Monday, October 9, 2017

The 4th Time

4 times now I've ridden home from a hospital or birth center in the backseat of our car, not taking my eyes off of a tiny, squished faced little baby. 4 times now I've spent at least a few days keeping track of diaper output and how many times we nursed. 4 times now I've set alarms overnight to make sure my baby ate enough to get back up and over their birth weight. 4 times now I've folded diapers down so as not to irritate an umbilical cord stump. 4 times now I've changed tiny, peed on nightgowns in the middle of the night. 4 times now I've watched my body sort of... deflate (for lack of a better term). 4 times now I've snacked and sucked down entire bottles of water at 4 am because at that moment my hunger and thirst from nursing overcame even my deep need to sleep for at least an hour. 4 times now I've cried because a newborn sleeper was suddenly too tight and then fell into a fit of laughter at just how far a baby can shoot poop when they're without a diaper.

4 newborns. 4 trips through the maze that is postpartum. The past few weeks I've been reflecting on how different this particular time is from all of my others, especially the first time. When we first brought Sam home (and stood in the middle of the apartment looking around for several minutes, having no clue what to do next) there was a lot of fear. A lot of fear and so much anxiety. Was he sleeping enough? Sleeping too much? Nursing okay? Was this noise normal? Was that face normal? Was that poop a weird color? A weird consistency? Is he pooping to much? He hasn't pooped in a few hours, what's wrong? Will we ever sleep again? Will he ever sleep anywhere but on top of me? Do they make bigger swings because he's going to sleep in this thing until high school. How about swaddles? How big do those get? He'll never sleep without one. We enjoyed him. We enjoyed him and soaked him in. We really did! But the enjoying and the soaking wasn't without plenty of worry, plenty of questioning.

4 babies later, there's still some questioning. I think everybody with a newborn questions and second guesses themselves every now and then. But the enjoying and the soaking in is so much easier. If Anna suddenly wants to nurse every hour, instead of panicking that I'm not making enough milk, or that this is going to go on forever and I'll never sleep or have my body to myself, I refill my water bottle, grab a handful of pretzels, and feel grateful for an excuse to park it on the couch and turn on the tv.

Obviously, first time mom Sarah knew, realistically, that newborn Sam wouldn't be so tiny forever. She knew that newborn Sam wouldn't go off to college still needing to sleep on her chest. But first time mom Sarah's body wasn't yet used to functioning on so little sleep. First time mom Sarah didn't always think realistically. First time mom Sarah didn't know what to expect in the future, with an older baby, which made it hard to see farther than the next couple days. And the next couple days looked like a lot of center of her chest naps, cluster feeding, and many, many diapers. 

But now. Now Anna falls asleep on my chest and in my mind's eye she's 2 and we're moving her out of her crib into a 'big girl bed'.  I change her diaper for the 15th time that day, but I know that tomorrow (basically) I'll be folding her underwear and making sure she takes a potty break before we leave the house. She cluster feeds through the evening and I can hear her asking for a snack 50 times while I'm making dinner. 

Things that used to make me anxious are now my favorite parts of having a newborn. All the things that I used to worry I'd never be able to 'fix', I now wish would last just a little longer. I look forward to watching Anna hit all of the fun milestones that come in the first year. I can't wait to see her smile, hear her laugh, watch her learn to crawl, help her learn to walk... but I'm already feeling nostalgic about the huge chunks of the day I've been spending with her curled up, seemingly just as she was in my belly, sleeping on my chest. I can feel them already slipping by so quickly. I was just holding Henry this way. And now I'm watching him run back and forth in the playroom, kicking a soccer ball and yelling, "Look at me kicking mama! Look at me!" He still falls asleep on my lap, but he's spilling out of it now, long legs dangling over the side of the chair. 

Newborns are hard. They're really really hard. Having a newborn is exhausting, draining (in every sense of the word), and, at times, frustrating. That doesn't change, no matter how many times you do it. But what does change, or, at least what has changed for me, is the way I feel. There's such a great sense of calm and peacefulness that wasn't there when we brought home our first squished up little person, or even our second. Somehow, in the course of bringing home 4 very different babies, the hard, exhausting, draining, frustrating newborn phase has become one of my most favorite phases. Spit up stained nursing tanks, meals eaten one handed, fussy, gassy babies and all.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Anna's Birth Story

On August 31st, at 7:11pm, we welcomed our sweet Anna Jean into our family. She is currently snuggled up on my chest, nursing happily, and everybody is already completely and totally in love with her! While I have a moment I want to share her birth story, while the details are still fresh :) This was the strangest and most difficult (both mentally and physically!) of all of my labors. Empowering, but in a very different way than my other births have been.

