Any way they have to come: why you should throw out that birth plan and just have that baby

photo (8)

The Ender turns four this week, and as my crunchy friends send him heartfelt birthday wishes, they also wish me a happy birthing day. Except, it really wasn’t. Happy, I mean. But it doesn’t matter. It was. And he came. And we were both healthy. And that was enough.

So today I give you my long, sappy and thoroughly unfunny birthing story. This is how Ender came. The way he had to come. I don’t give you the really unfunny backstory leading up to it–that’s mine to hold and process, only mine, even more than four years later.

If you’d rather experience (or, if you’ve been in my life since 2009, relive) the short version where I regain my sense of humour, it’s here: The last three minutes of Ender’s otherwise criminally long arrival on planet Earth. And if birth stories give you the heebee-jeebees–and I totally understand, baby, the miracle of birth is horribly gross, really, the things we do for the continuation of the species, crazy, utterly crazy–go read … um, how about the day Flora decided we were going to keep Ender, even though he’s not a girl? Yeah, that’s a good one, “He’s a Keeper.” And it’s short. Minimal time commitment.

But if you’ve got a little bit of time and glory in the full story… here we go…

This is the long version of Ender’s arrival, the last 12 or so hours, written for and published in  Birthing magazine.

As dawn breaks over Calgary’s first winter snowstorm in  October 2009, I’m 14 days post-estimated-due-date and on the parking lot usually known as Crowchild Trail, en route to the Rockyview Hospital for an induction.

“It’s a good thing you’re not really in labour,” Sean, my partner, says. “Or else we really would be having this baby in the van.”

Ha ha ha. I try not to get angry at my uterus, cervix, DNA code—whichever part of me it is that is not working the way I think it ought to. I try to be philosophical. They come as they must, and all that matters is that they come, healthy, safe. I almost believe it.

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“Boy, you sure have your hands full”: the rebuttal

This isn’t what I usually write, or how I usually write. It’s actually a really great example, from the point of view of a professional writer, of why you shouldn’t write when you’re all het up—or why you shouldn’t press “send” right after you’ve written something that had you all het up. Think on it a bit. Emotional angst makes for great drama—it rarely makes for great writing in the moment. Too much confusion, cloudiness… self-absorption.

What the professional writer in me wants to do is to file this under “bad drafts,” come back to it three or four months hence when I don’t remember the incident that fired it, take the nugget of insight from it (generally found in the second-to-last one-sentence paragraph), and build a proper essay around it.

My inner child wants to publish it as is, because she’s wilful and has poor impulse control and it’s her blog, goddamit, and she’ll write what she wants.

The wilful inner child takes charge, grabs the lead and starts to write this:

I was rude to you the other day, I realize, and the soft, peace-making, acquiescing part of me wants to apologize. It’s not nice to be rude to people and I should have made some effort, taken the high road, etc. Etc. Especially as you weren’t malicious—nor rude to me, particularly. I was just tired of mediating with the world, and you were just… stupid, I think is the word I’m looking for.

The adult within asserts a little and starts to edit a little:

Damn, this apology is not going well. Stupid’s unfair. You may have been a perfectly intelligent, thinking person under most circumstances. With a flaw, perhaps: the desire to talk to strangers about the first thing that occurred to you. There’s probably nothing wrong with that trait. Probably helps you make friends in new places. You just had the bad fortune to select the wrong mother at the wrong time to talk at. I’m sorry.

There, that’s a better shot at an apology. And now, the inner child and its super-ego start to compromise and work together… They write this:

I suppose before I go any further, I should recap what you said—and what I did. So there I was in the library on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, with my three kids. The seven-and-a-half-year-old (“I’m actually closer to eight, now, Mom, shouldn’t you say that?”) was checking out our stack of books at the self-check out. The ten-year-old was amusing the not-quite-three-year-old (“Amusing? Well, that’s one way of putting it, Mom.”). And I was lounging against the wall between them, occasionally toning down the volume on the amusement, and occasionally helping my checker-outer when the machine didn’t read the book codes properly. Last book went through the check out. I divided the books between four sets of arms, and said, “To the car, dudes.”

Arms full of books, the kids ran joyfully—and noisily—to the door. I followed more slowly.

And, somewhere from the periphery of my vision, you let out a (well-meaning) chuckle, and said, “Well, that’s what your day off looks like, doesn’t it.”

I half-turned my head to ascertain that you were talking at me, and then I said…

 Nothing.

I tried to offer one of those smiles of acknowledgement, but I suspect it didn’t come out genuine, because I didn’t particularly feel like smiling. I thought what you said was really silly—and I didn’t feel like offering any of the conventional responses you expected. What would they have been, anyway? What were you looking for? “That’s the way the cookie crumbles?” perhaps? Or “Good thing we love them?” Or something else that would validate your assumptions that a) this was my day “off”, b) that I’d rather be doing something else, c) that spending a Sunday afternoon at the library with my kids was somehow hard? I’d had a really tough, exhausting week, and this Sunday afternoon was, frankly, one of the week’s jewels, one of those moments in time that underscore just how good my life is. I wasn’t frazzled or ticked or yelling at the children (that was Thursday afternoon, but you weren’t there… wonder what you would have said then? “That’s what your day on looks like?”). My children were by no one’s compass behaving inappropriately or in a demanding, taxing manner (though by Zeus’ third testicle, on Tuesday they did). What the hell were you commenting on?

