Warning: I am going to talk about male genitalia in this post. I will not be using cute words and will even being sharing a link to a video of a real operation on real testicles. If any of these things make you uncomfortable, this may not be the post for you.
As anyone reading this blog knows, we have four children and our fourth, Isabel, was not planned. Isabel’s birth was not an easy one (you can read about it here), and it’s likely Crystal’s body would not respond well to another pregnancy. Because of this we would have to do away with the idea of having another homebirth and likely have to go with a c-section. Since we already thought we were done having children before we had Bits, and because of the health risks it could pose to Crystal if she were to get pregnant again, we decided to take a permanant step towards making sure that doesn’t happen.
There are a lot of options when it comes to semi-permanent contraception. Most of them are left to the women in the relationship to take care of. These all typically work by changing hormones in the body which can lead to a whole host of side effects both physical and emotional. Women also have a surgical option with tubal ligation. Similar to a vasectomy, a tubal ligation can be a relatively quick operation, and have a quick recovery time (1-2 weeks). Tubal ligation can also come with some scary side effects like the possibility of an ectopic pregnancy if the operation fails, which can be life threatening.
While the risk of complications from tubal ligation is fairly low, when it came time to make a choice about birth control, we chose vasectomy. As a man I don’t have to deal with any of the pain of pregnancy or child birth. We’ve had four children, thats a lot of pain and discomfort. It’s only fair that when either one of us could get an operation to prevent future pregnancy, it would be me. The risks of vasectomy are lower, the side effects and complications are rarer, and really how could I justify putting Crystal through anything more at this point?
While I think it makes sense to get a vasectomy, it could be more expensive for you. Because of the current state of healthcare, sterilization operations are typically better covered for women. This means it could cost you some money out of pocket if it’s not fully covered under your insurance.
I didn’t really know what to expect when I first started researching vasectomy. After some reading I found most articles focused on a few common themes:
Vasectomy is the most painful and emasculating procedure a man could go through.
It’s not a big deal, you are back to normal in a few days.
I had seven days of recovery and I am going to whine about it like I was near death.
The first type of article tended to appear on sites dedicated to “Men’s Issues”, like which Rolex is best for you next dinner party, or tips on the perfect one-night stand. The second article tended to show up on medical sites, and the third was mostly found on sites dealing with men’s health, and were just frustrating to read.
In reality the experience was great. I’m not going to say I would go get it done for fun, but compared to what I originally thought it might be like, getting a vasectomy wasn’t a big deal.
I had Crystal drive me to my appointment, I was still a little unsure of how I would feel after the operation. From the time she dropped me off at the door, to the time she picked me up outside was about 40 minutes. Crystal had just enough time to go get some gas, grab some coffee, and drive back. The procedure itself was exactly what I expected thanks to the great video of an actual patient procedure on my doctor’s (Dr. Monteith) website.
Before he started I was given a local antesthetic from a special device that uses pressurized air to force the antesthetic into the skin. This was the most painful part of the procedure, and it was barely enough to make me flinch. After that I was completely numb and did not feel the rest of the procedure.
If you have any questions about the procedure I highly recommend checking out Dr. Monteith’s video series. He goes through the whole process including after care
Recovery was the part of the procedure I was most worried about. The weekend is really the only time Crystal can get any relief from the weekly circus, and I didn’t want to be stuck in bed or on the couch while Crystal wrangled the children. The weekend is typically packed with things like grocery shopping and cleaning, and it’s hard enough to get those things done when we are both in good health.
For anyone thinking about getting a vasectomy I can say that, in my case, a lot of the stories I had read were over exhagerated. Immediately after the procedure was complete, I can only describe the feeling I had as “moderate pressure”. It felt like something was squeezing my testicles. Not to the point of being painful though, it kind of rode the line between discomfort and pain. This prompted me to walk, as Crystal said, “like a cowboy”. Sleeping was a little difficult that night, but that was more because I was afraid of tearing open my incision.
The day after the procedure was the most painful, and the pain spread up into my lower abdomen. It was only a slight pain, and more of a tightness. If I sat down for too long and got up I felt like I had to stretch. Ibuprofen was enough to keep things at bay though.
So far the worst part about recovery was the itching. I hadn’t really thought about it before I started researching, but prior to going in, you have to shave your scrotum. This is to make it easier to perform the operation and also make sure nothing gets in the incision afterward. If you aren’t used to doing this it can be pretty awkward and uncomfortable. A key to staying comfortable is to keep your testicles as stationary as possible. This is why they recommend tight fitting briefs for the first few days after the procedure. I must have changed the type of underwear I was using about four times the first day, just trying to find something comfortable. In the end tighty-whities were a solid winner.
Over the next several days bruising really started to show, almost to a worrying amount. More than half of my scrotum was bruised, but after some reading online it seemed the amount of bruising I saw was normal. By the end of the fourth day the bruising had subsided and the itching died down; I could barely even tell I had anything done. We went grocery shopping a week after the procedure. I thought I felt fine until I pushed a full shopping cart (with Bits riding along) up a small hill. I definitely felt a dull pain after that. It wasn’t bad, but it was there to remind not to overdo it. It faded away quickly and I was back to feeling mostly normal.
