as Chris left on a business trip for eight days, my mom decided it would be a good time to issue me the #monochromechallenge. Some people might have ignored the request. A better, more Pinteresty mom might have obliged with adorable pictures of grandbabies. Me? Nah. It’s my obligation as the “sassy one” to make my mother sorry she ever nominated me. (Yes, I realize I’m a 40-year-old woman. #Sorrynotsorry)

Jokingly, I told my mom my photos would probably be like something out of “The Blair Witch Project.” And then I realized: Hey, “Blair Witch” had crappy camera work. I’m a crappy photographer. “Blair Witch” made the ordinary seem creepy. My ordinary day is creepy (if you’re melodramatic about it, which, hello, I am!). Let’s do this thang.

In the woods with no guide. *I’m so scared.*

Everyone seems to be spoiling for a fight and our journey’s barely started.


Can’t sleep. It feels like there’s someone out there.

Yep. Scary indeed.

Our grocery store map got lost in the creek. We’re heading south, toward the checkout.  My sincere apologies to all the Save-On Foods employees and customers who heard Henry screaming for his “prison buddy” (aka the loaf of bread I removed from the cart basket because he was punching it).

Turned my back for a minute and the campsite’s destroyed. I think somebody — or something — is out there stalking us. There’s a mysterious substance on all our dishes.

What fresh hell is this? (For the record, my perogies were actually mostly not cold in the middle and nobody cried. Much.)

Found me a legit monster. #Caillou

What monster did this? (No trace of the bananas was ever found.)

The map is long gone and the campers are beginning to turn on each other.

What’s this mysterious substance we keep finding all over the campsite?!

The peaches were in bad shape and now they’re missing altogether. I’M SO SCARED. (For the record, it was a delicious cobbler, no matter what my husband who asked me NOT to save him a piece says.)

We keep ending up in the same exact place. Are we walking in circles?

And what is with these weird figures we keep finding hanging in the forest?!

Nothing scarier than a 5-year-old who stayed up ’til 11 bopping downstairs right on schedule at breakfast time. The only explanation is the supernatural.

And now he’s completely vanished! Where could he be?

They won’t stop these games until I’m mentally destroyed.

Whoever finds the canisters, please note the time stamp: wine o’ clock.

Onward and upward

It seems like but a few short weeks since the busy adventurer we call Henry learned to walk … oh, wait, it has been only a few short weeks. Sigh.

Dear, sweet, adorable little Henry is making up for lost time, it would seem. And this should probably be no surprise. After all, his first project upon achieving upright status this past winter was determining how our doorknobs worked. Had he realized how useful mobility is to aspiring hooligans, I’m sure he would have commenced walking months sooner!

Henry took his first steps in the middle of May and began walking in earnest on June 6 — as if on cue while I was videotaping, no less, because as every child of the 21st century knows, photo or it didn’t happen. You know he’s got spunk when the fourth child manages to score a family “first.”

He’s already an accomplished stairway mountaineer, and like any adventurer, he’s always looking for the next challenge. Having conquered all the easier climbs in our house (steps, kid chairs, train table), he apparently set a personal goal to beat the clock and summit everything in our house (and yard) before he hit 18 months. So, in the past few weeks, I’ve been retrieving him from beds, couches and tabletops.

About a week and a half ago, he scaled the plastic “rock wall” on our Little Tikes climber to much fanfare. Perhaps too much fanfare.

The next day, I heard the door to the boys’ room slam shut. Both James and Thomas were accounted for, so I went into their room to retrieve Henry and save him from choking on Lego and tiny plastic dinosaurs. But where was Henry?

He wasn’t rummaging through the Lego bin. The dinosaur habitat lay desolate. He wasn’t around the corner of the bunk bed, pulling stuffed animals out of the giant stuffie container. I must be going senile, I thought. Surely Henry couldn’t have scaled the ladder to the top bunk — in 30 seconds, no less.

As a matter of fact, he could have. And did. There was our adorable, 17-month-old baby (in the third growth percentile, no less), bouncing happily on his knees in his brother’s bed, shaking a stuffed kitten by the neck.

Those of you who have been reading this blog since the Reign of Madness Maddux may recall that we are not strangers to babies with superior climbing skills. Henry is merely carrying on the grand tradition. He quickly graduated from the bunk bed ladder to the more challenging treehouse ladder xo6bduv. He also has the upper-body strength of a monkey and the toes of a gecko, enabling him to climb the stove by using the front handle as a chin-up bar and wedging his toes against various cabinetry and stove appendages. Oddly, he has never attempted an escape from his crib, nor is he scaling change tables … yet. But I am sure this is simply because he enjoys chewing on his crib so much that he has no reason ever to leave that valuable source of splintery, stomach-satisfying hardwood. As soon as he gnaws his way through his furniture, Henry will doubtless be unstoppable.

Soon enough, he’ll be playing “crack the egg” on the trampoline, gamboling about like a mountain goat on building ledges, dangling off the top of the swingset and clambering about on the (forbidden) exterior of the tube slide like the rest of them. We’ll look back and think, “It seems like just a few weeks ago when he was first climbing up the ladder into the treehouse.”

And perhaps it will be.