And as all this flew through my head at lightening speed, the fully rational part of me also knew I was completely over-reacting, because it had been a tough week and because I was tired and my defences were down, and you did not mean to be in any way rude, —you were just a friendly stranger trying to make conversation, and you said the first thing that came into your mind. So I tried to force that smile to be a little less fake, but I still said…

 Nothing.

You were a few steps behind me in the parking lot as we both walked to our cars. My children had raced ahead to mine. They opened the doors, and loaded themselves up into the card. You caught up to me. And said:

 “My daughter’s thinking of having a third, but looking at you, I don’t know—boy, it’s a lot of work.”

And I turned my head again, and looked at you, and said…

Nothing.

But I gave you The Look. I know I gave you The Look, because you took two steps back, and then almost ran to your car without half-a-backward glance at me. It’s possible I made you cry. I’ve never seen The Look on my own face, but I’ve bequeathed it to all three of my children, and I’ve seen it there, and it’s a pretty terrifying thing; it’s a “You’re too stupid to live, and you should leave my sight before I do something about it” kind of look, and apparently it frequently creeps onto my face during business meetings, and my colleagues, as well as the people who have the misfortune of being interviewed by me live and repeatedly, live in terror of me one day turning The Look on them (and my husband and children treat it as a sign of my undying, clearly unconditional love that no matter what they’ve done or said, I’ve never turned The Look on them… yet).

Anyway. I gave you The Look. You skedaddled. I got into the car.

“Can we put one of the new books on tape in?” the 10-year-old asked me, as the seven-year-old finished buckling up her little brother in his car seat. The books were piled around them.

“Sure,” I said. I started the car. He put the CD in.

As we drove home, I tried to parse what it was that you had done that ticked me off so.

 “Well, that’s what your day off looks like, doesn’t it.”

“My daughter’s thinking of having a third, but looking at you, I don’t know—boy, it’s a lot of work.”

Two sentences. Kindly meant, really. What’s ticking me off here? Is it that you interfered in a moment I was having with my children. Sunday afternoon. At the library. The four of us. Chilling. Not performing for you, or awaiting your commentary.

Mothers today live essentially in constant defensive mode from verbal assaults—er, commentary—from well-meaning strangers.

This mother’s tired of it, and is done responding to it. See me in the park or the grocery store with my kids? Whether we’re in a moment of bliss or a moment of strife, it’s our moment, and it’s none of your business. The only two acceptable comments from a stranger to a mother (or father) in a public place are:

 a. What a beautiful family you have.

and, its more effusive variant,

 b. How lucky you are to have such a lovely family.

Feel compelled to say something else? Shut up.

Was that it? The above rant notwithstanding, no, not really. A little—it sure didn’t help—but not really. It wasn’t even that your comments were so completely… inaccurate. I mean, there are plenty of times when I’m out in public with the brood when it does look like hard work. Like the time I had to get Cinder to sit on Ender at the deli while I paid so that I wouldn’t have to buy $200 worth of broken jars of imported honey and olives. Or the time… well, anyway. There are times. This wasn’t one of them.

But even if it was—here’s what really got me—even if it was. Even if it looked like hard work. You vocalized the thing that I’m convinced will be the reason Western society collapses:

 You think if something’s a lot of work, it’s not worth doing.

Is having three children hard work? A lot of work? Having any children? Yes. It requires effort. But everything worthwhile does. My work requires effort. Living in my community requires effort. Maintaining relationships and lines of communication. Eating well. Learning a language. Unlearning bad habits. Cleaning house. Gardening. Fixing your car. Making supper. Some days, getting out of bed in the morning.

It all requires effort. And it’s all worth doing.

If I didn’t do things that were hard work, I’d… I don’t know. Sit on my ass watching bad tv because it was too hard to find the lost remote and too hard to get off the couch? Watch life and opportunity and everything pass me by because it was too much work to seize the moment, make the change, do the thing I wanted to do?

My fingers pause over the keyboard. I’m not sure how to end this rant, which isn’t quite going where it started out heading. Then Ender putters in. He’s carrying a giant, giant rock. Into the kitchen—which means, he must have lugged it in from the garden, up the two flights of stairs.

“This hard work,” he says, with an oof, as he plops down for a rest beside me. “This hard work for a little me.” And I look at him in awe, because what’s the first thing that I was going to say in response to this amazing feat of toddler strength? I think it probably was going to be, “Then why did you do it?”

Ender gives another oof. “This hard work for a little me.” He looks with pride at the stone. “Me did it.”

