Saturday, February 28, 2015

29:20

The title of this post says it all: Ben and I did it! After months of hard work, we ran the Coldest 5K in 29:20! This was a personal record for me, including all of my training runs. The satisfaction of at last completing that goal was extremely sweet, and I was happy to earn that medal for Megan Sauer, Ben's little sister. The medal and race bib were both mailed yesterday. (In case you're worried about Ben's twin brother Jack, he has already received his medal from the January race.)

I have to say a word here about the great friends that I have. I woke up the morning of the race feeling sick with anxiety. A bitter cold front had come through in the middle of the night, and the wind was expected to come from the north at about 20-25mph at the time of the race. Icy precipitation was expected at any time, and race time wasn't until 2PM. Oh, how I would have loved to have had that race over with early in the morning, instead of thinking about my strategy, the cold, and my potential failure all morning long--not to mention watching what I ate and drank so that I wouldn't get side stitches! It was impossible to stay down for too long though, with all of my friends texting their encouragement. That morning, I got pep talks from BJ, my sister Christa, and my friends Sommer and Angie, and I got texts of encouragement from four other friends who remembered that I had a big race that day! One of those friends PR'd in her own half-marathon that morning, which was very encouraging to me as well! So, with friends filling me to the brim, BJ and I left our boys with his parents and drove to the race, listening to music and pepping each other up the whole time. Just when I started getting butterflies again, BJ would muse something such as, "Do you suppose I could win the whole race if I drove half of it at highway speed?" Once we arrived, we got ready inside the van and didn't leave until just about the last possible moment. After we took our places up near the start line, I daresay my husband stood just to the left of me and used me as a windbreaker for the remaining two minutes before gun time.

Go-Time!

After the gun fired, I took off and tried to not think about the cold anymore. Fortunately, it was easy not to because instead I became worried about my energy level, which seemed a little low. My mouth was very dry, despite chewing gum, and I became worried that I hadn't hydrated enough. I was quickly eating BJ's dust trail and I didn't see him again until we high-fived as he was coming back the opposite direction. Despite my concerns, I felt at ease when I clocked in my first mile at 9:11. I maintained that pace and turned to come back the other direction at the halfway point at 14:28. I knew at that point that I was looking pretty good and had some play time in case I needed to slow down. Still, I saw no reason to take anything for granted. No side stitches at that point yet, but I was actively engaging in my preemptive side-stitch removal technique to try to keep them from popping up at all.

The second half was more into the wind, but I don't think this really impacted me much. I didn't seem to notice the wind too much at all. At that point I began taking good notice of the runners around me. Ahead of me were a father and son, the boy looking to be about 8 years old. I immediately thought of Ben and made my best efforts to keep this boy in my line of sight as motivation. At one point he dropped his hat, and as he stopped to retrieve it I came up right beside him and we ran side-by-side for a little bit before he sprinted up ahead again to his dad, who was looking back for him. This little boy was kind of a visceral reminder on that race course for me, and I was pleased that he did cross the finish line in front of me. The other person I took special notice of was a gal about my age who was running quite a bit faster than me, although she kept stopping to take walking breaks. In doing so, we leapfrogged each other several times. Finally on about the fourth time I passed her, I lightly slapped her shoulder on my way by and said, "You got this, girl. Come on!" A second later she caught up with me and, without speaking about it, we compromised on speed. I sped up my pace, which had fallen a bit, in order to keep up with her, and she slowed down a little bit--probably to keep herself from having to walk again. She and I ran side by side without looking at each other for two or three minutes before we began talking intermittently. We each had earphones in so I'm not sure how much we heard each other, but I know that she mostly ranted about the weather ("I can't believe we're running a 5K in this FREAKING COLD!") and I mainly shared jubilation about upcoming downhill portions of the course ("Downhill is coming! I see it!"). We each stopped once to walk, for about five to ten seconds each time, and the other stopped and walked as well. I found that she was the one keeping me in it at that point. This isn't to say that I was going to stop the race or anything; it is merely to say that my on-target pace was continuing because I found the energy to run with her, and when she stopped to walk my resolve quickly began disappearing as well. After five seconds on our last walking break, I shouted, "Enough. It's time to go." We both began running again and didn't look back. As we neared the finish, she had the energy to sprint a little ahead; she finished in front of me by five or so seconds and then turned around to high-five me, and I felt I had made a new friend. I saw her a couple of minutes after the finish and I thanked her, but never got her name.