High aspirations


Today is Autism Awareness Day. You’d think that every day around our house would be Autism Awareness Day, but, strangely, that’s not really the case. We’re all so used to James that most of the time, he’s just another member of the family, not “the one with autism.” So, just as we know to keep an eye on Maddux if she’s arisen before 6 a.m., not to put condiments on Thomas’ food and not to change Henry’s diaper without occupying his hands with a toy, we know not to ask James to wear jeans or surprise him with a hug.

When we go out in public, though, we’re forced to see James through other people’s eyes — and that’s where awareness comes in.  Last Monday, James attended his first “big kid” karate class. There’s a lot of rapid-fire instruction. There’s an assumption of basic physical coordination. James has trouble processing complex instructions, and his body becomes stiff and awkward when he’s trying out new movements. Last week, he seemed utterly lost until the sensei assigned a specific instructor to guide him through all the motions as if James was a gangly little marionette with one hand jammed permanently in his mouth (a sure sign he’s nervous).

But this Monday, when we arrived at karate, it was completely different. Halfway through the class, James figured out the connection between the verbal commands and the karate stances, and, while he appeared to be on a two-second delay, he put all his concentration on trying to keep up with his classmates. He only had to be posed a dozen times (instead of constantly for the full hour) and even landed a kick or two on the paddles. Performance-wise, he still trailed the other kids, but effort-wise, it was obvious James was giving karate his all. In sports, the end result matters a lot — a kid who struggles just to participate can get lost in the shuffle. But to my amazement and pride, when James and Maddux piled into the car, Maddux announced, brimming with glee, that James had been named “Hardest Worker,” a weekly honor which she greatly covets. So often, people don’t notice all the hard work James puts into what he calls “not being weird.” The fact that someone else who barely knew James noticed him giving his level best and rewarded his efforts — rather than comparing his achievements — nearly brought me to tears in the parking lot of the Y.

We still get stares at parks and grocery stores, and sometimes from other parents at school or activities. But, thanks to the growing awareness of Austism Spectrum Disorder, there are so many people who see James as a person rather than a set of weird behaviors and social differences.

Thanks to his kind, cheerful, insanely patient speech therapist from two years ago, who tailored the therapy to James’ specific needs (even though he was only there for speech) and made it possible for him to have meaningful conversations with people, observe their facial expressions and identify emotions in himself and others.

Thanks to those rare, wonderful children who are compassionate to the “different” kids rather than taking advantage of their deficits in social awareness. James may not understand other kids’ emotions in a specific moment, but he does understand acceptance and rejection. Rejection happens a lot, because kids are kids. And when James has been accepted on play dates, invited to birthday parties and been high-fived and called a “rock star”, he’s spent the next several days giddy with joy. Big thanks to the moms and dads of those children as well, because compassion is a learned behavior!

Thanks to James’ teacher, who’s been working with him since the beginning of the school year — four months before his official diagnosis. She’s developed rewards, reinforced our “breaks” and deep breathing, and worked with the resource teacher on a social-awareness curriculum, which the school kindly provided despite the non-diagnosis. We weren’t sure James would last a week in regular kindergarten. Yet here we are, with just three months to go before year’s end.

Thanks to the grandparents, aunts and uncles who shower James with love despite the meltdowns, some occasionally obnoxious behaviors and the uncertainty that he’ll reciprocate the hugs and “I love you”s — or even say “hi” if he’s busy with his Lego. He’s working on those hugs and gets better every time!

To Chris, who didn’t want to believe James was different but humored me when I demanded evaluations and doctor visits, and has been there both to console me when it’s been overwhelming and give me a reality check when I expect too much of James (how the tide has turned!).

It’s hard to say where kindness ends and “awareness” begins, but I like to think that a little bit of knowledge about neurological differences helps people process some of James’ quirks. I’m grateful to those who know about James’ differences and accommodate them. And I’m gobsmacked when perfect strangers overlook James’ deer-in-the-headlights expression and obvious speech differences and give him “kudos” in front of his classmates.

Yesterday I was surprised by the karate instructors’ perceptiveness and compassion. Today, I want to thank those of you who have made James feel like a regular kid, and ask those who stumbled on this blog somehow to do the same for a person with autism in your lives. These moments are few and far between, but when they happen, well, that’s the stuff that keeps us going!


Kicking the paddle — his favorite part!



Keeping up with the beginner class!

Shouting it from the mountaintop

Is it wrong that, two days after James’ diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, I feel more relaxed and at peace than I have in about four years?

Ever since James was about 2, we’ve been on this long, hard uphill slog. And Friday was, in a word, wrenching. Our appointment with the assessment team and James’ teacher was scheduled for 12:30, so the morning was awful because I spent it with lead-stomached dread, terrified that, once again, James would fall just a hair below the mystical “diagnostic threshold.” Once again, he’d be labeled with multiple, rather fuzzy disorders rather than the single disorder that handily explains all his differences and provides a proven game plan for some sort of remediation. I was practically certain of this. All morning, I couldn’t eat a mouthful and my heart was galloping, despite my consumption of a single cup of coffee before noon.