My due date was Tuesday the 29th. I woke up tired from being awake a lot of the night with some cramping. My mom and I had talked about spending the morning at Longwood Gardens, walking around, but it was chilly and pouring rain. I still wanted to get out of the house and do some walking, so we drove out to the mall instead. We met my sister-in-law and nephews there and the kids had fun playing in the play area. We walked around, had lunch, and played some more before heading home and all the while I was having some pretty serious cramping. Nothing that was coming or go, and no tightening, just the cramping. I really felt like the baby would be coming soon, but also wondered if I thought that just because I was so tired and ready to be done being pregnant!

On Wednesday the 30th I had an appointment at the birth center for a checkup. I told my midwife about all of the cramping I'd been having and asked to be checked. She offered to sweep my membranes and I said yes. I really felt like I was in pre-labor and wanted to move things along. I was 3cm, very soft, and she was easily able to do the sweep. I went home from my appointment feeling encouraged. I was going to be holding my baby soon. I could feel it. I had a very strong need for everything in the house to be very clean and in order so I scrubbed bathrooms and the kitchen, vacuumed, did laundry, dusted, and generally just de-cluttered everything. I wasn't feeling any contractions, just some cramping. I was exhausted by the end of the day and my patience with my super hyper children was stretched pretty thin. I went to bed praying for contractions. I needed to be finished with the pregnancy part of this story. And I think my family was about ready too ;)

Around 11:30 I woke up crampy, went to the bathroom, and was surprised by my bloody show. For me, this means labor, but I'm usually already contracting fairly regularly when I see it. I hadn't felt any contractions at this point. I went to lay back down. I felt anxious and my adrenaline was going, but I knew labor was about to get going, if it wasn't really already, and rest would be important. I used some breathing exercises from Hypnobirthing to calm myself down and sleep at least a little. Around 12:30 or so I started having some contractions that required my attention, so I started timing them. They weren't particularly regular, but on average were coming every 10-12 minutes. I chose to stay in bed rather than get up to walk and encourage them to get closer. At one point I was up with Kate, and at another point I was up with Henry. I wasn't going back to sleep when I was in bed, but I was making an effort to relax my body and keep my eyes closed as much as I could. When James' alarm went off for work, a little after 4am, I told him I thought labor was starting and that I needed him to stay home. I also told him to go back to sleep and that I was going to go downstairs to watch tv because I was too anxious to stay in bed. Henry woke up again not long after I went downstairs, but I got him back to sleep and then I ended up falling asleep for a while myself on the couch and my contractions took a bit of a break. When I woke up the sun was starting to come up and I knew the kids would be waking up soon. I waited until I knew my mom was probably awake and texted her to let her know I thought today would be the day, and then went upstairs to wait for the kids. Sam and Kate came in our room at 7 like always and we told them Daddy would be staying home today because we thought the baby might come later. They were excited, but we tried to really stress the MAYBE of the whole situation, since my contractions were still very irregular.

We spent the morning as normally as possible. Breakfast, playing, some cleaning up. My contractions weren't following any sort of pattern. After Henry nursed when he woke up, they got a little closer, maybe 7 or 8 minutes apart for a little while, but then spaced back out to about 15 minutes or so apart. Then some were even further, more like 30 minutes. When I was having contractions they were fairly strong, but they just weren't making any sort of a pattern and I was getting frustrated. We went outside so the kids could run around and so I could walk around. It was more of the same, labor-wise, out there. No rhyme or reason as to when contractions would come, but strong with a lot of pressure when they did.
Kate wanted to walk around the yard with me. She was so sweet to me the whole day :)

What's going on baby? Are we going to meet you today or not?!