As I crossed the finish line, BJ (who had finished in 25:07!!) screamed my name and was taking video of the glorious finish. I remember checking my watch as I crossed, but didn't look beyond the first two numbers: 29. That was all I needed to see. Mission accomplished! I walked on a little bit, completely out of breath and nauseated, and stopped to look at the river and cry a minute for Ben, who saw me through this goal from the very start, when my finishing times exceeded 40 minutes.

Thank you, Ben.

Olympic Gold may not have felt much better to me!

Megan, Kate, and Jack Sauer

 In what Sommer described as "true Jenny fashion," I have determined new goals and am ready to begin working toward them now. My next two goals will focus more on distance than speed. This year for the Memorial Marathon Relay in April I have volunteered to take the long, lakeside leg, which will be 12K (7.5ish miles) in length. I have never run that far before, but my long training runs are already about five miles in length, so it can be accomplished if I just begin recalibrating my distances. Of course, why stop there? I have long desired to run a half marathon, just to say that I have done it, and by the time I am able to run 7.5 miles I will be well over halfway there. I could begin downshifting my runs back to 5K distance after the relay, but if I'm willing to put a couple more months of hard work in, I could keep increasing distance and surprise myself by running a half marathon in June. This is what I have decided to try. Sommer ran a half marathon for Owen the month before he passed away, and I have to admit that I have wanted to dedicate the same effort for him. Today, then, I'll go ahead and just publicly put it out there--a half marathon for Owen in June. First thing's first though: Ben's baby sister Kate also needs a medal, so I better crank up my distances and fully earn one at the Memorial Marathon Relay in April. As always, my portion of the relay race will also be dedicated to a child who lost a life during the Oklahoma City Bombing. This year I have chosen six-month-old Lee Gottschall. One of my greatest honors all year is walking from the finish line to the memorial and tying my race bib to the chair of a little sweet angel.


There is ALWAYS someone to run for, so run I will.



Friday, February 20, 2015

Chandeliers

On July 1, 2014, I wrote a blog post that stated my newest running goal: running a 5K in 29:59 or less, and honoring Ben Sauer's memory in doing so. Training runs don't count; it has to be in a race. Originally I had hoped to meet that time goal at a November race, but a stomach bug just prior to the race set me back a long way, and I ended up finishing in 31:44. In December I tried again and made a 20-second improvement (31:24), but was on antibiotics for a throat infection and once again wasn't able to gut it out. In January, I tried yet again and shaved off another minute (30:22). My February race is scheduled two days from now, and I've decided that this has to be the day that I finally conquer that time goal. It's going to be about flippin' time.

In the above-mentioned July post, I wrote these words:

Jogging, for me, is an act of spiritual unification with other people. That sounds really weird, I know, but really and truly, I find myself connecting to humanity in strange ways when I am grunting out my efforts into a jog. It's suddenly like everyone everywhere is my friend, and my sense of being joined to others becomes rich and complicated. This is why I always dedicate races and running goals to other people; it instills within me a sense of thanksgiving for other people in this life. 

I have spent months now running for Ben, and after re-reading these words tonight, I have never believed these words to be truer. Running for Ben has become a thing of the past. Instead, I now feel like I run with Ben. It's a funny feeling, to feel as though you are coming to know someone that you never really knew, but I have truly enjoyed focusing on this sweet five-year-old boy and what he must have been like. I have my own little boy who is 362 days younger than Ben was, so in many ways I can imagine some similarities. To add fuel to my already-flaming fire, Ben's mother Mindy personally contacted me last week and shared a heartfelt message. Her kind affirmation of my efforts has brought me to tears each time I read our correspondence, and I want more than ever now to beat this race clock!




I recently switched up a lot of songs on my running playlist, and I added Sia's "Chandelier" and put it near the beginning. I have never had a song give me more energy than this particular song, and it shows when I run. The other day I finished a five-mile run on a long day, and the last 11 minutes of that run were spent playing that song on repeat. When it plays, my sagging energy suddenly bursts, my arms start pumping on the "1-2-3" line, and I just want to sing out loud (okay, sometimes I do if I'm outside and no one is around). I've even adapted the beginning lyrics to make it work for me by substituting "party" with "running."