Friday evening, although James received exactly the diagnosis we’d known he would ever since I noticed certain autistic traits four years ago, I was reeling with the grave finality of the words on his official diagnosis folder (yes, along with a diagnostic label, you receive an enormous folder full of information and therapy options. I’ve read maybe a third of it. It’s thick.). Even though I knew — KNEW — the team was wrong two years ago when they said he did not have a spectrum disorder — “merely” an expressive language disorder (not specified), anxiety disorder (not specified) and Oppositional Defiant Disorder — oh, and sensory issues, too — I apparently secretly harbored a faint glimmer of hope that the psychiatrist was right. That James had global delays from being premature, and that all he needed  was a bit of speech therapy and a few years of development and that, by age 8, everything would even out and he’d be like every other 8-year-old. That, as an adult, he’d have no problem living on his own and would have a job and a spouse and that when we died, there wouldn’t be a question of what would happen to James. Who wouldn’t want that?

Of course, when your child has spent hours (years, if you add it up) lining up toys and echoing your words back to you and having hourlong tantrums about his clothes, you know. Even when he makes great strides and now he’s just that weird kid whose conversations are a little non-sequitur-heavy and he punches his favorite classmate (not best friend, because he doesn’t have friends in the strict sense of the word) for tapping him on the shoulder from behind, you know. He is still the same kid he was two years ago, when he got the non-diagnosis, and four years ago when he screamed and wailed through music class because it interrupted his repetitive rolling of the wheels on his omnipresent toy school bus.

The psychiatrist who ran both assessments said that they had expected to see the gap between James and his peers narrow, but that it had widened instead. Which is great for James, because now he doesn’t fall short of this arbitrary threshold that for two years prevented him for qualifying for therapies, but also heartbreaking because it means that yes, he has a neurological difference, not a cluster of delays. And it means that we’ve missed four years of early interventions, no matter what the team said about James still being “young.” If he’d been diagnosed at 2, where would he be now?

I had always expected to feel a great sense of relief after James got a proper diagnosis (as anticipated, the psychiatrist called it PDD-NOS, which is hard to describe as it’s sort of a catch-all spectrum diagnosis, but in James’ case it basically means something like Asperger’s with a speech delay thrown in). Instead of feeling as though a weight had been lifted, on Friday, I simply felt numb and sad. It’s as though — as much as I raged against the non-diagnosis in 2010 — its predictions of normalcy had allowed just enough hope to prevent the grieving one might do if one had some sort of certainty.

Luckily, after a little time to digest what has been so evident for years, I’ve felt a sort of lightness yesterday and today. James is going to have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and funding to be distributed both to his school and the therapy providers of our choosing. In his giant folder rests a hefty sheaf of info on support groups for parents and special-needs sports teams and programs for kids on the spectrum. And, while it shouldn’t matter (but does, to me), we now have the official paperwork to prove that no, our kid is not just a noisy spaz who didn’t respond to your kid’s random question because he’s been raised with no manners; he has a diagnosable disability so just stop glaring at him already.

It’s been an arduous journey full of tears, frustration, loneliness and not a little anger at the system, and now, it feels as I imagine it does when one reaches the summit of Everest and looks out to see the world at one’s feet. James is still the same James he was at 4 and at 2 and as a beautiful, tiny premie — sweetness and volatility, the most likely of our children both to punch you and to let you sleep with his stuffed bunny for 10 nights (no more, no less). And yet everything is different, because there will be help, a plan, an explanation. A new world is at his feet. And a new world’s at my feet, too, because finally, I can lay down the backpack and look at the view. The seemingly endless uphill trek is over. Time to rest and survey how far we’ve come. We’ll start climbing the next mountain soon enough.

Solo sports — James’ happy place

Time Machine

In the early hours of Dec. 31, 2011, I rolled into the Labour and Delivery wing of Kelowna General. And here I sit, a mere few hours later, in the final week of 2012.

Oh, sure, I’ve raised a newborn into a cruiser, graduated a child from preschool, supervised class trips and organized teacher gifts, and generally kept four children from killing each other. But in terms of time to breathe and think, it’s been about two hours. And if we’re talking about how long it’s felt since Henry entered the world, there have been both hours that crawled along like months and months that sped by like hours. Motherhood squeezes one through a sort of rift in the time-space continuum in which ordinary measurements of time are utterly meaningless.

Things that take months: Feeding the baby (solids or nursing, it doesn’t matter; Henry cannot be rushed). Getting the regularity-challenged Thomas to sit on the toilet and drop a deuce before it forces its way out in a cataclysmic and embarrassing volcanic event. Supervising homework. Our three trips to and from school each day, with children alternately fighting to the death and whining for Timbits.

Things that take hours: The time between notification of a play or recital and the time I’m supposed to have assembled an entire costume (usually using various articles of white — WHITE?!! — clothing). The period in between the sitting and crawling stages during which a prudent mother would carve out some time to babyproof everything (apparently, I am not a prudent mother). The amount of time between birth and the emergence of teeth and words. The time that elapsed between James’ last letter sound and first independent book. The window between buying pants with “room to grow” and discovering those pants have turned into capris so tight they threaten to sterilize your son.

Owing to the brain damage that happens each and every time one pops out a baby (I reckon between the four, I’ve lost about 50 IQ points), I have no recollection of life before Henry. I simply know that I rise at 6 a.m. every school day to prepare lunches and snacks in those bleary, eerily-silent 30 minutes before six little feet hit the floor and thunder down the stairway, elbows competing for prime banister real estate as they race to be first to the breakfast table (where they then proceed to take literal years to eat three small bowls of Cheerios because they are too busy telling each other how much more quickly they can eat Cheerios than all the others). And I know that it is 9:30 before I fall into bed after having washed the dishes and readied the backpacks and laundered the uniforms and laid out the lunch kits for the morning rush. If it is a good day — meaning a day I can put Henry into his crib while he is in that elusive drowsy-but-alert state which the experts recommend, and which happens perhaps once in a given week — I can get an hour’s reprieve while both of my littlest boys nap. If it is a bad day, I resolve to have a glass of wine and make myself some dessert afterwards, only to collapse in bed with a reality show once my chores are done, too tired to bother with wine or dessert.