The kids ate lunch, I ate some cereal, and we got ready for nap/quiet time. A whole HOUR passed without a single contraction. I was so frustrated, I just felt like crying. I was nursing Henry down for his nap and for a long time I still didn't have a single contraction. And here I had been banking on his nursing bringing them back. Just as he was drifting off to sleep though, an incredibly strong contraction came. I had to quickly unlatch Henry in order to try and maintain some semblance of focus to get through this very strong, very long contraction. Poor guy was so sleepy and so confused. I couldn't even get him his binky to make up for so quickly unlatching him because I couldn't bend down to get it. Once the contraction passed I finished getting Henry to sleep, and then had another contraction after leaving his room. I was still feeling discouraged and upset. I told James I just wanted to take a nap. Thankfully I was able to sleep for about an hour and a half. I had only 2 contractions during that time, but both were very strong. I was starting to feel uneasy. It didn't feel like I was in active labor, but the intensity of my contractions made me feel like my labor was going to eventually take a very sudden turn. I told James how I was feeling and he said he was feeling the same way. I decided to call the birth center and see what the on call midwife had to say. She said, since we don't live too far from the birth center, that it wouldn't hurt to drive by at least for a check. So we started to pack up the car. I kept stressing to the kids that we MIGHT stay at the birth center to have a baby when we got there, but we also might just turn around and go home. I must have told them 50 times that we'd be leaving all of our bags in the car when we got there. At that point I had a string of strong contractions about 12 minutes apart, after they had spaced 20-40 minutes apart for a while, so I felt slightly encouraged, but then I had not a single contraction while packing up the car and driving to the birth center. When we got there I felt certain we'd be turning right around to go home. The kids started playing with the toys there and I went with the on call midwife, Sarah, into the little triage room for a quick check. I reminded her that I had been 3cm the day before, so 4 or 5cm right now wouldn't be much of a big deal. She said if I was a 4 she'd probably send me home since I didn't look to be in active labor at all and hadn't had any contractions spaced closer than 12 minutes in hours. I tried to read her face while she was checking me, but she just looked confused. She didn't say anything for a long time. I said, "So a 4?" She looked at me for a minute and said, "You're not going home." But still didn't say anything else. She was still checking. I asked, "Oh! A 6?" She sat back, "How are you so calm right now? You're a 9. 9cm. Actually more like 9.5. The only thing holding your cervix in place at all is your bag of waters." I was in shock, "Wait. What? But I don't feel like I'm in active labor. 9?" She assured me that that's why she was checking for so long, because she didn't believe it either and wanted to be really sure, "You're definitely almost complete. I could break your water right now and you would be holding your baby very soon. I'm sure of it. In fact we can do that if you want." I said I did, but that we'd need to wait for my mom and dad to get there to have help with the kids. She told me to go ahead and get a hold of my parents and then get settled in the room I'd picked. With my mom and dad on their way, the kids and I hung out in the room while James brought our things in. My contractions started to get slightly closer now, but I wasn't timing them anymore. Just trying to find my focus through my shock. At this point it was a little after 5pm.
Goodbye belly!

"Strong Like Mom" shirts seemed the most appropriate ;)

Once my parents got to the birth center, James got the kids and my dad situated out in the waiting area with toys, snacks, and movies. Sarah and I had been chatting while we waited for everybody. I expressed my concern with water slowing down my contractions even more, and also the fact that my babies have a history of 'sticky' shoulders. She was in agreement and suggested that we just keep the tub empty and plan for a land based birth. I felt most comfortable with that. With my mom and James in the room, Sarah went ahead and broke my water and felt for baby's position. She said baby was most definitely posterior, which would explain my funky labor pattern (or lack thereof). Only a small amount of fluid came out when she broke my water. Clearly baby's position was not ideal at that time. So we put the big ball up on the bed so I could kneel and drape my body over it, in hopes we'd get the baby to turn. It was close to 6pm by now. Leaning over the ball my contractions started coming much closer, and when I suddenly got very sweaty I knew I was in transition. I had a minute or two to gather myself together for what I knew was coming. I was struggling with focus. I'm used to having hours of labor prior to transition to really go inside myself to find a super calm, focused place. My contractions started piggy backing each other and, thankfully, after the first 1 or 2, I found that calm, focused place. Because of baby's position, my contractions were mostly felt in my back and my hips. Leaning over the ball did help a lot, as did James pushing my hips together during a few contractions. After a blur of these contractions I suddenly felt incredibly calm and relaxed, the contractions backed off, I picked my chest up off of the ball and asked Sarah to check me. "Transition is over. I know I'm complete." She checked and told me I was right. I love how in tune with my body I feel when I'm in labor!

