Charlie’s Birth Story

It sure is nice to get to write another one of these.

charlie-first-night
Charles (Charlie) Michael Miller (or Charmeachealle, for short). Born at 10:03 a.m. on Friday, January 6th, 2017. 6 lbs 7 oz, 20 inches long.

There’s really nothing more exciting than labor. I know that sounds weird, since TV and movies condition us to think of the process as grueling and terrifying and disturbing and filled with lots of anger and yelling. But really, it’s the culmination of months (and sometimes years) of anticipation and excitement and waiting. I really love the whole process (especially under the influence of an epidural) and I feel nostalgic for it as soon as we leave the cocoon of the hospital and head back into the reality of diapers and laundry and facebook politics.

38weeks
Bonnie and Mama and Charlie 1 week before he was born.

That’s why I write these birth stories, and spend inordinate amounts of time reading other women’s birth stories. I’ve been working on Charlie’s since he was a week old, but it turns out that life is busier with 2 kids, so I’m just now getting around to finishing it. I’m sure I’m missing things, considering that Charlie is now a month old, but something is better than nothing, right? Right. Here we go.

charlie-prep
Charlie baby prep consisted of one trip to Target followed by one nap time of unpacking and sorting baby clothes while watching the movie Sully. I was so convinced that we were having a boy that I packed one drawer of boy clothes and put all the girl clothes back in the bottom of the tub.

As we got closer to Charlie’s due date, I started to realize that there was no guarantee that this labor would be the same as Bonnie’s. Bonnie’s was long (30 hours) and mostly in my back (ouch) but after having done it once, I figured I could handle it. Then I started reading other birth stories and realized that it could actually be very different. Duh, right? My denial knows no bounds.

bonnie-helper
Bonnie doing her own Charlie prep.

Everything looked good at my 38 week appointment, so I went back to work on January 3rd. I had been feeling some Braxton Hicks contractions off and on for a month or so, but they weren’t anything like the contractions with Bonnie. After my lunch break on Thursday the 5th, I started to notice some stomach pains that felt stronger than normal. Once I took a minute to pay attention to them, I realized they were probably contractions. I also realized that I had been having them on and off all day, so I figured I should probably start writing them down, just in case. I was surprised to find that they were coming regularly, about 8-10 minutes apart.

contractions1
First round of timed contractions. I remember casually checking the clock and writing down the time while talking to coworkers that afternoon. It’s less awkward to not tell them, right?

 

With Bonnie, I had a full day of contractions on the 4th of July that petered out that evening. I figured this was the same, but I was excited that something was finally happening.  It had been snowing for most of the day, and was supposed to get colder that night, so I decided to stay at work a little late and finish up some projects just in case the snow kept me home on Friday. Even though the contractions were coming regularly, I was convinced I wasn’t in labor. I had my 39 week appointment the next day, so obviously, I couldn’t be in labor yet. Denial is my superpower.

I finished up at work and waddled out to my car, still surprised that the contractions were keeping up with me. I had tried to get them to go away by sorting the mail, drinking a ton of water, eating, putting my feet up, etc. When I got to my car, I realized I’d have to scrape it before I could drive home, so I contracted and cleaned off the windshield before finally heading home.

Steven’s Dad was in town that night, so we made plans to meet up with him for dinner. I told Steven that afternoon that I had started having contractions, but he didn’t seem too concerned about them either. I guess my denial is rubbing off on him. He seemed a little alarmed when I showed him how long I had been having them and how close together they were, but I assured him it was nothing and so off to dinner we went.

contractions2
Round two of timed contractions. I really didn’t want to keep track of them, because then even I would have to admit that I was in labor, but luckily Steven stays sane when I’m not.

I had a few more contractions during dinner, but I decided to ignore them and chase Bonnie around the restaurant. When we got home from dinner, the contractions started to get longer and more painful, but I figured I just ate too much at dinner. I had been having terrible heartburn the last 2 months of this pregnancy, so feeling bad after eating was normal. Steven went out to shovel our sidewalk and then drove over to Dad’s to shovel his as well. I told him to give Dad a heads up about the contractions, just in case. If we had to go to the hospital that night, he would need to come over and watch Bonnie until Betsy could pick her up the next day. By the time Steven got back from Dad’s house, I was starting to panic. The contractions were getting closer together and longer and I just wanted them to stop. It was too early. There was laundry to do and dishes in the sink and a bassinet to set up and the weather was complicated and I just. wasn’t. ready.