Running girls don't get hurt
Can't feel anything, when will I learn?
Push it down, push it down.


I tell myself all the time when I'm running, it doesn't hurt. It doesn't hurt. Then, when I'm deep into a run and I'm truthful and can acknowledge that it does indeed hurt, I put on Pink's "Try," and keep running hard to her words, "Just because it burns doesn't mean you're gonna die. You gotta get up and try and try and try." Then, when it's all going down and my body tells me I should just stop running and give up because who cares anyway, I turn on Sia--over and over again, apparently. I have a feeling that her song will pop up two or three times on Sunday when we set a new personal record. (Note my positive thinking.)




Five or six times now I have easily beat the 30-minute mark in training. Other times it hasn't been so easy and I cut it very close, like today when I did my final training run before Sunday's race and I clocked in at 29:56. I won't kid myself; I know it's going to be close on Sunday, and the potential for winter precipitation doesn't make matters any easier. Nor will the promised 20-mph winds. It's okay. All I can do is the best I can do, and I think my best will be good enough this time. I've shaved ten full minutes off my time since I first set this goal, and I'm continually going faster and faster, fast as I can for Ben. Fast as I can with Ben. "I'm gonna [run] like tomorrow doesn't exist."

The Sia video, in case you haven't checked it out. The girl in the video can dance.


Monday, February 2, 2015

The Impostor

I don't know if you were in the "popular" crowd in high school, but I really wasn't. I was on the pom squad, which was sort of a "popular" group, but I was the happy nerd on the pom squad. I was the one who was granted the "Albert Einstein Award" at the year-end pom banquet, and my 4.67 grade-point-average seemed to be my claim to fame on the squad. Through and through, I was really an Honors kid and I belonged with the Honors crowd, but I also spent time with the pom girls because I could do a switch-leap and a triple pirouette. While I had good friends on the squad and am still good friends with some of those ladies today, my true place of comfort was with the Honors kids. In that sense, I never really had a place with the popular crowd to which most of the pom girls belonged. It sort of felt like 'us' and 'them.' Not 'us' versus 'them,' because there was no animosity from either side. It was just that there was us, and then there was them.

 
Flashback!
Recently I have become acquainted with the idea of the "impostor syndrome."   Basically, the idea of the impostor syndrome is that a person finds it impossible to internalize their own success and believe that they could actually be responsible for it. Instead, they attribute their success to luck or some other outside factor. Though they may appear confident on the outside, when they look around they do so with a fear that somehow their incompetence will be exposed for all to see, and suddenly everyone will realize that they don't really know what they're doing. Research indicates that most people, 70 percent actually, feel like an impostor at one point or another in their lives. I know that when many of my colleagues and I were doing our pre-doctoral internships, we often felt like impostor therapists--that we were acting like therapists with real clients, but with no real knowledge of what we were doing and a real insecurity that we were unintentionally ripping people off. Our clients thought they were coming to see therapists, but what they were really getting was just us! The truth was, we actually did know what we were doing, but we were just scared shitless. Statistics pretty much indicate that at every work place, at least one person walking around feels like they don't deserve to be there and that their colleagues are infinitely more qualified than they are. They probably also think they are the only ones that feel this way, but in fact many of their colleagues feel the same way that they do.


While I have briefly felt like an impostor in both my career and in parenthood (you should have seen me freaking out on the drive home from the hospital with newborn Silas! "What if we accidentally kill him? Don't they know that we don't know what we're doing?!?!"), the main place in life where I feel like an impostor is in my running. As you likely well know, I sign up frequently for races, and at every race I feel like it's me and them. They're the real runners, and I'm the joker who has no idea what she has gotten herself into. I find myself at starting lines waiting for the gun and scanning the runners around me, wondering which ones will beat me and if there are any that I think I can finish in front of. The latter group is much smaller comparably, at least in my mind. The judgments that I make are generally based on foolish nonsense, such as how nice their shoes are, what their postures are, and how close they position themselves to the starting line. If they have nice gear or awesome legs or a water bottle strapped to their backs, I think, "Oh, crap on a stick." Anxiety kicks in and I often begin questioning myself; I think, 'These people are real runners, and I'm still just not cutting it." I may look the part, but my true folly will be exposed once the gun sounds. I've told myself things like "When I can run a 5K in 30 minutes," or "When I can run four miles," then I'll call myself a runner. Then I'll really be one of them.