It is now three weeks after the procedure and I feel completely fine.
Everyone is going to have a slightly different experience, but I think in general I can give you a few tips if you plan on getting a vasectomy:
Make sure you can take it easy the day of the operation and the day after, no heavy lifting
Stairs can be a little awkward, so if you can do anything to avoid them on the first two days I would
Wear the tight underwear! Keep your testicles as stationary as possible
You are going to have to shave your scrotum. If this isn’t something you normally do, do it a few weeks in advance to get used to. The last thing you want is to cut yourself a few days before you have your operation
What the heck happened to October? My plan of blogging and posting weekly was thrown out the window. We were so absurdly busy, I feel like we barely had a second to breathe. At the end of September the kids tracked out (a short break from year-round school) and the time flew by. Here’s a little update on our adventures.
FARE’s Food Allergy Heroes Walk
If you read this post, you know that this year I volunteered to help organize the Food Allergy Heroes Walk. Helping turned into becoming the Walk Chair, because go big or go home right? It consumed a little more of my time than I expected but it was good. It felt great for me to be involved in something that I am passionate about again. Which I didn’t realize that I missed until now.
It was a crazy busy day. I was so thankful that my brother and (new) sister in law came into town to help out. They woke up early, schlepped tables and boxes, took pictures, and kept an eye on the kids while I was busy running around like a mad woman. Their support means a lot to us! I don’t know that I can thank them enough.
With the help of others in the Triangle, we raised $9,173! It was a little short of our goal, but still really awesome. If you would like to donate to FARE and to our team there is still time, we are accepting donations through the end of the year.
Directly after the FARE Walk, we woke up the next morning and drove two and a half hours to the coast for a much-needed, week-long beach vacation. I love the beach, it’s my happy place and I want to live there. Last year I hinted to Mark that I wanted to go for my Birthday (10/12) and I forgot that he doesn’t take hints well and we didn’t end up going. This year I took matters into my own hands and in January we booked a place at our favorite beach (and I won’t tell you where because I want to keep our quiet island, quiet.) for My Birthday Week ™.
This trip was extra special because my brother, sister in law, and my parents met us there. This was the first time that my parents had ever been to the NC Coast and being Michigan Lake People, I knew they’d love the island vibe. My brother and sister in law had never been to the ocean EVER! So we were excited to play host and show them our favorite place in the state.
The weather was pretty great, despite us visiting the NC Coast often, we’d never been in October. I’ve decided that it’s my new favorite time to be there, not too hot, the sun isn’t as intense, and the beach is practically empty. We played on the beach ate fresh seafood every night, and generally had a great time. It was also really nice to spend time with my brother and sister in law, I feel like we haven’t ever really gotten to spend that much quality time together since we’ve been adults because life is so busy. They also got to spend a lot of time with our kids, which I know they really enjoyed. I hope to make this an annual thing.
I was not ready to go home at all, besides getting an awesome tan I really enjoyed us all being disconnected for a week.
A Plague on Your House
While all of this was going on, Eli decided it would be the perfect time to get antibiotic resistant strep. After a trip to Urgent Care, 2 trips to the family doctor, 3 oral antibiotics, 1 antibiotic butt shot, strep swabs for the whole family and serious talk of removing his tonsils, we finally got a negative strep test. So he gets to keep those tonsils, for now.
The poor kid hasn’t felt good for an entire month and I feel like he is just now getting his “Eli” back. By some miracle, no one else in the house has gotten it. Of course, now that I’ve said that out loud and put it on the internet, everyone’s going to get it.
This year we decided to sign Oliver up for fall baseball. He’s been playing in the Spring for the last three years, the league that he is currently on does fall baseball as well. The benefit of the playing in the fall is that there are fewer kids so there is more time to really work on the basics. It’s less competitive and there is more of an emphasis the basics.
He had a really good season and we saw a lot of growth. Especially in his batting, in fact, he got the team “Batman” award for the most improved batting this season. I love watching him play, but I am always glad when it’s over because adding baseball three days a week adds a special kind of crazy to our lives.
I love fall. Everything about it. The weather here in NC is beautiful, still warm but the oppressive humidity of the summer is gone. Besides being my Birthday Month, it kicks off the Holiday Season for me and getting the house all fun and decorated. We also have a plethora of Birthdays (Mark, Zoe, Oliver) that happen from October to January.
In between the FARE Walk and our vacation, we did all out usual fall stuff. Pumpkin Patch field trips, getting pumpkins at the North Carolina State Farmers Market and making Halloween costumes. Of course, we also went Trick or Treating and this year we participated in a Teal Pumpkin (read more about why we love Teal Pumpkin here) Trunk or Treat that was really fun.
