How Peanut Butter Changed Our Lives

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Peanut Butter, it’s a staple in many pantries across America.  It’s full of protein, shelf stable, and inexpensive making it a great food to have around.  Around 2% of the population has been found to have a peanut allergy. It was not something that was even on my radar…. until it was.

There was a time before food allergies consumed our lives, even if it doesn’t seem like there was.  I developed some weird allergies in my 20s to strawberry, aloe, latex but they were easy to live with, nothing huge.  In 2010 Oliver was born, his infancy was intense, to say the least.  His first sign of allergies showed in the form of an allergy to disposable diapers (read more about that here).  He also didn’t tolerate any infant formula (this was in my pre-breastfeeding days) and we had to do a lot of switching to find one that worked. We settled on the best of the worst, the one he had the least symptoms from.

You would think that his low tolerance for formula would have clued us in that something was going on, or that one of our my trips to the pediatrician where I insisted that there was something other than “just reflux”, or that his eczema covered body would have yielded some help, but it didn’t.  I should have pushed further, but I was young and didn’t know any better, and trusted our Dr and all of the medical community.

It wasn’t until he was 11 months old and Mark decided to feed him his first peanut butter and jelly sandwich that we had any idea. He swelled up and broke out in a rash all over his face.  Mark immediately gave him Benedryl and his reaction stopped. We had his one year well baby visit scheduled and I went in and demanded that we see an allergist. We were handed a referral and a prescription for an EpiPen and sent on our way.

Seeing the allergist was validation for the last year of our lives.  Poor Oliver tested positive for allergies to soy, beef, egg, peanuts, and had shown reactions to dairy so we were told to cut all those things. No wonder he didn’t sleep, was covered in eczema, and essentially miserable. He felt like crap because we were feeding him things he was allergic to every single day.

I can’t even begin to describe how overwhelmed I was leaving that appointment.  Sure food allergies weren’t a totally foreign concept to me, but I didn’t know anyone with allergies to this extent.  What were we going to feed him? How were we going to make this work? In the beginning, it seemed like everything we ate had an allergen in it.  I felt like my life was consumed by reading labels and determining if a food was “Ollie Safe”.

His peanut allergy was off the charts. We were told that any further exposure could result in a deadly reaction. That’s a hard thing to think about, the reality that your kid could DIE from something that seems so harmless. Peanut butter was one of Zoe’s main food groups, and I enjoyed it myself.  Eventually, we decided it was safest to remove it from our house altogether.

As the years have gone on managing his food allergies has become routine and it no longer seems as daunting.  He’s outgrown some allergies and gained some new ones, but we’ve adjusted and moved on. It has become part of our everyday lives. There can be long periods of time that I “forget”.  It isn’t until we’re trying to go out to eat with friends, or he’s invited to a birthday party, or I catch a whiff of peanuts at the park that I remember.

Somehow, we have never had to use those EpiPens.  I am convinced that it’s sheer luck.  I can’t believe that we are that on top of things all the time.  We also have had some challenges, starting school was one, as was playing sports. So far we have been able to figure it out.

As I have aged I also have gained some new allergies.  Zoe has become intolerant of dairy and Isabel has a few allergies/intolerances.  For an outsider, I am sure that eating with our family seems like an impossible fete.  I promise though, it can be done.  I am here to tell you that having food allergies doesn’t need to stop your life.

To those families that are newly diagnosed, you will get through it.  It’s can be hard not to focus on all the things it will change, but it is not going to change how awesome your kid is and how much you love them.  Sure, there is more to worry about, but having kids is worry.  If it wasn’t a food allergy it would be something else.  Know that you are not alone, 1 in 13 children have food allergies, that’s almost two kids in every classroom.

Resources:

Food Allergy Research & Education

Enjoy Life Foods

Kids with Food Allergies

If you’re in North Carolina the NC FACES food allergy group

FARE HEROES WALK FINAL 4C - A

Fundraising

This year I am the Walk Chair for the 2017 Triangle NC Food Allergy Heroes Walk.  This walk supports FARE in their initiatives such as The Teal Pumpkin Project and training programs for schools and restaurants. We have some awesome activities planned and some really cool entertainment.  If you’re around the Raleigh area on 10/7/2017 join us at Lake Benson Park in Garner, NC for the walk.

Our walk team, The Anaphylactic Avengers, is hoping to raise $3,000 to help support FARE.  We would love donations from our readers, any amount helps us reach our goal!

Click here to donate.

 

 

 

 

 

The Division of Labor

Often times when I'm around other women, there is a lot of complaining about how their partners "don't do" certain things.  Clean up after dinner, cook, give baths, do bedtime, school pickups, sweep floors, fold laundry, the list goes on and on.  It's hard for me to commiserate with them because that's not how our household operates.  Sure, there are certain things that I don't do (lawn care) and that he typically doesn't (bathrooms), but that's not to say either of us wouldn't do those things. If I asked him he'd do it because that's how we work.

It's hard to say when exactly we started running our household the way we do.  I think that part of it is because I worked odd hours in retail management, and my hours were usually longer than Mark's.  He had to help out or things wouldn't get done.  If my kids waited around for me to give them baths, they'd be pretty smelly.  The other part is that we both grew up in a household with a more typical division of labor, when most the household stuff fell to our Moms, and I at least knew I didn't want to live with resentment I saw our mothers had.

There were also things that I didn't enjoy doing that were typical "wifely" duties. There was a long time that our friends and family thought that I couldn't cook because I never did.  The truth is Mark enjoys cooking much more than I do, so I let him take the wheel there.  It's not that I can't, it's that I'd rather not.  And why deprive him of what he enjoys? As the years have gone on, things have had a sort of ebb and flow to them, I recently have been doing more of the cooking, but maybe in a month, six months, a year that will change.