I put Bonnie to bed and cried as I rocked with her. I explained to her that we might not be there in the morning, but that Poppa would get her up if we weren’t there. She gave me extra snuggles and went right to sleep without crying. I’ve heard that the best thing you can give a child is a sibling, but in that moment, I wasn’t so sure. One night she went to bed and life was normal, and the next morning she would wake up to a totally new reality. A new reality that I suddenly felt completely unprepared for.

Steven started working on some edits that were due and I paced around the house trying to slow/stop the contractions and figure out what all I still needed to do, just in case we actually did need to go to the hospital that night. In the end, I settled on starting a load of laundry, brushing my teeth and clipping my fingernails. I figured the laundry would give us a good end point. If the contractions had gotten worse by the time the load was done, we would go to the hospital. Even if it was too early, we would just go check. We had all the people alerted, it was snowy out, and if we waited too long, Dad would be asleep and then we’d have to take Bonnie with us. Plus, I had tested positive for the Group B Strep this time around, so we didn’t want to wait too long and not have time to do a couple rounds of antibiotics before delivery. Charlie’s whole life had started earlier than we anticipated. Why would his delivery be any different?

leaving-for-hospital
Last time, I didn’t let Steven take any pictures of me before we left for the hospital because I was convinced that they wouldn’t let us stay. This time, I was praying they would send us home, so I made Steven take pictures just to jinx us. Alas, foiled again.

The first time around, I thought that the worst parts of labor were the contractions and the pushing. Having done it twice now, I’ve decided that the actual worst part of labor is trying to figure out when to go to the hospital. I don’t know why it’s so difficult for me to decide when I’m in labor and then when I’m in labor enough to actually go to the hospital and do something about it, but there you go. If only there was a pregnancy test that could tell you exactly when to go to the hospital. You hear that, Shark Tank? Get on it.

Finally, around 10, I decided we needed to go to the hospital, so I made Steven stop editing and pack a bag. I could tell things were getting serious because I was willing to leave the house without making Steven wash the dishes in the sink. Steven packed a bag and packed the car and I paced around, too afraid to keep timing the contractions. We got all packed up and Steven called Dad to come over and… no answer. Of course. Steven decided to drive over to Dad’s to talk to him in person and I crept into Bonnie’s room to spend a few more minutes with her, trying to calm myself and soak up these last few minutes of life at home with one baby.

I had been texting with Betsy for most of the evening and she told me that Abby’s due date was also Friday, January 13th. They had scheduled an induction for that day, but apparently Mom was determined not to have a baby at her age on Friday the 13th, and Abby ended up being born the Friday before, on January 6th. So at least if Charlie was going to come early, he would have birthday buddies. I focused on that story through the worst of the contractions and prayed for Mama strength. I’m still convinced she was tougher than me. With Abby’s labor, she had contractions all through her workday and then came home and made us dinner. Probably. I really can’t remember. The only thing I remember was waking up early Friday morning before school and walking with Betsy through the snow to the hospital to meet Abby.

Dad got to the house and we gave him a frantic list of instructions for Bonnie and then rushed out into the cold. On the short drive to the hospital (God bless Garden City), I remembered that we had never decided on a girl name. We ran through a few and I still didn’t like any of them. I also remembered that I had never finished crocheting the girl blanket. I still wasn’t sure I was really in labor, but I was about 100% convinced that we were having a boy. We had decided on the name Charlie months earlier, and I had felt from the very beginning of the pregnancy that he was a boy, so once we got to the hospital, I just started calling the baby Charlie.

pre-epidural
Pre-epidural Susan gets 2 hospital bracelets and the dreaded blood pressure cuff.