Back to School
This track out was over in a flash. I think part of it was how busy we were, but there another part was because we traveled right smack in the middle. It broke up the three weeks really nicely. By the time the kids were driving each other nuts it was time to go back to school. It’s crazy that all three have only been in school full time for 9 weeks and I have already gotten used to the kind of calm with just me and Bits home most of the day. Man, four kids are loud together!
We had that usual transition week where we got back into the swing of homework, getting up in the morning, and getting to bed on time. We survived to the second week, which brought us Zoe’s first fifth-grade chorus performance. So we had extra rehersals after school for that. She did so well! It brought back a lot of memories of when I was in middle and high school choir. I am secretly am hoping she keeps it up.
Over 1,000 words later, that’s what we’ve been up to. I promise to be better about blogging. I have a few posts swirling in my head that I hope to work on through the end of the year, including Zoe’s Birth Story (for her 11th birthday!), how to make a beach trip with kids easier, and a little about how we do the holidays.
If you read Isabel’s Birth Story you know that we had a miscarriage directly before becoming pregnant with Elijah. I had a D&C three months prior to becoming pregnant. The Dr that we were seeing at the time told us that was the amount of time we needed to wait so we did and got pregnant easily that first cycle we tried. I honestly wish we would have waited longer. I don’t think that I was even remotely emotionally ready for another pregnancy. I was not in the right headspace at all. In my mind, getting pregnant again with make it all better. It would take away the terrible pain, it would fix me. I was very broken after that miscarriage. Even now, six years later it affects me. Again, these are things no one talks about.
We were fairly certain that our preceding loss was due to low progesterone levels. The OBGYN and Midwifery practice we were seeing at the time didn’t “believe” that progesterone therapy made a difference in outcomes and their policy was not to prescribe it. We had been planning on having a home water birth with our third pregnancy anyway so this was just the last push we needed to find new providers. I had been in contact with a few homebirth midwives and they recommended some local providers that were supportive of Homebirth and would be willing to see me early for HCG and Progesterone testing and prescribe progesterone support if needed. I emailed one OB and told him my background, he promptly responded and told me to call the office the second I got a positive test and he would call in labs and we would go from there. He knew that my plan was to see him as a backup to a Homebirth Midwife and was fine with that arrangement.
Days after that email I got a positive pregnancy test after feeling absolutely bone tired for days and nauseous, I was shocked and terrified. I called that day and went and got blood work. As with my miscarriage, my HCG levels were on the lower end of the spectrum and my progesterone was very low. The Dr saw me the very same day and I started progesterone. I was terrified that we would lose this baby as well. We had a couple incidents of spotting. The OB we saw was so reassuring and supportive of my nerves. He was compassionate, caring, and just what I needed. He did several early ultrasounds and lots of followup bloodwork and everything looked great.
By 12 weeks we had seen the heartbeat several times and felt that we were likely in the clear. We still had not told many people that we were pregnant again. The last time, we had shared the news here and there by about 8-10 weeks only to have to un-tell everyone which was like a knife in the heart, every single time. I suspect that most people figured it out by the time we announced at 14 weeks.
During this time, the original Homebirth Midwife we hired had to step down from her practice so we were in the process of interviewing a replacement. Michigan is a lot different than North Carolina, there were dozens of choices, all legal and regulated. We interviewed several and decided to hire Stacia with Trillium Birth Services. Personality wise I couldn’t have asked for a better match. Plus, we both had roots with the same Borders Books store. We started care with her around 16-18 weeks.
My pregnancy was hard. I was emotional, a nervous wreck, and in constant fear that we would have another loss. I was also very sick. I had never had such nausea in pregnancy before, it was all I could do to care for Oliver during the day and I spent most of the days on the couch. I was sick enough that I finally relented and started taking meds when I was having a hard time staying hydrated and eating regularly. Let me tell you, Unisom and B6 are a godsend. I was able to at least eat and not be puking all day long. It wasn’t a cure, but it helped. The only plus side to being so sick is that I lost weight through the first trimester and only ended up gaining 12lbs. I had to continue taking them until the day I delivered, I never got that relief most women get in the second trimester.
Sunday, September 23, 2012 – 6 days overdue
Tired of being pregnant, cranky, and generally not fun to be around I spent most of my day sulking because I had slept through the night and not woken up in labor. That weekend we all had just lounged around the house; Mark decided to tackle the Mountain of Laundry that had piled up over the past week. The kids played, made messes, and irritated each other most of the day. And I was still pregnant, much to everyone’s dismay. Oliver was born 3 weeks early. No one thought I would be overdue this time.
After lunch I was sitting in the living room and just could not get comfortable on the couch, I was moving from lying down, to sitting and getting more and more grumpy that I could not get comfortable at all. My lower back was aching, and my whole body was just tired. Mark mentioned that maybe I would feel better if I took a nap. I wasn’t really tired so I stayed on the couch and whined for a while longer. At this point, I had noticed that baby had been quieter than was normal. I knew that could be a sign that labor was coming, but didn’t get my hopes up because I had decided I was going to be pregnant FOREVER.