I feel that it's important for our kids to see that both of us take an equal part in the things that are needed around the house.  I want to raise the boys especially to be productive members of society.  You won't find me doing their laundry through their college years.  I am not going to perpetuate the stigma that men can't or won't do these things.  The same goes for our girls, they won't be depending on a man to unclog a toilet or fix their flat tires.  Eventually, I'd like to see each them able to live on their own and function as adults with minimal help from us.

This division of labor hasn't changed as much as I thought it would since I have become a stay at home mom three years ago.  I know that at least I was envisioning that I was going to be doing more of the house chores since I was now home all day.  The reality is that we still take a pretty equal part.  I've come to find out that somehow my days are eaten up and I often feel pulled in a million different directions.  When I look back on our week there are times I can't figure out what the heck we did all week.  Maybe that's life with four kids?  Maybe I need to be better at managing my time? I'm not sure.

One of the things that I love about our relationship is that even if I don't get all the typical duties done during the day when I'm home Mark never questions it.  He doesn't walk through the door and ask "what I did all day".   Possibly that is because he was on his own with the kids a fair amount of times when I was working weekends. Whatever it is, it works for us.

In Defense of the Early Bedtime

Every day, I can’t wait for my kids to go to bed.  I’m sure that most parents would sympathize with this, it’s not that I don’t love my children, but they require me to be “on” all day long.  Toddler’s and Preschooler’s don’t typically accept “phoning it in”. By about 5 pm, I’ve answered all the questions I can muster and I just need a minute to myself so that I can think about something other than where the “cool car” is, which transformer is the strongest, where the poop goes when you flush the toilet….. and and and….. There are days when I am counting down until they are in bed.

Our kids go to bed early by most peoples standards.   All of our Tiny Humans are in bed, lights out, between 7 pm and 8 pm.  Weekends, school nights, summer breaks, it doesn’t matter.  Bedtime is pretty strictly enforced.  Frankly, we’ve caught some flack for this, but it works for our family.

It’s not something that we set out to do, honestly, when Zoe was little she fell into her own schedule and it happened to be that she was ready for bed by about 8 pm.  Part of this was because she wasn’t a napper past a year old, she was just exhausted by that time.  She played hard all day and was so busy she was ready.  As it turned out, we came to really enjoy that time together after she went to bed.

Despite Mark’s early work schedule, he was still (and still is to some extent) a night owl, and I worked retail hours so I was up late anyway. We found this was a great time for us to hang out, watch a show, talk about our days, and connect with fewer distractions (read here about ways we stay connected).  It was nice to have that time together, just the two of us.

It seems that all our kids have gotten the Early Riser Gene ™ from Mark.  When they’re up before the sun they tend to be ready for bed pretty early.  By about 7 pm they’re starting to meltdown.  Keeping them up later leads to them being overtired and then they don’t sleep well.  Thus, tired the next day, which shows in their behavior.  It’s a pretty vicious cycle.   So, we have to anticipate their needs, because as kids, they can’t always tell us what their bodies are telling them, and enforce that early bedtime.  I know how I feel when I’m totally exhausted, imagine how that feels when you are young and can’t identify the feelings. I personally enjoy being around well-rested kids, as opposed to overtired heathens.

As we’ve had more kids, that early bedtime is even more important to us and to our relationship.  During the day even if we are both at home, the kids want our attention.  And honestly, we want to give it to them.  When we are all together, no work, no school, we try to make that time family time.  I’ve come to realize that it’s important because soon enough, they’re not going to want to hang out with us.  I want to squeeze out every bit of this time that we can.

But that time ends promptly at 7:30 pm.  Because I want to have that glass of wine without someone asking me what it tastes like, and we’re going to watch a movie that’s not animated and has swears.

UPDATE:  As I was writing this blog post, Zoe came downstairs and asked if we would consider a later bedtime for her.  She is almost eleven and in 5th grade, she is currently in bed by 8 pm, which is the same time as her sister who is two. We asked what she proposed, she said 9:30 pm.  After encountering my raised eyebrow, she walked that back,  and we compromised with 8:30 pm and we would start trying that on the weekends before trying on school nights.  We also decided that we still didn’t want to see her smiling face after 8 pm, so she had to be upstairs working on something quiet.  She said, “I know, Mom.  After we go to bed you drink wine and watch your favorite shows.” So true, Zoe. So true.

Pink Expectations

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Something that having kids has taught me is that I need to let go a little (lot).  When it was just Mark and I, we could plan things and they would mostly turn out how they were supposed to.  With kids?  They don't care that you have a plan. They are small people, but they still have their own agenda.  I needed to adjust my expectations and celebrate the successes.  Maybe some of that comes with getting older, but I feel like its one of the big things that our kids have taught me.  There are a lot of things in life that you just can't plan for.

When I was pregnant with Zoe, we found out the sex at the 20 week ultrasound and we were thrilled to find out we were having a girl.  We bought all the pink things and girly stuff, made all the plans. She was born and she was for sure a Daddy's Girl. They were buddies, and if Mark was around I was clearly the second choice. I'm not going to lie, it hurt a little (lot), I grew her inside of my body for nine months, and there were times that she wouldn't give me the time of day.

Her and Mark were just bonded in a way that she and I weren't.  I faulted myself for that. Maybe he was just a better mom than me?  Reality is that she's every bit opinionated and stubborn as I am and those two things don't mix well.  She also takes after Mark, shes a big dork, loves Science and learning. So they bond over those things, while her and I butt heads about our similarities.

