Sunday, January 31, 2016

A Letter to Our Son

Dearest Son,

Well, it's ending just as it began.

We started out dreaming of you by counting the minutes, hours, days, and weeks until we knew for sure you were within me. When will I ovulate? When is the right moment to inseminate? We could barely manage allowing twelve days to pass before I could take a pregnancy test and hope to find news of your wee presence. Every day, I mentally marked one more day down until we could hear your miraculous heartbeat for the first time. I waited in fear, because I lost a baby before you and I couldn't imagine losing you, too. Every day I begged. "Please let this baby stay. Please let this baby become part of our family."

It seemed an eternity; it seemed to be the flap of the bird's wing. It soon was time to see you on ultrasound, to learn that you are a boy and that we are having a son and your sister is getting a brother. Maybe it's silly or repetitive to specify each of those things - but they were all three different realizations.

Halloween passed us by, Thanksgiving came and went, then Christmas and New Year's took their turns. Each holiday, we marveled at how fast you were growing, how quickly you'd be joining us. I wondered what your first Halloween costume would be, what you would think of your first Thanksgiving dinner, and what kind of trouble you'd get into at Christmas as a ten month old just learning the joys of pulling ornaments off our Christmas tree. Today I'm thinking about how all that's left between now and your arrival is Valentine's Day, and how I can't wait to take photos of you wearing the same cherub wings I made for your big sister when she was a baby.

We've had a lot going on these last couple weeks, so don't worry if our lives all seem extra crazy when you arrive, dear one. Our home has been sold, and we've bought a new one. We're all waiting to see if you decide to come before or after we've moved! It's up to you, of course. Mom is working hard to take care of us all, and I often feel guilty that I can't be of more help to her. In case you should ever wonder - she really is Superwoman. She's got it handled, but it's an unfair load for her to carry. Hopefully it won't last much longer.

I am 37 weeks and 3 days pregnant with you now, and that means technically you could arrive at any time and be considered "full term".

And so we're back, counting down the weeks and days and hours and minutes we have left as a family of 3, before your birth changes everything.

Dearest son, we are so excited to meet you and welcome you into this amazing, wonderful, zany family we've got. You are so loved.

<3, Mama

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Wherever is your heart, I call home


Today is a Brandi Carlile kind of day. In general, I'm pretty desensitized to famous people, it comes with my job.  I need to be professional when working with artists and I do my best to make them feel comfortable at my theater.  It's probably a good thing Brandi Carlile has never performed at my theater, because I would go total fan-girl. I don't even know what I would say, so I'm sure I would make a complete fool of myself.

I have never found an album that I connect emotionally with as much as "The Firewatcher's Daughter." (buy it here, you won't be disappointed!) So, as I sit at home feeling overwhelmed with the monumental changes the next 5 weeks hold for my family, I am listening and singing along.

We (somewhat on a whim) put our house on the market a few months earlier than we had planned.  We figured there was just enough time to sell our house and buy another before the baby is born. Well, we were almost right. It's been 2 weeks since our house went on the market and we have a contract on ours and our offer was accepted yesterday for our new house.  Unfortunately, our closing dates are the week AFTER the due date, so we will not have a house for a day or two and we will either have a newborn or A will be 41 weeks pregnant. 

I have a plan. It involves diagrams, color coding, a storage unit, stagehands, grandparents, hotel rooms, and a moving truck. I think I can pull this off. As long as A doesn't go into labor while I'm packing the truck, we'll be okay. But it still wakes me up in the middle of the night.  I still feel panic that I need to be doing something, but there's so much to do that I can't find the starting point. I revise what I said: I have a plan for the week of the move, but the next 4 include only one thing: pack. Way too vague. 

So as I try to center myself and find my way, I give myself one more minute to feel overwhelmed as I stare down the next road of our lives.  And I sing along--


"There's a road that's long and winding, it hollers home, I'm calling home"




Saturday, December 12, 2015

The second time around (long)

Far and wide, our friends all across the globe know our family is expecting a new addition. We've never been shy about our intentions to both carry at least one pregnancy - if anything, we have shouted it from the rooftops and always been open to talking with people about our family's differences.

Now that I really am pregnant with Little Brother, it's been an eye-opening experience in a myriad of ways. It's been touching for so many of our loved ones to excitedly ask me/us about how it is this time around with our role-reversal. Truly, it means a lot to have people ask and check in and I'm sure that sometimes our ability to swap pregnancies is fascinating. I'm glad people want to know how it's been different and how it's been the same, and that they're comfortable enough with me and my family to know it's okay to ask.