At about 2:30pm, Mark again mentioned that maybe I would feel better if I took a nap. I was so uncomfortable on the couch I figured I had nothing to lose by going and laying in bed, even if I didn’t sleep. I layed up there a while, browsing the internet on my phone and I did eventually doze off and slept hard. Remember, the best nap of your life almost always means labor is looming.
At about 3:30pm I woke up with a contraction. I had been having lots of “fake” contractions for weeks, but this one was different, more intense and slightly more painful. I decided to take note of the time but ignored it. If it was real labor, I would know and I wouldn’t be able to lay in bed through it. By 5:30 when Mark came upstairs to see how I was feeling about dinner I had had several more contractions as I drifted between sleep and awake. They seemed closer together. However, I still hadn’t been timing them. I was hesitant to even say anything since I didn’t want to get anyone’s hopes up, (especially mine) but casually mentioned I was having some contractions.
I got up to go to the bathroom and was planning to go downstairs for dinner. There was the sign I was looking for that labor was coming soon, bloody show. I think this is the only time in my life I was excited to see bloody mucous. I let Mark know that he was probably not going to work tomorrow, and decided to put my birth team on alert. I sent texts to my doula (and great, longtime, childhood friend) Melissa, Birth Photographer, and called our Midwife Stacia.
I decided that I wanted to take a shower and see if that made my contractions stop and if it would help with my sore lower back. The water felt great on my back and I had several more contractions in the time I was in the shower, I was starting to think this could be the real deal. The contractions were starting to get a little more intense and I was having to stop what I was doing to breathe through them. I still didn’t want to get my hopes up too high. I putzed around upstairs doing my hair and getting dressed (read that as put clean pajamas on) the whole time having more contractions and more bloody show.
By the time dinner was ready at about 6:30, I was seriously doubting that I should be eating the spicy enchiladas we had planned earlier in the day. On my list of things that could be unpleasant if throw up I think enchiladas are on the top. I also wasn’t sure I was going to be able to sit through the meal with my contractions. I knew this could be my last chance to eat and that I would need the energy in case this was real labor. Luckily, just being around the kids slowed my contractions down and I was able to eat between them. I did have to stand up from the table every time one hit though.
Mark and I decided that it would be an early bedtime for the kids because we were pretty sure labor would pick up once they were in bed. Mark started the bedtime routine while I retreated upstairs and discreetly packed small overnight bags for the kids, just in case. I didn’t want them to see anything was going on. We still hadn’t decided if they were going to stay home for the birth or not. I wanted them there but didn’t want them to hinder my progress. I felt a sort of instinctual need to keep the whole family close by for some reason. We had several plans for the kids should we need to send them away, but for now I wanted them home.
At this point, I was pretty sure it was the real deal, and of course, it was because the house was an absolute disaster. There was clean, folded laundry spread all over the living room and the kitchen still hadn’t been cleaned from dinner. I had been keeping the house spotless for WEEKS since we had a slew of people coming for the birth.
I called our Stacia again and told her it was time, she suggested that we set up the pool so that when I was ready the pool would be too. I wasn’t quite ready for her to come yet but told her I would call when I was. As soon as the kids were in bed Mark set to work inflating the pool and filling it with water while I paced in the bedroom and “supervised”. He was very patient with my backseat driving while he set up and filled the pool because he was obviously doing it all wrong.
Once the pool was filling and I was satisfied Mark was doing it my way, I went downstairs to sit on my birth ball to time contractions. They were getting closer and more intense and I really wanted to get in the shower again, but couldn’t since we were going to need all the hot water we could get to fill the pool. I spent the next hour or so pacing the lower floor of the house, going upstairs to check on the pool, and on Facebook chatting with my friend Carrie. I was starting to get anxious and I figured that this feeling probably meant it was time to call everyone. I sent Melissa a text telling her it was time to head over at about 9:30 pm, and then shortly after called Stacia to let her know I was ready for her. At this point, I had forgotten all about calling the Photographer.
Mark had finished filling the pool at this point and it was ready to go, we were shocked that it only took one round of hot water and it was still slightly too hot to get in. He covered it with a blanket to keep the heat in and then tidied up the house a bit. Melissa arrived and we milled around the kitchen for a while, chatting between contractions. After a bit I needed to move back to the yoga ball in the living room, things were picking up.
I was starting to get anxious that Stacia hadn’t arrived yet, and she must have felt that because she walked in about two minutes later. She watched just a few contractions and announced it was OK to get in the pool. I was shocked because that meant she felt I was already progressing well, and I still didn’t feel sure it was time to have this baby. It’s a funny thing about labor, no matter how many times you do it, you can still be unsure.