It's perfectly ridiculous when I say it aloud and type it out. Of course I'm one of 'them.' As I've grown over the last six months and become a stronger and faster runner, I have cheated myself out of a really cool identity, one that I earned the first moment I ever decided to strap on my shoes.

I cheated myself out of letting myself think I was a runner.

What I've learned in only the past two weeks is the ridiculously simple truth that you're a runner when you run. Get this: when you run at all--even a little bit--you're a runner. You don't have to earn membership into that crowd with prescribed times, distances, or training. Most of those runners never thought I didn't belong. If they thought of me at all, they probably saw me as a fellow runner. What I've even learned is that probably many of them looked around at the rest of us with the same sense of anxiety as I did, feeling like an impostor at the race.

Recently I have hit a lot of those prescribed marks that I burdened myself with as an entry into the supposedly-elite class of runners: now I can run a 5K in 30 minutes. Now I can run four miles. Now I consistently finish in the top half of all racers and in the top quarter of all females in my age group. I'm a stronger runner than I was when I first started, but I'm no more of a runner now than I was then. I still want my goals just as badly, and I still get side stitches sometimes trying to get to them. Why in the world did I ever think I had to earn my way in? I already belonged.

Here's what I say. You run well on the elliptical? Great! You're a runner. You like the treadmill better, or the outside hills, or the trail, or the neighborhood sidewalks? Fantastic! You're a runner! You run in cotton t-shirts instead of techy gear? Awesome. You're a runner. You run half a mile each time you go out? Yup, you're a runner. Sign up for a 5K, and ask me to run with you, and I will join you. Why? Because we're both runners, and that's what runners do. There is no "us" and "them." When you strap on your shoes (which I really shouldn't say because some people run barefoot and we can't exclude them!) and start putting one foot in front of the other, there is only "us."

That's totally you and me, happy because we're runners!

Yup, we kicked butt, because we're runners!

Friday, January 30, 2015

The Audience

I have unfortunate memories from my childhood in which my sister, our neighborhood friend, and I plugged in our tape player with my dad's orange extension cord and choreographed dances to hit songs in the front yard. We worked with songs from the likes of NKOTB and Milli Vanilli, and we dubbed ourselves "The Glitter Girls." We even had a small green beaded treasure chest of money that was basically a collection of our allowances, which we intended to use for costumes until the neighborhood friend's mom stole it to "buy makeup." But that's another story. We spent hours in the front yard amusing ourselves on summer mornings and creating superfly dances that we then forced upon hapless audiences such as Martha, our sweet elderly next-door neighbor. We even charged her a quarter for the privilege of watching our productions. (That money was probably stolen by the neighbor's mom, too.)

Ah, youth. And, ah, how it comes full circle to bite us in the asses.

I am now hapless Martha, and my two older boys are the Glitter Girls--except the productions that I am subject to viewing are choreographed ninja moves, wrestling positions, pratfalls, "spider jumps," and nude dances. Yes, nude dances, because my children think it's hilarious to disrobe for a laugh, and then run out to where I am so that they can dance, giggle uproariously, and shout out the names of body parts that usually aren't subject to public viewing. Apparently my exasperation is enough to keep them coming back for more.


Over the course of the last six months, my role as a mother to Silas and George has shifted from 'primary playmate' to 'negotiator/peacekeeper.' Now they mostly are entertained by playing with each other, which is both a blessing and a curse. Now I do get a few extra minutes to prep dinner, text a friend, and start laundry, but I'm also frequently needed to break up arguments and draw figurative lines in the sand when someone took the wrong Lego or stuck a foot into the other's fort space. Silas and George dream big dreams when they're together, and their conversations are wonderful to hear. They talk mostly about "skeleton work," what they want to be when they grow up, and what superheros they are. Also, their conversations can be hilarious, such as the following:
 
Silas: Can I do something to your finger?
George: What?
Silas: I can't tell you. I just have to do it.
G: Okay.
(Pause) Silas: Does that hurt?
G: No.
Silas: Is it going to hurt at some point?
G: Ummmm. No.