Before this pregnancy, I spent some time considering what those similarities and differences might be. I even started framing responses in my mind, mostly about how all pregnancies are different, even for one woman experiencing several subsequent pregnancies. In thinking about my answers and framing them before I knew what they were, I found another deep pocket of my own arrogance. Don't worry, they're plentiful, so even if I deplete this one, there are undoubtedly always more.

I am 30 weeks pregnant. 75% done. A little over two months to go. In the last 26 weeks (you know, the ones where I have been actually aware that I'm pregnant), I have learned some things. And here is where I admit some painful truths to you all: This pregnancy has been both harder and easier at times than I anticipated. It's been more rewarding and less rewarding than I'd hoped for. It's strained some relationships I didn't think would even be affected. It has been a mental, emotional, and physical challenge. And last... being the currently-pregnant partner to a previously-pregnant partner isn't always what I dreamed it would be.

Some of the more negative aspects I mention are the difficult truths for me, because as some of you know, I've been the most excited person around to get to experience pregnancy for nearly as long as I've been an adult. I've waited and waited my turn, ever since T and I were married in 2008 and I was stoked about having kids since well before that. Obviously, the two things (pregnancy and having kids) are not mutually exclusive, but it was always our plan so in this circumstance, they're connected. I have felt humbled and honored and happy and heartbroken, sometimes all in the same day, during this pregnancy. When I contemplated this glorious pregnant time in my life (before I was actually doing any gestating), I thought I'd be that exhaustingly happy, glowing pregnant woman who loved every moment. Observing myself as I've progressed through each trimester has been a disappointment at times. I have been hard on myself to buck up, not complain, and be grateful, because I found that the difficult parts of pregnancy aren't always something I can power through with sheer will.

It sometimes meant days on end of vomiting and feeling generally shitty while my wonderfully creative 3 year old begged me to play with her and having to tell her no. For awhile, it meant that my wife carried a much heavier load and even while knowing she was at the end of her rope, still telling her that her thoughtful idea of home-fried chicken nuggets was making me feel incredibly sick and to please stop. It's been months of inactivity on the online certification program I'm working even harder now to complete. It's been letting go of any idyllic time or energy to direct towards art projects, holiday-themed crafting with my kid, decorating my house, or even keeping up with housework.

But it's also been unfathomably magical. There is a whole new human growing within me. His genetics are shaped by a combination of my own and the man who also shaped half of E's genetics. This new person will share features and traits with my biological family, specifically my mother, who knows so little and has so few people who share any biological ties to her. I've gotten to feel this person's very first movements, be the very first voice he ever heard, and give him the first taste of what love is. These things have no equal. There is no trade in the universe that would cause me to do things differently if I could.

Perhaps thinking that I'm also giving him a thorough insight into human nature will make me feel less guilty about the challenges. After all, I'm showing him that although my love for him is perfect, I am not and never will be.

Now, think about all the things I've just told you, and try to cram them within an "alternative" framework of a family where both parents can and have experienced a pregnancy. Often, I find the assumption (even within myself and T) is that my pregnancy can only be easier/better due to having a partner who knows what I'm going through. I understand that is only logical.

In truth, even partners with shared events still cannot know the exact minutiae of the other's experience. How silly and naive it feels in hindsight, to have anticipated that T would know exactly what I am going through. After all, shared experiences are not exact duplicates of one another, they merely have certain pieces or parts that overlap. Also, T and I have very different body chemistries, different hormone reactions, different thought processes, and very different emotional responses to stimuli.

Yet again, we have found another area where communication of expectations is key. Mostly we discovered it after weeks of little offenses, disappointments, and internalized resentment. Ahh, the triad of all good marriages, right?

