Thursday, December 22, 2011

Merry First Christmas!

The last 5 months have been a dreamy blur of happiness and love. You are the sweetest, funniest, smartest little boy and Daddy and I are so proud of each and every moment and milestone we've shared with you. 

You are making "buh", "vvv" and "guh" sounds and your babble is so thoughtful and silly. You squeeze our necks with such strong hugs and wet our faces with your open mouth kisses. Your smile... oh, your smile is the best gift this world has seen fit to give us and we spend the whole of our days working hard to get you to give us just one more. Lucky for Daddy and me, you are quite generous, too.

You can almost sit unsupported and you've rolled from tummy to back. You grasp your toys, your bottle, your blankie, my hair and our faces with both hands (all of which you try, and succeed, to put right in your mouth). You've tasted some foods like sweet potato, peas and banana, most of which has painted your lips and cheeks, little actually finding its way past your tongue and into your tummy.

You laugh out loud - a squeaky squawk followed by a gurgled belly giggle - and it lifts our spirits like the music one imagines angels make with their wings, flying off to heaven. You are the source of so much joy and we are so thankful for every day we have to spend with you.

This holiday is a special one; your first Christmas, a time when the family comes together in gratitude and love. You are the gift that keeps on giving and we are the greedy ones who will take all we can get.

We adore you, Tommy, completely and forever. Merry First Christmas! 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Our Birth Story

Your birth story began long before you were even inside Mommy's belly. A tale of the unlikely - of determination, commitment and, of course, love. Your birthday was no different.

You were born in our home on Thursday, July 28, 2011 in the dark of night, at 3:29am precisely. I labored for 27 hours - starting Tuesday night just as Daddy and I were settling into bed to watch a movie (Rambo - First Blood Part II... we were on a kick that week watching old 80s action movies I had never seen like Die Hard and RoboCop).

Daddy called our midwife, Michelle, to let her know my water broke at 9:15pm. We were excited and nervous - Daddy especially. He paced around the house, tidying and preparing the living room for the birth. I wasn't sure about the color of the water escaping me in small gushes, so Michelle decided to drive over just to check on things. She got to us at about 10:30pm. The water was fine, your heartbeat was as strong as ever and since I hadn't had contractions, Michelle went home and told us to go to bed. We tried!

Your due date was July 27. I was thrilled with the idea that you would arrive on schedule, and Daddy teased me with how organized I was even when it came to giving birth. I remember looking at each other, smiling anxious smiles, and saying "we're going to have a baby tomorrow." 

Sometime around 4:00am that day we made our way from the bedroom to the living room to lay together on the floor as I dealt with the increasingly strong contractions (I felt the first ones at about 1:00am). We had arranged a sort of "birthing den" in the living room, with the pool in front of the big picture window and foam mats on the floor to soften the space where we'd laid out blankets and pillows. The contractions were about 10 minutes apart, but I have to admit I was terrible at counting the length and time in between. The sensations were so much stronger than I expected. I tried to relax on my side and breathe through them, but quickly everything I had learned and planned disappeared from my mind. I got on all fours and breathed into the sofa cushions as the pressure swelled and then washed away. I thought about the "big bag of muscles flexing" I had read about in our Bradley book, never sure if that's what it felt like to me. It felt like the most intense menstrual cramping of my life, which is what I'd been told before but hadn't wanted to believe. 

I wanted to wait to get in the pool until we called our midwife. At 6:00am Daddy called Michelle to update her on our progress, and she planned to arrive two hours later.

Daddy filled the birth pool with warm water so I could get in and relax through the contractions. I got in the pool at 7:30am and didn't get out again until 5:00pm, except for a few trips to the bathroom. Labor progressed slowly but I was at peace, floating in the water by our front window, watching the reflection of the sunshine and trees dance in the water around my belly. I kept hoping I would transition soon - I had my heart set on giving birth in the daylight, and on your due date no less.

Michelle's assistant, Ellen, arrived sometime in the late morning. Our close friend, Erin, arrived around that time too. The timeline is so blurry in my memory - I was completely focused inward, on relaxing and breathing and not letting the contractions get the best of me.

Erin brought me chocolate covered pretzels, the only thing that I perked up for during the entire labor. I ate one happily but felt a contraction come on as I swallowed. I tried to eat one more, but my mouth was so dry and the waves brought nausea along with them. I gave up on food and drink entirely. It was about this time that everything really seemed to slow down for me.