Yesterday the boys were in the garage unraveling strings from bundled wooden stakes, and then using those strings to set up "booby traps" for bad guys around our front yard. All at once, Silas remembered a doctor's kit that George was given for his birthday and asked if they could play with that. George was immediately on board, as the doctor's kit has been a huge hit. Silas said to George,
"George, our days of fighting bad guys are in the past. Now, our doctor days are just beginning."

Then, of course, there is The Vanners. Both boys love Van greatly, but George is definitely the better playmate. George fits the bill of the middle child pretty perfectly: he is the go-between for our youngest and oldest, belonging in good relationships with both. He also seems to struggle with a bit of that identity crisis that seems to plague middle children--namely, the swift transformation from mature thinker to tantruming infant. Each morning when Van wakes up, George is always allowed to be the first one in to get him. George always stops me in my tracks with a dramatic crossing-guard-type gesture and tells me to wait. "I tell you when you can come, Mommy. I need alone time with Ban." Sometimes those two go for 20 minutes playing in the crib together before I intervene and get Van for breakfast!

Not to be outdone, The Vanners would like to remind us that he is the ultimate cake-smasher.

Motherhood is definitely a changing journey. I find myself at times longing for a newborn again, and the next minute I find myself breathing a sigh of relief about finally having my body (mostly) back to myself after five consecutive years of either being constantly pregnant or nursing. Each January my very favorite tennis tournament, the Australian Open, causes me to reminisce about the greatness of sweet-smelling newborns as I recall that two of the last three years were spent watching live tennis in the middle of the night with babes who needed feedings. As I consider that next month we're enrolling Silas for kindergarten in August though, I'm reminded to not hurry these days along. They will go fast enough on their own. That thought keeps me smiling and sitting for yet another performance by my two little vaudevillians---as long as they don't charge me 25 cents for the pleasure.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Skeleton Work

About a month ago, BJ's car needed a repair. The boys and I took BJ to his workplace, which is a federal site that is pretty heavily guarded. The boys had never seen BJ's office before, but we got a pass to drop BJ off and so we took the boys inside so BJ could show us around. It was only then that we realized that George really had some misconceptions about what it is that BJ spends his time at work doing.

Even though we talk about our individual days each night at the dinner table, I guess the boys never really conceptualized that BJ's job really is working on a computer nearly all of the time. The boys have been told that my job is to talk with sad people and "help them feel better," which is about as simplified a version of a psychologist as I can give. We thought they understood that Daddy the electrical engineer helps airplanes fly by looking at numbers on the computer. Silas may have thought that, but George sure didn't.

George was under the impression that Daddy fights skeletons all day at work.

There was momentary dismay that morning when George discovered that Daddy's office looks, well, pretty much like a normal office. "Where are the skeletons?" he wondered. When we picked BJ up that evening, he asked again, "Did you fight skeletons at your skeleton work?" I was half-flabbergasted, half-amused to learn that George honest-to-God thought that every day Daddy suited up, grabbed his computer bag, and bravely drove off to shoot and spear nefarious skeletons for the good of all man- and womankind, four to five days a week, ten hours a day.


Since the unearthing of George's misconception, the idea of "skeleton work" is now freely talked about and explored by both boys. Silas has also grabbed the reins with this concept and is riding wild. Often we hear from one or the other of them, "I think tomorrow when I wake up in the morning, I'm going to spend some time at my skeleton work." Silas and George both have given us several glimpses as to what skeleton work looks like, and they will both re-enact deeds of bravery that skeleton work required of them that day. If I question where the scrape on their hand or leg came from, they'll both tell me matter-of-factly, "Skeleton work." Last week George waltzed around the corner with pink marker stripes on his forehead. When I asked with mild exasperation, "What is that on your forehead?" I was promptly told, "A skeleton bit me on the head at skeleton work. But I shot him." They build small models of "skeleton work" out of Legos, and they both agree that the entrance to skeleton work lies in the water meter in our front yard. Skeleton work will even feed them dinner (pizza, cheeseburgers, and fries) if they just can't make it home in time for supper!