This feels like it’s been going on for a century, and yet, when I look at Henry, I wonder where all the time went. When did my sleepy, kitten-size infant become a smiling, clapping baby? And when did that baby begin crawling, cruising and saying cute little words? How is it that he’s eating pasta with meat sauce and trying to use my phone?

And HOW have I not blogged in almost a year?

It can’t be the amount of kids. Lots of moms have a million kids, homeschool them, run a business, do 3,000 picturesque crafts in a day, and document the whole thing in ridiculously professional and prolific blogs. And it can’t be the baby. I’ve had a baby and blogged before. I wish I could say I’ve been busy cooking and cleaning, but I’m pretty sure lighting would strike me dead on the spot if I claimed any such thing. Once dishes and laundry are taken care of, who has the energy for floors? (Homeschooling professional-photographer bloggers with nine children, three of them in diapers, that’s who!)

Anyway, in between feeding and clothing and bum-wiping and chauffeuring all the kids, here are all the things I haven’t managed to properly chronicle: Maddux went to science camp (where she made friends and influenced people); the kids all took up regular swim and karate lessons (James takes them the most seriously); Thomas has NOT been kicked of preschool (yet); Henry has learned to do all one might expect of a nearly-1 baby and is the happiest little guy you’ll ever meet (until he’s not). Maddux — at long last — is in the same class as her “BFF” from kindergarten onward. They have been wisely placed on opposite sides of the classroom. James is now a reader. He has received a love letter and was very nonchalant about the whole thing. (He also punched his best friend at school in the chest for tapping him on the shoulder in the recess line, so it’s not always roses!) Thomas can do basic addition and subtraction, but still refuses to walk down the stairs by himself about 40 percent of the time. Henry is a big fan of high-fives, snuggles and every girl over the age of 5 he has ever met. He says “Mama,” “Dada,” “Up,” “No,” “Good” and a couple other almost-words. He cruises, but if you try to walk him across the floor, he gingerly lowers himself until he’s in crawling mode. His hobbies and interests include peek-a-boo, books, animals and using the power of the mind to will you to look at him, in which event he will smile at you until you return his smile.

As I write this, Henry’s finishing up an afternoon nap — one of those rare ones that happens in a crib rather than my arms. Perhaps as he starts sleeping more on his own, I’ll write more. Or perhaps I’ll step back into the time machine and see you a few hours from now, in January 2014.

Sister and baby sweetness
Best buds

Express Delivery

For weeks, we’ve been expecting to have our little guy any day. First, at a day shy of 36 weeks, I went into Labour & Delivery with crampy feelings in my abdomen measuring about five minutes apart. Turns out that the flu can also give a person painful abdominal cramps. Oops.

Then, the Thursday before Christmas, I began contracting regularly at 10-minute intervals. The contractions were uncomfortable, but not particularly painful. I went to bed, figuring the contractions would stop. They didn’t. And they were just strong enough to wake me up every 10 minutes for the entire night.

The minute my obstetrician took out his wheel and gave me a January 9th due date, I joked, “See you Christmas Eve.” And now it looked as if my prediction was going to be borne out.

But apparently, for some fetuses, making people bite their nails in anticipation of your arrival is more fun than arriving at an incredibly inconvenient time, and Henry is clearly one of those babies. Christmas Eve came and went with plenty of regular contractions, but no progress. Ditto for Christmas Day, despite my prediction that the wee one would make his entrance once the turkey was in the oven.

Back in the summertime, during an early appointment when my OB went over my labor history, the topic of my rather early and precipitous labors came up. James came at 35 weeks after an hour of labor. Thomas came at 38 weeks after four hours. Since Henry was to be a winter baby and we live on a mountain, our doctor suggested planning an induction for 38 weeks, and I happily agreed. The last thing I want to do is deliver in the car on the side of a snowy road. Without an epidural.

Boxing Day (Dec. 26, for non-Canadians) was the 38-week mark, but as my pregnancy progressed and I hit 34 weeks with no dilation — completely usual for me — my OB backpedaled on induction.

“You know, every pregnancy is different,” he told me at my 35-week checkup. “I think you may go overdue on this one.”

I delivered Maddux, my first and latest baby, three days before her due date. I was totally going to have this kid in a snowbank on the shoulder of Summit Road.

But by my 37-week appointment, my doc had flipped again. This time, I was 1 cm dilated, soft and with the baby very low. I was also Strep B positive, which means that, ideally, four hours of antibiotics need to be administered before baby is born to prevent complications like encephalitis. So now an induction assessment was scheduled for 8 a.m. the day after Christmas.

I made it to the appointment with baby still in utero and a labor bag packed. Two hours later, we were home with no baby. L&D was chock-a-block full of people with serious medical issues that needed immediate attention and if I had gone into labor that day, I would have been in another ward without delivery beds.

“Call later today,” my OB said. “L&D has a very fast turnover rate. Maybe you can still get your induction this afternoon.”

