Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Tag: photography

Making YouTube Cooking Videos = Actually a Lot of Work

Silly me, I thought we’d just set up the camera and start shooting whatever we were cooking.

Okay, maybe my husband would get out the little photography umbrellas and some lights, but that’s it.

But oh.

We are really in it now.

***

This is how we started out.

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I thought this was kind of a lot of equipment.

Oh, sweet naive me.

Here’s where we are at now.

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What you’re looking at is the second version of this handmade mounted mirror (much lighter than the first one.) You’ll also notice that we’ve added more lighting on the countertop… and around the cook top in general.

That pot is about to undergo some intense interrogation.

(Not pictured: We also have a fan mounted to the cabinet while recording–to keep steam from condensing on the mirror.)

Why a mirror? The idea is to record the cooktop from above, without getting steam and gunk in the lens of the camera. Thus, the mirror. Then, once I import the video into our video editing software, I can flip the image vertically so that your brain doesn’t feel like something is off as you’re watching us cooking.

All this rigging has taken a lot of trips to Menard’s, Lowe’s, and Home Depot. (And sometimes back to Menard’s ten minutes before they close.) He’s really put a lot of time and effort into this.

But anyone who knows my husband knows that when he does something, he really does something.

Like this.

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That’s the joint garden that we share with our neighbors–all built in the last few months.

Because. You know. He wanted to have a garden.

Notice the gate on the right side. And where he’s standing, there is a removable portion of that fence–so the truck can back up to it and dump the wood chips directly into the garden.

Hey, it makes him happy. And Felicity loves, loves, loves getting in the dirt.

***

So it’s taking some time.

In the meantime, I’ve been figuring out and articulating our workflow for making the videos.

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I’ve also been building my video editing skills (I’m using CyberLink’s Power Director–a solid program.)

Which leads to this conversation that we had last Thursday night.

Me: “I don’t know why but the preview of the video is really choppy.”

Him: “Once you render it, it should smooth out.”

Me: “Hmmm…”

Him: “Your computer probably isn’t fast enough.”

Me: “Hmmm…”

Then Friday, I call him at 5:00 to see if he’s picking up the kids.

Him: “Yep,”

I hear him giving someone his name and address.

Me: “Okay. Where are you?”

Him: “Cincinnati.”

Me: “Um, okay.”

Him: “I just bought you a computer.”

Me: “Right. I think I saw that coming.”

Him: “It’s so badass.”

Then later, after the kids are home and dinner is finished, we pick up the conversation again.

Me: “So when is the computer getting here?”

Him: “Already got it.”

Me: “Oh. Where is it?”

Him: “In the car. I still have to put it together.”

Me: “What? I thought you said you bought a computer.”

Him: “Yeah. The parts. It won’t take long to put together.”

Then later, he starts bringing in the boxes.

Me: “Two monitors? You bought two monitors?”

Him: “You got to have two monitors.”

Me: “Oh my God…”

Him: “Go big or go home, Sweets.”

Kid in a candy store.

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***

So when can you expect to see some videos?

I think in the next two weeks.

We have some good footage of making steel-cut oats (although we’re figuring out color balance and how to filter background noise). We wanted to produce some egg videos, but we’ve got to wait until our egg supplier is back from vacation. We also ran into some problems with our lighting. Apparently, we’ve been using too much light and it’s washing out the color of the food. So we’ve got to re-shoot everything. Bargh…

Like any creative project, this one has thrown us some curve balls.

But it’s still been fun.

It has given both of us chances to work in our favorite creative roles.

Him: Woodworking, cooking, photography

Me: Writing, storytelling, video editing

And I guess I can add “directing” to that list now.

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The Big Summer Project: A YouTube Channel (and some baby pictures… and a baby on a motorcycle)

For six weeks in the summer, we continue to send the kids to daycare and I finally have time to sink my teeth into a big, creative project.

In 2014, that project was writing my first book.

In 2015, it was publishing my first book.

2016 was a bit weird. It was mostly riding the roller-coaster of early pregnancy, dabbling in writing a short young adult novel, and (admittedly) watching a lot of Netflix.

This year, the big creative project is a new YouTube Channel, featuring instructional cooking videos.

Not recipes. Think techniques.

For years, I’ve watched my husband make simple, delicious, and healthy meals. And he can do it without covering everything in butter, cheese, and ranch dressing. He cooks a large meal on Sunday night. It’s usually a huge pot of rice, some vegetables, and grilled, baked, or roasted meat. Then, he portions it out into containers that we take to work.

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heated up a meal that he makes and my co-workers have been like, “Mmm… What’s that?”

This guy is talented. The food is delicious. And he understands food chemistry and can give the best advice about how to prepare food. (And did I mention that another one of his hobbies is photography?)