Being that Zoe was our first baby we didn't really have any expectations or wants in regards to her sex. By the time we were expecting our second child, I really wanted to have another girl.  That seems weird right? I already had one that didn't particularly seem to like me. But, I wanted Zoe to have the sister that I never had. (Sorry, Aaron.) I wanted her to have that sister to sister relationship, someone to play dolls with, have tea parties with.  We were only planning on having two kids (HA!) so this was her only chance in my mind to get that.

Mark's Thoughts: Being a man that never really played sports, I was hoping for a girl when Zoe was born, I had no idea what to do with a boy.  I've never felt like a "manly-man". My definition of what a "man" is has changed a lot since then, but at the time I thought a man was the typical "play sports" "watch football" image of the great American Dad. I didn't tell Crystal this, which kind of illustrates how poorly we communicated in the beginning of our marriage (like most people).

I'm going to talk about something that no one talks about, because it needs to be talked about. When we found out we were having a boy I was disappointed, upset, and scared.  I feel absolutely terrible about that to this day.  How can you be upset when you have a healthy baby? I was, and it was totally selfish and terrible.  But in the end, those feelings are valid and I shouldn't have felt I needed to hide the fact that I felt that way.  As parents, no one talks about these experiences. If only for the fact that we can validate for other parents that its OK.

Why was I so disappointed? I was disappointed that Zoe wouldn't get that "sister" experience.  Scared, because I had a girl and knew what to expect.  What was I going to do with a boy?  They smell, and like gross things.  Sports? Yeah… no, totally not my thing. I was upset that my expectations weren't being met, because I had already built up the picture of how it was going to be in my head. I was also upset at myself for having these feelings.

Oliver was born and he was a typical Mama's Boy.  I got to see first hand the special "thing" that Mark and Zoe had.  He was (is) so sweet and loving.  He didn't have nearly the amount of "sass" that Zoe had.  Of course the Mom Guilt kicks in and I feel even worse that I was disappointed that he was him. Come to find out having a boy wasn't so bad. Sure, they do smell bad, but they also love their Mama's so fiercely and their sisters almost as much. They're always up for a snuggle. Come to find out, I really like watching them play sports.

Mark's Thoughts: I was worried when Oliver was born because, again, I didn't think I would be able to do "manly" Dad stuff with him. Afterward I realized it didn't matter even a little bit. For reasons I don't understand, Dad's are cool in their kids eyes for at least the first few years, regardless of their athletic prowess. Oliver also grew to love sports, and in the process I did too to a point. I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be cheering and shouting at the top of my lungs at a little league baseball game, but it happens now.

When we were pregnant with Elijah, we decided not to find out the sex until birth.  We already had one of each.  We were planning to do his whole pregnancy/birth much differently than the other two, so why not wait unlike the previous two kids.  Plus we had had a miscarriage a few months before, so it made me really thankful that we were even getting a chance to have a third child.  Some, people don't get a chance at all.

What I didn't tell (most) people is that I didn't want to be disappointed again.  No expectations = no chance for disappointment.  I still wanted that sister experience for Zoe, but also thought it would be pretty cool to have two boys to dote on me and that brother experience for Oliver.  Not knowing until birth meant that I didn't have time to have a let down.

Mark's Thoughts: Not to go off on a tangent, but this is really how you get through parenting. You just enjoy whats happening, and try to drop any expectations you might have. Oliver started playing baseball 3 years ago, which is amazing, but next season he might want to try ballet, or basketball, or golf; I have no idea. Whatever it is though, I'll be there cheering. Same with the rest of the kids. I have no idea what they will want to do, but I'll be there discovering it with them.

Turns out, you can't be upset about something silly like a penis or vagina when you've just worked your ass off to birth a baby.  Once you look into that little persons face, it doesn't matter for one second whats between their legs.  Plus, mother nature makes sure you have all that Oxytocin rushing through your body.  That moment, after holding him in my arms for a while, finally looking to see who he was, was just amazing.

So amazing, that the fourth time we also didn't find out the sex, and I wish that I could go back and not find out with the first two.  By the time we were pregnant for the fourth time, I had pretty much resigned myself that Zoe was never going to get a sister.  Come to find out matchbox cars, dirt, and robots weren't so bad. We talked about if we would prefer one or the other and we didn't really care.  It would have been neat to have three boys in a row.  After all, Zoe was going to be nine years older than the youngest baby.  What could they possibly have in common at that point?

I had never had a feeling that our kids were one sex or the other before, but I was pretty sure that we were having a girl the fourth time around.  I didn't verbalize it though, because I didn't want to be disappointed by the image that I built up in my head. Remember, no expectation, no disappointment.  Turned out I was right and we got that second girl.  Obviously we were just thrilled to have that healthy baby, but the girl bookends was a nice way to complete our family.

 

Have Diapers, Will Travel

If you’ve read this post, you know that we use cloth diapers exclusively. Because of Oliver’s sensitive skin as an infant not using cloth wasn’t really an option.  So, we took (and still take) our diapers with us everywhere, including countless camping trips, Disney, the beach, etc.  When Oliver was about 15 months old we had a week long trip planned to Walt Disney World.  At the time, more natural disposable diapers were just starting to become a “thing”.  I was hoping to not have to drag cloth through the Disney Parks, I figured I would buy some to use just for the trip.

My first trip to the store I stood in the diaper aisle at Target totally overwhelmed. There were so many choices! And different sizes? He was wearing a one-size system (made by Cotton Babies) picking a size seemed weird. I don’t know why, but that is what stuck out to me at the time.  Also? They were expensive, it had been a long time since Zoe was in disposable diapers and I had a little sticker shock.  I ended up leaving without diapers, but probably a cart full of other crap, because it’s Target.