You did it, dude. And that’s that.

Inner Child Art --Rescued!

Inner Child Art –Rescued! (Photo credit: Urban Woodswalker)

Post-script: So. The writer in me sat on this draft long enough that my seven-and-a-half year-old is now eight and change. But the inner child still wants to share it with you more or less in its original form. And she still has poor impulse control. Plus, her super-ego is rather tired this week.

Blogger love: I got the nicest cyber ego stroke from one of my absolute favourite daddy bloggers, @PapaAngst last week, in his post Balsa Wood Forever, and you should wander over to meet him if you don’t know him already. Actually calling him a daddy blogger does not do him justice: He’s a daddy and a blogger, but what he is, on line, is a story-crafter and talented writer. Who knows how to work his inner child just right.

Of the apocalypse, euphemisms and (un)potty training, 2

I.

Jane: I don’t understand. I don’t understand how two people who love each other as much as I know you two do can fight so much!

Flora: Oh, Mom. Don’t worry. We’re just like Sadie and Carter. (Sadie and Carter Kane, from The Kane Chronicles.)

Cinder: Yeah, we fight all the time…

Flora: … but we cooperate when it matters.

Cinder: Yeah, we’d totally work together to save the world. Right, Flora?

Flora: Right… Ouch! Why’d you punch me?

Cinder: The world is not in peril right now.

The Revelation of St John: 4. The Four Riders ...

II.

Cinder: Mom! I taught Ender a new word!

Jane: Oh, dear God. Do I want to hear this?

Cinder: Ender! What do you say?

Ender: Butt sack! Butt sack!

Jane: Butt sack?

Cinder: It’s a euphemism. Do you want to know for what?

Jane: No.

III.

Jane: Ender, beloved, the potty is right there. Why did you pee on the floor? Again?

Ender: I hate potty. I never pee in potty again.

Jane: Why?

Ender: Potty evil.

Jane: Cinder!

Cinder: What? Why are you assuming I told him the potty was evil?

Silence.

Cinder: Well, it’s not like he was using it much anyway.

IV.

Flora: Moooom! Maggie’s drinking pee!

Jane: What? Oh… no, that’s okay, that’s water.

Flora: You… gave… Maggie… water… in… Ender’s POTTY?

Jane: Well… it’s not like he’s using it these days.

(first published June 15, 2012)

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Blogosphere Love Payback Moment: I still haven’t properly reciprocated to the funny Momtimes4 for the Very Inspirational Blogger Award,  and now the ridiculously awesome and hilarious Jenn from Something Clever 2.0 has passed on The Liebster to me. Thank you, lovelies–it’s always nice to know you’re not just throwing words into the ether, right? And I’ll dot the T’s and cross the I’s–wait, that doesn’t sound right–of the pay-forward when I can do so with some focus and concentration. In the meantime: thank you much. And keep on laughing. Because it’s cheaper than drugs or therapy…

Embracing Chaos

A61

A61

or, unParenting unResolutions

“Mama? Big mama? Wake up, big mama. I love you so very very very much.”

This is how Ender sets up the mood for the day—ensuring that no matter what he flushes down the toilet or smashes into pieces with the meat mallet (“How the hell did he find it again? I hid it on top of the fridge!” “Judging by barstool beside the counter, and the stack of boxes on the counter, you don’t want to know.” “Oh, Kee-rist. How has this child not broken any bones yet?”), my first and most brilliant memory of the day is tickling butterfly kisses and expressions of love ultimate from the beloved beast who will spend the day terrorizing the house, the family, and if we let him outside, the neighbourhood.

He is who he is; he is three. He’s careening towards three-and-a-half (see Surviving 3.5 and 5.5: A cheat sheet for an exposition and some almost practical tips and tricks), and three-and-a-half for the boys I birth is the age of chaos. So as I prepare to say goodbye to 2012 and hello to 2013, I know that chaos and the Ender crazy will dominate much of the year.

And I make no resolutions to yell less. Or discipline more. I will lose my temper, and I will yell, and there will be days when, as I survey the destruction wrought by the whirlwind in the kitchen while I absented myself from his side for five minutes, I seriously ponder just how wrong it would be to put him in the dog’s kennel. Just, you know, for a little while. And there will be days—and weeks—when I’ll be counting the hours until bedtime from 11:15 a.m. And days when, as soon as Sean comes home, I will hand over the entire parenting business to him, and lock myself in the bathroom with a bottle—um, glass, I meant to type glass—of wine.

That’s part of the ride; part of the package. I’ve written elsewhere on that the ultimate secret behind parenting is; its close twin is this: every age and stage, every journey has tough stretches, challenging stretches. And they’re all necessary, and most of them are unavoidable, and happiness and peace lie in knowing that they just are. And not seeking perfection, from myself as mother, or from the child.