This was hanging in my bathroom. Very appropriate for this particular labor!

I had a welcome break at this point. I drank water and we talked about positions to try pushing in to keep encouraging the baby to turn. When I started to feel 'pushy' contractions beginning, probably between 6:30 and 6:40,  I asked to stay on my hands and knees since I was still feeling a lot in my back. I started breathing down through contractions and could feel the baby moving down, but not enough, and still so much pressure and discomfort in my back. I moved to semi reclining now and put a little more power behind each contraction, rather than breathing through. I still felt like baby hadn't turned. We tried a stool to help me squat. This was SO intense. I was starting to feel a little panicky and scared by how intense pushing on the stool felt. I was crying, "I want my baby." in between contractions. Sarah asked me after one if I wanted to move back to the bed because she could tell I'd made a lot of progress. I told her I'd do one more on the stool and then went deep inside myself and gave myself a pep talk. "You CAN do this. You are STRONG. You are CAPABLE." and from that moment on that was my mantra inside my head for each and every contraction. Sometimes just, "You are STRONG." over and over and sometimes the whole string of affirmations. Once I got back up on the bed I felt more productive. I knew the baby had turned while I was on the stool and wasn't posterior anymore. I had thought I had felt it, but once I felt how much more productive I felt pushing back up on the bed, I knew for sure. I asked Sarah to tell me as soon as she could see even a little of the baby's head because I needed to feel it with my hand. Shortly thereafter she told me to feel and once I did and knew how very close my baby was, I prayed for just a little more strength, and told myself I was having this baby right then. James was talking in my ear this whole time, assuring me that I was so close, that I was doing everything exactly how I was supposed to. With the next contraction, baby's head was born and then, with a little extra effort, shoulders, and finally I was pulling my baby onto my chest, "Oh I did it. Oh you're finally out!" Sarah reminded James to take a peek to find out if we had a boy or a girl, but he had caught a glimpse on the way up to my chest, "It's a little girl!" I started crying then and said, "It's Anna! This is our Anna! Hi Anna!" And, in that minute, our family grew.

I looked up at James and said, "That was hard. That was really hard." and we both remarked over how big Anna looked! The yummiest rolls on her arms and thighs! While I delivered the placenta and Sarah checked me out (I just needed one small stitch), James went out to tell the kids that they had a sister. I asked my mom to go out and capture their reactions on camera because they had been so sure it was a girl and so excited at the prospect of another sister. I knew their reactions would be so sweet, and I was not disappointed ;)

A few minutes later Anna had very easily latched on (I was very grateful to notice absolutely no tongue tie after struggling with both Kate and Henry's tongue ties!) and the kids came in to get in bed with me. Such a wonderful feeling, having all four of my babies there in bed with me. 

Comparing his thumb size to hers

The kids went back out to be with Grandpa and my mom went to start heating up food for all of us while the nurse took vitals from me and Anna and then left us to relax. This is one of my favorite parts of a birth center birth. The absolute peace of being left alone for a couple hours after your baby is born. Anna nursed, James and I talked over the strange whirlwind her labor and delivery ended up being, my mom brought us food, it was cozy and quiet and wonderful.

After a couple of hours Anna had her checkup and was weighed and measured. She was 9lbs 4oz and 20 3/4in! Our heaviest baby by a lot! I couldn't believe she had been in my belly and that I had pushed her out!

My mom and dad got the big kids into their jammies at this point and took them home to go to bed. I took a shower and our nurse went over our discharge paperwork with us before we packed up and went home ourselves, about 4 hours after Anna was born. 