The pool felt amazing. It was the perfect temperature and took the edge off the contractions, I still wasn’t in serious pain yet, but I knew I would be soon enough. It was probably about 10:45 pm at this point, and this is where time gets foggy. While I was in the pool, Melissa sat at the side and was there to remind me during the contractions not to tense up, relax my shoulders, and stop clenching my hands into fists. Relaxation is not always my strong point, so I needed the reminder. She also kept a supply of tea and water between contractions and a cool washcloth on my head and neck.
Mark played the good host, making coffee, fetching me water and letting the rest of the birth team in the house. The Midwife Apprentice, Cynthia arrived and was beginning to set up the supplies and get everything together. Thankfully Stacia thought to text my Birth Photographer and let her know it was time for her to come because I had totally forgotten about her at this point.
My contractions continued to get closer, stronger, and more painful. Stacia and Cynthia intermittently monitored the heart rate which was steady at about 150 bpm. I was starting to feel like maybe I needed to push, but I wasn’t 100% sure. I tried a few pushes and it just wasn’t feeling “right”. I knew I was probably complete because I was starting to worry about seeing those enchiladas again. I was also starting to shake from the hormone rush. My water still hadn’t broken and the baby was moving all around and I could feel the head low in my pelvis turning against my cervix.
Monday, September 24, 2012, 12:00 am
I’m pretty sure Stacia could see I was struggling, she suggested that maybe I flip on my hands and knees and try to push that way. Up until then, I was on my back leaning on the side of the pool, I knew this was not the optimal position, but it’s what I found comfortable at the time. I flipped over and pushed another 20 minutes or so and it still didn’t feel right. Around this time, I told everyone that I was done and I couldn’t do it and I’d like an epidural. Stacia was great and told me that was fine, but I’d have to get out of the pool, get dressed, and drive to the hospital. It would probably be faster just to push the baby out. I begrudgingly agreed that was probably true. She then offered to check me to see what was going on, this was about 12:45 am or so.
When she checked I was 10 cm, but had an anterior lip on my cervix and baby was so high she could barely feel his head. She had me flip back over and offered to hold the lip back while I pushed past it. At this point, I was getting tired, and I was ready to be done. We waited through a few contractions and I continued to push, and my water broke. She checked me again and I still had the lip, I told her to hold the lip back. It hurt, a lot, but I got the baby to move down slightly. When the baby came down she could feel that there was still a bag of water over baby’s head. I pushed some more with no progress, and she offered to break my water the rest of the way. I told her to do it, I was ready for this baby to be out.
As she was trying to snag the amniotic sack with the amnihook she mentioned how strong the bag was. I would like to attribute that to my cravings for grapefruit juice, oranges, and lemonade. Once she got my water to break, things moved quickly. Instantly I felt the overwhelming urge to push. That was what I was waiting for, it was almost like before my water broke everything was too squishy and cushioned so I couldn’t feel what I was supposed to do. Baby came all the way down while she was still trying to hold back that anterior lip. I didn’t know at the time, but he was posterior and when he came down she could feel that and she rotated his head and turned him manually. I was told it was quite the site to see.
I pushed for what seemed like forever, with each push I could feel him moving down but just not as fast as my other two births. At one point I said that this baby is a lot more work. I kept pushing, soon I could just barely feel a small patch of the head when I reached down, progress. They told me they could see that the baby had dark hair. We were minutes away from knowing if the baby was a boy or a girl and who he or she would look like. I started pushing really hard, I just wanted to be done. Stacia asked me to slow down (which I had warned her that I tended to push way too fast), so I hopefully wouldn’t tear this time. I breathed through a few contractions and I kept reaching down to feel if that soft patch of the head was getting bigger, and it was. Cynthia, moved in to help guide the baby out and slow the baby’s head down.
(I didn’t know at the time, but this was the very first baby that Cynthia had caught in her apprenticeship. And now, five years later she has her very own Midwifery practice.)
Then I felt that telltale feeling, the “ring of fire” and the head was out. Mark moved into position to catch once he was fully born. I still had to push a few more times to get his shoulders out, Cynthia helped maneuver them and then the body was born at 1:46 am. Mark lifted the baby out of the water and onto my chest. As I put my hand on the baby’s bottom I was pretty sure I could feel that it was a boy, I peeked between his legs and sure enough, he was! It worked out well because the boy name was the only one we could agree on, Elijah Griffin, he looked like an Eli to me.
He pinked up right away, but never really cried. He was amazingly alert and wide-eyed and looked just like his sister! Except for his amazingly chubby cheeks, he looked like a little squirrel with cheeks stuffed full of nuts. We hung out in the pool for while until I started to get a little grossed out by all the blood in the water and was ready to get out. His cord was done pulsing so we had Mark cut the cord and take over holding his new son while I worked on delivering the placenta. They had set up a birth stool for just that purpose, which was a good thing because my legs were so tired and shakey. I could barely lift my leg up to get out of the pool.
From there I dried off and moved to the bed. With some help, I got him latched on and he nursed for about 30 minutes. I was amazed at how big he looked, I had predicted that he would be long from all the stretching I felt inside but he was for sure bigger than my other two. We all placed our bets on weight and weighed him. He was my biggest baby, bigger than Ollie by nearly three pounds at 9 lbs 2 oz. He was also long at 22.5 inches with a 14.75 in head circumference. No wonder he was a bear to push out. I felt like a rock star! He was HUGE!