But he’s not great at the storytelling aspect (although, I think he’ll learn easily).

Oh. And he detests social media.

So that’s where I come in. (And did I mention that I’ve got experience with video editing?)

I remember one night when we had a group of Doug’s friends over at our apartment for a dinner party, probably six or seven years ago, and someone said, “Doug should have his own YouTube channel!”

Our response was mostly, “Ha ha. Someday, maybe.”

“No seriously. He should have a channel.”

“Yeah, okay. Not right now.”

But have you seen YouTube lately? It’s integrated with Google now. It’s getting incredibly easy to get started.

I don’t think we can put it off anymore.

So that’s what I’m working on this summer. I have never done something like this before.

But hey. That’s never stopped me before.

Also on the summer dockett:

  1. I’m hoping to release Henry’s birth story as a Kindle single, probably for $0.99 to help me recoup some of the time spent on writing it. It’s a powerful story, but nothing book-length. Stay tuned for more on this.
  2. I also have three academic publications that are in the works right now. All of them are related to an intercultural communication program that I helped design and facilitate with our university’s Department of Teacher Education. One will be published on University of Dayton’s eCommons. One will be in the TESOL Intercultural Communication Interest Section Newsletter. And the last one will (hopefully!) be with the on-line, peer-reviewed journal, Dialogues: An Interdisciplinary Journal of English Language Teaching and Research. 
  3. I seriously need to go through some boxes of old photographs and letters that my mom gave me two years ago. I’ve been dubbed the designated family chronicler, so I’ve got to make some decisions about what stays and what goes. I know the boxes are sticking in my husband’s craw.

And hey, Henry is now officially in the sweet spot of babyhood: post-newborn and pre-mobile.

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June 2017: Baptism (Doesn’t look too thrilled)

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It was Splash Friday at daycare. Thus. the swimsuit.

And how about a baby on a motorcycle?

 

So hang on to your Harleys.

It’s going to be a busy summer.

 

Birth Announcement Photos: Henry Jacob Glass

My husband is a bit of jack of all trades. Chef. Carpenter. Handyman. Gardener. Landscaper. Interior Designer. Electrician. Engineer. Maker of sausage, ham, bacon, and goetta.

Photographer.

Last Sunday, when Henry was nine days old, Doug managed to get newborn pictures done. Special thanks to my co-worker, Jeri, who crocheted the beautiful blanket in the pictures.

Henry Jacob Glass

Born February 2, 2017, 1:27 p.m.

8 pounds and 10 ounces, 21 inches

Welcomed by The Glass Family, Doug, Sharon, and big sister, Felicity

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Photo credit: Douglas Glass, 2017

Days 8-13 Pictures: Recovery and Establishing Routines

But first… Baby pictures.

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Day 7: One week old

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Day 7: Umbilical stump, just about to fall off

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Day 8: Buckeye

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Day 7: That face… It’s just a giant eraser to the pain of childbirth.

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Day 9: Awaiting visitors

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Day 9: Milk drunk

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Day 12: Happy Valentine’s Day

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Day 12: Sibling Bonding

The Incredible Shrinking Uterus

Is it just me, or is the uterus a fascinating organ?

Right now, mine is in the process of shrinking from the size of a watermelon to the size of an orange.

Day 8

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Day 9

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Day 10

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Not sure why I look bigger on Day 10 than on Day 9…

Day 11

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Day 12

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Day 13

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Compared to Day 3

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If you’re wondering just how much work a woman’s body has to do to return to its pre-pregnancy condition, the Alpha Parent’s Postpartum Recovery Timeline is a good reference.

Notes on Recovery

Last Friday and Saturday night, Doug took the night feedings and I was able to catch up on some much-needed sleep.

Seven whole hours both nights.

Yeah.

Now, of course, my body continued to wake up every hour, but I forced myself to go back to sleep. And I succeeded.

With just those two nights of normal sleep, I noticed that my energy during the day doubled. But getting those hours of sleep post-birth is really, really difficult. And if you’re breastfeeding, it’s pretty impossible this early on in the postpartum period, unless you’re one of those blessed women whose milk supply comes in early and strong and you can pump ahead so someone else can do night feedings.

In any case, my recovery for this birth has been much quicker, I think, for a few reasons.

First, I stopped nursing pretty early on. For those of you who are new to this blog, I suffered a postpartum hemorrhage with this birth and have a history of breastfeeding problems and postpartum thyroiditis. All of which worked against my ability to breastfeed this time as well.

And secondly…

Recovery: Tearing vs. No Tearing

Yeah. I gave birth to a baby that was a whole pound heavier this time–without the second-degree tear that I had last time.