The contractions persisted through the afternoon but never really seemed to get closer together. Michelle put off checking my dilation all day so as not to introduce a risk of infection, considering my water had ruptured the night before. I would get out of the tub every hour or so and Daddy would help me to the bathroom - a trip I grew to dread as the labor dragged on. I couldn't release myself - poop or pee - and found the toilet to be seriously uncomfortable. I started to lose my nerve. The walk across the house would inevitably bring on a contraction and eventually the contractions would make me cry. I was crumbling, from the pressure and the exhaustion. I didn't want to be anywhere but in the pool. The warm water held me together, like a strong embrace from my ribs to my bottom. I could open myself to it but nothing else. Changing positions, walking... I would tense and recoil. I would whimper and cry.

I have brief flickers of memories from this time... Michelle sitting at the edge of the pool, coaching me sweetly, reminding me over and over to loosen my bottom, reassuring me that there was plenty of room for my baby to move down. During a contraction Ellen would speak softly and say "stay on top of it" and I would close my eyes and try to absorb what that meant to me. Erin would stroke my hair and forehead. Daddy was always there, holding and kissing my hand. 

Michelle checked my dilation for the first time at about 5:00pm. I was between 8 and 9 centimeters, 100% effaced. When I would have a contraction, I would dilate to almost 10 centimeters. There was a small piece of my cervix that wouldn't get out of the way. Michelle and Ellen agreed I should stay out of the pool - I realize now the water, while relaxing, was stalling me. Turns out, my mind was stalling me too. For as much as I longed to meet you, my baby, I was holding myself back from transition. I was so afraid of the pain.

I laid on my back on the floor in a pile of pillows, propped up to help with pushing. We tried this for many hours without much progress. I tried knees to chest, I tried laying on my side. I was very, very tired and the pressure of your little body on my pelvis was sometimes too much for me to bear. I hit the "self-doubt" emotional sign post I'd read about, and I hit it hard. Despite all of the encouragement of these people taking care of me, I couldn't let go of the tension. I was constipated, my bladder was full, and I'd puked up everything I'd allowed myself to swallow in the many hours I'd endured so far. At one point Ellen gave me something homeopathic to boost my courage, but I just felt weak, and defeated. 

Ellen suggested I walk around, maybe take a shower. She wanted me to walk up and down the stairs. I wouldn't do it. I just wanted to be in the pool. At 10:30pm Michelle and Ellen decided to give me a break and let me go back in the water to relax. Once in the pool, Michelle told me they would see if I could regain some strength and then give me "another 15 minutes of good pushing". If things were different, we would continue. If they weren't, Michelle said we would have to talk about going to the hospital. "We can't push like this all night," she told me. I knew she was right.

Giving birth naturally at home was hugely important to me. I did not want you to have any drugs in your little body, or be compromised in any way no matter my own discomfort. I had been so intensely committed during the pregnancy to this idea of a natural birth. I learned everything I could, I planned every detail to ensure our success at home. I was so confident I could do this, and proud of us for going through with it. If we went to the hospital, Daddy and I were sure you would have to be born surgically (Cesarean Section). This was my greatest fear. The drugs, the surgery... the separation from you, the recovery and potential complications. The feeling that I would have failed you, and us. The word "hospital" alone flipped a switch in my brain. 

Erin sat beside me as Michelle and I discussed how we would move forward. Michelle explained that you were trying your very best to help me, but with some contractions you would turn your head to the side, making it more difficult for me to push you down and out. I asked her, though, "how much of this is him, and how much of this is me?" Erin pointed out that I seemed to do better when Michelle was coaching me explicitly - fingers inside, telling me how to push. When Michelle would leave me, I would retreat and let the pressure overwhelm me. It became clear to all of us, I think, what we had to do, how we had to work together.

Daddy came to the bathroom with me before we gave it our last try and we had a heart to heart. We agreed I had to try harder. I knew that I was letting the pain take over, and i just had to push through it to bring you here. Daddy said to me, "if you can't do it here... you can't do it at the hospital." I set my mind to pushing no matter what.

I asked Michelle if I could try pushing in the water and she obliged. We tried a few contractions in the pool, and right away she noticed a difference. I used this time to really feel myself push and completely relax my hips and butt. After three good contractions, Michelle had me lay on the floor again, with my knees pushed back to my chest. 