Stacia and Cynthia evaluated him and he looked great. I was in pretty good shape too, a small abrasion, and a second-degree tear that we decided not to stitch up. All in all, I felt pretty good, considering I just delivered a small linebacker. Someone brought me a snack and Melissa decided to head home as well as the photographer. They were followed by Stacia and Cynthia at about 4:30 am.
Once everyone left it was surreal, I was all tucked into my bed everything was all cleaned up and I had this new little person. The whole time I was in labor my two big kids slept peacefully just across the hall in their rooms, not knowing that in a few short hours they were going to wake up to a new baby brother. I could never have imagined the birth would go so fantastically. Stacia was a perfect match for us, low intervention when I wanted her to be, but able to help things along when I needed it. I laid there in the dark with Eli next to me and watched the sun come up, too high on endorphins to sleep.
His birth was just the healing experience that I needed following a late first-trimester miscarriage. His birth taught me how to trust in my body again and trust in myself. He is exactly the Rainbow Baby I needed. I couldn’t have dreamed up a better birth.
A New Family of Five
I would be lying if I said that those first days, weeks, months were easy. We had a rough start. There was a lot going on in general plus we added a newborn and were suddenly outnumbered. We had a lot of breastfeeding issues due to lip/tongue tie and low milk supply. I spent a crazy amount of time worrying about feeding him so he would grow which didn’t help make it any easier. The jump from two to three to kids was a hard one for us.
Despite our rough start Eli has grown into the sweetest boy. He is so caring and protective of his sisters. He’s generous and always wants to help or “do a job”. He is always looking for a snuggle and to sit in his “special spot” next to me. He has a special knack for being the annoying little brother and knows just how to get under everyone’s skin especially his older siblings.
This year he’s tackled full-day preschool at the kid’s elementary school and is thriving. He will be a pro by the time Kindergarten comes next year. He’s decided he wants to be an engineer when he grows up and I can totally see it. He loves to build things. Happy Birthday, Elijah!
I’m incredibly thankful that I have an amazing partner to help me survive all the crazy. I’m also so lucky that he has an amazing job that keeps him home with us most of the time. He also does just as much around the house and takes just as much of a part in raising our kids as I do. So when he does have occasional travel, it’s rough. Its four against one alllllll day long.
I have an immense amount of respect for those moms that have partners that travel regularly or have military spouses. They’re better women than me. I honestly don’t think I could do it. Even now when I know that Mark has travel coming I dread it. Everything in our daily lives is set up for a two-parent household. We divide and conquer a lot. One of us will make dinner while the other is taking Oliver to Baseball. Mark takes Zoe early to chorus one day a week so I don’t have 45 minutes to kill between drop-offs. It’s what works for us.
Currently, I’m on day one two three (that’s how long it took me to write this post) of a seven-day trip to Seattle for Mark. When the kids went to bed tonight I started looking at my calendar for the week and instantly felt totally and completely overwhelmed. It’s not that this week is any busier than any other week, it’s pretty normal, but looking at it as the one person responsible is a lot. That’s actually how I describe much of my life. A lot. A lot of kids, a lot of commitments, a lot of expectations.
Since this trip wasn’t a surprise, I’ll tell you how I’ve prepared for it. My secret is lower expectations. It’s saying, “that’s just not going to happen” and being ok with that. (Read here how I learned to say no to balance my life.) It’s being realistic about what I’m actually going to be able to get done.
For example, mid last week I got a notice that it’s conference week at the kids’ school. Surprise! (That’s a whole different rant.) I just can’t. I can not take four kids, especially the feral two-year-old, to conferences for three kids by myself, that’s a minimum of three hours. Nope. Just not happening. There is a phone conference option, but unless their teachers want to hear me yelling at the kids the whole time or they want to call after 8:30pm it’s not going to work. So, I said no. My two kids that don’t need it, I checked in via email, and the one I feel needs more support we will have a conference next week. When I have backup.
We meal plan, which I swear I’m going to post about one of these days. When I was planning out this week, I aimed low. That meant planning Dino nuggets, breakfast for dinner, and rotisserie chicken from Kroger rather than the usual, more involved meals. I also planned my more complicated meals toward the beginning of the week and knowing from experience that my “fuck it” level would be high by Thursday. It’s also knowing that I’ll probably switch it up a few times through the week just because life happens.
It’s also no secret that I tend to be a type A personality, planner. Last week I tried to get all the extra “stuff” done that I could. This meant going to the grocery store before Mark left. Making sure I was caught up on laundry. (Don’t worry, I didn’t fold it, it’s festering in baskets in the hall.) Doing any big cleaning projects ahead of time. Truth is, there’s pretty much zero chance I’m cleaning a toilet this week or vacuuming unless a glitter bomb explodes in my living room. My goal is to keep the house standing and the garbage from overflowing. And you know what? That’s OK. I’m giving myself permission to “slack off”.
