Here we go again...

There is a famous story in my family that goes like this: When I was 2 1/2, my sister, Amy Lou, was born. They brought her home from hospital, and my mom's best friend/my godmother, Mary, asked me, "Hannah, what did you get from the hospital?!" I answered, after a moment of hesitation --perhaps because I just needed time to process this weighted question, and perhaps because it just the moment of hesitation I needed for mischief to seep in--

"Gum," I said.  "I got a stick of gum!"

Then everyone laughs.

This was Amy Lou's actual face when she heard this story.

Despite my early reservations about being a big sister, I came around. Amy Lou and I have a great relationship now (30 years later, we did it!).

And I have a great relationship with the other one in that picture...she came along 4 years after Amy Lou in a blaze of scream-crying glory.  I have always said that Maren was the most beautiful baby I had ever seen, and that is a true truth, but she was also a very VOCAL one.

Anyways, the point is, having sisters is great. It is absolutely one of the most enriching, rewarding relationship of my life, it's wonderful. In the long run. In the short run it is new and different and therefore terrifying. From the parent's perspective, I think it is the scariest, bravest thing you can do. Having another child literally doubles your work. Some say it is more than double. But those people are very mean and should keep comments like that to themselves, or surely we will never repopulate the Earth.

So basically, that is how I feel about having a second child: it is the most wonderful thing ... it is the scariest thing.

But here we go... we're doing it! And I have some concerns.

I worry a little about Olivia taking on the role of the big sister. I worry about the little fights they will get into, the times that O will be jealous of the baby's attention, the days when O will wish she had her mom and dad all to herself again. Although I don't worry about these things too much for some reason. I don't think she will treat her little sibling like a discarded piece of gum. She has more love in her heart than that (not sure where she got it from). She talks about babies a LOT, and she loves to help take care of them at daycare. She talks about her sister too (she thinks we are having a girl, she is pretty insistent on that). She talks about where her sister will sit on the couch, which toys she will play with, how she will take a bath in the same tub as Olivia does. And I hear stories from my friends about how sweet it is to see their kids' sibling relationship blossom, and all of this makes me really excited. It sounds absolutely wonderful and adorable and heartwarming. Almost enough to make me throw myself into this adventure with total carefree excitement.

But not quite.

When we first found out that we were pregnant again, I think we had two simultaneous emotions: the first one was total excitement of course. There was never a doubt that we wanted to have two children, but we never assumed it would just happen.  So we were very grateful that we were able to get pregnant again, and so quickly too. But our second emotion was fear...fear of the unknown.

I don't know how we are going to do it all. I don't know how anyone does it all. We barely get out the door before 8am as it is right now. We are constantly a few chores behind. Our house is always almost-clean. But never all the way clean. Never ever. Call me crazy, but I don't think that adding another child to the house is going to move us into the totally tidy category.

I really like my job, and there is no chance of giving that up, but I will have to return to work sooner than I did the last time around. With Olivia, I stayed home for over 6 months. This time it will be about 3 months off, and then a quick transition from part-time to full-time work. Will that be enough time for me and the baby? Will we be able to establish a strong breastfeeding relationship and carry that on as long as we would like?

And that is just the unknown.  What about all the things we DO know this time? Newborns are SO hard. They eat, they cry, they sleep (from time to time), they poop and then they cry because they just pooped and how could you not KNOW that and also they are HUNGRY now! On this topic I have found that it is best to not focus on what you know. Just focus on the enduring hope that this child will be different than the first one and they will be an easy baby because they love you and they know that you need this.

Lastly, I have this one other little itty bitty fear. Postpartum depression. Women who have had PPD have a 50% chance of experiencing it again in later pregnancies (for all women the odds are 20%). So while I am not "doomed" by any means, it still hits me in the gut big time. It is hard to deal with this reality. I don't know just want to do with it, but I am trying to prepare for the possibility. 

...More on that topic later. Suffice it to say, it is one of the fears that I keep in my little bag of fears. 

One of goals during this pregnancy is to be open and honest and nonjudgmental about my feelings. Every single person I have spoken to who is expecting a second child has expressed pure and total joy. Including me, at least at first. It is really the only acceptable thing to say. "We are thrilled!" "So excited to be having a sibling...our family is growing!" "Of course it was planned!!" actually was totally planned in our case, but you know. That doesn't mean you've thought it all through!