A skeleton work battle wound
A model of skeleton work

The agreed-upon entrance to skeleton work
Busy making components of skeleton work, notably a jail and a screwdriver

Completed jail that is only one of many at skeleton work
So there you have it. Our family is now professionally employed in the underground battle against depraved bony structures that have taken on a life force of their own. If you're ever in need of skeleton removal services, I know a guy. Or two.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Guest Mama: Gabi's Birth


In the beginning of our marriage, BJ and I spent four sometimes-glorious/sometimes-frigid years living in Minneapolis. We made many friends there, including a sweet friend named Katie who volunteered with a group that we also did. I found Katie to be intriguing--always positive, always interesting, and always hard-working. When she volunteered to share her birth story of her daughter Gabi, I was pleased. I'm sure you will be too. Without further ado, meet Katie, in her own words.

Meeting Gabi
Born March 2, 2013  3:58AM
Before Noah, our first, was born, my thoughts and focus were spent on enjoying being pregnant and the bigger picture, becoming a mom and a family of three. My fears, emotions, anxieties, excitement and anticipation were all pointed in that direction. Although I had, by happy accident, come into a relationship with a small group of midwives for my prenatal and birth care, and had a birth plan written out, I thought very little about the actual process of giving birth. When I was 41 weeks along with him, I was finally ready to meet him face-to-face, but he showed no signs of budging. We made an appointment to be induced for week 42, assuming we’d be cancelling it upon his arrival. Week 42, Day 0 came anyway! We went into the hospital on a Monday morning to be induced, which I mistakenly thought would be a pretty quick process – until the midwife told me otherwise. As the Pitocin drip started, I was a little nervous, but that soon gave way to boredom (and hunger!) as nothing happened for hours and hours. About seven hours later the REAL fun started, and six hours after that I demanded an epidural. Once the epidural got there, 45 minutes later, the needle prick, a strong contraction and my water breaking all happened at the same time. After about an hour or two of my body and Noah recovering from the hormonal rush and change in meds, I was able to sleep for a few hours, then woke up knowing it was time to meet our son – almost. Two hours of pushing later, I met my Noah for the first time! 22 hours after the Pitocin drip started. Needless to say, most of the process didn’t follow my ‘birth plan’ in any way. I had originally requested a med-free water birth. I was able to labor in the tub for stints during contractions, but since I was monitored and on Pitocin, they had to check my cervix regularly which meant getting in and out of the tub, which was unpleasant, to say the least. After a few times of that, I resorted myself to the hospital bed for the duration of labor.
When we were expecting our second, I thought more about the birth process – partially forgetting the pain but also knowing more what I was getting into. In light of how Noah’s birth went down, I didn’t even write up a birth plan. I told the midwives I was open to what happened, and that I hoped to avoid induction but was more concerned with a safe birth for our little girl. I was also open to a water birth, or whatever transpired. I also was working full-time, in school and taking care of our 20-month old, so there was not much time for quiet reflection and preparing myself emotionally for a new child and her birth. As with Noah, 41 weeks came and went. I was not looking forward to an induction, but started to come to terms with the probability. I had my membranes stripped around week 40, which brought on about an hour of strong Braxton-Hicks contractions, which soon faded back to no progress.
The last few appointments with the midwife had led to some additional testing, as baby girl seemed to not grow much between appointments, and had limited activity while I was getting checked. It turned out later that the reason for that was that the appointments were all scheduled at the same time each week, during her nap time At 41 weeks and a day, a Friday, I got a call from the midwife – she was in the office that day doing paperwork and going over charts. Although it wasn’t a typical patient day for her, she told me she didn’t want to head into the weekend without checking on the baby again. I appreciated her attention, went in, and she sent me down to the hospital to do an hour of observation to make sure that blood flow, fluids, response, and everything else was fine. It all checked out, and she called and set up an appointment for Monday, with the comment that “I don’t think we’ll be needing this appointment.”
That evening, I started noticing slight contractions while putting Noah to bed. I had experienced Braxton-Hicks since the mid-twenties weeks with both children, and that was about the intensity of these, though they seemed to be more regular than usual. They strengthened, and about 9:30pm I camped out on the couch with my husband and my phone, and started timing them. Around 11:30pm, they were affecting my ability to talk/do anything else but breathe through them, so I called the midwife and she said she’d call me back in an hour to check in. She ended up falling asleep, so didn’t call on the hour mark. In the meantime, I walked around, got down on all fours, tried laying down (not a great option), and drew myself a bath. At 1:15am, I called her from the bathtub. She asked if I thought it was time to come in, and I said yes. She said she’d meet me at the front door of the hospital. I called my mother-in-law, who I had ‘put on alert’ earlier in the evening so she would have her phone next to her in bed. She came over right away, and my husband was driving me to the hospital by 1:30am. (We live conveniently close to both sets of parents.) Lucky for me, my husband works at the hospital where we were to deliver, so he could autopilot his way there (with a bit of speeding) and knew which back roads were a little less bumpy. I rode the whole way backwards, hugging the passenger seatback for support. The midwife wheeled me up for check in, and I was already dilated to 6cm.