Expect a Little More
As I pulled away from the airport I said to the kids “Alright. We’re going to have a good week, as long as we can all hold it together. I know you’re going to miss your Dad, but we can do this.” The big two know that they are going to be expected to help more than normal. That may mean watching Bits while I take a shower or be more on top of picking up after themselves.
And typically the big kids will step up to the plate. For example, this morning Zoe got up, got herself ready and once she was done with breakfast and when I wasn’t down with the boys and Bits, she had started making lunches. If she had made the coffee it would have been a perfect morning. Oliver took the initiative this morning to get all his baseball stuff together for tonight. I’m a firm believer, that if you set up the expectations they’ll rise to the occasion. For the most part, that’s how it’s worked for us.
Remember to Breathe
It’s easy to get super caught up in all the things that everyone else needs and forget about you. If you read this post, you know that I’m trying to be better about self-care. My goal for this week while Mark is gone is to not totally lose myself. I’m not talking about my nightly glass of wine as self-care. I am going to try to make sure that I actually stop and do some things for ME this week. I am not exactly sure what that is yet, I’ll try to update as I get through the week. Maybe a girls night in? Maybe I’ll wonder Target with Bits while the big three are in school. Mostly, just try not to lose my shit while I count down the minutes until Mark is home.
We’ve all been there. The kids are making us crazy, we’re short tempered, we’re exhausted, the house is a disaster but it’s just not getting picked up. Everything and everyone is on our last nerve. It’s not any one things that contribute to us getting to that point, but what can we do to keep from getting Mom Burnout? I’ve never planned on being a Stay At Home Mom. I honestly feel like I’m not very good at it. I am not a domestic goddess by any means. I don’t particularly enjoy play dates or mommy and me classes. I like having my own “thing” that gives me a purpose. Previously that was my job or volunteering with Safe Kids as a CPST. Currently, I’m working with FARE to coordinate the Triangle NC Food Allergy Heroes Walk (Learn more about why here). But I still feel like I get that Mom Burnout feeling from the daily grind.
A lot of the time, it sneaks up on me. I’ll notice that I’m snapping a little more at the kids or Mark. Or I’ll find myself irritated with little things, like the tiny socks I seem to find all over the house. Or it’s just a general feeling of the “can’t evens”.
How do you keep from getting to the breaking point? I’ve found that it’s important for me to try to head it off at the pass. Life with four kids (or any kids for that matter) gets crazy. It’s easy to let the week fly by in survival mode as we coordinate baseball schedules with chorus practice, make sure homework is done and everyone eats at least one meal a day with vegetables. Often when I look at the schedule on Saturday as I’m meal planning I think it’s going to be a long week but in reality it flys by.
Self-care is a big buzz word in the mom community right now, but you know what? It’s important. When we’re rushing through the week and I’m trying to take care of everything and everyone else it’s easy for my needs to fall by the wayside. You can’t fill from an empty cup and I can bet if you asked 10 moms, 8 of those would admit to Mom Burnout and the other two are probably lying.
How do I do self-care? Sometimes it’s little things like watching trash TV during nap time instead of folding laundry or retreating to take a long hot shower with Pandora on loud while Mark does bedtime. Or maybe it’s saying “fuck it” to making that pan roasted pork loin for dinner and popping in a big old tray of Dino Nuggets because vegetables are overrated.
Sometimes I need to get out of the house alone. Grocery shopping, coffee (alone or with another mom), or getting my nails done, running some errands where I don’t have to buckle and unbuckle the car seat 37 times. Heck, even going to get an oil change on my Swagger Wagon can help. Sometimes it feels good to just have a little space to breathe without someone trying to climb back into your body (Eli and Bits are the most guilty of this) for an hour or two or four.
Date night is another way I do self-care. That seems sort of weird right? Being on a date is not by yourself, but being connected to my spouse helps keep me grounded. We need time when we’re Mark and Crystal instead of Mom and Where is Mom. We are better parents and better partners when we take that time for us. (Read more about how we stay connected here)
Have a Moms Night Out. Sometimes you need to get out with your “tribe” and relax a little. Have some drinks, talk about all the absurd stories about the shit your kids pulled this week. These are the people that get it because they’re in the trenches too. Remember 8 of your 10 friends need it because they’re suffering from Mom Burnout too.
Just Say No
There was once a time when I was absolutely over-committed. I was the master of taking on too much. Make cupcakes for school? SURE! Go on that field trip? ABSOLUTELY! Volunteer for that school committee? WHY THE HELL NOT? I’ll tell you why….. Mom Burnout.
Something I have learned in my old age is that it’s ok to say no. When someone asks you and you don’t want to do it, don’t. There is no need to feel guilty that you just can’t make 75 SunButter sandwiches cut into triangles for the preschool picnic. Three kids with school conferences in one week? It’s ok to skip conferences for the kid that is doing great in school and to check in by email instead. It’s ok to skip that play date because, for the love of God, you just need the baby to take a nap today. Protect your time, it’s ok.