So now I try and tell people that yes, we are excited, thrilled, eager to start this new chapter and meet this new little guy. And we are also a little terrified. We don't know what we are getting into. We feel in over our heads sometimes. But other times we don't. Other times we listen to Olivia explaining which toys she will give to the baby to play with, and our hearts melt. My hormones go into maternal bliss overdrive and I feel a sense of calm. This will all turn out OK somehow. I know some of those friends were actually totally scared too (they told me later when it was safe). And they are all doing pretty darn good now. Their hearts grew big enough to accommodate the love for both kids. Even when they run out of sleep, or energy, or money at the end of the month, they never run out of love.

And neither will I. 

18 weeks and oh we have a belly!

Backyard fun - this girl loves the sprinkler, and I love watching her

My friend and fellow blogger from And Then They..., suggested that I should follow up this post with another after the baby is here, when I can really see how it is having two little ones.  She wrote an excellent post on that very thing, which I love.

Maybe it's okay to NOT love your post-baby body

So let's talk about bodies.

Everyone is loving post-baby bodies nowadays. Even their own bodies at times. It's inspiring,  There are some really beautiful sites that are trying to turn the tides of mom-body shaming.

Start with Jade Beall, famous photographer who captured the most loving, beautiful and truthful photos of mothers I've ever seen.  My favorite is #5 in the slideshow on Huff Post

Photo by Jane Beall

When I first saw this, it really took me aback. Like ... whoa.  I mean, look at her! The first thing you see is how strong she is.  --Just kidding. The first thing you see is her stomach.-- That's ok. It is a very real stomach. But look at her arms. They seem so confident. And her legs too, like she isn't scared. She isn't shrinking away. The stretch marks on her right leg look tough. Kind of cool, even. I think that stretch marks remind us of what our bodies are capable of...and if we need the body to make room again, it can. It stands ready. She isn't hiding the marks, but she isn't putting anything on display either. You get the sense that her shoulders are perfectly poised and she is looking straight ahead.

After noticing all of this, I looked back at her stomach. It is actually quite strong. Her figure is so shapely. It occurred to me that if I had seen her fully dressed, I would have never known that she'd had kids. I might even be jealous of how fit she is.  (I would definitely be jealous of how fit she is.)

So, thank you, Jade Beall, for bring these strong amazing bodies into the light.

And thank you to sites like the Shape of a Mother too.  Beautiful stuff going on there. 

But now why don't I love my own post-baby body?

I understand in a conceptual way that our bodies are beautiful and delightfully different and flawed and that the whole idea of "flaws" comes from a patriarchal hyper-commercialized standard of beauty that no one can attain.  Except ... I still want to attain it. I do. Deep down inside I still kind of do.

This is dangerous. Lisa Jo Baker, a writer and blogger, explains that this way of thinking is heading to a dangerous place. She is right, we need to stop hating our bodies.

Because we are teaching our daughters to be thin at all costs, and it is hurting them.  Like, really hurting them.  Watch this video, and you will feel it.

Lily Myers - Poetry Jam - "Shrinking Women"

I will pause while you shutter.  (That was goooood, right?)

This is so important. So much more important than making peace with our frumpy bodies that don't look quite right. My generation has a self-esteem issue, and we are passing it down to the next one.

If we allow this mindset to go on, we will create a generation of shrinking women full of self-hatred.  It does not stop at the body.  It probably does not start at the body either though.

And I think that is what I struggle with. It does not start with the body because the body hatred comes from the standards of beauty which come from the media which draw from the system. And when you start to think about it and unravel it, it just spirals out into the great beyond so far that I start to go cross-eyed and can't remember what I started talking about.

If I want to help my daughter love her body (which I do, because it's like, awesome and perfect just the way it is), then I can't do it simply by loving my own body. I also need to stop all the boys at school from teasing her. I need to control what we watch on TV and get away from the never-ending reel of fat jokes on every single goddamn channel. I also need to stop her friends and aunts and grandparents from talking badly about their own bodies. Because she loves them and looks up to them, and she looks like them!

If I want my daughter to love her body, I need to figure out how to make a peace with my own body.  Do I need to love my own body? I'm not sure. I'm not convinced. It is a long, long journey from body hatred to body love. It is like, the length of 10 football fields and then some. How am I supposed to get there in the span of one lifetime, in the system that I have to live in too? I love looking at body-love websites. But as soon as I click away its all the same garbage on turbo speed: diet ads! Tummy minimizers! Look 30 lbs lighter in 30 days!!