We got checked in to St. Catherine’s and the contractions just kept on going. They checked me for what felt like FOR-E-VER and decided I was probably dilated to a 4, maybe a little more. I was a 6 when we checked in with Bonnie. A 4 is in the maybe range, so they said I could hang out for an hour and then they’d check me again to see if I made any progress. Now I was really freaking out. Now that we were there, I wanted to stay. But I was also terrified that I’d get to a 5 and then stop, and then they’d have to induce, or do something to make Charlie come early, or I’d get an epidural too early and that would cause complications, etc, etc, etc. Then again, I thought if they sent me home, I’d have to come back at 2 in the morning and then who would watch Bonnie and I’d have to go on my own and then Steven would come later and he’d miss the birth and I wouldn’t get the antibiotics and then Charlie would get meningitis, etc etc etc. Y’know. Your basic super pregnant freak out. So I stayed for the world’s longest hour, having contractions every 5-7 minutes of varying degrees of awfulness. It was comforting to be hooked up to the machines so that we could watch Charlie’s heartbeat and my heartbeat and my blood pressure and the peaks and valleys of the contractions, though I’m still not sure we’re reading that machine correctly. After an hour, the nurse came back and checked me again and said I was maybe to a 4.75 or a 5 now? But definitely more effaced? They decided to call the doctor and let him decide if I could stay, but also asked me about an epidural, so I started to feel slightly more hopeful that they would let me stay. Blessed Dr. Stucky gave me the green light to stay, but they told me that the anesthesiologist was on another case, so it would be awhile before I got the epidural. No problem. As long as I could stay and it was coming eventually, I’d be just fine.

I got moved to my permanent room a little after 1 in the morning. Steven went to get all our bags and started texting everyone that we were staying. It was official! Baby time was almost here! The other case was at 1:30, so they got the IV in (my least favorite part), took the blood work, started the antibiotic and got all the necessary information from me. Walking from the temporary room to my delivery room, I could tell that things were definitely progressing, because it was MUCH harder to walk than it had been the hour before. Even still, I asked Steven if I thought it would hurt the baby to get an epidural before I was at a 6. Should I wait a few hours? Should we go home? Do you think they’ll send us home? Are the contractions still coming regularly? On and on and on. We had to wait until a little after 3 to get the epidural, and, of course, finally found a comfortable position about 2:45. Steven turned off most of the lights and rubbed my back and helped me lay on my side and remembered to turn on the playlist I had made for the hospital. I had just fallen asleep when the nurse came back in and said they were ready for the epidural. I was grateful, but scared. The contractions had definitely slowed down. What if labor had stopped? Could I still get the epidural? Should I tell them? What if I said no to the epidural and then they came back and it was another 3 hours? In the end I said nothing (of course) and they came in to set up the epidural.

post-epidural
Loving that epidural life.

The epidural is both my favorite and least favorite part. I feel like it’s the scariest part of the whole experience because it’s ultimately voluntary, and so I feel like it has the most potential to go wrong and then cause complications. Luckily, it took on the first try, though the anesthesiologist did scare me by saying after, “wow. That’s the easiest one I’ve had in a long time.” Um, thanks? She left and I settled into that nice, warm, numb, sleepy relief. Steven finally got to set up his chair bed and we had a good 4-5 hours of sleep. With Bonnie I was too wired or too tired from the previous 22 hours of contractions to really sleep, so it was kind of shocking to wake up at 7 and meet the new nurse. I woke up in a panic though, because I was convinced that my contractions had stopped and that’s why I was able to sleep. The nurse checked me and sure enough – I had stalled out at a 5.5. Again, I was convinced that they were going to send me home. Even though I was admitted and hooked up to the epidural, I was sure that Dr. Stucky was on his way in and was going to scold me for coming in too early and wasting everyone’s time. In labor Susan is not the sanest Susan. Also, I was using the story about Mom and Abby to make me feel better about having a baby a week early, so if I was stuck in the hospital all day and missed having a baby on the 6th I was going to need a new silver lining. Luckily the nice morning nurse started some pitocin, and Stucky came in and broke my water, though again, it took a super long time, which again, made me think that I wasn’t actually in labor. Those two things did the trick and I jumped from a 5.5 to a 10 in the next couple of hours.

hospital-bracelets
I swear they brought me a new bracelet every hour.

Our nice nurse got me all set up and called Dr. Stucky back to the hospital and then said that we could start pushing. Um, really? Before the doctor got there? I told her it took about an hour of pushing with Bonnie and she assured me that it wouldn’t take anywhere near that long with this one. And with that, we started pushing. I was confused about why we were starting before he got there, especially because she kept saying things like “not long now” and, “just a few more pushes,” and, “oh look, there’s the head. And a full head of hair!” Still no doctor through all these comments and yet I didn’t say anything, just thought loud things in my head and kept on pushing when she told me to. Maybe I’ll be more assertive with the next one. After the third push, Dr. Stucky came flying in the room, took one look at the birth in progress and quickly traded his coat for a gown. Three more pushes, and there was a head, one push after that and Charlie was born. Steven said that the cord was wrapped around his neck and his shoulder, and I was grateful, yet again, that I couldn’t actually see what was happening. The nurse kept trying to get me to sit up enough so that I could see him down there, but I was content to wait the extra 30 seconds until they put him on my chest.

first-hugs
Nothing better than that first hour of skin to skin.