At the time I worked for The Little Seedling, and we happened to have samples of the Grovia Disposables (no longer made).  The next time I was at work, I grabbed two in different sizes to try. Easy.  No commitment. That night we put one on Oliver, and he wouldn’t walk. He stood there totally still, every time he made the slightest movement the diaper made a sound and he looked behind him.  It was hilarious. I figured that he would get over it, but after a few minutes he took the diaper off. Well, that was a problem.  I didn’t think about the fact that he typically wore diapers with snaps, so even if he was inclined to take it off, it wasn’t easy. The disposable took him seconds, not something that I wanted to deal with, especially on vacation.

I decided that maybe trying the disposable inserts for my current diaper system was a better compromise.  I could use our current Flip Diaper covers and just use one of their disposable inserts.  Flip covers could easily be hand washed washed in the hotel room sink and they dry quickly.  That wouldn’t be so bad.  I bought some inserts to try. Like the young, only two kids, inexperienced mom I was, I thought it would be a great idea to try it on an outing to Target. As we were rolling through the front doors there was pee dripping down his legs.  OMG.  He was wet from his belly button down to his ankles. We took a detour to the bathroom and of course I didn’t have any extra clothes with me, because isn’t that life?

After that experience we tried a few more times, they leaked every single time unless I used three of the inserts.  At that point it made the cost of them outrageous, so we relented to the fact that we would be washing diapers in one of the beautiful Disney World washing machines.  Here’s hoping its magical!

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Our travel diaper tote, it holds enough diapers for 2-3 days, wet bags, wipes, liners, and rash cream.

And you know what? It was honestly fine. Because we had the flip system with their inserts and flats that we used with the flip covers, they didn’t take up that much room and we had a stroller already to carry all the dirty diapers in the wet beg.   I also purchased “Saddle Bags” for our stroller and that was great for storing diapers we needed (and all the other crap you need for a day at the parks.) I had a lot of diapers so I got away with only washing twice that week.  The washing facilities at our resort were right next to a small pool, so I got to relax by the pool while they washed, that’s a win after running through the parks all day.
That trip pretty much sealed it for us. We’d be taking our cloth diapers with us everywhere.  Here are a few things that I’ve found helpful when traveling with cloth diapers.

  • We have a small size tote we always use to pack our diapers in. (See above picture) I can fit everything diaper related in there. And it’s really helpful having it all together.
  • Bring small samples of your regular detergent. We use Allen’s from here. You don’t want to be messing with new detergent while traveling, go with what you know.
  • You will use more wet bags than you think. I don’t know why, but I always regret not bringing at least 3-4 of them.
  • If you normally use a diaper sprayer, consider disposable liners or even fleece liners (go get fleece from the fabric store and cut it to butt size) It makes dumping those poop diapers easier.
  • An All in Two system or cover and insert system, is great for travel. They’re typically easier to wash and less bulky to pack. We really like flats and covers. If those aren’t your jam for every day use, it could be worth it to buy them just for travel.
  • For more rustic destinations (camping) hand washing isn’t as terrible as it seems. We made a camp washer and found doing small loads every night was the easiest. Be careful not to use too much detergent, or you’ll be rinsing for days.
  • For shorter trips, we’ve just waited to wash until we get home. This works best if you can give your diapers a quick pre-rinse and hang them to dry before throwing them in the wet bag. They don’t get stinky that way.
  • Know your laundry options.  Are you using Aunt Betty’s washer? Is it the laundry mat? Don’t stress about washing exactly as often as you do at home.  If you have enough diapers to make it longer, DO IT.
  • If you’re road tripping, natural fibers diapers tend to leak less than a microfiber based diaper. There’s less “squish” factor. Adding an extra hemp insert, is always a good plan for extra leak insurance.

Looking at this list it looks a little daunting, even for me. You will find that just like everything you do in life, the more that you do it the easier that it gets.  Since we traveled so much with Oliver, by the time the other two came around it wasn’t a question if we would use cloth diapers while we traveled.  Soon enough you’ll be a cloth diaper pro and answering questions about your baby’s fluffy bottom in rest stop bathrooms.

This may not be for everyone though. Want to use disposables while you travel? No judgment from me, you gotta do what works for your family.

 

Birth Story: Isabel Mae (Bits)

Today seemed like a good time to sit down and write this one out.  We knew that we wanted to talk a little bit about the birth of each of our kids and because today Isabel (Bits) turns two it seemed like a good time to do hers.  Maybe we will do each of the kids on their birthdays?  If you’re at all grossed out by birth, I’d quit reading right now. 

The History

If you read The Story of Us, you know that Isabel was a big surprise for us.  We were pretty sure that we were done having kids after Eli, not as sure as I am now, but still sure enough to get rid of every baby item we owned before we moved across the country.  I have several friends with surprise babies that will tell you that it’s a sure fire way to find yourself unexpectedly expecting.

I couldn’t talk about Isabel’s birth without going into a little history.  I’ll try to make this the shorter version. In 2011 we had made the decision to expand our family, Oliver was only 15 months old and we wanted to have our kids closer together (Zoe and Oliver are 3 years 2 months apart) this time, so we started trying that summer.  I got pregnant within a few months, but this pregnancy was much different than the previous two.  I felt different.  I was much sicker, much more exhausted, just not myself.  Around six weeks I had some bleeding which I had never experienced before while pregnant.  I went into an urgent appointment with my Midwife practice, they did an ultrasound and some blood work and deemed everything “fine”. We had seen the heartbeat so we tried to relax. I continued to have small episodes of spotting and was assured it was “normal”. By week 11 the bleeding had picked up, and I knew something was not right.  We had a miscarriage. It was probably one of the darkest times I’ve been through. I won’t go into anymore detail, because that is a post for another time.