What was the difference?

A midwife who did perineal massage during my pushing phase.

Yeah.

Sure, I was still swollen after all was said and done. But there is a world of difference between the pain of being swollen and the pain of being stitched back together.

When you’re swollen, the 800 mg of Motrin mostly numbs the pain. And you can (mostly) sit comfortably. When you’ve got stitches, the last thing you want to do is sit upright. And when you’re trying to nurse, the last thing you want to take away is your ability to sit upright. With my daughter, sitting (no matter how much I propped myself this way or that) hurt like hell. Nevertheless, I nursed. And nursed and nursed. Mostly in the same, single position that was at least bearable. But over time, it was agonizing.

So I’ll take swollen over stitches any day.

So, thanks, midwife.

Recovering from Postpartum Hemorrhage

As I mentioned in previous posts, I was extremely weak from Day 4 to Day 8. The most I could handle was getting out of bed to eat and shower before lying back down again. My body was working overtime to replenish all the lost blood from delivery. I am so thankful for my mother, who watched Henry during the day so I could just eat and sleep. And my amazing friends, Ryan (a.k.a. Bear) and Cate, who brought us dinner two nights in a row. I gobbled up chile verde carnitas and roasted chicken like it was my business. God, that was good.

The good news is that this week is markedly different.

On Day 10, with the help of my mother, I was able to get myself and my two kids to church for our first Sunday back since the birth. Since Doug did the night feedings, I got seven hours of sleep the night before. Thus, I was even able to drive! Woot. And bonus, this baby slept in the Moby wrap for nearly the whole time (save feeding time). Miracle of miracles.

On Day 11, I was able to go for a 23-minute walk. By myself.

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You know what feels amazing? Walking without a 41-week-pregnant belly.

A-maz-ing.

On Day 12, I cooked my own eggs and made my own coffee.

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Small victories.

Other Changes That I’ve Noticed

  • I am jiggly. Nothing to be done about that.
  • I’ve lost about 15 pounds so far. 30 pounds to go.
  • When I stand on one leg, I no longer feel like I’m going to fall through my hips.
  • I have successfully trained myself to sleep in small chunks around the clock. I sleep about 3-4 hours at night, 1 hour between 1 and 3 p.m., and 1 hour between 7 and 9 p.m.
  • When I do lie down to sleep, I can actually reach a deep sleep every time now. Before, I would lie there and agonize that my mind wouldn’t spin down. I was on high alert to all the new sounds of my baby. But now that I’ve acquired this new language of sounds, my mind is letting go when I need to sleep and allowing me to sleep more soundly. Now, when I wake up from these bursts of sleep, I have a feeling of restoration. That is worth its weight in gold.
  •  I’ve decreased to two doses of 800 mg Motrin per day, instead of three doses.
  • My face has finally lost its super-puffiness. My thighs and legs, not so much yet.
  • My lower back doesn’t seize up in spasms if I sit the wrong way. This happened a lot during the first three days post-birth.
  • My night-time leg cramps are starting to go away.

The Beginning of Routines

From the pregnant woman’s perspective, I have to tell you, there are not many advantages to going all the way to 41 1/2 weeks.

Except…

Your baby comes out more developed.

Which means they can take in more milk in one feeding once their stomachs fill out.

Which means they sleep for longer intervals earlier on.

By the time he was one week old, Henry was regularly eating 3 ounces in each feeding and sleeping for 3-4 hour stretches. With our daughter, it took us three or four weeks to get to this point. (Granted, we’re not dealing (yet) with issues of colic or reflux or other horrible conditions that keep babies awake all hours of the day. My hat is off to you parents who regularly deal with these kinds of pains.)

We have about one or two night feedings right now. And that is totally doable.

And finally, I got this fortune in my fortune cookie over the weekend. I read it when I was in that warm haze of sleep deprivation.

I had to laugh.

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The First Week: In Pictures

As can be expected, my ability to write is greatly diminished right now. And that’s totally fine with me. Self-care first. Instead of putting effort into writing, I’d like to just show you around my world in the last five days.

The Last Day of Pregnancy: February 1, 2017, 41 weeks and 3 days

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Birth: February 2, 2017, 1:27 p.m.

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Minutes old. Skin to skin.

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Life-saver. I suffered a postpartum hemorrhage, but my midwife and nurses were able to control the bleeding within the first hour of delivery. Thank God for modern medicine. 

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Putting on my Warrior hat to breastfeed after the birth.

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Day 1

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Getting ready to leave Family Beginnings, a natural birthing center attached to Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, Ohio. They. Are. Marvelous.

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Temporary living quarters while Doug finishes the baby’s room. 

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Self-care ain’t pretty sometimes.