There is no reason that you should feel guilty for being realistic. There is only so much you can take on and it’s ok because you’re human. Stretching yourself too thin is a disservice to yourself and your family. Everyone already has enough stress in their lives. Don’t add to it because you feel obligated to do all the things. So what if Jimmy’s mom is on the PTA?
Next time you look at your calendar and you have 5 things scheduled for Tuesday night, I want you to say no to at least 3 of those things. Practice saying “That’s just not going to work for us.” It feels good, I promise. And next time you start feeling that hint of Mom Burnout, as soon as your partner gets home, take that glass (bottle) of wine up to your bathroom, close and lock the door, blast your own Pandora station (with swears!), fill the tub and take a second to breathe and center yourself again. You’ve got this!
I often say that I don’t care what my kids do when they grow up as long as they’re good people. This is mostly true, but I will confess that I worry more about my boys in this respect than I do my girls. I want to raise good husbands, amazing fathers, respectful men. You’d think this would be easy, but I’m finding as they get older it’s not at all.
Pressure from Society
Recently I was shopping for some t-shirts for Eli. I had some time to kill while I was sitting at a therapy appointment (#momlife). The poor kid never gets anything new, part of the hazards of being the little brother just a few years behind your older brother.
I wandered over to The Children’s Place, one of my go tos for cheap clothes that I don’t care if they ruin with paint at school. I get about 4 emails a day from them about sales and coupon codes, did I mention they were cheap? As I was scrolling through the usual sports shirts, tv characters my kids don’t know because we don’t have cable, etc. I saw one that caught my eye. It said, “I never finish anything”.
It bothered me. A lot. I kept scrolling through the clearance adding some matchable shorts and plain color Ts to my cart as I went. Fine, whatever, don’t like it, don’t buy it. Then, I came across this one….
I started to get annoyed. What terrible messages we are sending our boys. They don’t have to clean up after themselves? Oh right, that’s women’s work. I kept scrolling, but I was grumbling the whole time. Until I got to these……
That was the straw. I emptied my cart. Absolutely not. I will not be shopping there anymore. I sent pictures to Mark, with a rant about how we are setting our boys up for failure. I stewed about it on the drive home, and through dinner. Then I took to my Facebook page after bedtime because I was still stewing. I was just going to post on my personal page, but after some encouragement (it didn’t take much, honestly) I decided I was going to post on The Children’s Place’s Facebook page and Twitter. I’m still waiting for a response, by the way. It’s been weeks.
When we dress our boys (or any kid, really) in a shirt that says “I don’t care” we’re sending them a message that says “you don’t have to care”. I see it all the time in the media, little boys being portrayed as lazy, video game playing freeloaders. Fathers being portrayed as someone to be waited on by their wife with no responsibility for their own children. I will not stand for that with my boys.
This is just one example of a way we’re failing! And I know what people are thinking, girls, get it just as bad. And I totally agree that we’re also stereo typing our girls to be princesses and housewives. I’ll talk about that another time.
We hold those boys to the same standards we do Zoe (and eventually Bits). They’re responsible for cleaning up their own messes. Starting in Kindergarten they are folding and putting away their own laundry. (which eventually evolves to washing it) Oliver does dishes, cleans the bathroom when he pees all over it, they fix their own breakfasts, they sweep. We don’t limit the boy’s chores to stereotypical “man’s work”. They live here too, just because they have a penis doesn’t mean they can’t operate our vacuum.
I’ve said it before, it’s important to me that all of my kids are able to self-sufficient humans when they’re adults. I will not have a child that doesn’t know how to clean their house when they get older because mom did it for them. It’s absurd that right now, in 2017, there are moms doing laundry for their college aged boys. This needs to stop. Right now.
It Teaches Respect
I’m fairly certain that my boys have a lot more respect for “what I do all day” when they have to help out. They know that dinner doesn’t magically appear. They know that it takes work to have clean floors and it’s annoying when someone makes a mess. They also see their father taking his fair share of household duties. Mark does dishes, vacuums, and cooks, just like I do. There is no delusion for them that men “don’t have to” help around the house.
They also respect our space more when they are made to help maintain it. I love it when Bits comes barreling through a room and one of them yells “I just cleaned that up!” It’s vindication for all the times they’ve done it. They know how much work it takes. They also respect others peoples spaces, when they go to friends houses they help pickup no questions because it’s not optional here.
I’m not going to lie, it’s a lot of work. I get a lot of pushback, especially from the almost 8-year-old. And this is just one of the things that I worry about when it comes to the boys. As they grow I feel the need to pound certain things into their head, respect for women, consent, and that because they are middle-class white boys they are in no way better than ANY of their peers. Right now, with everything going on in the world, this is a hard job, and I worry all the time that we’re not doing a good enough.
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.