Since bringing Anna home we've just been soaking her in. Everybody is just so in love with her and is always asking for a turn holding her. She's a champion little nurser and a pretty good sleeper. I think we're all enjoying a very quiet, very low key postpartum. Pajamas, movies, snacks, snuggles, naps. I've been feeling wonderful! I'm actually surprised because of how tough the actual delivery was. The only thing that's sore is my upper back and chest. I feel like I've been doing a lot of push ups actually. Probably from all of the time I spent on my hands and knees, trying to get little miss to turn. Between how much Anna has been nursing, and also nursing Henry a few times a day, I've been very very hungry. Thankfully, James is home until Tuesday and is keeping me well fed ;)

I feel so incredibly blessed to be Mama to these 4, wonderful, healthy, beautiful children and am so looking forward to settling into a routine at a family of 6! 

Sunday, July 30, 2017

2017/2018 School Year Plans!

𝅘𝅥𝅮𝅘𝅥𝅮 It's the moooost wonderful tiiiiime, of the year 𝅘𝅥𝅮𝅘𝅥𝅮

Anybody else hear this Christmas song in their head when all of the 4th of July festivities die down and stores start putting out their back to school supplies? I've felt that way my whole life. I LOVE summer and always feel sad when it's really coming to an end, but when I see the stacks of shiny new folders and notebooks in school bus shaped displays at Target, I get a major thrill. Everybody tends to think of New Years as being the time to make a fresh start, but to me its August/September. In January it's nice to get back into a routine after the holidays and everything, and New Years Resolutions are super fun, but it's still cold and gray and it's just the halfway(ish) point of school and kid activities. The beginning of the school year feels more full of possibility to me. What is our new daily routine going to look like? How can I make our days smoother? What extra curricular activities do I feel like we should sign up for? How will we make those particular evenings work best for everybody? And then the questions only homeschoolers get to ask themselves: What curriculum are we going to use this year? How will we structure our school days? How will we balance regular home life (laundry, baby naps, cleaning bathrooms, grocery shopping) with school time? FULL of possibility!

This year we'll be starting school a little earlier than we normally do. Normally I like to get started after Kate's birthday, August 20th. This year though, after Kate's birthday we'll be on official 'baby watch' for Baby4, so I want to get an earlier start. Starting tomorrow, 7/31, should get us about 4 weeks of school work before the week of my due date, at which point we'll start a break. I haven't decided yet how long of a break we'll take. Leaving that up in the air depending on when Baby4 comes and how quickly we settle into a routine. Our curriculum this year relies quite heavily on read alouds, so that should work in our favor with a new baby. I tend to do a LOT of reading out loud while I nurse a newborn anyway!

I mentioned in my last blog post that I had found a full Charlotte Mason curriculum that we will be using. When I first decided Charlotte Mason seemed like the way to go for our family, back in the spring, I was very pleasantly surprised to find Ambleside Online! It's a completely free resource that has schedules, book lists, composer studies, artist studies, and so much more available and organized by school year! Amazing and SUCH a blessing! Sam will be starting with Year 1, which is meant to be a 1st grade program and the first year of formal schooling, after the student has turned 6. Ambleside also has a very informal Year 0 (mostly just a book list) meant to be sort of a kindergarten year. Kate will do that next year, but we will likely read some of the Year 0 books this year for her pre-k year as well.

Our curriculum's main resource is the book list. The heart of a Charlotte Mason curriculum is literature and using 'living books' (rather than dry textbooks) to teach all subjects. This is done by reading (out loud in the earlier years, and then by the student themselves when they're older) and narration (oral in the early years, written in the later). It has been a BLAST collecting all of the books on the Year 1 list and I am incredibly excited to dive into these! Ambleside follows a history rotation throughout the years and begins Year 1 with early British history, to lead into early American history in Year 2.

Our books!!

In addition to our book lists for readings, we will also have a different composer and artist to study each term (Ambleside schedules their years into 3 12 week terms). For each composer and artist we have different pieces to study for 2 weeks each. This is to be really simple in Year 1. We'll listen to our selected piece from our composer of the term throughout the day, and I will have printed copies of our piece of artwork framed and ready to study. "Studying" the artwork will consist of looking at the picture for a few minutes, and then turning it away and seeing what we can remember without looking at it. 

We will also have a folk song to listen to each term, as well as a different hymn every month. The goal here is just to have kids memorizing these old songs, just by listening to them frequently as they go about their day. No special time will really be devoted to them.