As soon as I held him I could tell that he was smaller than Bonnie, and longer. He was such a long, skinny little thing, but so sweet and perfect and undeniably mine. Instead of trying to nurse him right away, I just let him lay there on my chest and warm up. We laid there for a little over an hour, calming each other down, getting good and warm and sleepy and ignoring the rest of the people in the room. Labor is such a weird experience in that respect – there are a lot of people paying a lot of attention to you, and then once the baby is here and they give him to you, you can just kind of tune them out. They still have work to do and they’re still in the room getting stuff done, but after all the contractions and pushing and monitoring, it is so nice to just lay back and relax and let everyone else work for awhile.

charlie-pose
Such a stud.
charlie-feet
Tiniest toes.
my-boys
My boys.

Since I had the Group B Strep, we got to stay in the hospital for 48 hours instead of 24, which I was initially really annoyed about. In Manhattan, I hated being in the hospital. The nurses were nosy, there were constantly people coming in and waking us up, and I had to wear the stupid blood pressure cuff the whole time. The Garden City maternity ward is heavenly. The nurses are great, the rooms are huge, you don’t have to try and change rooms when your legs are still all jelly from the epidural, you don’t have to watch any scary videos about purple crying, and they have special hospital movie channels! It really is the greatest. I highly recommend having your babies in Garden City.

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Another benefit of the hospital? Nurse swaddles.
charlie-1st-night
First night. Staying up late to watch House Hunters with Mama.
bonnie-hospital
Bonnie was our first visitor. She enjoyed Steven’s couch bed, but was mostly excited about getting to spend the day with Poppa and the weekend with her cousins.
anna-charlie
Anna was the first cousin to meet Charlie. They bonded quickly.
going-home
First trip in the car seat. He hated it much less than Bonnie did.
abby-charlie
Abby met her birthday buddy (and Godson!) on Sunday. Not even an hour after we got home from the hospital, Steven got the stomach flu and started throwing up, so my first few hours of life at home with 2 kiddos was a little overwhelming. Luckily, Pat brought a lasagna and burp cloths, Abby brought Sonic drinks and cupcakes, and Bonnie watched Shaun the Sheep and snuggled with me on the couch. #surviveandadvance

The first couple of weeks after Charlie was born, I replayed the labor and our time in the hospital over and over. With Bonnie, I remember being nostalgic for pregnancy, and missing my big round belly. With Charlie, I definitely felt nostalgic for labor. I think it was because it happened so quickly, and I spent so much of it resisting, convinced that my body was failing me instead of doing this miraculous thing. Hopefully next time (if we’re blessed with a next time), I’ll do a better job of remembering that.

charlie-home2
Mr. Sweet Face

 

 

 

Sorry, Charlie

-for Charlie (duh)

When my wife, Susan, and I found out we were having a boy this time around, we burst into tears. This is because we realized he would one day wreck every vehicle we owned. No, we cried because we’re the sort of 13th century couple who doesn’t find out the sex of their child until the delivery. So the moment we found out he was a boy was the same moment we found out everything else about him. Also, I’m pretty sure if you don’t cry happy tears at the sight of your newborn, the doctors keep him.

They officially admitted us to St. Catherine’s hospital shortly after midnight. “Did we come in too early?” Susan asked me every time the nurses left the room.

“No,” I explained, “they’re letting us stay.”

Her: No, I know that, but would it have been better if we’d waited?

Me: Better for who?

Her: Whom.

Charlie arrived at ten-o-three that morning and at ten-o-four the nervous energy began to drain from my body. The hours leading up to the birth, you’re carried forward by sheer adrenaline as you wait to see that small wonderful face and hold that tiny body fresh from the heavens. Then, ten minutes later, you realize you’ve been up all night and all morning pacing and encouraging and holding your wife’s foot. Also—and this is roughly as tiring, I suppose—your wife has for close to 24 hours been pushing a human person from her body. The moment your son or daughter finally arrives is like the moment a marathon runner crosses the finish line—you’re exhausted, you feel vaguely like you’re going to throw up, and you smell great. So logically, this is when they decide to send in the visitors.