Because of our history of miscarriage, in order to maintain a pregnancy I needed extra hormonal support.  This came with lots of things, extra blood work, extra doctor appointments, and the constant worry that we would lose this pregnancy like our other had. I was honestly a wreck, pretty much the whole time.

The Surprise

In fall 2014, we had just begun to settle into life here in Raleigh.  I felt like we were getting our bearings, falling into a routine.  When we decided to move here one of the “conditions” that we talked about was me not working for a while.  We wanted to make sure that I was available to help the kids with the transition, by that fall I had felt like I had done that and I was itching to get out of the house.  I was (and kinda still am) a stay at home mom failure.  I had begun to explore job opportunities around the triangle, but because I still wasn’t totally sure what I wanted to be when I grew up, I wasn’t making much progress.

One morning in November, I woke up and was instantly nauseous and ran to the bathroom to dry heave.  Strange, but maybe I was just feeling a little extra reflux-y due to a spicy dinner the night before.  I went about the morning as normal, sent Zoe on her way on the bus, and took Oliver to preschool. Normally, I would run errands but I was feeling tired so Eli and I went home.  As he played I did some laundry, then it occurred to me, my breasts were really sore. Something told me I should take a pregnancy test, luckily I had a pack of these on hand, they’re cheap and easy for peace of mind.

I headed to the bathroom to take it. Now this was not my first rodeo, I knew better than to take an early test in the middle of the day, but hormones make you do stupid things.  I took it, stared at it for the required 3 minutes and saw nothing but a single line.  I tossed it aside on the counter and laughed to myself at my stupidity.  I couldn’t possibly be pregnant.

I went about my afternoon, I was in and out of the bathroom cleaning and whatnot. Right before we went to leave I had to pee, so I popped into the bathroom.  As I walked in, there on the counter was that test and now there were two lines. WTF. I know as well as anyone who has ever taken a pregnancy test that after the ten minute mark you are not to read them because they are not accurate, it had been two hours. BUT I also know that you can’t detect pregnancy hormones that are not there.  There was that nauseous feeling again. Since were about to walk out the door, I didn’t have time to pee on another one.

On the 20 minute drive to school, I tried telling myself all the reasons why the test was defective.  They WERE really cheap tests. This was why they told you not to look at them after 10 minutes. I was also thinking about (and dreading) telling Mark about this being a possibility. I think that he was more done that I was.  He often mentioned in a joking matter that there were too many kids and too much chaos at our house.  How was he going to feel about this? How did I feel about this?

I picked up Oliver and we came directly home and I got both the boys down for a nap. I went into the bathroom and took another test, and stared at it.  SHIT. There was the second line again. It was barely there and super faint but it was there.  I started doing the math.  I was about 5 days until my period was due, so it was super early.  I still didn’t feel like this could be a possibility, so I took a third test later that after noon. Still positive.

I did what any mom of my age does, I sent a picture of my pee sticks to a close friend to see her opinion.  Clearly I was seeing things.  She assured me she also saw the lines, clearly I didn’t have “line eye” (a phrase on every internet forum ever for pregnancy). She asked if Mark knew, uh? NO.  I wasn’t going to call him at work and burden him with this.  That’s a sure fire was to de-rail a whole work day.  I’ll wait until he’s home.

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The Breakdown

Mark came home and I am sure that in hindsight he knew something was bothering me.  I wanted to just come out and say it, but I din’t want the kids to know and couldn’t find a quiet moment (remember, many kids, much chaos) to say anything.  You know how some women come up with all these cute ways of telling their spouse that they’re knocked up?  Wrapped pregnancy tests, t-shirts, funny baby themed gifts? They must be better at keeping secrets from their spouse than I am, because I had known less that 6 hours and it was killing me. I felt physically ill trying to hold it in.

When Mark came down the stairs from putting the last kid to bed and I could feel it exploding out of my mouth. “I think I might be pregnant. I’m sorry.”  He was silent for what felt like 9 months, but it was likely only a few seconds.  “What do you mean you think, you might be pregnant? How can you not be sure?” (I had never been unsure before) The whole story rushed out in one long sentence as I cried and finished with me taking him to the bathroom to show him my collection of now four tests, all with faint lines.  He could see my point, they were cheap tests, the lines were faint.

We decided that we needed to buy a more expensive test to be sure.  The First response has never failed us before, and we should wait to take it in the morning.  Spoiler Alert: Also positive. So there we stood in the bathroom, while our other three kids ran through the house. “I guess this is happening.” I cried again, a sure sign I was pregnant, because that’s not something that I do.

The Pregnancy

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Because of our previous miscarriage I needed to get into see a doctor ASAP to get on progesterone therapy. Of course it was a Friday morning when I took that final test, but that meant I had the weekend to figure out what the heck we were going to do.  We were new to North Carolina, I didn’t have a OB/GYN or a Midwife, I hadn’t planned on anymore kids so this wasn’t something I had looked in to at all.  I did have a family doctor that we had all been seeing, so I decided to start there.

I knew that like Elijah, I wanted her born at home. Come to find out, Homebirth in North Carolina is not as easy (or legal in some cases) as it is in Michigan. (You can read more about that here.) At the time there was only one legal provider that served our area along with a few underground midwives. We chose to go the legal route, due to a history of needing a backup OB practice, which only she had.  Like Eli’s pregnancy, I was on progesterone therapy for the first 14 weeks.

I spent most of the early pregnancy a nervous wreck.  Honestly, a surprise pregnancy is hard but when you weren’t mentally prepared to go through the worry and the extra medial stuff that goes along with it, its rough.  One of the reasons I was pretty OK with not having anymore kids was because maintaining a pregnancy was so hard for me. Emotionally I was not there.  I was very disconnected with her pregnancy, it never really felt real for me.