Also essential to any Charlotte Mason curriculum is copywork. The goal with copywork is to learn correct formation of letters, as well as sentence and (later) paragraph structure. Sam will initially just be doing the alphabet in his copywork. He writes well, but I want to focus our first couple weeks on review and working on neater penmanship. Then we'll go on to copying out sentences from readings we've done that week. Sometimes I might choose some lines from Aesop for him to copy, then maybe something from our weekly Bible readings, and then maybe a few lines from one of our "free reads" like one of the Little House books or the original Peter Pan.

Our science will mostly be comprised of nature study. We'll be spending a lot of time outside, but once a week we will go out (in our yard or we'll take a field trip) intentionally with our field guides and sketch books (even Henry has one!) At first we will just work on drawing what we see, and maybe writing down a name, but later in the year Sam will be making little notes to go alongside his drawings.

Ambleside suggests parents choose their own phonics and math programs, so we'll be continuing with Learning Language Arts Through Literature and Horizons math. Our LA program might be overkill with everything else we're doing, so I might switch it out for a more simple, phonics only type of program as the year goes on. Sam already has quite a good grasp on reading though after only sporadic usage of the LLATL program last year, and he seemed to really enjoy the lessons, so it might end up working out just fine!

Other things we'll be including in our school year this year will be French (we'll be using The French Experiment  as a super basic introduction to the language, mostly just reading some short stories in French and then using YouTube to learn the French words for basic things around our house), memory work (mostly poetry and Bible verses), handicrafts (beginning sewing, finger knitting, soap carving, basic wood working, etc) and drawing. Sam is especially excited about drawing, and spent a long time pouring over the simple workbook I found on Amazon. I also ordered a couple coloring books to supplement our science and history readings.

For Kate (and Henry a little bit) this year I haven't prepared much of anything. We have tons of supplies for sensory and fine motor activities that I can put together quickly whenever it seems like they might want something like that. I have 2 bins devoted to this kind of stuff. 1 bin of tools (scoops, tongs, cups, etc) and 1 bin of supplies (beads, pom poms, pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks, etc) I also made them a set of sensory alphabet cards (so simple, just glitter glue letters on cardboard) to run their fingers over as a pre-writing activity.

To keep everything organized this year, I first majorly purged and cleaned out our crafts/school closet to be more functional. The cute cart I got last year to house supplies has to be kept in the closet now (because... toddler...) and I decided to fill it with everything we'll use every day, including books, rather than just all of our supplies. This way, instead of going through the closet shelves every day to find what we need, I just need to roll out the cart and everything is already right there. Pencils, markers, colored pencils, glue, readers, flash cards on the top tier and then books on the second and our math manipulatives in containers on the bottom.

I also put together 3 binders, one each for myself, Sam, and Kate. Mine contains all of our weekly schedules (put together in my own format from the weekly schedules provided by Ambleside), the breakdown of our composers/pieces and artists/pieces, lyrics for our hymns, as well as copies of Sam's memory work for the first term (poems and Bible verses).

Sam's binder has all of his lined paper for copywork, his laminated and blank maps for geography, copies of his memory work (once a Bible verse is memorized he will hi-light it and once a poem is memorized he'll draw a picture to go with it), some coloring pages to go along with a few of our readings, blank paper for when he wants to draw his narration to a reading rather than just tell it to me, and his personal timeline ready to be filled in. Ambleside encourages making a history timeline, either in a notebook or on the wall, noting (or drawing) when events happen as you come across them in readings. But, in the beginning of Year 1, they recommend starting with making a personal timeline to help build the idea of time extending over the years. So we'll be slowly filling in Sam's timeline, starting in 2010 when he started growing in my tummy and going all the way through this year, marking important milestones in our family's life. I'm really excited to see how this turns out!

Kate's binder is full of tracing and matching worksheets that I laminated so she can do them again and again. I also added a folder full of coloring pages I printed from Pinterest. I want her to stay occupied while Sam and I go through his work, and she wants to be independent and have her own "school". I think this binder will take care of all of that.

I am SO excited for our school year! Nothing I have planned seems time consuming (as I mentioned in a previous post, Charlotte Mason believed in NO MORE than about 15-20 minutes per subject and only about 2 hours, max for the whole day in the early years!) and everything I planned seems engaging and like it will easily fit into our life! That was main goal in planning this year, for school to fit into our life, rather than trying to fit our life around school. Hopefully I've accomplished this!