No such luck. Another assessment was set for the 27th. And at that assessment, everything was exactly the same as it had been the day before. Because I wasn’t “making progress,” I went home. Again.

“If you start having regular contractions closer together than 10 minutes apart, go into Labour & Delivery,” my doc told me. I nearly cried. My still-regular contractions progressed nightly to 8 minutes apart while I tried to sleep, so that would mean hiring a babysitter every night until delivery. I mentally replaced the “10” with a “5.”

On Wednesday the 28th, my contractions changed shortly after I put the kids to bed (of course). They were now four minutes apart and breathtaking. We threw the still-pajama-clad kids in the car and Chris dropped me at the hospital on his way to pick up the babysitter (yes, the only babysitter available that night was the carless one! Surely I was about to deliver!).

But after an hour of walking, there was no progress. Since I had been contracting for seven full days and was only getting sleep between contractions, I was sent home with some sleeping pills. Overnight, the contractions spread back out again.

Clearly, Henry was waiting for New Year’s Eve so he could be an anniversary baby. And I didn’t even care.

The 29th passed with no event (other than the unremitting contractions). I went to the gym, thinking a nice block of cardio would bounce the baby out, or at least effect cervical change before my next OB appointment on Jan. 2. Nada. The contractions remained like a constant background noise, not really interfering with day-to-day life (other than sleeping) but impossible to ignore.

Finally, yesterday, the contractions began to grow a bit stronger and more painful. As I put the children to bed, they remained 10 minutes apart. I washed the dishes. Still 10 minutes apart. Watched some “Project Runway.” Still 10 minutes apart.

Giving up on my contractions ever amounting to anything, I propped my enormously pregnant self on a mountain of pillows and practiced my hypnobirthing, still hitting the contraction timer on my iPhone with each “surge” (oddly, surges don’t feel any nicer or more natural than contractions — sorry, hypnobirthing inventors).

By the end of my hypno session, around 12:30 a.m., the contractions were six minutes apart and painful. I paged Chris on the intercom.

“Hey, honey, my contractions are six minutes apart and they’re really uncomfortable. I think we should go into the hospital now,” I said. Then another one hit. I tapped my phone and realized this one was closer to 4 and a half minutes and hurt like a beast.

“All right, but I’m going to drive down the hill and pick up the babysitter first,” Chris said, clearly forgetting that one time I went from not being in labor to popping out a baby in an hour’s span. I tried to say, “The hell you are,” but unfortunately for me it came out sounding like this: “AAAAGHHHHHHHHHithurtsithurtsithurtsAGGHHHH!” so off he went.

Luckily, Chris has some epic teleportation abilities and made it there and back in 18 minutes (or five horrendous contractions, by my clock). By this time, they were closer to two minutes apart and Chris had to pretty much carry me up the stairs and heave me into the car.

Despite my theoretical awesomeness at hypnobirthing in the comfort of my own room while not in labor, I’m better at hypno than at birthing. I’m pretty sure Chris’ ears were not functional after the ensuing car ride. Luckily, Chris made it to the hospital in three contractions. I don’t ever want him to tell me how fast he was driving. Some things are best left alone.

As he wheeled me into L&D, I distinctly remember yelling, “If anyone tells me I’m still at a 2 I’m gonna strangle some people!”

The nurse checked me and told me I was at a 2/3 (throwing the 3 in there purely to mollify me, I’m sure).

“Are you (beep) kidding me?” I screamed, but she was safely out of my strangling radius.

The contractions continued at 2 minutes apart for what seemed like two hours but what apparently was actually only 15 minutes. I begged her to check me again so I could get an epidural, but she refused and said she would check in an hour. All the while, her neck remained utterly elusive.

Finally, some scream or another came from my mouth about incredible pressure in my tailbone — and that, ladies who labor quickly, is apparently the magic phrase. She begrudgingly checked me 45 minutes ahead of schedule and I was at a 5 (15 minutes after being a 2 and therefore not in “true labor”). They then hooked up the IV antibiotics (apparently the nonstop screaming did not convince them that I was in “true labor” until the rapid dilation I predicted did, indeed, occur) and wheeled me into a delivery room, where a wonderful anesthetist jammed a needle in my spine, for which I thanked him profusely.

I’m pretty fuzzy on the time, but I think we rolled into the hospital around 1:20 and I got my much-desired epidural around 2-something. For a while — in a Phillips delivery first — I was actually able to rest and have a rational conversation with my husband (although perhaps “rational” is a stretch, as I’d been given a shot of Demerol after measuring at 2 cm in a smart defensive move by the potential strangle-ee, and I don’t handle narcotics very well).

Sometime after 3, the numbing effect of the epidural failed to cover the intense feelings of pressure one tends to get before a baby blasts forth into the world. My doctor had told me to let the nurses know when I started feeling pressure, so let them know I did. Probably — although I don’t recollect thanks to the Demerol — by yelling things about strangling. (So much for my peaceful hypnobirth, right?)

Now, ordinarily, the pushing stage is when I completely destroy my larynx. But hooray for epidurals and fourth babies.

In all of two contractions, we went from “Let’s try to push now” to “Now stop pushing,” some squeaky baby sounds, and a “Look down!”

And just like that, there was Henry — my sweet little bundle of last-baby goodness!