I have never been one of those super happy, glowing pregnant people.  I was horribly sick and exhausted.  I needed to take meds so that I was able to stay hydrated and eat, even then it only took the edge off, I lost almost 10lbs in the first half of the pregnancy.  Thank god that Mark is an amazing partner and father, because he picked up all my slack and was compassionate and understanding while I felt like complete crap for 9 months.  I still feel bad for all the TV my kids watched just so we could make it through the day.  Pregnancy in your 20s is much easier than in your 30s.  Other than being sick and feeling like crap the pregnancy was uncomplicated and uneventful.

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As an aside, we did not find out the sex before birth.  Since we had decided to wait Oliver had come up with the nick name Baby Yogurt.  Which is very cute and I almost wish they still called her that.

Preparing for the Birth

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One of the things that was new to us with being in North Carolina was that we didn’t have any friends or family here.  This presented us with lots of logistical issues when it came to delivery.  With our previous deliveries, we had lots of child care options grandparents, siblings, or friends were close by and able to help as needed.  We didn’t really know what we were going to do.

We threw a lot of options around, some involved elaborate travel plans for grandparents, but we ultimately decided that because we would be delivering at home we didn’t want house guests as well.  Our kids also have come between 37 and 42 weeks gestation, which meant we’d be asking someone to put their life on hold for 5-6 weeks.  I didn’t really feel that we could ask someone to do that.

So, what do people do when they live out of state from family and need childcare?  Come to find out there is a whole niche business that covers people for that! We ended up being put in touch with Heather at The Doulas of Raleigh who we ended up hiring to be on call, and with our kids during the birthing process.

We had decided that as long as the kids were comfortable we wanted them to be present for the birth of their newest sibling.  Having Heather be there for the kids to be able to assure them that the process was normal and what to expect was important to us.  She also would then be available in case of an emergency and able to stay with the kids so that Mark could stay with me.  Mark also didn’t have to worry about splitting his attention between me in labor and the kids.

The Birth

I was due July 24th, this was new for us, the previous three kids were fall/winter babies. We also now lived in North Carolina which is MISERABLY hot from May-October. By my third trimester I was very done, very hot, and very cranky.  Starting around 36 weeks I began to have contractions, which is called prodomal labor.  You would think that being a 4th time mom I would know when it was real labor vs practice labor. Because Oliver came early at 37 weeks I was on high alert that things could happen at any time, because babies do what they want. There were many nights, as I laid in bed, or paced the bedroom in the dark having contractions those last few weeks, that I was unsure when it was actually time to “rally the troops”.  There were a few times that I had Mark work from home “just in case”.

Wednesday July 22, 2015

The days leading up to her delivery I had a lot of the usual signs that it was close to baby time.  I’ll spare you the gory details, but one of those signs was having the best nap of my life that afternoon.  That evening we decided that we would rent a movie for the kids to watch and have a family movie night.  The kids picked Paddington, and about 15 minutes in I noticed that I was having consistent contractions that were intense enough that I was having to focus and breath through them.  I moved to sit on my yoga ball and quietly timed them.  I didn’t want to say anything in front of the kids and didn’t want to get Mark excited.

After the movie was over (which seemed like forever) and the kids were in bed I let Mark see the contraction timer and we discussed if it was “real” or not.  We decided that it was best to proceed with caution.  We figured that we should probably get to bed at a reasonable hour just in case.  I wanted to shower and typically if that slows things down then its not real labor.  The shower did slow things down a bit and as I was doing my hair and getting ready for bed I was disappointed. I was still having contractions, but they had seemed to peter out a bit.

I got into bed and was restless and as I laid there I was still contracting enough that  couldn’t sleep.  I was so uncomfortable. Mark was already asleep and snoring which just annoyed me, but I didn’t wake him up as much as I wanted to just so he could be miserable with me.  I got up to go to the bathroom about 15 times and finally decided I was going to sit on my yoga ball and bounce some and lean over the bed.  I put some lavender oil in the diffuser (we use this one) and set it to cycle through the light colors to help me focus on something.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

At about 1 am they were getting consistent again and becoming longer and stronger. I timed them on and off while I browsed Facebook, drifted in and out of sleep and listened to Mark snore.  They were coming between 3-5 minutes apart and varying in intensity.  I still hadn’t woken Mark up yet because I knew we had potentially a long day ahead and I didn’t want him to tell me it was time to call everyone, I didn’t feel like it was really time yet.  I was doing OK on my own at that point.

Around 3 am I was a little less sure that I was OK on my own, but still didn’t wake Mark up.  I was alternating between pacing in the dark in the bedroom and sitting on the yoga ball.  I was starting to get tired. My contractions were still between 3-5 minutes apart, but I was beginning to want to moan through them.  I still hadn’t called the birth team because I wanted them to be able to sleep as long as possible.

This is where things start to get a little fuzzy. I am pretty sure that I woke Mark around 4 am and told him that today was the day, he wasn’t going to work.  I decided he should go back to sleep for a little while, but at 5 am he was up again and decided that it was time to call everyone.  I felt like I wanted to get in the bath while he called.  At this point I was vocalizing through the contractions and I had stopped timing them because I couldn’t concentrate enough to do it.

Apparently the info he gave the Midwife was enough that she decided it was time to head our way. (she was traveling an hour) He also called Heather, who also headed here.  He decided (or maybe the midwife told him) to try to get me to eat.  It was already too late, by the time he delivered my bagel sandwich to the tub I was too far gone and couldn’t eat more than a few bites.