Daddy held one leg and Ellen held the other. Erin sat by my head, wiping my forehead with a cold washcloth and giving me sips of Gatorade. Amazing as she is, she even managed to take photos with one hand and video with the other. And Michelle, she sat right in front of me and did everything she could to coach me through each contraction. Her words were like a light, guiding me up and out of this dark place I'd been in all day. There were times when both Michelle and Ellen were massaging me, stretching me to help you out. I wanted to scream at them to stop but I knew this was what had to be done. Anything to bring you home quickly and safely. 

I passed the test for "good pushing" once on the floor. I was ready, in spite of everything that had been holding me back. We did this for almost two hours. While most of the two hours is hazy, there were a few moments I remember so, so clearly because they were like milestones on this epic journey. 

I remember Michelle switching from her thin, flimsy latex gloves to her "serious baby-catching gloves". I remember asking her, gasping for air between contractions, "where are we?" and the excitement I felt when she made a chestnut sized oval with her fingers to show me how much of your head she could see. I remember Erin telling me "you're doing it, this is it, he's going to be here soon" and believing her. I remember when Ellen said, "Reach down, feel your baby's head," and there you were... the crown of your soft little skull peeking out from inside me... like velvet to the touch. I remember looking at Daddy as he watched you being born, tears streaming down his face. He was holding my hand, saying "he's here, Nellie, he's here... you're doing it..." and my heart felt so full of strength and joy and love.

These were the moments that gave me the courage to withstand all of that pressure, all of that pain. These were the people that led me on this incredible, awe-inspiring, life-changing adventure. This was my dream come true. YOU were my dream come true.

At 3:29am you twisted your way, literally, into Michelle's loving hands. You came out face down, but immediately turned your head to the left and completed a full rotation as your body slipped out. Michelle and Ellen hoisted you onto my belly and all of those 27 hours melted away. The clock reset, time... life... as we knew it started over again. Daddy called your name, "Tommy... Tommy..." just like he did when you were inside me, and I wished you happy birthday. We looked you over, amazed at your beauty, your perfection. There aren't words to describe how I felt in those first minutes, meeting you. I can only say it was the purest, truest happiness I've ever known.

You are here now. With the close of your birth story begins the first of many new chapters in our lives. There is a common theme to all of them, a message from my heart to yours, forever. 

You have been loved since before you even existed. You will be loved for all of your life. 

We love you, Tommy. Welcome home.

Thomas Joseph Falk, born at home on July 28, 2011. 7 pounds, 8 ounces and 20 inches. 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Any day.

We will see you, baby, truly any day now. We are ready, anxious, waiting. Right now you are thumping and rolling in my belly, and I am singing your name softly. "Tommy... I love you, Tommy..."

The house is quiet and cool after a week or more of heat nearing 100 degrees. We've been nesting and perfecting this place for the birth, gathering loose ends and tying them up despite the sweat, and sometimes tears, pouring over us. Every effort is worth it, no detail is too small. 

Last week a dear friend came and took photographs for us, freezing moments of real joy for us to remember always. We laughed with our whole bodies, smiled wider than we are usually known to do. There is so much to be happy with, grateful for. So many songs to sing, dance and play to.

I would hold my breath if I thought it would ease this anticipation. Instead I will take in the fresh air deeply and know that these days will pass quickly and then a blink, a flash in time will reveal you to me. And here you will be, with us finally and forever. 

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Final Countdown.

We are officially one month away from our estimated due date, and less than four weeks to the start of my maternity leave. Things are getting REAL.

When people ask me if I feel ready, I can only answer "yes." Sure, there are still things on the to-do list and we could be farther along in practicing our Bradley exercises... I could use more time to limber up for labor or decorate his room... but I am ready. I feel like I've been ready all along.

There is an empty space in our quiet moments these days, a space I can't help but fill with the imagined breaths and sighs of our newborn baby boy. When he pushes and rolls inside me I can touch him in a way that is so different from even a month ago. There are knees and elbows, hands and feet. His little behind presses hard into my ribs, yet yields politely when I give him a gentle nudge with the flat of my palm. He is a good baby.

I am working on a birth plan - just a sketch really of our vision for that day. We are committed to a peaceful entrance to this world for our son, and our plan is simply for quiet, calm and love to envelope the three of us, like a blanket. We want our voices to be the first he hears. Our warmth, our hearts, our kisses will welcome him home.