Let it be noted that, in the middle of my very short pushing phase, the OB said something to the effect of, “Oh, he’s occiput posterior.”

Once you’ve heard those words in labor once (or two other times, in my case), you won’t forget them, because they mean they mean your baby is facing outward rather than in and that you are probably experiencing back labor, a super-special fun kind of labor wherein the baby’s spine grinds against your spine, causing you unbearable, crippling pain such as you have never known. (Most people feel labor in their backs at some point, but I can assure you based on Thomas’ birth that back pain in labor is nowhere near the same thing as back labor. I did that entire birth without pain meds or talk of manually asphyxiating passersby.)

I’m going to use the back labor to justify any strangling-related statements that may have been made before I was given pain medication.

Anyhow, the doctor easily turned Henry around before I finished pushing, and he entered the world at 3:32 a.m., all pink and wiggly and adorable and measuring in at 19 inches long and a diminutive 7 pounds, 1 ounce (but gaining weight after birth instead of losing it). He spent his first day eating, filling diapers and trying to remove every shred of skin from his face with overgrown talons a sideshow act would envy. (I’m working on filing them down surreptitiously as I feed him.)

He’s not terribly fussy, is easy to feed, snuggly and soft, and is generally making up pretty well for the excruciating back labor, the eight days and nights of nonstop contractions, the insanity of my non-induction and subsequent moving-violation-necessitating, almost-epidural-missing three-hour labor and delivery, and most annoyingly, making his schedule-conscious mommy wait, and wait, and wait, and stress, and wait some more.

And in the end, our anniversary — or New Year’s Eve, or whatever you want to call it — is not a terribly inconvenient birthday. We’re just happy that our little Henry is finally here!


Waiting game

So far, all three of our kids have come out taking after Chris more than they take after me. Over time, Maddux has transformed from a purple coneheaded alien (obviously something she got from her Daddy’s side, my purple-themed given name notwithstanding) into a stunning blue-eyed beauty, which she clearly inherited from yours truly. But the boys are still all Chris, from Thomas’ greenish eyes and sturdy build to James’ entire head and seriously weird OCD issues. And Maddux’ predilection toward early-morning craft projects involving butter pawprints on the hardwood and toothpaste in the toilet tank are certainly not a trait she inherited from moi. (For one thing, I don’t dig early-morning anything.)

And Henry is apparently following in his father’s footsteps as well. As of Monday, we’ve officially passed the 38-week mark, meaning my little oven-bun has both his big brothers’ gestational times beat and is fast-approaching his sister’s 39 and 4. And, although 38 weeks is not technically late, your 38 is my 40, so it’s certainly not punctual, either. Thus, I’m going to have to assume Henry got his internal clock from his daddy.  (Have you heard of island time? Well, there’s a similar thing I like to call “Chris time.” Take however many minutes he estimates he’s going to be and triple it. It’s kind of the same concept as “Chris dollars.”)

I went in on Monday for a 38-week induction assessment. Unfortunately, it was the day after Christmas and apparently quite a lot of other women had ignored complications over the holiday, so L&D was full to bursting and my doctor sent me home. Now, even though he suggested the induction way back in the summertime, he keeps forgetting that it was his own suggestion and backpedaling on it, so I was surprised when he said, “Call back this afternoon and see if some beds have cleared out. We may be able to induce you then.”

Well, the beds had not cleared out, so I went in Tuesday morning, at least partially if not fully expecting (my slight skepticism based on this doctor’s history of flip-flopping) that I’d be induced.

This is where I should mention that I’ve been having contractions about 10-15 minutes apart since last Thursday night. Crampy, tight, un-sleep-through-able contractions that make me feel like whatever I ate earlier is going to come out one way or another. So not only was I really freaking out about having a baby on an icy mountaintop, I was also delirious from having slept in 8-minute increments for five nights in a row. In fact, I actually got completely disoriented trying to find my way to the elevators in the same hospital where, over the last several years, I’ve spent a week on bedrest, delivered two children, and taken three children for croup attacks, RSV, well-preemie visits and a broken wrist.

Imagine my disappointment when my OB — in complete contrast to the day before, when he was ready to induce but for the lack of beds — told me that since I was only 1 cm dilated, he was not comfortable inducing because if the baby wasn’t ready, I might end up with a C-section. Apparently, he had forgotten about the day before, when he told me he thought I would be one of those women who never got beyond 1 cm until active labor (you know, like I’ve been telling him for the past nine months based on all three of my other deliveries). So home I went, and last night either the contractions stopped while I slept or I was just so utterly exhausted that I managed to sleep through them. I guess six solid days and nights of false labor will do that to a person.

After last night, I’m pretty positive this kid is going to take after Chris. All the stars and planets had aligned perfectly for a stereotypically inconvenient and chaotic Phillips-baby birth. I’d been contracting for the better part of a week and sent home from not one but two induction assessments. My membranes had been swept. We live on a mountaintop. And the sky was dumping several inches of snow on our mountain’s steep, windy road (which never seems to be plowed when we need desperately to get someplace quickly). Did I mention James’ labor took one hour and Thomas’ took four? And that, because this time I have the added bonus of being Strep B positive, I will ideally need six hours of antibiotics before the baby is born? And that there are no babysitters in town except the one who doesn’t have a car?