So what is a girl to do...

I tell you what, universe. I will stop calling my body fat. In front of my daughter, in front of other women, in front of the mirror. I will stop grabbing at that weird pooch you left me with. I will try to remember that you made us delightfully different from some reason, even if that reason is dumb. (Can't I just look like Beyonce ONE TIME?! Then I promise I would be SO accepting of all body types.)

But I can't promise to love my post-baby body. I don't "love" it. I still feel kind of betrayed and frustrated. I'm not ready to make nice. Not just yet.

In the meantime, it will be my utmost duty to keep this a secret from my daughter. And who knows, maybe by the time she is old enough to ask me if I love my body, the answer will be Yes.

Celebrate: A Child is Born

Last year on December 24th, I walked into our humble church in east Spokane along with some wise men, children bearing straw, and a few angels.  I was holding onto my 1-year-old Olivia who had been baptized in the church 4 months prior.  The church has high ceilings made of wood, everything is wood.  It's the kind of place that reminds you just how many people you really can fit onto a small square piece of land.  It looks small and grandiose at the same time.  A humble place. If you cannot donate to St. Anne's during the passing of the hat, don't despair; you can just as easily donate your adorable child to stand in as a camel or shepherd during the midnight* mass.  (*Midnight has been moved to 4:30 sharp.)  Baby Jesus will not judge you or begrudge you this offering.  He loves kids.

Off to have a baby!

The mass began and soon we were taken back to that story about Bethlehem, the star, the young Mary and Joseph, and the heavenly hosts.

As a Catholic-raised child, I learned a lot about the birth of Christ and the cast of characters that went with it.  But as they got to the part about Mary talking with the angel Gabriel, I started to feel some doubtful feelings.  It happens this way sometimes to Catholics like me.  The rest of you may find it obvious that things like a "virgin birth" are not exactly...well, possible.  Scientifically.  Ok, fine.  But I didn't know that for like 20+ years of my life.

I understood the story that had always been told to me:

An angel is sent to Mary.  Mary, he says, you are the handmaiden of the Lord, you will have a baby and call his name Jesus.  She is impregnated without ruining her virginity.  Basically a win-win on all accounts.

Mary tells Joseph, her betrothed.  He's not cool initially, later he has a dream and all is forgiven.

Let's go back a step, how is Mary able to bear the Child of God, the King of Kings?  Her mother (Saint Anne) gave birth to Mary free from sin.  This is the Immaculate Conception.  (Yes, the term is often confused, but it refers to Mary's birth.  And it is one of the dogmas of Catholicism.)  Since Mary was born without original sin, she is clear to carry the Savior.  Confused yet? Good.

Caesar Augustus decides to tax everyone, or take a census, or both, I'm not sure.  Add this to the list of irrational burdens that the Jews must endure under foreign rule.  So every man must return to his city of birth to pay this tax.  Why their city of birth?  I'm not sure, it's just easier that way, okay?

So, off they go to Bethlehem, the City of David.   (I assume it is significant that Joseph is tied to the line of David.  But if Mary was impregnated miraculously, then Jesus would not carry that bloodline.  Am I the only one to think of this?!  But as He grows up, everyone just assumes that He is Joseph's son, and I mean, He IS (except for the whole Son of God thing). But whatever, moving on.)

And once they arrive, they realize, crap!  Everyone else already got there and snagged all 13 hotels rooms (it was a small town).  Then a kindly innkeeper offers up the barn in back, and they're back in luck!

And the time came that Mary should be delivered.  And she did, presumably with a midwife who would have been called.  Don't even begin to tell me that Joseph wouldn't have called for a midwife, he would.

And Mary brought forth her first born son and lay him in a manger.  No crying He made.

In the fields there were shepherds keeping watch of their sheep.  But the angel came to them to deliver the amazing news, and when that didn't work, a sky full of heavenly hosts convinced them.  And off they ran to see the child who would become the King of the Jews.

Elsewhere, three wise men (who we now believe may have been early astronomers?) followed a star.  And they followed it straight to Baby Jesus, a few weeks after His birth.  But you know, better late than never, right?  Nothing that a little gold and myrrh can't cure.

* * *

"Madonna of the Streets"

"Madonna of the Streets"

That is the story, more or less.  I don't know if any of it is true, and my hunch (now) is that very little of it really is, but I'm not so sure that matters. History is just as much about what we make it.  History can have little to do with facts, and more to do with meaning.  Particularly in matters like this.