Managing a smile at 2:56AM--one hour before delivery
 We were admitted at 2:20am and went to the delivery room. The room with the tub was available, and I wanted to labor that way for as long as possible. Kristen (midwife) asked if I wanted an epidural and after a few indecisive minutes, I said yes. If this labor lasted anywhere as long as Noah’s did, I didn’t think I would make it through. She put in the order while Neil and the nurse helped me into the tub. I had about two more contractions in the tub, which I got through by squeezing/biting a pillow and not a few choice words, and then my water broke. The next contraction felt different – like I had to push. I mentioned that to Kristen and she looked surprised. She checked, and sure enough, my little girl was on the move. I had a moment of panic when she told me that we weren’t going to be able to have the epidural – which at the time I very much felt I needed. Neil calmly reminded me “she’s saying Gabi is coming now – it won’t be more hours of this – she’s coming now.” At the next contraction, it was very clear I was pushing, although I didn’t feel like I was pushing – my body was doing it for me. While pushing with Noah, I really did need to bear down and push – like they do in the movies, except much harder . With this one, it was like she and my body were working together – I could feel her twisting and moving down. The midwife and Neil helped me reposition to where it would be a safe arrival/easier catch. I had heard of ‘the ring of fire,’ but now I know. The last 2-3 contractions/pushes I am sure I screamed, swore, whatever. It was not a quiet, peaceful beginning for my little girl, but hopefully she didn’t hear too much of that as she was busy being born and came out into the water for her first second or two of life out of the womb. She was born at 3:58am, one and a half hours after we signed in to the hospital. As soon as she was born, she was placed on my chest and her warm, slippery, sweet body felt right at home in my arms. My sweet, spunky, independent Gabi was here. Her name means “the Lord is my strength,” and that is what we want for her – that she is strong and relies on God to sustain that trait he’s given her. She happened to be born on my amazing sister-in-law’s birthday, so we changed her planned middle name on the spot. Gabrielle Ann. (Conveniently, three of our four grandmothers have this as their middle name as well, so they are thrilled.)

I was shaking from hormones, adrenaline, or who knows what else, while Neil held Gabi and the nurse and midwife helped me back to the bed to deliver the placenta and to survey ‘the damage.’ I was able to nurse for the first time almost right away, which was a great distraction from whatever the midwife was taking care of ‘down there.’ I have to say, that recovery after her birth was much easier than after Noah’s – though I am not sure what to attribute that to. He was my first, was 1lb 5oz larger with a bigger head, labor was longer, or perhaps Pitocin or the epidural had some impact, I am not sure. Being able to deliver into the warm tub when my body was ready naturally was a much better post-birth experience. I did tear with her, but I healed better and more quickly.
Now that Gabi is almost 20 months old, I think of giving birth almost romantically. I am NOT discounting the pain in any way, because I did not have a pain-free birth either time. It was exhausting and consuming. One regret I have is that during most of the in-hospital labor, including the final pushes, I had my eyes closed and was very much ‘in my head,’ not much aware of what else was going on. I wish I had a clear memory of watching Gabi being born. If I have the chance to go through that experience again, I will still be open to any possibility – because it’s more important to me that my child arrives safely than that my expectations are met. I am fortunate to have more ‘progressive’ hospitals at my convenience that support alternative birth methods and allow/provide midwives, support breastfeeding, have baby-to-chest as a policy unless there is an emergency situation and in general, are flexible for parents during this intense and special time. Since I didn’t go in with a specific plan, I didn’t have expectations either. I ended up being ‘surprise proud’ of myself that I could actually birth a child in that way. I am glad that I had my first experience with Noah to be able to appreciate two ends of the spectrum; and I have my two precious ‘rewards’ to show for those labors. 
***For other birth stories, you can click on the "Birth Stories" label. You can also click here to read about the births of Van, Zella, Callen, Ada, Gwendolyn, Jane, and Adelaide.***