He’s so lucky, my Ender, my third. His eldest brother broke me in, thoroughly, and no sooner did I start to boast that I had “cracked the Cinder code,” Flora arrived, teaching me that I had learned absolutely nothing about the uniqueness that is her (bar that nursing every hour, every 15 minutes, or, what’s that word, constantly, is kind of normal) from my first years with the Cinder. By the time Ender arrived, all I knew, for sure, was this:

I love him, madly, fully, unconditionally, in all his guises.

He will exhaust me, challenge me, frustrate me, make me scream.

And I will love him still, and love him more.

As far as everything else goes? As he grows, I will learn him slowly, piece by piece, unique need by unique need. Sometimes well, sometimes badly. Sometimes I’ll fail him—and sometimes, I will do right by him even though in the moment he thinks I’m failing him completely. And maybe, at the end of it all, when he’s 30, 40, with his own children—in therapy—maybe he’ll despise me, blame me, reject me. I don’t know. All I know for sure, is this:

I love him, madly, fully, unconditionally, in all his guises.

He will exhaust me, challenge me, frustrate me, make me scream.

And I will love him still, and love him more.

More like this: Sunshine of Our Lives, or, How Toddlers Survive.

Blog Hop Report: I spent some of the weekend blog hopping at the TGIF Blog Hop hosted by You Know it Happens At Your House Too. What a fascinating variety of blogs, people and approaches to life, the universe and blogging.

I’d like to introduce you, if you do not know them already, to three mama-bloggers (but so much more) with attitude:

Jenn at Something Clever 2.0  (Twitter: @JennSmthngClvr)

Teri Biebel at Snarkfest (Twitter: @snarkfestblog)

Mollie Mills at A Mother Life (Twitter: @amotherlife)

And something completely different, a woman who took my breath away with her authenticity and boldness of voice from the first line of the first post I read of hers: Jupiter, “Eco-Redneck,Breeder,Stitch-Witch,Knittiot Savant & Whoreticulturist Extraordinaire” at crazy dumbsaint of the mind. I’m not going to attempt to explain her. If whoreticulturist is not a word that turns you off, the word sapiosexual turns you on, have a visit and get to know her. Otherwise, maybe not. Safe she is not.

Happy reading, happy blogging, happy living, and I will see in 2013. My year of chaos. Your year of… what?

xoxo

“Jane”

P.S. And if you’re having a slow New Year’s Eve at home with your kids and computer, check out Dani Ryan’s The Best of 2012 Blog Hop at Cloudy With a Chance of Wine.

Click-a-lot: Novembers of the Past Retrospective & A Slightly Self-Indulgent Blogosphere Group Hug

November

First, an invitation to take a walk through my fake archive:

One year ago in November (2011): Just in time for Christmas-mania, a reminder of what the 5 best toys of all time are, via Geek Dad. Before Ender: or what the psychic said (one of my most naked moments). Being Ender. Ender says Rock. Of Daddies and Grandpas. Art of War: The Lego Contest. Get Less Today!

Two years ago in November (2010): Baby Seductor.

Three years ago in November (2009): Of Brains and Cartilage. He’s a Keeper.

Photo (November) by Cape Cod Cyclists

Second, a thank you to my blogging friends Tatu at Wonderland by Tatu and Little Poppits (who’s real name or preferred handle I haven’t ferreted out yet) from Little Poppits for very sweetly passing the Beautiful Blogger Award on to me. I should also offer a belated thank you to Taurus Mom Tells The Truth and Oliva at The Slama Family Project for trying to pass the Tell Me About Yourself Award and the  One Lovely Blog Award to me in the very first day of the blog (my archive is all fake. OK, not fake–all the stories are REAL–written in other fora, but I launched the blog with a ready-made archive. Because I’m that kind of overachiever.)

A short interlude for the Beautiful Blogger Award Rules:

The idea behind the Beautiful Blogger Award is to recognize some of the bloggers we follow for their hard work and inspiration.

1. Copy the Beautiful Blogger Award logo and place it in your post.
 (Done. And what a technical achievement on my part.)

2. Thank the person who nominated you and link back to their blog.
 (Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. I know there’s a tendency to dismiss these things as an incestuous mutual love fest. But you know what? Moms need that. And Tatu and Little Poppets’ nominations came at a really tough week in my life, and were so appreciated.

3. Tell 7 things about yourself.
 (Coming just below)

4. Nominate 7 other bloggers for their own Beautiful Blogger Award, and comment on their blogs to let them know. (And that’s going to be a toughie… only seven, eh? I’ve only been digging around the blogosphere for a very short while, but I’m gathering a beautiful tribe around me.)

Seven things about me you probably don’t need to know…

1. My children can get me to do pretty much anything they want if they make Bambi eyes at me. Damn you, Calvin & Hobbes. I’m a permissive parent. And I’m ok with that.