The story is really quite beautiful and meaningful when you strip away all the dogmatic nonsense.  Start with the virgin story.  Mary does not need to be a virgin for this story to work.  The virgin birth story is a thread that weaves through several cultures' origin stories or stories of God.  It may have several meanings, but one of the less savory ones is this: it explains the birth of a God without all the messy sex stuff that has always made women so unholy.  Women can be evil (impure, sinful, sexual) or pure (untouched, unsexual, the eternal mother).  Our cultures have typically not left room for much else.

But think about it this way:  Mary and Joseph marry young, and miraculously become pregnant with a quickness they can't understand.  They wouldn't understand.  Being young and somewhat uneducated in these matters, pregnancy would be a bit scary and a bit inexplicable.  Isn't it still?

But they pray and they ask their God for guidance, and God sends messengers to tell them it will all be ok.  Did it happen in a dream?  Certainly possible.  Were they angels?  Most definitely.

Then they must make a trip.  Joseph must care for Mary.  (He buys a reliable donkey.  Good gas milage, able to haul big loads.  Good thinking.)  They run into unexpected trouble.  They make the best of it.  (Find shelter.  Use the pregnancy card on the innkeeper.  Oh you have a stable?  Great, send blankets.  And a midwife.)

Then they have this moment, in the stable, alone.  I imagine them holding on with fear in their eyes but with a strength that comes from love and faith.  They believe that their purpose is bigger than themselves.  They believe that this child has come to the world to do something wonderful.  And their job, right now, is to get him here.

As I was sitting in our church on Christmas, I was reminded of this moment in my own life.  I remember that feeling... oh dear... I am truly alone, aren't I?  Who trusted me to do this job?!  But right now I can panic or I can push this baby out with all that I have.  There is no time to question whether you have that strength.  Then I remember, Jake grabbed my leg, my mom grabbed my arm.  I was not really alone.  I remember hearing them cheer.  There were others in the room.  And I think Someone else was there too.

And suddenly there she was.  There He was.  The King of Kings.  Prince of Peace.

And his name shall be called Wonderful...

Perhaps the most beautiful thing is how simple this story is, and yet how miraculous.  A baby is born every day.  This one was born to poor, young parents in a stable surrounded by animals and other earthly things.  And yet he gets the royal treatment. Nothing like the modern Prince George, mind you.  But this little king is greeted by an entourage too: shepherds, and later "wise" men.  He receives gifts that his family desperately needs as they are fleeing back to home (we skipped that part earlier, it's quite sad).  They travel far to see Him, a baby!

...Babies, if you're not already aware, make for rather lousy entertainment.  They coo a little, they sleep, they do other bodily functions...

And yet we travel far to see them.  We wait for them, and pray for them.  We put our hopes and dreams on them. We go through ups and downs and difficulty and uncertainty, but we go on making more of them.  And each one is a miracle.  And each one could grow up to be a king.  What a beautiful thing to celebrate.

Welcome, little one!

How to Balance Work and Life like a Pro

This blog post title is sure to bring in the hoards...don't worry I totally have the answer keep reading...

So the other night at a social event for lady lawyers, I was asked this terrific question: "how do you balance work and family?"

Many responses came to mind ... "hopefully pretty well?"  "I'm not sure"  "Umm... you tell me?"  I think I went with "Perfectly!"  Then laughed like a dork at my own joke.  Anyone who asks that question by now ought know how silly it is, and yet, I get it; we all still want to know.  And then when we know how YOU'RE doing it, we want to compare our own tactics and either

(a) gloat inwardly at our own magnificence,

(b) offer veiled suggestions on how you could improve, because ummm clearly you're doing it wrong, or

(c) wallow in self-pity.

I don't know which camp I am in.  It depends on the response, I suppose.  Though I rarely pity myself.  I happen to think I do things pretty well.  It comes from a kind of a "who the flip cares?" attitude mixed with an inflated ego that you can blame on my parents. My sense that I am doing okay in the work/life arena also comes from the fact that sometimes you just have to forgive yourself in order to move on and survive.   Do you know what I mean by that?  Let me set out an example.