When T was pregnant, I couldn't get enough of her belly. The rest of her was cute as always, but the belly was new and exciting. I studied it day after day. I likely annoyed the crap out of her by touching her all the time, asking what the Cupcake was doing, what she felt like, and touching her some more. I was fixated on the pregnancy; on our baby that I was at significant risk of feeling left out of helping grow. Of course I wanted T to feel supported, but I also selfishly needed to be intimately involved and "in the know". I see now that these are issues of my own insecurities. But when I became pregnant, I suddenly expected T to behave exactly as I had behaved during her pregnancy. When she didn't, I mistook it as lack of interest. I kept thinking, "I thought we both wanted another baby, I thought you would be into my pregnancy and being involved, but you're not. Maybe you're drawing away from us; do you not want this child? Do you care at all?" This was incredibly insensitive and self-centered of me to ever think of T. I just had no perspective, no ability to get away and see that she was behaving as she needed to behave for herself and doing the best she could to support not only me, but our daughter through a rough patch. T doesn't have the same insecurities I do. She was never the one attached to The Idea of pregnancy and birth like I was - she carried E and birthed her because that's how we decided to grow our family, and she did an amazing job. But I'd always loved and fantasized about The Idea of pregnancy and birth. It's important to me in a different way. She feels connected enough to this baby through me and through E; she isn't threatened by the fact that she isn't carrying this child within her. So although T does love on my belly and enjoys feeling our son swim around, she doesn't NEED those things deep in her soul to love Little Brother. And that's a different kind of magic.

I've yet again come to the conclusion that we're not so different from other couples, or other families. Just two different people coming together to provide complementary traits for one another. Two people combining their lives in love. Two people not above arguments and miscommunication. Two personalities, two sets of needs. Two people trying their best to support one another through this crazy, often unexpected thing we call Life.

"So A, is it easier/better going through a pregnancy with a wife who's been pregnant herself?"
I really don't know. I've never been through a pregnancy with a husband, and I've never been through a pregnancy with a wife who hasn't been through a pregnancy, so I honestly cannot say. I think the only safe thing to say is that everyone is different and there is no way for one person to experience both. And even if there was, the fact still remains that not all pregnancies are the same within the same woman.

I'm thankful for the knowledge of and experience with pregnancy that T brings to the table. Sometimes I wish she knew less or were slightly more sympathetic, but it's exactly because of those reasons paired with her innate knowledge of me that cause her to push me to be my best self. She knows when I could do better and she knows when I'm really at the end of my rope. This is her responsibility in our relationship - to know me, to love me, to ground me in truth and logic and real life. I need those things.

She still helps me daily to be my own best self, or at least the best version I can muster at that point in time. In knowing and accepting these truths, I know that this experience is meant for me. Just like she's meant for me.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Follow-up Anatomy Scan

At the initial anatomy scan for this pregnancy, the tech had some difficulties getting Baby to hold still long enough for all the measurements she needed to take. She asked us if we'd come back in 4 weeks, and we said "OF COURSE!". Last week we went, and although the tech was able to finally get all the measurements, she also couldn't avoid it when Baby wanted to give us the Full Moon view of his bottom half.

Despite wanting to be surprised at the birth, we now know that the McGill family will be welcoming a son in February! 

I'll admit, I feel a little bit disappointed to have found out early. I was truly looking forward to finding out at the moment of birth, to letting T see and announce it to the room. I also loved the thought that we'd head into the birth with a short list of names for both boys and girls, and decide once we met Baby officially. Although we know we're having a boy now, we still plan to wait and name him after meeting him. I can't help but feel a little bit like something was taken from us. I'm not heartbroken by any means, but I was looking forward to the experience.

That all being said, I have very strongly suspected since I was 12 weeks along that this babe would be a boy, even sure enough to only refer to him in masculine terms. It was strange; I never expected to be THAT mother who had a strong intuition about it, I figured I'd be clueless and anything I thought would be simply a guess. But at 12 weeks, the midwife struggled to find Baby's heartbeat with the doppler, so she did a quick ultrasound to make sure everything was okay. The moment I saw that little seedling, there was a voice in my head that said, "Ah, there he is." It didn't feel as if that came from myself, so I trusted that I was being told something by someone who knew more than I.

This is the best image from my 24 week ultrasound. You can see Baby's profile, with his hand up close to his nose. 

The other thing we'd kind of hoped to avoid by waiting to find out is all the commentary about his gender. Now we get comments about how "it'll be so great to have one of each!" and "Ahh, you're done now since you have a girl AND a boy, right?". We just really dislike commentary on our family being based on gender. If I were pregnant with a girl, she would be no less perfect for our family and we would be no less happy. We may not be done, either, just because we have a girl AND a boy. No, he isn't already a troublemaker/heartbreaker/or any other label people slap onto little boys without knowing them. We may frustrate everyone with our desire to not plaster our kid in "Lil Slugger" or "A Treat for the Ladies" onesies - so be it. In fact, this baby will wear a good number of his sister's hand-me-downs. Heaven forbid!