Day 2

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Day 2 profile

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My viewpoint, post “nap.” So hard to sleep soundly.

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Day 3

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Day 3 Profile: Breasts actually feeling milk come in this time. Feeling a bit hopeful in this moment.

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Can you see it? Just barely? That is what 20 minutes of pumping yields. It won’t even drain into the vials. Baby has a good latch, but I have to use a shield to get a good latch. But he gets frustrated when hardly anything comes out. Can’t really blame him. Poor guy.

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How small, he starts.

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Yawn.

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Stork bite on right thigh.

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Looks just like his sister in the first week. I will show a side-by-side comparison someday.

Day 4

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Day 4: Weaning. As my breasts fill and ache, latching is more difficult and the pump won’t relieve it. I try having him latch without the shield. Awful. So awful. Baby is doing well with formula, and I’m tired of working to overcome these barriers. So I am utterly done with breastfeeding forever. And you know what? That’s okay with me. We’re not having any more kids after this one, so it’s time to stop stressing and just enjoy having a baby.

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Day 4 Profile

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Nipple shield with last bits of milk still on it. 

Day 5

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First doctor’s appointment. Henry receives an excellent bill of health. “You look pale,” says the pediatrician. “You should take iron to help with the breastfeeding.” I tell her that I started the weaning process yesterday and he’s exclusively on formula. “Well, he’s doing great. Can I get you some free cans of formula?” Thank God for choices and supportive pediatricians. I leave without the same feelings of guilt that I had with my first child. 

What’s not in these pictures?

All the people who are supporting me.

My husband, who has spent the last month painting and installing lights and shelving in not one, not two, but three bedrooms.

My mother, who has been watching the baby during the day while I have been sleeping and recovering from the blood loss. (I’ve got the night shift.)

My friends, who brought over bagels and scones and muffins on Day 2 and sat with me. Small reassurances that even though crazy things like birth and recovery happen, life goes on. And it’s all beautiful and holy.

My church, who lifted me with their prayers.

The postpartum period can be incredibly isolating and lonely, but all this help has made it just a little easier.

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So much beauty in the world.

Another Word for “Vacation”

We took our first family vacation last week. We had been putting it off because traveling with an infant… No. Because traveling with a toddler… No.

But she’s like this whole little person now. A walking, talking, opinionated person. She tells us what she thinks about (usually Clifford and Dora). She tells us when she needs to go to the bathroom (miracle of miracles). She’ll be in preschool by the end of the summer.

And it had been a while since we’ve been able to catch up with our Virginia/DC friends.

So we planned a two-leg journey to take place over the span of one week. We would set out from our home in Dayton, Ohio to spend three days deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains and three days in the heart of Washington DC.

From the suburbs, to the country, to the city, moving along the range of total seclusion to total immersion.

If you’re a parent reading this blog, you understand that to combine children with the concept of “vacation” actually negates the whole concept. You know there will probably be no sleeping in. Someone will probably get sick. You’ll need to reorganize the whole landscape of how-things-are-done in order to get the kids through the day. So we really need a different word for “vacation with children.”

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What follows are a few highlights from this “vacation.”

***

Highlight # 1: Rude Awakenings

From my perspective, the first night in Virginia was the nadir of our vacation. Doug discovered the mattresses in both rooms of the cabin were Tempur-Pedic mattresses, which unbeknownst to me, he is allergic to?

To add to our great luck, our daughter also showed signs of labored breathing after sleeping on it for an hour.

So both my husband and daughter slept in the main room of the cabin while I star-fished on the king sized mattress all to myself.

You’d think that I’d sleep quite well, but no.

Felicity coughed off and on the entire night. Allergies? A cold? It didn’t really matter. Then, she fell off the love seat/ottoman combo in the middle of the night followed by a tiny harmph! Then, she needed help falling asleep again. Now fully awake, I stayed up and submitted a post to Huffington Post (maybe this is the one the magic one that sticks?). I finally drifted off at 4:00 a.m.–only to be woken up at 5:30 by Felicity saying, “I want to watch Clifford.”

The good news is that I’m married to a great guy. And when I told him how little sleep I had gotten that night, he said he’d take her on a drive this afternoon so I could take a nap.

That’s love.

***

Highlight # 2: A Visit to our Friends’ Farm

On our first day, we visited our friends who got married a week before us ten years ago.

They have six children. Six. Yeah.

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Felicity sits among the oldest five children.

They are a lovely family, really. They live in the middle-of-nowhere Virginia and they love it. Their children are a well-behaved, curious bunch and for our daughter, it was love at first sight. They surrounded her with games of “flying” from an overturned bucket onto the sofa and walked her around the yard where “Apple” (a lamb who thought herself a human) pranced in chaotic circles that occasionally sent a group of young chickens skittering.