When I did ask this question back to her, this nice attorney told me that she works for another attorney in town, she has a one-year-old, and she only works 20 hours per week.  Dang.  I have a two year old, and I work 40 hours per week.  Am I hurting my little babe by being gone from her so long?  I couldn't stay home full time, but 20 hours would be a compromise.  Hmmmm.

...But if I worked 20 hours I would linger in this position for years or take a step back.  They would give part of my job to someone else (if they even agreed to do it at all), and it would probably be the interesting part.  And the interesting stuff is the whole reason I like this job.  If I didn't have that part, then I'd probably want to move along eventually, possibly taking another step back in order to take a step forward.

...And what exactly would I DO for those 20 hours at home?  I'm not very crafty.  I wouldn't have enough time to learn how to pre-school my child (is that a verb?).  And my cooking is terrible.  Shoot.

And that leads me back to where I was before the conversation began: basically happy with my choices.

You guys....I kind of like working full time.  There, I said it.  I kind of like the consolidated periods of time I have my daughter.  Okay, yes there are days when we need to grocery shop and get a new backpack and stop by the pharmacy, and that all needs to happen RIGHTNOW.  And those days suck because I only get a few minutes at home with her before bedtime, but some days are going to suck.  That does happen.

If there were more crappy days than happy days, I would feel differently.  If I started missing her every night after bedtime, this would be a miserable existence.  If my job were not so interesting and pleasant, I KNOW that I would much rather be home.  And I reserve the right to change my mind.  But for now, it works.

But you probably didn't click on this little post to hear me think out loud, I do that enough with you all in person.  So here are a few little pearls of wisdom I have gleaned from my relatively short period of time as a FTWM (full time working mom...did I just make that up?):

  • Find a job you love.  Or at least a job that gives you some really exhilarating moments and challenging work from time to time.  Barring that, try for one that pays you oodles of money.  I haven't tried that approach just yet, but something tells me it would do the trick.  Why is this important?  Because you simply must have a strong reason to get yourself out of bed, through the door, past the daycare, and into your office, raring to go.  I've worked at a place that I hated, and thank GOD I'm not there any more.  If I were, I suspect I would spend every last hour staring at pictures of Lil O and accomplishing zero things.  I would still need to be there (or somewhere) because my family relies on my income.  But boy would that be miserable.  Forget that.
  • Set your boundaries and stick to them.  My boundaries include the rule that I leave every day at 5:00.  This is relatively easy because I work for a public entity (ha ha) and because of my awesome boss (but I'll get to that).  If I need to catch up on a few emails after 5:00, then I'll try and do that after I put O to bed.  But usually I find that things can wait.  This rule also had the bonus side-effect of making me more efficient with my time.  I need a deadline to set a little fire under my butt...and also the stare-down from my daycare lady when I show up late is quite motivating.
  • Get yourself an amazing boss.  Or more likely, work with your boss to get them on your team.  You need an advocate in the workplace who will stand up for you in meetings and say, "no, she is not late "again," she is taking her kids to the doctor and we already spoke beforehand."  That person should ideally be your boss.  My boss is pretty sweet, and she has been through all this before as a working mom.  But if you need some help creating this...
  • Keep your boss and coworkers in-the-know about the kid-related things that take you away from the office.  Some people want a clear line drawn between work and life.  I'm here to tell you, there is no such line anymore!  You can argue otherwise, but I would argue back that this line will ultimately do you a disservice.  This doesn't mean that you need to share every last detail of your life with your coworkers, OR your work details with your family.  Don't.  Please, keep a little mystery.  But don't be afraid to let people know that you have obligations outside of work.  They do too.  And while you are telling them about how you can't come in until 8:30 because you kid starts school at 8:15, be sure to ask how you can help them out more with the afternoon stuff.  Market yourself as a team player.  And when someone else decides to share some personal obligation with YOU, take that opportunity to be their advocate and back them up.  The favor is sure to be returned.
  • Remember that EVERYONE wants hours that work for them, and EVERYONE has things that come up that keep them from giving 100% to their work.  (At least they should...those true workaholics really worry me.  Something's got to give.  Will it be their sanity?  Will it be during my big presentation??)  So don't be shy and don't undermine your requests or refer to them as mommy time, kid stuff, etc.  It is important work.  It is THE important work of our lives, this family stuff.

So that's how you do it.  Got it?

Ok, there are like a billion more things I could say.  And I know I'm not the first one to say these things either.  But those are my thoughts, and this is my blog, so I shall start with this list, and then totally change my mind later.