I think he was getting nervous that he would be catching Baby Yogurt on his own.  While waiting for everyone he got out all the Birth Supplies and started filling the pool.  He’s a good man, he knew exactly what he was supposed to do.  I continued to labor in the tub, vocalizing and being in labor land.

Heather was the first to show up, as she was the closest.  I could tell by the way she asked when the midwife would be here that she was nervous.  Since the kids weren’t awake, she set to work to be a birth doula for me while Mark got everything ready.  At this point I was out of the bath and on my knees leaning over the edge of the tub.  A little bit later the birth assistant showed up and quickly started unloading supplies.  I think that we all thought: fourth baby, probably in late labor, the baby would be here soon. The Midwife was there shortly after.

The house was all of a sudden a flurry of activity, I had moved into the birth pool and was laboring there and vocalizing more and more.  It felt like transition to me.  The kids were starting to wake up, so Heather headed to them to start their morning routine.  After they had gotten breakfast they all came in to say hi.  They didn’t stay long, just enough to see what was going on.  At one point I was vocalizing and Eli said “Mamas a ghost! She’s scary… Oooooooo!” We all got a little chuckle at that.

I was in lots of pain at this point, I was having back labor, and the contractions were coming coupled. One big one and then on smaller shorter one. I was starting to get really tired, I had been up over 24 hours at that point. I finally asked the Midwife to check me because I needed to know I was making progress. I was 8 cm dilated and Baby Yogurt was high, this was about 9 am.  I was feeling lots of pressure, despite it not being time to push yet.

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Around 11 am Heather had to leave, and her backup Anna, came to be with the kids. I was so grateful to have them there so we didn’t have to worry about the kids.  They played outside, made Birthday cards, did crafts. To them, it was a super fun day.

I was starting to throw up all the liquids I was taking in, a sure sign of transition. I was feeling lots of pressure and she was moving all over the place between contractions which was painful.  About 3 hours later she checked me again and I was only 9 cm.  I asked her to break my water to see if that would help get the baby to move down the rest of the way.  I was so tired and I could see that Mark was too. I had been in and out of the pool a few times. I was trying out different places, on the bed, the toilet, they kept wanting me to squat, but I was too tired and shaky.  In my head I just wanted to yell “NO! Why don’t YOU squat??”  I’m not very nice when I’m in labor.

Right about this time a thunder and rain storm rolled in.  It was about 2 pm, baby was not coming down. I could hear them talking about me getting too tired, after all, I’d been up since the morning before.  I knew it was a possibility that they may want to transfer to the hospital. I got out of the tub again and onto the yoga ball, she started to move down as I bounced but it still wasn’t working for me.  At this point I was crying through the contractions, something that I had never done before, I could tell by the look on Marks face he was getting worried and didn’t want me to be in pain anymore.

The Birth Assistant had a birthing stool in her car, and decided to go get it and see if that would help. I moved over to that, but because I’m short, my feet didn’t touch the ground while I was sitting on it.  Mark sat behind me on the bed and I put my feet on his.  This was a great position, essentially squatting and I could use gravity to help push. I pushed for over 45 minutes, the longest pushing phase of all my kids.

The kids came in when Baby Yogurt was crowning. This was the best part of the labor, and a part I will always remember vividly.  Anna sat in the doorway with Eli in her lap, and Zoe stood there looking like she may want to make a quick getaway.  Oliver came right in and sat at the midwives elbow, he yelled back to Zoe “Come sit over here! You can see much better!” She declined. As I was pushing, Oliver kept saying, “I can see the baby’s head!” “There’s the eyes!” “I see ears!”  It was a great motivator for me, because I knew I was making progress.

Finally the head was out. I tried to push out the body and I was having a hard time. The shoulders were a little stuck. Eventually I was able to get through it. Baby Yogurt was immediately handed up to me and we were covered in a towel. Yogurts eyes were wide open and she was staring at us, blinking taking it all in. No crying really, just observation, taking it all in.  A few minutes went by and we realized we had no idea who we had just met. I called Zoe over to see if we had a Strawberry or Blueberry Yogurt.  She pulled back the towel and announced it was a girl!

We moved to the bed, Isabel nursed while everyone gathered around and took her in.   After a while, the cord had stopped pulsing, so Oliver cut the cord.  Mark and I looked at each other and I said “Isabel?” He nodded and said yes.

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The Aftermath

After we laid in bed a while and nursed, she had her newborn exam.  Isabel Mae born at 2:59 pm on her Great Grandpa’s 90th Birthday. She was my second longest labor at about 22 hours of real, hard labor.  She was 9lbs 2oz, 23 inches long, and had a big headed like her brothers at 14.5 inches around.

**If you are currently pregnant or gory details freak you out, I suggest you stop reading here**

About two hours later I was examined  and they noticed that I had a 4th degree tear (all the way to my rectum) which needed to be fixed in the OR. We think that when she was stuck that she had her hand up under her chin. Unfortunately, that’s not the best way to make your way out, thus the severe tearing.

Both Mark and I ate a little, I showered, and we got ready to go to the hospital. My backup hospital for non-emergent issues is 40 min away so we headed there. My Midwife called ahead so they knew I was coming as a transfer. Surprisingly, I was not as tired as I thought I would be, it must have been all that Birth Adrenaline.

We got to UNC hospital and they checked me in at L&D and I saw the on call doctor for my backup practice. At first they were saying that because the repair was so extensive that they were going to have to wait until the morning to do it and that we would be there likely overnight. I begged them to let me go home. We had no childcare. Our sibling doula was with the kids and she couldn’t stay overnight. We needed time to arrange childcare for the next day.