“You have visitors,” the nurse announces.

“Who? Me?” You wonder who could possibly know you’re here in the hospital. Then you look down at your iPhone and realize you just texted literally everyone you’ve ever met, all in the last fifteen minutes. (“Mom and baby doing well,” the caption reads beneath a blurry picture of your wife and wrinkly, red-faced son, a picture that is only half-obscured by your index finger.)

I’m a fairly bad conversationalist on eight hours of sleep, so you can only imagine how abysmal I was on zero. Luckily, my wife Susan was there to correct me every so often.

“She was five meters when—”

“No honey, centimeters. I was five centimeters dilated when they admitted us. Five meters is a house.”

“Then they brought in the pachyderm to—”

Epidural. A pachyderm is an elephant.”

“And now we have to put Vaseline on it every diaper change until it falls off.”

“The umbilical cord! The umbilical cord falls off, not the—”

Okay, so maybe I wasn’t that bad, but I did say some pretty dumb stuff, which is par for the course. If it ever comes out that Susan does all my writing for me—and not just my editing—I’m certain it will be a shock to no one. Instead, everyone I know will most likely turn to one another and say, “I told you he couldn’t read.”

Even worse, I’m now doomed to say any number of such things to my son. Eventually, he’s going to start talking and shortly after that he’s going to start asking questions—and expecting me to supply the answers… What if he asks me the capital of Washington, D.C.? Or how much Canada weighs? I’ve only been alive 31 years! That’s hardly time to learn both geography and the metric system.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve learned a few cool things—how to cook large cuts of meat, how to throw a punch (more or less), and how to change a flat—but if Jeopardy, the SATs, and most of college taught me anything, it’s that you’re rarely quizzed on stuff you already happen to know. With my luck, Charlie will want to know how many senators it takes to elect the president. And I’ll just have to tell him the truth: Nobody knows.

Charlie will one day find out his dad doesn’t know everything about everything. (Sorry, Charlie.) It will be a sad day for him, but I’m sure he’ll recover. His dad, on the other hand, might not.

charlie-hospital

Our First Year in the Garden

Well, we did it. We survived our first year in Garden City.

This morning I was sitting in the living room, in our comfy red chair (thanks, Aunt Vernie and Uncle Dennis!), watching Bonnie fly around the living room and drinking coffee and enjoying the beautiful sunlight in the front room. And I thought, for about the thousandth time this month, I am so glad that it is this year and not last year. Last year at this time we were frantically, exhaustedly, packing up more boxes, struggling with Bonnie, and saying goodbye to everything we knew. We were leaving our cozy little apartment and our good jobs and heading west, to a house without running water, or a refrigerator, or even worse, cable and internet. On December 30th of 2015, we weren’t even sure if the heat had been turned on in the house, or if there was electricity, or if U-Haul would really have a truck for us when we showed up the next morning.

 

We were excited, sure. We had been praying and planning and opening our hearts to life in Garden City for close to 3 years. But when it came time to go, to actually turn the dreams into a reality, it was incredibly frightening and uncertain. I had a good job lined up, but at a new college, with new people, in a totally new system. I was terrified. Steven was taking his job with him, but anxious about how it would work via distance, without an office, in a house without heat/water/electricity/internet. Bonnie’s entire world was being put into boxes around her and she responded by refusing to sleep and clinging to us every second of every day. I couldn’t blame her. With every box we packed, I wondered if we were making a huge mistake. With every step toward Garden, I worried that it was a step in the wrong direction. We kept moving forward, and I thought the excitement would overtake the fear. But the fear had remarkable endurance.

 

In the end, we made it. We packed up the U-Haul, said goodbye to dear friends and our beloved apartment, and made it all the way to Garden City, late on December 31st. We rang in the new year in our new place, and wondered what on earth 2016 had in store for us.

 

It was truly an adventure.

 

 

No running water is no excuse for not having freshly ground Bistro coffee on your first day of work in a new job. #priorities
No running water is no excuse for not having freshly ground Bistro coffee on your first day of work in a new job. #priorities
pinecrest
God bless mini fridges.