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Crossing Paths: An Unexpected Friendship



Picture it:
In March 2013 I was a single traveling parent boarding a plane with a 14-month-old and a two-year-old. I had a cast on my left hand because I had broken it two months previously while trying to flip an age-old mattress. I decided to travel despite the broken hand, believing the best in people as I do, knowing that virtual strangers would help me as the three of us made our way from Oklahoma to Orlando to Massachusetts. They did.

I entered the plane with George in my left arm, our bag on my right shoulder, and Silas walking in front of us. Every parent that has flown with a small child knows the feeling of stepping on to a plane and making that right turn to face all of the people who could be your potential seatmates. Many of them are looking at you. Some of them are smiling at your children, while some look at you and then quickly break eye contact, hoping you won't sit next to them (if you're flying Southwest and choose your own seat, as I always do). It's always an uneasy feeling for me, choosing the part of the plane that works best for us and hoping that nearby passengers are pleasant. On the day in March 2013 when I made that right turn to face the plane, I began the uncertain walk, scanning my eyes to see my options. That day on a plane, more than the countless other days I had taken my children on planes, was different because there was a good chance that I was going to have to ask for brief help at some point.

These people are not Su.

Enter Su. A friendly-looking passenger sitting on the left side of the plane, Su made eye contact with me and smiled broadly. "Yoohoo!" She called to me, motioning with her hands. "Come sit here!" pointing to the empty seats beside her.

Ummm.... what?

My first thought was, "Wow, jackpot! This lady is super friendly!" My second thought was, "She's so nice that I should walk on by and not subject her to our burden. She of all people on this plane doesn't deserve it!" Fortunately, common sense won out and I nabbed the two seats beside her, Silas by the window and me in the middle holding George. Su quickly reassured me that she loves children, thought my children seemed lovely, and had a young grandson of her own. An educator who is now retired and works part-time as a self-employed baker, Su was the picture of everything that is good in this world. She immediately asked me how she could help me. She spoke to my children, entertained George with baby games, knew exactly how to speak to Silas to spark his interests, and did so with the thickest and most charming of New England accents. Su is a frequent flyer between New Hampshire and Florida, but despite so was nervous about flying, if I remember correctly.

Throughout the next three hours, I had the most delightful conversation with a fellow airplane passenger that can possibly be had. We talked of our families, our lives, our jobs, our fears, and our losses. She spoke lovingly toward my children and laughed with delight about stories of them, two traits in a person that any mother finds wonderful. Su was, simply put, the be-all end-all of seatmates. Just before we departed the plane, Su helped me gather my things and handed me her bakery business card, which I still have in my wallet.
See? I really do!
Not long after that flight, Su and I became Facebook friends, and we remain involved in each other's lives. This kind, kind woman claims my children as her "Oklahoma grandsons," and she has sent boxes of gifts for birthdays, Christmas, and Easter. She has offered virtual hugs and support through personal, heartbreaking losses since that time. She has been a true friend. And to think--we met on an airplane! The most unlikely of stories, a friendship seed that was sprung from the kind of place that you might only see in Hollywood--and yet, it's as real as any friendship I have. This April when we make our sojourn out to New England to visit Sommer and Co., we will also be making a detour to western New Hampshire to see Su and her stomping grounds.

Friends, if you're on the verge of giving up on people, don't. Keep yourselves open to possibilities, because you sometimes never know who you're sitting next to. We've all taken turns into doors we thought nothing of, only to bump into someone who would go on to change our lives. Don't forget that this can happen anytime, and be ready to capitalize on it when it does, even if it means stepping out of your comfort zone. Goodness is everywhere, especially when you look for it in earnest and are willing to take risks. I have to admit that every time I step on to an airplane, I immediately scan for Su and am always disappointed to not see her, even though I know she won't be there. But, the fact that she was ever there in the first place is testament to the possibility of it happening again somewhere, someday.

**Su is a private person and I'm kind of amazed that she even agreed to this post in the first place. I didn't want to press it by asking for permission to post a picture. You'll have to just use your creative imaginations.**