2. I once interviewed former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney wearing a snot-covered skirt and no underwear. Because, during the “We don’t want you to go! Why do you have to go?” taxi ride to the airport, the toddler snotted all over my skirt and the pre-schooler took my change of clothes, undies and all, out of my carry-all. Fortunately, they did not abscond with the recorder. (If you’re Canadian and you care about the context for this story, it’s here in full. It’s kind of funny if you’re into Canadian politics. And writer-self-de-construction.)

3. If I ever make good on my threat to freecycle everything I own and travel the continent in an RV, I’m taking my Vitamix with me.

4. When I grow up, I want to be Rex Stout. Except for the beard. And the streak of misogyny. What I really mean is, I want to create a character as compelling as Archie Goodwin. Sometimes, late at night, I fantasize that I’m the woman who finally snared Archie Goodwin. We get married and yes, move into the brownstone. Nero Wolfe hates me… but over time, grudgingly comes to respect me. Until I start having babies…

5. My favourite Jane Austen hero is Henry Crawford. I would so reform him. But I worry I might be too tall for him… He’s barely five eight. I’m just five nine… but I have a thing for footwear of a certain type. Um, moving…

6. My house is only clean when I’m depressed and frustrated. When I’m happy and engaged in my work and my life—and when the children are at their most creative and engaged—the floor is crunchy, the walls are splattered with paint, the stove is spattered with deliciousness, the kitchen table is covered with art scraps, papers, science experiments and cookie crumbs, and the entry way is over-crowded with wet and muddy shoes.

So yes, if you ever come into my house and it’s sparking, the appropriate response is, “Honey, what’s wrong?”

7. There are exactly 98,437 reasons I love my husband, and the three beautiful children we made together are right up there, but most important of all is the fact that whenever he goes grocery shopping, he comes home with chocolate and whipped cream for me. That’s love, baby.

Seven Beautiful Bloggers

So because the award came from WonderlandbyTatu and LittlePoppits, they’ve each named a few of the people I’d be inclined to put on the list right away (Keeping It Real, MomTimes4, Best of Two Sisters, Motherhood Is An Art and Roll Over and Play Dad among them), but the purpose of the game is to spread the love, right? So, please let me introduce you to:

1. Fish Tank Mom. Marie’s my real-life soulmate and partner in crime, unschooling mom to four boys who offers me her unconditional love, support and wisdom no matter what I do. She’ll do the same for you through her posts.

2. Book Of Alice. She doesn’t know it yet, but blogger and writer extraordinaire Christine is raising my Ender’s future wife. I’m waiting until I know her a little better before I start the marriage negotiations.

3. Cloudy With a Chance of Wine. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I think WonderlandbyTatu and LittlePoppits are absolutely, unquestionably beautiful bloggers. Cloudy’s more of a kick-your-ass with an uber-sexy-boot blogger–which I think is the most beautiful of all. Someone else, I just saw, beat me to nominating her for something, but tough titties. This woman almost cast as a hooker in a Chinese soap opera. I need to give this award to her.

4. Wonder Farm. Patricia Zaballos is a former teacher, current writer, and all-around amazing human being who writes on alternative (or creative? or just awesome) approaches to education–one of my first cyber connections, and one of my most intellectually rewarding ones. And she’s just written a very exciting book! Check out her beautiful body of writing.

5. Confessions of a Mommyholic. Janine is also swimming in awards right now, so I will immediately exempt her (as I do all of you) from any compulsion to continue the madness and pass yet another one one, but I need to introduce her to those of you who don’t know her. She’s nothing like me. Her blog is nothing like mine. I adore her. I think it’s because she’s so thoroughly genuine… and I value and envy that quality.

6. World School Adventures. Amy and her family are living my dream. They’re currently in Thailand. I try to enjoy and not covet their adventures. Mostly, I fail. Mostly, I covet. And you will too.

7. An Untidy Life.  A brand-spanking new blogger. Mom to three funky boys, and one of the most fascinating people I know in real life has just started blogging about her family’s learning adventures, and I’m so thrilled. Connect with her. It will be a worthwhile experience.

And that is that. With the authority vested in me, I absolve all nominees from feeling like that need to perpetuate the award unless they really want to and will enjoy the process.

Come back to Nothing By The Book on Monday for an arrogant exposition on freely given attention.

xoxo

Jane

Octobers of the past retrospective

Pumpkins, photographed in Canada.

Ender turned three this month, and when I started this blog in the Spring of 2012, I created a “fake” archive going back to October 2009–the point of his arrival. (I had to start somewhere, right? And where better than with a birth story?) So as October wraps up, I’m looking back at the highlights from three Octobers past:

Three years ago in October:

Any Way They Have to Come, October 21, 2009
The Last Three Minutes, October 15, 2009

Two years ago in October:

Why Ender’s Ender, October 14, 2010

One year ago in October:

Cinder and Flora Become Hellenic Pagans, October 25, 2011
Emergency Pig’s Ear, October 21, 2011
Don’t you know skin falls off? October 5, 2011

…and sending out belated Canadian Thanksgiving “thank you’s” to the universe for Ender, Flora, Cinder–Sean–and my entire, ridiculously privileged life.