We spent New Year’s Day unloading the U-Haul with Matthew and Anna’s help. We had heat and electricity and a mini-fridge for Bonnie’s milk. My sisters and Anna had come over the day before to wipe down everything they could with clorox wipes and vacuum carpets and closets. Eventually, we got running water. Until then, we stayed at Dad’s house, ate sandwiches, washed bottles at Betsy’s, lived out of suitcases and boxes, and brushed our teeth with bottled water. The upstairs got all new plumbing. The bathroom got new fixtures and a new toilet and a new floor. We unpacked. Slowly, but surely, we unpacked some more. We got cable and internet and it started to feel more like a home. We rearranged furniture, and had people over for dinner. In March, after several meals on the couch and, in some cases, the kitchen floor, we finally got a real table and chairs (thanks, Linda!) In April, after several floods and more than one plumber, we successfully completed our first load of laundry in the house. We washed bottles in the sink, in the bathtub, at Dad’s house, at Betsy’s house, at the office. With God’s grace, we adapted, and then adapted again, and finally adapted some more.

Thankfully, we had a mild winter. Steven washed windows and blinds and curtains. Spring came early and the house got HOT. I missed our basement apartment in a whole new way. We bought a window unit and Steven installed it and we settled in again. Finally – cool air. We sweat a lot, but again, adapted. By the time fall came, we were comfortable. I forgot all about the rough parts. I was amazed to look back and realize just how long it had taken us to get situated. There are still boxes in the kitchen that have never been unpacked. We work around them, never pausing to put them away. There are a few things on the walls, but it’s largely undecorated. Somehow, it doesn’t matter. This is home. Bonnie is cute. Toys are everywhere. We are content.

On Cinco De Mayo, we found out I was pregnant. Bonnie was so small. We were still so unsettled. It was unexpected sure, but a blessing. A beautiful gift. A reminder to be thankful, to refocus, to have a little perspective amidst the chaos. In June, I took a new job. In July, Steven took several new jobs. This fall we worked hard, harder, hardest. Bonnie went back to daycare full-time and flourished. We got more involved with the church and started to build a real community here. We had people over for football games, cooked food, made friends, got busy. Life now looks closer to what I had imagined a year ago. We are here. We are really here, building a life and a family and a home. We made it.

We have learned oh so much this year. We learned about plumbing, so much about plumbing. We learned that living without a dishwasher is not the biggest hardship – it’s living without central air. I learned to just buy curtains. There’s not always time to make them, and they make a world of difference. We learned that when you have wonky plumbing, you should always check the basement. Always, always, always check the basement. We learned just how expensive it is to not check the basement. Seriously, guys. Just go down there. Steven learned the joys of tree removal. So much tree removal. We learned that a wooden spoon is infinitely easier and more effective at keeping Bonnie out of the kitchen cabinets than any child proofing mechanism on the market. We learned to eat meals together with Bonnie and to pray together and to honor bedtime. We learned to sleep train. (God bless sleep training). We learned about Bonnie, about each other, about working hard and communicating and persevering in prayer. We learned to be patient. Patient with each other, with Bonnie, with ourselves, with God.

Bonnie learned so many things in this wonderful house. She learned to sit up, to eat solid food, to scoot, and then crawl, and then walk, and then run. She learned to dance and blow her nose and ask for milk and drink from a cup.  She learned the hokey pokey and the itsy bitsy spider and ring around the rosy. She learned to climb and blow kisses and wrap us around her finger even more.

Bonnie made the website after her second visit to daily mass. St. Dominic's is the best.
Bonnie made the website after her second visit to daily mass. St. Dominic’s is the best.
Helping Dad with the weeding. I have no idea how many hours Steven spent working on the Pinecrest yard this year, but I'm guessing it's somewhere in the triple digits.
Helping Dad with the weeding. I have no idea how many hours Steven spent working on the Pinecrest yard this year, but I’m guessing it’s somewhere in the triple digits.
The day we realized we needed to lower the crib mattress. STAT.
The day we realized we needed to lower the crib mattress. STAT.