If Henry had wanted to follow James’ precedent of making Daddy miss the delivery, or Thomas’ benchmark of being too late arriving at L&D for even so much as a bag of IV meds, he would most certainly have come last night (unless there’s some impending 7.5 earthquake or missile attack to which only my child is privy). And yet, he did not.

Clearly, we have yet another kid who is all Daddy.

P.S. If you see a crazy pregnant lady jumping on a trampoline in the snow tonight, equipped with a beer helmet full of castor oil and a plate of habaneros, don’t judge.

Under Pressure

There’s so much pressure this week! First off, now that we are 35 weeks along, it is impossible to dance around the fact that the baby could come any day (although, given my current level of agility and immense girth, it’s highly unlikely that I’m capable of dancing around anything). Currently, the bambino has been baking for about 60 hours longer than his brother James did. So yeah. The clock is ticking.

Because I am still holding out for a pair of skid-proof socks that do NOT prominently feature hot-pink cows on the toes, my hospital bag is not yet entirely packed. Also, there is the issue of baby clothes, which are currently housed in the back of our storage room somewhere. (Did I mention that our storage room is wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling random crap? And that I have all the agility of a beached manatee?) Also not ready: Single stroller, swing, bottles, pump and place to keep the baby clothes once I’ve successfully hurled my big self over the mountain of junk to retrieve them.

But I’m off subject here. I’m talking about pressure today. And if you think that being behind on baby preparations is pressure, you clearly don’t have a giant baby head pressing down like a friggin’ jackhammer on your pelvic floor right now.

Yes, it is definitely the third trimester. And almost certainly the last few weeks, if previous experience is anything to go on.  Which is OK by me, because waking up to intense pelvic pressure caused by huge contractions doesn’t make me feel all natural and beautiful and womanly like people tell you pregnancy will be.  Also, if I feel the urgent — nay, excruciating — need to visit the toilet, the payoff for waddling all the way to the bathroom on my near-disintegrated hips should be a good, long pee, not a false alarm. (Seriously, kiddo, bladder pranks are not that amusing.)

I’m assuming that the baby hasn’t dropped, since I’m still carrying high and my babies don’t drop until I’m nearly in labor (uh-oh …), but it sure feels like there’s a toddler sitting on my tailbone and squeezing my bladder for giggles. Add to that some really wicked Braxton-Hicks contractions (not the kind that feel like a blood pressure cuff, but rather the kind that feel rather like live disembowelment), and I’m definitely not seeing the baby come after New Year. As if we ever thought he would!

So, I guess I’d better work on those hospital socks and baby clothes.

And here are my 35-week belly pics. Yes, those are obliques on a 35-weeks-pregnant mom of three. I am as shocked as you are, and also highly recommend Keith at World Gym!

Side splitter

In pregnancy literature, there’s a well-worn truism that “every pregnancy is different.” However, one symptom I vividly recall from all three of my kids’ pregnancies is this horrifying sensation reminiscent of having one’s ribs retracted without the benefit of anesthesia. Thing is, I remember having that feeling at 27 weeks — not 14 weeks. I guess there really is something to that other old truism that “your body remembers what to do,” because the last week or so, my ribcage has felt like one of those little gel capsules that contains a dehydrated foam toy. You know, the kind that — when exposed to water — expands to 100 times its original size and bursts forth from said capsule, obliterating it in the process.

That’s me: the human Magic Cap. And, just because I decided to tempt fate and birth myself an entire curling team, I now get to enjoy not one but two trimesters of this miracle of nature.

Technically, my ribs probably aren’t spreading yet. But the rib that Maddux used to use as her personal in-utero park bench is apparently very sensitive to relaxin and has decided to break free of the others at every possible opportunity.

Feel like rolling over in bed? Out goes a rib. Time to unload the dishwasher? Why no. Actually, it’s time to throw that rib out again. Sometimes I’m just sitting there reading an e-book and when I press the page-forward button on my Kindle, the exertion is simply too much for my ultra-relaxed spine. Sprooooiinnggggg! What are we doing for dinner? Heck if I know, but I do have the tenderest ribs this side of Kansas City.

The only thing that fixes my back and rib problems is a vigorous 30+ minute cardio session, followed by the unglamorous spectacle of a pregnant woman using the pec fly machine at the gym to crack her spine back into alignment. (Well, I suppose there is also the chiropractor, but that would involve appointment-setting, and also losing my phobia of arterial dissection.)

And so it has come to pass that I have been at the gym at 6:30 on many mornings, getting in that all-important workout before the kids start running around destroying things. I suppose it’s not such a very bad thing to be working out when one is pregnant, especially if one has gained 10 pounds in the first trimester from subsisting on a diet that places Campbell’s chicken noodle at the bottom of the food pyramid, with crackers in the middle and buttered toast at the top. (OK, OK, there are some Nanaimo bars in there, too. For the baby.)

But all is not doom and gloom. With the nausea and vomiting gone, I’ve been able to eat what I want. And what I want lately is to not gain any more weight for awhile, so there have been a lot of strawberries, blueberries and grapes. Hooray for in-season fruit! This would be a pretty expensive habit were it, say, February.

Another expensive habit in pregnancy is clothing oneself. It has recently come to my attention that my favorite place to buy maternity clothes, The Bay, no longer sells maternity clothes (at least not in our town). So I am left with our mall’s lone maternity store, which marks up cheaply-made garments to prices you’d only pay if you were guaranteed the item would survive more than one wash cycle, and only puts things on clearance when nobody has decided to buy that XXS or XXL gingham-and-lace maternity bustier after 10 years of full retail price.