Of first words, scheming mothers, and rewriting history

Flora: Was my first word really Bubba?

Jane: Sure was. That’s what you called Cinder.

Flora: Bubba sounds nothing like Cinder.

Jane: But it sounds a bit like Brother, right? I was always saying, “Brother loves you, Flora,” or “Let’s go see Brother,” and so you turned it into “Bubba.”

Flora: What was Cinder’s first word?

Pause. I’m still bitter.

Jane: um… Anya.

Anya was the name of our beloved Doberman. Cinder’s oldest “sister.” Anya was three when Cinder was born, and worked very hard to keep Cinder from learning to crawl or walk.

Flora: Really? What was his second word?

Jane: um… Doggie.

Flora: Really? Not Mama?

Jane: No. Not Mama.

OK, it’s stupid to be bitter about this, right? What does it matter that his first word was Anya, and the second word was doggie, and…

Flora: And his third word was Mama, right?

Jane: No. His third word was Dadda.

This is the part where I start to think I shouldn’t have written all of this down. If I hadn’t documented it, I could rewrite history, right? I’d even let “Dadda” be his first word. “Mama” would be second.

Flora: And then Mama?

Jane: Um, no. Then… stuff like “Yes.” “No.” “More.” Mama was… well, I wasn’t keeping track of first word, second word by the time mama came along if you know what I mean.

Flora: And my first word was “Bubba.”

Jane: Yup. And then Anya, and Dadda. And then Mama.

Fourth word. Not that I’m counting. 

Flora: So what was Ender’s first word?

We both turn to look at Ender, who’s sitting in his car seat smearing whipped cream all over his face and spilling hot chocolate everywhere, a picture of gluttony and happiness and innocence. And I… I seize the moment.

Jane: Mama. Ender’s first word was Mama.

Flora: Oh, you must have been so happy.

Jane: Yes, yes, I was. It took three babies, but finally, I had one whose first word was…

Ender: My first word was Monkey.

I don’t want you to think that I’m the sort of person who’s capable of looking at her child with loathing. But there was a look.

Jane: No. Your first word was Mama.

Ender: No. It was Monkey.

Jane: It was Mama. I remember.

Ender: It was Monkey. Hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo.

Sigh.

Sloth monkey

Of the apocalypse, euphemisms and (un)potty training

I.

Jane: I don’t understand. I don’t understand how two people who love each other as much as I know you two do can fight so much!

Flora: Oh, Mom. Don’t worry. We’re just like Sadie and Carter. (Sadie and Carter Kane, from The Kane Chronicles.)

Cinder: Yeah, we fight all the time…

Flora: … but we cooperate when it matters.

Cinder: Yeah, we’d totally work together to save the world. Right, Flora?

Flora: Right… Ouch! Why’d you punch me?

Cinder: The world is not in peril right now.

The Revelation of St John: 4. The Four Riders ...

II.

Cinder: Mom! I taught Ender a new word!

Jane: Oh, dear God. Do I want to hear this?

Cinder: Ender! What do you say?

Ender: Butt sack! Butt sack!

Jane: Butt sack?

Cinder: It’s a euphemism. Do you want to know for what?

Jane: No.

III.

Jane: Ender, beloved, the potty is right there. Why did you pee on the floor? Again?

Ender: I hate potty. I never pee in potty again.

Jane: Why?

Ender: Potty evil.

Jane: Cinder!

Cinder: What? Why are you assuming I told him the potty was evil?

Silence.

Cinder: Well, it’s not like he was using it much anyway.

IV.

Flora: Moooom! Maggie’s drinking pee!

Jane: What? Oh… no, that’s okay, that’s water.

Flora: You… gave… Maggie… water… in… Ender’s POTTY?

Jane: Well… it’s not like he’s using it these days.

Snot. A boy’s best friend. Not.

I’m cuddling the Ender before bedtime and he’s sniffling and snuffling and yup, there’s a big booger up the nostril. And I look at that booger and I become obsessed: IT MUST COME OUT NOW! So I reach and snatch it—Ender wails at the intrusion of his personal space and the violation of the mother-toddler nursing contract (Section 4.3.12 “The mother shall not use the promixity of nursing as an excuse to a. Pick the nursling’s nose, b. Scrape cradle cap off the nusling’s scalp, c. Clip the nursling’s fingernails or toenails)—and I am immediately punished. For there I am, all settled for the night in bed, with a giant booger on my finger… and not a tissue in sight.

I look at Ender. He looks at me. He has this, “Well, you’re the dolt who took that out of my nose. It wasn’t bother me at all” look on his face. I’m pretty sure I have a speculative look on my face. He’s my third baby, see, and my other two, well, they shared a habit that would be very useful right now. Yup. They ate snot. Which at the time struck me as horribly, terribly gross—but now I find myself thinking was a pretty useful thing to do.

I can’t believe I’m about to do this. I look at the booger.