I don't know who this little person will grow into. But it will be his choice, and I will not allow him to be labeled as anything other than himself. He is a person first, and a boy second. And we cherish all the people in our family.

Yes, we are thrilled. But we're no more or less thrilled about him because we know he's a BOY.

Although it is a bit easier now that we can tell E she definitely is getting a brother. <3

Monday, October 12, 2015

Thoughts on pregnancy loss

Mid October is already upon us. I love fall, even though we don't really get an autumnal season here, so this month is an enjoyable time for me. E and I have been spending every weekend morning out in our front yard among our harvest/fall decorations, enjoying the cool breeze and being outside without risking a sunburn. This is the first year of E's life where I feel she GETS it better, all the birthdays and holidays and celebrations, so I just know it's going to be a glorious holiday season. She's decided she wants to be a fox for Halloween and she's probably the most excited about trick-or-treating and eating the spoils of her efforts.

This year's autumn is different than any other, for a couple reasons. Obviously, I'm pregnant, which is drastically different than any other year. But on a deeper level, it's a time of grieving and reflection for me because the baby I miscarried early this year was supposed to be born mid-October. Appropriately, October is also Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance month. Since I lost that baby, my emotions have run the gamut. It's such a personal and private thing, to feel and know that my body lost a baby we'd waited and wished for so long. And yet, millions of women across the world are navigating pregnancy loss or infant loss, and the worst part is they're doing it alone. It's hard not to feel shame, to blame myself for what happened. I believe strongly that talking about it with our loved ones is important, if only so that the next woman it happens to doesn't feel shamed and lonely. 

Processing my grief has been a long road. I'm still working on it. When we learned that I was pregnant again, I had to process further. I guess I expected myself to get past the loss faster, particularly once my body was carrying another child. Why should I still long for the first baby when I now have this one who is growing so magnificently? Because they're not the same, I learned. I had dreams and hopes about the first child I was growing - that baby was already a person to me. And when I lost him, I lost all the things I'd been thinking of and wishing for that person. It's only natural that losing the first baby would affect my feelings about the next one, so when this pregnancy came along, I worried. I worried all the time, in every spare moment I had in which I wasn't sick or asleep. I tried really hard to be calm and trusting and accepting that my body could grow a healthy pregnancy, but I constantly would relive the profound sorrow of saying goodbye. In time, I passed the point I lost the first pregnancy and began to worry slightly less. Then I passed the end of the first trimester and started to really believe that a new family member would be born. Now we've passed our anatomy scan ultrasound and I've seen our little seal pup swimming inside me and it hits me like a ton of bricks that I love everything about this child. 

It bothers me that it took so long for me to see it. I feel guilt that this babe might have somehow felt that I wasn't all the way on board at the beginning. But I'm ready for you now, little selkie child. 

The time during and after the miscarriage, I thought fiercely to myself that if I ever (no, not if, WHEN, WHEN) became pregnant again, I would force myself to be grateful every day. I would cherish the time I got to carry another person within myself, to be responsible for growing another being. Funny, how when this pregnancy came along it shattered all the expectations of how I'd feel - because I felt like shit. That certainly wasn't in the plans. Some days, it was hard to remember that I felt so terrible BECAUSE I was growing another being. I didn't have any room for logic and reason. I didn't feel grateful, I felt angry because clearly, I'd paid my dues already by losing a pregnancy, shouldn't this one treat me nicely?! Turns out, it doesn't work that way. 

Now, we're already more than halfway through. Today, I'm so much closer to my own self again and I really am grateful about that. I no longer hate and resent all food - I can even cook food for myself! I can tolerate the smell of cooking food! I can boil water without it making my stomach heave! It's miraculous. The baby happily obliges me by fluttering and kicking and squirming around much of the day. My belly has begun to swell and really look like a round pregnant belly, despite how all my clothes make it look different than I perceive it. E enjoys talking about our baby and the things she will teach the baby (like how to crawl on sand into the ocean and do Crazy Eye). She's very good about being gentle with my abdomen and can hardly wait to feel the baby kicking. E also has started telling us that she's growing a baby in HER uterus, and her breasts will get milk, too. We've covered Biology 101 with her, but that hasn't deterred her enthusiasm for having a baby of her own. 

Today I feel all the things I wished I'd gotten to feel with that first child. I feel all the happy emotions I told myself I would feel when I got to carry another pregnancy. It may have taken me longer than I'd like, but I'm glad I made it. I can't promise how tomorrow will go, but for today, that's enough.