We let Felicity take it all in. Doug made breakfast. I sat with the mother, Leslie, and we talked about our families and houses. She pointed out how much work her husband, Brian, had finished on their house, a farmhouse built in 1907.

“It causes me a lot of anxiety,” she laughed. “But it has come a long way.” She pointed out where he had taken out walls, installed the new kitchen sink and appliances. As the youngest girl, the newest member of the I-can-walk club, toddled around the dining area, I felt dizzy thinking about all of the work involved in raising six kids and taking care of a house, not to mention renovating it.

We talked lightly of politics, too. Although their political leanings are decidedly more conservative, we all shared common ground that this election year is completely bonkers.

***

Highlight # 3: A Bath and a Book

I took a luxurious 1 1/2 hour nap that afternoon, followed by a long bath in this amazing tub, the window open so the breeze could sweep in every now and then.

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And yes, I was reading the second book in the Games of Thrones series. Ah… A true escape.

***

Our cabin was located about 30 minutes from any major town where you could buy things like milk and paper towels. It was far enough away from anything that you couldn’t hear any traffic. At all.

As we sat around the fire pit, it struck me just how vacant the air was of any unnatural noise. No traffic. No planes. No whirring, churning, clanking, clinking, or anything else that has become the background noise of my daily life. And in the absence of all of that white noise, I could finally hear the sound of the leaves in the trees. Crickets and robins. A woodpecker a mile away. The quiet whispers of blades of grass, kissed by the wind.

I thought about the people who lived on this land a hundred years ago. Two hundred years ago. Three hundred years ago. How much closer their existence directly depended on the earth.

I thought about how the goal of their whole lives was simply to live. To excel was to help their children reach adulthood. As those goals have become more easily achievable, we’ve begun to wade out into the ocean of human possibility. To our waists, our chests, our necks.

It can drown us if we’re not careful.

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***

This wasn’t the first time that we stayed at this cabin.

Our first visit was in 2008 after a week-long vacation on Topsail Island, North Carolina with Doug’s brothers, their wives, and their kids. Instead of doing the whole trip back in one day, we stopped in Virginia and stayed at these newly opened cabins.

The heat of the August sun seemed to summon forth the scent of cabin’s pine walls. We opened the windows and the breeze sailed through. I sat on the porch with a cup of hot tea (Sweets, how can you drink hot tea in the summer?) and looked out on the treetops of the surrounding forest of Indian Valley, Virginia.

Ahhh…

Our second visit was in March 2009. With seven of our friends, we pooled our resources and planned our own version of Iron Chef, over the course of three days, preceded of course by enormous breakfasts. Unfortunately, this meant visiting multiple local stores (all of them tiny since we were miles from larger cities), which also meant clearing out all their milk, eggs, and bacon, as well as whatever vegetables and meat they had on hand. We ate like glutinous royalty for three days.

When we signed the guest book, we made acronyms out of the letters of our first names.

Mine was: “Should Hiring Always Rely On Nepotism?”

Doug’s was less creative: “Dawesome, Oawesome, Uawesome, Gawesome.”

***

Highlight # 4: A Stunning View

Before we left the Blue Ridge Mountains, Doug drove Felicity and me to the top of the hill behind our friends’ farmhouse to get some pictures. The view was stunning.

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Hilltop 1

“Fine. Don’t look at the camera.”

 

***

Because my husband is my husband, he decided to get his car detailed before we went on vacation. Our friend, Debbie, asked me why. I shrugged.

“Because Doug is Doug.”

What I didn’t know at that time was that he would also insist that we get the car washed before we entered DC.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because I’m not bringing a dirty car into our nation’s capitol.”

Honest to God, that’s what he said.

Well, then…

(Doug desires that you know that he didn’t get his car detailed, just “washed.” And he wants you to know that he didn’t want his car looking like it had been through backwoods Virginia.)

***

Highlight # 5: Re-aligning Space Expectations

On Wednesday, we relocated to Washington, D.C., where we stayed in an apartment listed on Airbnb. Best decision ever. Two hundred dollars per day bought us a 600 square-foot garden level apartment in the heart of Capitol Hill.

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capitol hill apartment

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The thing that always jars me when I travel to big cities (Boston, New York, D.C., Paris, London) is how tiny the living spaces are compared to my suburban Ohio standards. At least, according to how much I can afford to pay. Everything shrinks. The space around the sink shrinks. The counter space shrinks. The space between the television and the sofa shrinks. The dining area shrinks.

It makes me feel… a little wasteful. I’m usually a very resource-conscious person, but readjusting my size expectations on trips like this helps me to realign my expectations.