They let me go home and scheduled surgery with Urogynocology the next morning at 8:30 am. I was so thankful to be able to go home and sleep in my own bed. We went back the next morning and I went back to the OR and got a spinal block and the repairs took about an hour and a half. There is some irony to be found in the whole situation, I had a long, painful, unmedicated birth at home, only to end up with a spinal block afterward in the hospital.  Life is funny sometimes.

Recovery was not all rainbows and unicorns, it actually sucked, a lot.  It took 12 weeks to heal and probably a good 9 months to not have pain when I was on my feet too long or if I overdid it with heavy lifting.  This was not the kind of birth you just bounce back from.  I was told at one of the many follow up visits that if  we were to want any more kids, they should at least be delivered in the hospital, and preferably by c-section.  Any more vaginal births risk rupturing the scar tissue and an even worse tare, which could result in more muscle damage, and have severe consequences.  That pretty much sealed the deal for me, Bits was the last baby.

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Today

Today Isabel turned two.  I still have some unresolved feelings about her birth.  Was it the beautiful, euphoric, home birth I was hoping to end my childbearing years with? Absolutely not.  But its her story and her birth. This fits with her personality now, Bits does what Bits wants.  She doesn’t care what you want.  She’s an amazing, funny, spunky two year old and I can not wait she what she has in store for us as she grows.

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The Grocery Store: An Adventure for All

Feeding a big family is no joke.  Do you know that kids want you to feed them every single day? At least three times a day! No one told me this when we had our first.  I mean, I guess I knew they’d need to eat, but it is constant.  In our family, we eat at home a majority of the time.  We have food allergies, so grabbing a quick meal out isn’t something that we can just do easily.  It takes research, planning, and there’s always a fear of the unknown since it didn’t come from my kitchen.  So we cook and pack lunches 98% of the time.

As our family has gotten bigger it amazes me how much food we consume.  My kids aren’t those kids that just eat a tiny amount of food at meal times.  Zoe eats more that Mark and I do, Oliver isn’t far behind, and Isabel can pack the food some days as well.  Want to make breakfast? That’s 14 eggs and the big two always ask for more. Were making 5 chicken breasts for a meal, 8 chicken thighs, a whole package of hot dogs (don’t judge, so gross, but so delicious.) A standard sized bag of frozen veggies are not enough to feed all of us anymore. Just today, we bought a bag of fresh asparagus at Costco, I was thinking that I could split it in half, which I did, but it didn’t look like enough so I used more and I have an awkward amount left to use, because its not enough for a meal. AND Zoe asked for more. The kids go through about 3 loaves of bread a week (Mark and I are Gluten Free) and they’re giant loaves from our bread machine. The fruit….. we go through so much fruit.  We buy a boatload on Saturday and some weeks by Wednesday or Thursday we’re out. I think you can get a general idea of the sheer volume they eat.

Fruit basket after a trip to the store. Roughly 12 apples, 10 peaches, 3/4 a bag of clementines, 2 large bunches of bananas, grapes, a watermelon, cherries, Costco sized blueberries and raspberries. (Not pictured various dried fruits in the pantry.)

We live in a rental here in Raleigh, so I don’t have any control over things like refrigerator size and pantry space. Let me tell you, there are time when we get back from the grocery store and I’m seriously worried its just not going to fit. We bought a chest freezer before Isabel was born in case we had to store breast milk and I didn’t thing we’d ever fill it. One trip to Costco and we have that sucker packed.  It took me years to find a fruit basket big enough and even then its overflowing onto the counter.  The pantry is a disaster, it starts out organized, then we go shopping and we just start shoving stuff in and hoping for the best. It kills me a little inside to live like that.

Speaking going to the grocery store, something that we have been doing for the last two years or so is going to the grocery store as a family.  It is absolutely mass chaos.  I am pretty sure that when people see us, they start thinking about permanent forms of birth control, things like celibacy. I don’t care how well behaved your kids are, there is something about being in a grocery store that makes them lose their damn minds.  Some weeks, I’m not entirely sure why we do it.

So we don’t lose anyone in the the store, Isabel is worn in a toddler carrier, usually on Marks back.  Eli rides on the cart, which he cries and protests about every.single.time. It never changes, I am not sure why we have to go through it every Saturday. I spend the entire trip telling the big two to watch where they’re walking, move to one side, stop yelling out random items they think we need, and FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, STOP PUTTING YOUR HANDS ON YOUR FACE! DO YOU WANT THE FLU?? Also, telling them to stop fighting and that we aren’t going to the bathroom. It’s pretty awesome.

Eli’s usual state, after being told he has to ride in the cart, like every trip.

By the time we get to checkout our cart is overflowing and at least one parent (we take turns, its why we work so well together) and 2-3 kids are losing their minds.  Isabel particularly hates this part, sometimes we can trick her into holding it together for 10 more minutes by putting her in the seat of the second cart we inevitably need.  We have a knack for always picking the slowest cashier who doesn’t know the code for a green pepper and doesn’t have the damn cheat sheet.  When they get to ringing up my wine and Mark’s beer they always give a knowing nod. Its like they’re saying “You’ve earned this, you need this to be better parents.” at least that’s what they’re saying in my head.

Walking to the car, this was a small trip, we had already done TJs and Costco the day before.

Eventually, we get out to the car and the kids take longer to buckle than it takes us to load the groceries.  We get home and they run under foot, whining about how hungry they are while we try to get it all put away.  Usually Mark unpacks while I take care of anything that needs prepping.  Pre-cutting produce, taking things out of the package etc. Somehow every week Mark does some sort of freezer magic to get it all to fit.

Then we have 6-7 days before we do it all over again, because by Friday we will have nothing to eat.