2017 will bring even more change. We’ll meet this new baby (boy or girl? I still say boy). We’re house shopping. Maybe we’ll be house buying and moving again and starting all over, with (fingers crossed!) fewer plumbing problems. There might be more job changes, because, with us, there always seem to be job changes. Bonnie will turn 2, become a big sister, change more in every minute than we do all year. She will give us sweet hugs and sloppy kisses and wipe her nose on my shirt and fill my heart with more peace and joy than I could ever have imagined. And there will be another one! A brand new human to love immeasurably, to be changed and saved by. We will be sleep deprived. We will be overwhelmed. Just when we feel like we’re surely drowning in diapers and spit-up and fear and worry and sticky, needy, jam hands, we will be buoyed by love, so much love.

Bonnie has always soothed herself in the same way - one thumb in her mouth, one hand in my shirt.
Bonnie has always soothed herself in the same way – one thumb in her mouth, one hand in my shirt.

May God bless you in your own unpredictable life in 2017. However you can, fill it with babies. They save us in so many ways.

 

PS – You might have noticed that I’m not regularly updating this blog. I switched to a weekly email format in September that has been working MUCH better. If you’d like to get weekly updates on the Miller family and pictures of Bonnie and Fievel, send me your email and I’ll add you to the list!

 

 

The Season of Waiting

“Fievel” is the new baby’s tummy name, as “Nino” was Bonnie’s. It’s Yiddish for “a small mouse in a floppy hat with an aptitude for getting lost.” No, it’s actually Yiddish for something like “bravely born,” but the cartoon mouse of our childhood is definitely where I got the idea.

I haven’t written a great deal about this pregnancy, and honestly I don’t know why. I’ve come up with half a dozen or so reasons, but they’re all pretty lame. The only thing I know for certain is that when we were expecting Bonnie, life was far more settled for both Susan and me than the last year has been. In just the last twelve months, we moved across the state; Susan took a new job at a new college after eight years at K-State and then another new job six months later; I became a part-time editor and full-time stay-at-home-dad, then a freelance editor as well, then an adjunct instructor for two different colleges, and then a substitute teacher at the high school—all while trying to maintain my writing; our little Bonnie went from being a six month old, whose greatest feat was rolling from her stomach to her back, to a crawling, walking, climbing, and babbling toddler. We worked on an estimate for renovating one house, then a different house, and then finally decided to start looking for a sane person’s first home (i.e., one not in desperate need of Chip and Joanna Gaines). In the middle of it all, we got pregnant. Okay, so maybe I know why I haven’t written as much about Fievel, but that doesn’t mean I like it.

I miss how we felt waiting for Bonnie, like Mary prayerfully but eagerly awaiting the birth of Jesus. This time around we’ve been a lot more like Joseph. Joseph scrambling to get Mary out of Galilee. Joseph desperate to find a room in Bethlehem. Joseph evacuating his family to Egypt—all while making kitchen tables and wagon wheels as the village carpenter. Now, I’m sure Joseph was just as reverent, but you’ve got to admit the guy was busy. Or maybe he wasn’t reverent at all and maybe that’s okay, too.

The season of Advent, as the Mass readings remind us, is a time when we remember the coming of Christ, but it’s also a time to prepare for the second coming. If a cursory comparison of the first few chapters of the Gospels and any chapter of Revelations is any indicator, the second coming is going to be wildly different from the first. Maybe that’s how it is with kids, too.

This Advent I decided to slow down and pay more attention to my family, especially the newest member. This is always my struggle, so to that end I also shelved social media for a time, letting my phone go back to being just a phone. It hasn’t been a cure-all and there are certainly some grumpy evenings, but it has made me at least moderately more present. There have already been some fruits. For example, the other night, while we were listening to Christmas music on the couch, I let my hand rest on Susan’s stomach and felt those most surreal jabs and kicks, like an alien beginning to burst from my wife’s abdomen. I’d scratch her stomach and Fievel would answer, reaching out to touch his father’s hand.

“Sorry, you got short-changed in the prose-department, buddy,” I wanted to say. “Daddy’s been busy making sure we don’t have to move into a cardboard box.” Although, let’s be real, Susan’s been the busy one. But I’d like to think I’ve been there to assist. Driving Bonnie to daycare. Washing dishes occasionally. Making soup. Those are the same as creating a human being from scratch, right? Hopefully, the preparation has been enough; although, in the case of Advent, I doubt we’ll ever really be ready. I suppose all we can do is look forward. Look forward to Fievel, Christmas, the eschaton, and enjoy it once it’s here.