After we watched John Oliver’s latest episode of Last Week Tonight, I looked around the apartment and said, “How much do you think a place like this goes for?”

Doug grimaced. “Yeah, I was curious too, so I looked.”

“Yeah?”

“This location, this size… about $450,000.”

Well, then.

***

Highlight # 6: Remembering Why We’re Not Big-City Folk

“Would you ever want to move out to D.C.?” our friends, Greg and Susan, asked as our kids play in the Building Zone area of the National Building Museum.

“I mean, it’s expensive,” I shrugged. “But if I got a decent-paying job, we could probably make it financially, still… I’m just at a point in my life when I understand that what makes me happiest is to have the strong social support network around me. We’d be leaving our friends. A lot of our family. All the people that we know.”

Doug chimed in and added that we could never afford to have a place in this area with as many possibilities for having a yard.

“Not to mention all the meat-processing and woodworking that goes on in our house.”

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And you thought I was kidding…

“And then, there’s the commute to work,” I added. “It’s twenty-five minutes in Dayton. In rush hour. Which lasts about one hour.”

It’s a lovely fantasy to imagine living “the high life” in an upscale part of a big city. But I know that I’m always happier just visiting. I’m too much of a Midwestern gal to be comfortable in a city where I’m constantly caught between feeling unworthy around the rich folk and feeling spoiled around the poor folk.

***

Highlight #7 : Running around the National Mall

On Thursday morning, I checked the weather. Fifty-two degrees, but no rain. I slid my tennis shoes on and pushed the butterflies down in my stomach.

I was going to run around the National Mall.

Okay, I reasoned with myself, Maybe you won’t make it the whole way. But just do as much as you can.

I started at the corner of 4th Street and C Street and turned down Maryland Avenue NE. I started with a slow jog, just to warm up. It wasn’t raining, but a constant mist permeated the air, matting down my hair. I don’t usually get allergies, but something was causing my left eye to water.

Within the first half mile, I saw a building come into view.

Oh, wow. That’s the Supreme Court.

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I kept going to the Capitol Building, passing by information kiosks and police officers at their posts.

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I took note of all the other runners out there with me. Men, women, young, old. There was this whole running culture out here chugging up and down the National Mall.

Oh my God, it occurred to me. I’m part of a running culture. How did that happen so fast?

It took longer than I thought to get to Washington Monument, and I checked my progress. About 3 miles. I looked ahead to the Lincoln Memorial and thought, Ah, what the hell.

And I swear to God, in that last stretch of track leading to Lincoln Memorial, Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” came up on Pandora. My left eye still watering, the mist dampening my ponytail, I picked up the pace.

My love is alive, way down in my heart, although we are miles apart.

If you ever need, a helping hand, I’ll be there on the double, just as fast as I can.

I ran up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, completely giddy with myself. I threw up my arms in victory at the top and gave a thumbs-up to a pair of Japanese tourists. With my heart rate at 178, I slowly made my way down the steps and looked out across the Mall.

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Oh my God. The realization started to sink in. It’s another three miles back to the apartment.

I tried not to think about it too much. Thinking too much is always my weakness. So instead of measuring the way home in miles, I measured it in songs.

Running_map

***

Highlight # 8: Seeing What Her Daycare Teachers See, Every Day, All Day

Kids are always changing, that much is certain. So in this week-long vacation, here is what we learned about our daughter’s current development.

  • Her maximum walking time is about three blocks. Then, you need to alternate carrying and walking.
  • She has developed a more sophisticated way of saying, No. It’s “I don’t want to!”
  • She has a new imaginary friend, Nemo the Fish. She loses him all the time, but he magically ends up in either my hand or Doug’s. All the time. You should never pretend to eat Nemo. The consequences are devastating. At least for a whole minute.
  • She loves to say, “Okay? Okay.” Kind of like, Permission? Granted.
  • Her vocabulary is sharpening, but continues to provide endless amusement with phrases like, “No, I don’t want eat a muffin-man!”
  • She actually remembers what I read to her. One night, I read out of a kid’s flower encyclopedia (her choice, not mine). The next day, she stared out the car window and wistfully called out for “Jack-in-the-Pulpit.”
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Jack-in-the-Pulpit flower (Wikipedia)

Yeah.

***

We had to choose between ending our vacation at Jefferson Memorial with the sun going down. Or staying at our friends’ house, talking about nothing in particular.

We stayed with our friends.

Because that’s the kind of people we are.

Because that’s how we’re raising our daughter to be.

***

Highlight # 9: Bending the Rules on Screen Time… For the Sake of Sanity

We are kind of staunchly opposed to training our daughter to expect to always be entertained. Read: buying a car with an already installed DVD player. Too tempting to resist the urge to turn on a video every time we’re in the car.