Want to eat it?” I ask Ender. Ender looks back at me. His little eyebrows go up. His little eyes go round. And very slowly, very solemnly, he shakes his head.

Yuck,” he says. “You eat it, Mommy.”

It took me three kids, but I finally got one that won’t eat snot. This is good news, I remind myself. But there’s that booger on my finger.

I play my last card.

Your brother would eat it,” I say.

Cause he would. When Cinder was this age—two-and-a-half and change, my life revolved around snot. His snot. Flora’s new baby snot. Her lack of snot. Here are the four bestest snottiest moments:

They share everything

So we’re in the nursing chair, Flora sucking away and holding on for dear life, Cinder climbing on my head, and me 1) reading (for the 7th time that day, god help me, perhaps I can accidentally “lose it”) Pooh’s Grand Adventure, 2) trying to keep Cinder from falling on his pantless bum, or 3) landing on his sister’s head, when all of a sudden Cinder leans over, pats Flora’s face, and says something. I’m sure I heard him wrong. I squint, I ask him to repeat. He says it again. I think, I can’t possibly be hearing that right. I say, “One more time, sweetie?”

I jus’ put some of my snot in Flora’s nose.” (From Life’s Archives, March 22, 2005)

Things I’d never thought I’d say…

3:30 a.m, “Mama, wake up, I have a booger!”

Hmm?”

Should I eat it?”

No… ah… here, give it to me, I’ll put it on the wall…”

3:56 a.m. “Mama, I have another booger. Should I put it on the wall?”

Yes.” (From Life’s Archives, July 9, 2005)

They share everything still

J: Cinder, what are you doing?

C: Oh, hi, mama. I’m giving Flora some of my snot, because she doesn’t have any. (From Life’s Archives, July 13, 2005)

Why does my life revolve around snot?

Here’s the sequel:

C: Mama, look, Flora has a mosquito in her hair.

J: Oh, no. Oh. It’s not a mosquito. It’s… snot… how on earth did snot get in Flora’s hair? (minute examination of Flora’s nose for signs of a cold)

C: Oh, I remember. I put a booger there in the night.

J: ??? Why did you do that, sweetie?

C: I couldn’t reach the wall. (From Life’s Archives, July 19, 2005)

2012. “Your brother would eat it,” I repeat. Ender gives me the Look. And very slowly rolls away from me.

Yuck,” he repeats.

I put tissues, box of, on the shopping list.

Nose diagram.

Nose diagram. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Being Ender Redux

I originally wrote this essay in November 2011, for the 2011 Family Christmas Book. But given Ender’s performances over the last few days, it seems appropriate to revisit it today.

Meet Ender. Little brother of Flora and Cinder. Son of Jane and Sean. Big brother of Maggie. Charmer of the entire world. Proof that gorgeous, grinning children never get disciplined, even when they’re doing things that make you want to sell them to the gypsies. Or, in the modern parlance, to put them up on Kijiji. “Free, to a good home: a two-year-old with attitude…”

Actually, Ender doesn’t have attitude―at least not in the way most people define it when they use it with reference to a child. Really, what passes for a cranky Ender or a distraught Ender is still an incredibly happy, easy Ender. It’s quite amazing. We sometimes engage in the the not-very-productive nurture versus nature debate. Is Ender the way he is because, well, that’s just the way he is? Or is he the way he is because he’s the third child, the one who has had to accommodate to everyone else’s set patterns and quirks, the one who got the already trained, relaxed parents?

We’ll never know. We just have to enjoy him. Adore him. And make more of an effort to document him, so he doesn’t totally resent us when he grows up and asks for where all the Ender stories are.

So, some Ender stories from 2011, as remembered by Cinder and Flora and his parents.

The most disgusting thing Ender has done to date: sucked on the toilet brush. And not on the end you hold. Think of that next time you kiss him.

The most embarrassing thing Ender has ever said: Rock, rock, rock, rock, rock! Rock! At the top of his lungs in the Glenbow Museum. Except it didn’t sound like rock. The r sounded like an f and the o like the short u. Yeah.

Look what I taught the baby to do, Mom,” Part I: Ender, running down the hall naked after Maggie, swinging a hot pink Lego foam sword, yelling, “Die, puppy, die!”

Look what I taught the baby to do, Mom,” Part II: R: “Ender, show Mommy the moon. The moon, Ender. Remember?” (Yes, the next frame is Ender taking off his diaper.)

The most adorable thing Ender does after pummelling Flora in the head with something hard: “Awie, Flora? Awie, Flora? En-duh kiss.”

The most adorable thing Ender does for no reason at all: Go up and down the stairs, singing, “En-duh-en-en-en-duh. En-en-en-duh. En-duh!”

How to get Ender to eat pretty much anything: Indicate that you would like to eat it.

How to get Ender to play with this trains, cars, or pretty much anything else: Decide you need to put them away.

The price of getting supper on the table with an Ender underfoot if Flora and Cinder are away: A flooded kitchen. He loves to play in the sink.