Rule #1

old-carThere is only one rule in our house: No babies in the kitchen. Our daughter acknowledges this rule by scurrying just past the border between the carpeted living room and the linoleum kitchen. She then sits down on the linoleum and looks back at us as if to say, “And what are YOU going to do about it?”

Bonnie’s refusal to abide even the least restrictive limitation mocks our inability to break even the most restrictive new rules about parenting. I miss the relative ignorance my wife and I had when we were pregnant with Bonnie. The other day I saw the following headline on Facebook: Study Finds Swaddling May Lead to SIDS. How is that the conclusion of a study?

Researcher #1: Our hypothesis was that swaddling may lead to SIDS.

Grant Committee: And your findings?

Researcher #2: Yeah, maybe.

Grant Committee: That isn’t much of a conclusion.

Researcher #1: Isn’t it, though?

Researcher #2: In our defense, we have already cashed the check.

As we prepare for baby number two, I feel like someone retaking a class only to learn that his notes are completely useless. Instead of All’s Well That Ends Well they’re reading Hamlet. Instead of Great Expectations they’re reading Bleak House. All that second-time parent cockiness has been replaced, slowly but surely, by those first-time jitters we thought were behind us. One thing’s for certain: My mom did not have to go through this, and not just because Facebook hadn’t been invented yet.

panamamap

My grandma was pregnant with her fifth child when my grandparents moved to Panama. They were just a missionary family from Michigan trying to spread the gospel to the jungles of Central America. They spent most of their adult lives away from the family and community of their youths, battling snakes and heat stroke to set up evangelical churches in devout Catholic countries. But to hear my grandma tell it, it was never a struggle. Every time they needed to enter a new village in Puerto Rico or Guatemala, the Lord would bless them with a new baby to smooth things over. In this manner was my soon-to-be-born mom their gateway into Panama.

However, when my grandma visited the local hospital, she discovered that among other things there was an inch of dust on the windows. She didn’t complain to her doctor or find the next-closest hospital or leave my grandpa there with my uncles and aunt and return to the states. No, she did something far bolder: She bought a book. Now that may not sound very bold to you, but this was a very special book. It was a book by Dr. Fernand Lamaze, and her plan was to use it to give birth. At home.

She hid the book immediately and read it in secret so that no one would know about her plan. Not even her husband.

I can just imagine my grandparents the day my grandma went into labor in the middle of the night, her trying to hide each new burst of pain, him waking up periodically anyway. Was it a particularly bad contraction that made her cry out or did she perhaps knock her drinking glass off her bedside table? Whatever it was, she got her husband’s attention.

“Are you sure you’re not in labor, Mary Ellen?”

“Just indigestion, go back to sleep.”

“Are you sure?”

“I must have eaten a bad pepper.”

“Did you eat a pepper?”

“Oh Carl, you worry too much.”

By the time she finally gave in and let Carl drive her to the hospital, it was too late. Instead of being brought into the world in a filthy hospital, Esther Ellen Moses, my mom, was born in the front seat of her parents’ Mercury, the only brand new car the couple ever had. Carl welcomed her into the world with open arms and then carefully unwrapped the umbilical cord that was around her neck.

Whenever my mom comes to visit, she basically ignores our one and only rule about the kitchen. She also treats casually the 150 or so guidelines (not rules) we try to follow, which cover everything from how many ounces of whole milk to give with formula to how long to let Bonnie cry at bed time to how many minutes she can be in direct sunlight. Whenever she does ignore one such guideline, I just remind myself that people who were born in the back of a car in a third-world country don’t sweat the small stuff.

Or so I thought. Between writing the first line of this story and this line, I sat down with my mom and had a heart-to-heart. She confessed that she did, in fact, stress over me and that, surprise surprise, she still does. I hope that I’m not worried about Bonnie when she’s 30, but something tells me a little part of me always will be. There will always be that catch in my throat, that hoping that everything is all right.

And maybe that’s why we’re so adamant about our “one” rule. If we can just keep her out of the kitchen, everything will be all right. If we can keep her in the living room, everything else will fall in line. It’s like gremlins. Don’t feed them after midnight, don’t get them wet, and everything will be fine. Yet we all remember what happened with them. As far as my daughter goes, every time I turn around she’s managed to worm her way into the kitchen. Then again, for all her disobedience, nothing terrible has happened. And it could be worse. She could be crawling around a hospital in Panama.