Instead, we packed the car with books, stuffed animals, and doodling/drawing materials.

We survived the first six-hour leg of the journey to Virginia without DVDs. And the next five-hour leg to D.C. But when we hit the five-hour wall during the eight-hour trek home (complete with Felicity pulling at the car seats straps and reeling into a wailing I-don’t-want-to-sit-car!!), we went to what Doug calls “Defcon Dora.”

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Sometimes, it feels good to be flexible.

***

This wasn’t like any vacation I ever had before. My mind was rarely completely at ease. Sometimes I didn’t sleep well. We didn’t plan each and every meal, although as foodies, it’s tempting. It wouldn’t have allowed us to remain flexible. And when you’re with a toddler and it’s raining and you’ve got another six blocks to go, you just need to pick a place and eat.

I’m not sure when we’ll be able to resume vacations that actually feel like a true break from all responsibility.

But in the meantime, these trips give us the time and space to lay down our other roles and just be…

A family.

“My Gift to You, First-Time Mothers”

Here we are, dear readers.

I’m allowing myself to be seen in all moments, not just ones in which I had overwhelming gratitude and joy for motherhood. Not just ones in which people would see me as “a good mother.” I showed myself being ungrateful and whiny and vain.

Because that is real motherhood, especially new motherhood.

You are constantly caught between who you once were and who you are not quite yet. And in that tension, we feel shame over and over again that we are not good mothers. That we fail. That we feel ungrateful and selfish.

And that is not okay. It is not okay to feel shame so often in those first months of motherhood. You have enough to deal with. You should never feel ashamed that you are not further down the road than where you are at that moment.

You are where you are. You are not where everyone else is. And you know what? Everyone else isn’t all gathered together in the same place either.

We are all scattered around different points on this rugged terrain. But when you’re on the top of the mountain, looking down, it’s easy to push a few stones off onto the climbers below you when you’re just flexing a bit of muscle and clout. It’s easy to forget how easily new mothers bruise from being hit by these stones. It’s easy to lose all perspective and empathy for new mothers after you’ve emerged from its grueling initiation.

But don’t.

Don’t lose your empathy for what they are going through.

Don’t lose your ability to cry with them when they desperately tell you that they haven’t slept well in eight months. (That desperation is so real!)

Don’t lose your ability to listen without offering advice. They don’t want your advice, damn it. Unless they pointedly ask you for advice, you know what they want?

A hug. A freaking hug. That’s what they want.

To be heard and to be loved.

The last thing they need is to be shamed (“Well, I never had that problem”) or to be belittled (“Oh, wait until they’re 2! They’re hellions!”) or to be ignored. What they need is for you to tell them 1) that they’re doing a good job, 2) that they are strong, and 3) that you’ll come over and give them a break so they can do something that they want for once.

I wrote this book because I want so much for new mothers to feel understood, loved, heard, and championed. I want them to know that what makes them good mothers is simply getting through that first year—no matter how they get through it. I want them to know that someone out there respects and appreciates how unbelievably hard that first year of motherhood is.

Our government and our jobs may not care. And our partners may not completely understand. But other women who have been down this road can completely empathize. They’ve felt the frustration of having no weekends or holidays “off” for months and months. They know what it’s like to have your existence reduced to nothing but caretaker.

They know. Oh, they know.

So, here is my gift to you first-time moms.

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Let me take you into moments that new mothers don’t like to talk about—but that we should. Not to scare you—but to help you feel less alone if you find yourself in similar situations.

We all crave connection, especially in times of uncertainty. So let’s go on a journey together. Let’s tell each other our stories.

I’ll go first.

“Why the cover?” a.k.a. “The Birth of This Book, Part 4”

So why is my face covered?

Book-Cover-Becoming-Mother-Kindle

Two reasons.

  • I want the reader to be able to see herself in that situation.

But perhaps more important…

  • This picture represents that loss of identity that new mothers experience.

When you are hanging in that transitional space between who you once were and who you are not quite yet, you experience a profound loss of self. All of the tasks of caring for a newborn remind you hourly of your shifting priorities—baby first, then tend to your aching body, then feed your hungry stomach, and if you have time, allow your tired self to sleep.

I am faceless because this is no longer about me. It is the final humbling that new motherhood imposes on a woman. After the birth, attention suddenly shifts away from you and to the baby.

Certainly, part of you is happy to see so many people coo over this tiny new life that came from you. This is the sacrificial part of motherhood that everyone reveres and respects.  It says, “Don’t worry about me… I just care that my baby is okay.”

But what about that other voice?