So now I am stuck driving two hours to buy shirts that I can sweat in without the underarm areas immediately losing all traces of pigment.

That little road trip should be fun for my ribs.

And here I am, hoping my camera smile doesn’t dislocate that rib, at 14 weeks pregnant:

I’ll sleepover when I’m dead

When you’re a teen-age girl, slumber parties are all makeovers and junk food, Tiger Beat perusing and MASH-playing, giggling and crank-calling boys. There is no down side to any of this. When you’re the mom of the slumber-party thrower, however, sleepovers are all down side.

We’re not quite sure where Maddux picked up her fixation with slumber parties (as always, I will happily lay the blame at the feet of the princess-industrial complex), but at some point when she was 4, she began begging for a sleepover with James. Having shared many a hotel bed with my children, I wisely declined, but Chris blithely suggested to our daughter that James and I would both sleep in her room on Christmas Eve. (Never mind that Santa cannot deliver presents if he is wedged underneath a slobbering, sweaty 3-year-old who stayed up talking gibberish until he passed out, mid-sentence, at 12:30 a.m.)

Since then, there have been two mom-sanctioned sleepovers — and countless other instances in which, upon hearing giggling and heavy footsteps three hours past bedtime, we have discovered the children throwing themselves a rollicking impromptu slumber party. But, for Maddux, too much is never enough.

This past January, I picked my wee kindergartner up at school one afternoon and was not so much asked as informed, “Mommy, I’m having six girls over for a sleepover tonight.”

Oh, really?  I quickly disabused my daughter of the notion that she could throw spur-of-the-moment overnight parties in what, that afternoon, happened to be a pigsty nearing “Hoarders” proportions. Her six friends were very disappointed, as they had already received their invitations, but I figured their mothers would appreciate their not acquiring tetanus staying up late on a school night.

Instead, I promised that she would get to throw a non-overnight pajama party on a weekend (TBD) as a reward for meeting her reading goals. The weeks flew by, and “TBD” went from February to March to April to “sometime before school lets out.” Then it was time for school to let out.  With one day left in the school year, Chris and I worked out a date when Nana could take the boys overnight so the wave of giggly, whispery, Disney-brand femininity invading our house would not be assailed by the usual horde of short-circuiting robots, brakeless tank engines and hungry tyrannosaurs. Instead of six girls, I made her invite eight so as not to exclude anyone in her class.  Luckily, only five could make it.

On Friday, the long-awaited girlfest finally happened. According to the little girls’ PJ-party postmortem, it was all pillows and stuffed kittens and pizza and cupcakes and swooning over the hero from “Tangled,” who was roundly deemed “nice and handsome.” In reality, the girls spent approximately 15 minutes playing happily in Maddux’ room, 10 minutes watching the movie and consuming popcorn, 5 minutes getting manicures and promptly threatening the white couches with dripping Technicolor nails, 5 minutes eating pizza, 30 seconds decorating and eating cupcakes, and two hours, 29 minutes and 30 seconds engaged in school-age girl-on-girl emotional warfare.

Actual quotes from the party:

“Give me your unicorn —  or I swear I will never speak to you again.

“You can’t just boss people around.” (Said in bossiest voice possible.)

“Just because she’s being horrible doesn’t mean you should be horrible back.”

“It’s not fair for you to have two glowsticks!” (Said as someone picked up a stray glowstick while holding her own glowstick.)

“Seriously. If you don’t give me that unicorn, you will not exist to me.”

And just like that, the usual horde of berserk tyrannosaurs didn’t seem so bad.  I swigged back some Coke, mediated disputes over fairy wings, magic wands and stuffed unicorns, and agonizingly waited for the hours and minutes to tick by. (A note: Never, under any circumstances, schedule a children’s party to last longer than two hours. Three and a half hours, just FYI, not only will drive you insane, but is an amount of time only an already-insane person would consider when planning a party for 6-year-old girls. Lesson learned.)

After the unicorn-related emotional blackmail, bossiness and condescending judgment of others’ behavior on the part of all six girls, I was worried that the gang of friends who entered the house three-and-a-half hours earlier would leave the party sworn enemies. But that’s the thing about girls. We are eternal optimists. We let kids drown us in saliva on Christmas Eve. We plan overlong parties. And when we have overly dramatic disputes with our BFFs, all we remember afterward is the cupcakes and unicorns and our mutual appreciation for the handsome cinematic hero.

To my undying shock, not only did Maddux pronounce this gong show from the bowels of Hades “the best night ever,” but apparently all her friends went home and chattered happily away about the party all weekend, leaving out entirely any and all tales of unicorn rustling or glowstick misappropriation.

And then, as I laid in bed afterward — thoroughly exhausted both physically and emotionally — and looked back on my childhood sleepovers with fresh Mom eyes, I remembered that it wasn’t all MASH and makeovers. There were disputes over how some girlfriends treated other girlfriends. There were arguments over clothes, boys and whether to play Truth or Dare or be a stupid weenie and go to sleep. And, of course, there was the fateful sleepover when I was 7 and had to alert my parents to the existence of a clothing fire.

Yes, come to think of it, I believe we’ll be doing these daytime pajama things for quite awhile longer.