I am excited for the labor, for that realization that he's finally coming. I've had a few practice contractions in recent weeks, and I'm grateful for the slow, easy test runs. They don't feel great, but I'd rather have some idea what to expect and prepare for than have no idea at all. I trust that my husband will do everything he can to keep me relaxed and mindful of what is really happening, to not let me get lost in the sensations or panicked by the pain.

We've rearranged the living room, which will be where he's born barring any complications or last minute urges to labor in bed upstairs. Our midwife will have a birthing pool for us in the next couple of weeks, and I'm obsessively seeking out foam mats and pillows to build myself a little labor den on the floor. Who knows what will actually happen, but I have the sense now at least that I will want to labor in the pool but deliver squatting on the floor. Ask me tomorrow and it will probably be the reverse. Ask me in two weeks and I could tell you I want to give birth on the grass outside. (I'm kidding. Or am I?)

As I think about this next month and all of the unknowns (will he come early? will he come late? how will I know that it's starting?), one thought always pushes the many others away... our baby will be here soon. Just like the last month passed in the blink of an eye, this one before us will be over sooner than we think. And then here he will be, in our arms, breathtaking in his beauty. I cannot wait to meet him. To see which parts of both of us have made up this new person, to look into his eyes and find that instant bond of "I know you, I've always known you" that until now has only lived in our hearts. To hold his tiny hand and kiss his soft little belly, to see him in his father's arms... such complete happiness, joy like I've never truly known.

I just can't wait. But I will, and I'll be patient in my understanding that for every day passing we are one day closer to finding our lives forever changed.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Our neighborhood.

It's Father's Day, a beautiful day. We took a walk around the neighborhood and snapped photos of our favorite places; places we intend to take you often, places you too will grow to love. 

 Your Grandpa used to shoot hoops here when he was a kid. 
You can see these courts and the playground behind them from your bedroom window.

We'll have a lot of fun here together. You'll have to ride the merry-go-round with Daddy, though - spinny rides make Mommy sick!

Wee! So excited to see you climbing and sliding and crawling around...

 We took a photo in this spot almost 2 years ago, 
touring the neighborhood just before buying our house. 
A lot has changed since then! 

Our Post Office, not far from our house. 
Across the street is the Free Library, where your Great Aunt works on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. We like to drop in and see her there, and poke around in the cozy stacks of books. 

 One of the many reasons we chose to live here is the rich history of the area. Mommy has family ties here reaching back more than one hundred years, not to mention this village 
is where her own Mommy and Daddy fell in love. 

We live on Burton Street, where the sidewalk ends.

Mommy likes to imagine you climbing up into this tree outside our house, peeking out at her in your denim overalls. 

Across the street is a 17 acre pasture. We sit on our front porch in the white wicker loveseat and watch deer and bunnies and birds wander out of the trees and into the field. At night the pasture glows with fireflies and sings with crickets. It is just one piece of a perfect picture, a scene of true love and real happiness. A whisper of contentment passing through the lush green leaves, brushing our cheeks with sweet kisses. 

"Welcome home..."

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Thank you.

So it rained, it poured... but then the clouds parted and the drops dried up and in the end we had a perfect day. So grateful for all of the kind words, strong hugs and generous gifts we were blessed with today. Tommy is coming into this world with a large and loving family, and that's the greatest gift of all.

Rain or shine...

Today's lesson: acceptance. It will rain most of the day, and we will enjoy it from underneath canopy tents in our backyard as we celebrate this new member of our family, arriving soon.

Think of these rain drops as showers of kisses, and the cool temperature a much needed break from the heat and humidity that's been slowing us down. Sun will shine from our hearts and the love we feel already for this new life will keep us warm.

If you are attending today's baby shower, please know:

- Yes, it will still be in our backyard. There are tents!

- Yes, if possible you should still park at the church and walk down to our house. Bring an umbrella! Or, if you are worried about your gift, or your toes, getting wet, you can drive down to our house and try to find a spot. You can also unload gifts and sugary sweet companions who might melt in the rain, and then bring the car to the church. We live on a dead end street, so parking is truly limited!

- No, we are not upset about the weather! If Mother Nature has taught us anything, it's to embrace the unexpected.

Looking forward to a joyous day!