The voice of the tired woman in you whose body was just ravaged by a baby being pushed out or pulled from you. You know the one I’m talking about. The one that suddenly screams out, “Hey! HEY! I’ve just been put through the wringer here! How about a hug or some kind words? No? Then, get the hell out of my house so I can get some decent sleep! I’m exhausted! Do you know that I haven’t slept in 48 hours?”

That is the voice we don’t want to acknowledge. It exists, but we don’t like it to speak because it challenges that notion of what it means to be a good mother. We think it makes us bad mothers. So we shut it up. We tell it to be quiet. We tell it that it is not allowed to exist.

Or worse, we deny that it’s there.

Through this shift in attention and society’s expectations of new mothers, we are humbled.

This humbling serves a purpose. It crushes and grinds the borders of your identity into fertile soil so that a new identity can take root and grow. Pieces of you may remain the same, but they are now rearranged and reordered according to your new roles and responsibilities.

And why the title? Why “Becoming Mother?”

It’s a reference to the common experience that all new mothers go through. “Becoming a Mother” doesn’t connect with the reader and tell them that there is any reason to care about this book. If I were that reader, I would immediately think, “Who cares about you becoming a mother? Good for you. I’ve got my own story, thank you very much.”

But the title “Becoming Mother” refers to the common experience of identity shift that all mothers go through. The identity of mother transcends cultures, countries, and time itself. It is why I was able to so easily chat with a Qatari mother at a conference this past May. It is why I have something to say to the mother in the chairs across from me in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. It is why I now have different reasons for crying about anytime I yelled at my mother when I was a teenager—I can now empathize with how much those words probably hurt her.

Continue reading My Gift to You, First-Time Mothers

“Becoming Mother” is now available for purchase. Get your print copy ($12.99) here or a Kindle copy ($6.99) here.

“The picture that said more than I ever could” a.k.a “The Birth of This Book, Part 3”

Just an hour and a half after I gave birth, my husband took this picture.

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We didn’t plan it. I just asked him to take some pictures. He took three. This is the second one.

When we looked at this picture on his computer, somewhere between four and seven days postpartum, I couldn’t help but stare and stare and stare at this picture.

My God… I kept thinking. This moment is… is…

Something.

I didn’t know what to call it. I still don’t have a word for it. But let me try to explain what I see when I look at this picture.

I see my former self. She’s not a mom yet. She doesn’t really know what that means. She’s a career-driven, goal-oriented, academic, hard-working woman for whom grace was a nice idea, but not something on which she could hang her hopes. But now, this unexpected moment of grace has descended on her–and she’s choosing to accept it.

I see my daughter. She doesn’t understand anything around her–with the exception of me. She understands no other sounds, save the sound of my heartbeat. No other voices, save the sound of my voice and her father’s voice. No other smells, save the scent of my skin.

I see that we are tagged, claimed, and wrapped up by the hospital. The gown and diaper generalize us into “patient” and “baby.” What would be private in our own home is public in this room. I even wear some of my blood on the outside, peeking through the backed-up IV.

And yet…

I don’t feel owned or degraded in this moment. I remember feeling like nothing else existed in the world except me and her. When I see this picture now, I distinctly feel that this moment happened even though we were surrounded by policies and protocol. In fact, maybe it happened despite all of the policies and protocol.

In this picture, I see that we are still untouched by the world and all of its noise. We don’t have anyone telling us how to be yet—no advice, no comparisons. Nothing to tell us if we’re “doing it right.” We are not worried about where we’re going or how to get there. We are just two halves of a whole.

We just are. And that’s enough. Just being is enough.

I see the simple beauty of living in the present moment.

Labor forced me to live in the present moment, but here I see myself finally applying it of my own free will. Instead of plunging into the trap of worrying about how I’ll ever take care of a newborn, I’m choosing to be grateful in this moment. All I’m thinking about is this tiny person who needs me. And because I am grateful, I don’t feel overwhelmed by this.

This is the purest form of motherhood that I can imagine.

And I’m never going to get back to this moment.

This moment is beautiful because it was so temporary. But I don’t mourn the loss of it. I only feel tremendous gratitude that we were able to exist together in this space, however short it was.

I thought about this picture a lot as I worked through the concept of this book. When I finally decided to write this book as a memoir, I kept circling back to this picture. I see this picture as the turning point in this journey. Becoming a mother isn’t a switch that you turn on—it’s a direction. It’s a turn toward your child. Everything else settles around you in this new position.

I wanted readers to see this moment right away. It evokes so many questions, “When was it taken?” “Where was it taken?” “How were you feeling?”

Yes, these are superficial questions.

But as you travel with me in this book, you begin to realize the magnitude of this moment and your appreciation for it grows.

Continue reading “The Birth of This Book: Part 4”

Order a copy of “Becoming Mother” here

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