The price of washing the kitchen floor with an Ender helping: A flooded kitchen.

The price of five minutes of peace on the telephone: A flooded kitchen.

The thing I never thought I’d say before Ender: “For God’s sake, stop biting the dog!”

The day Ender discovered dinosaurs: November 23, 2011.

Most memorable quote Ender elicited from Cinder: “Mom, are you putting that pink diaper on him again? He’s a baby―he’s not colour-blind or stupid!”

Most memorable quote Ender elicited from Flora: “Now’s my chance to turn Ender into my slave!”

Ender’s word for penguins: “Fish birdies!”

Ender’s word for turtles: “Rock puppies!”

Flora’s favourite thing to do with Ender: Colour his face with Sharpies.

Flora’s least favourite thing to do with Ender: Change his diaper.

Best conversation Ender caused between his parents: S: “Hurry! I need to pee and the baby is grabbing the camera, the box of nails and my beer!” J: “Where are you?” S: “In the bathroom! Hurry!” J: “Your camera, box of nails, and beer are in the bathroom?” S: “Now is not the time to discuss the inappropriateness of me putting all these things in the bathroom sink. Just save my beer… and the camera. He can have the box of nails.”

Most frequent Facebook comment Ender has elicited from his mother: “Sunrises are over-rated.”

Best Greek myth analogy: From August 16, 2011: “Today, Flora is Hermes, messenger of the gods. Cinder is Hades. And we are all agreed Ender is Chaos personified.”

But the bestest Chaos personified you could ever ask for.

Before Ender

… or what the psychic said

The cards were laid out on the picnic table, and the psychic was looking at them pensively. “Interesting,” she said. “Well, I’d say you’re definitely going to have another child. A boy—but not at all like Cinder. Very artistic, very creative—I see him as an artist, a musician? And I see him as… well, this is an intrusive question, but did you lose a baby? Because I see him as someone who’s tried to be born to you before and it didn’t happen, and he’s trying again.”

Well. You know me. Smart-ass cynic, and psychic predications and tarot cards are a fun amusement, and nothing more. But I was a little shaken. It was the summer of 2008, and Janine Morigeau, neighbour, friend and Tarot card reader extraordinaire, was giving us short readings in the sunshine of the Common. I asked the question that had been pressing on me for some time, “Would Sean and I have more children?”

I’ve always wanted more—he not so much—but after our experience with the pregnancy that gave us Flora, we were loath to do it again. And ever since we lost our little baby that would have been born sometime in July 2004, we’ve intermittently talked about adoption. In the months immediately following the miscarriage, I was so shaken and broken and empty, I didn’t think I could face the risk of that again. And when Flora started to grow in me, the first months of the pregnancy were marred by an overwhelming fear that I would lose her… to be replaced, in the second half by the scary—fortunately, as it turned out, utterly erroneous—results of the ultrasound that I would lose her after she was born.

Throughout 2008, we talked and pondered and weighed. By the time Janine read my cards that summer, we had made a decision: no pregnancy, but more babies. Adoption. And for various reasons, we made the decision to adopt from “the system”—i.e., Alberta Children’s Services. We filled out the paperwork (there was a lot of it), took the pre-screening tests, and, in October and November 2008, took the intensive Adoptive Parents Preparation Course.

The first parts of the course had us—well, me anyway, I think Sean was more cautious from the start—fantasizing about our new, bigger family. We wouldn’t adopt just one child, but two. Why not? We had so much to give: so much love, a wonderful family-and-friends support system, a lifestyle absolutely suited to help children “with issues” thrive.

And then we got to the final day, a session focused entirely on FASD. Now, even going into the process, we were not nearly selfless enough to plan for an FASD child. We knew that even a very young child from the System would come with issues, with trauma, and would require extra love, work and effort… but we did not think we were equipped to deal with an FASD child. The seminar on FASD cemented that. To their credit, the Alberta Children’s Services people did not try to soft pedal the issue. “Strategies, Not Solutions” was the title and theme of the presentation. They discussed environments and structures that help FASD children and their families cope… but that was the language. “Cope.” “Manage.” “Support.” It was god-awful.

And then there was the statistic. 30 per cent of the children in the system are already diagnosed with FASD. 90 per cent come from homes in which maternal drinking is/was a factor. I couldn’t get passed those numbers. We wanted a young child—preferably a baby. But where FASD is involved, early intervention just doesn’t mean what you’d think it ought to mean.

I was shattered. It was funny, because entering the process, I was much more enthused about adoption than Sean—he had his two perfect babies and all was fine with his reproductive world. At the end of the seminars, he was more comfortable than I. We would be excellent adoptive parents, so good for one of these troubled children. He saw the FASD risk—but it didn’t paralyze him as it did me. It paralyzed me completely. The couple who led the seminar had three biological children and one adopted FASD daughter, the youngest child. They were in their 60s now, and she an adult—and they were still actively parenting her. And when they died, her siblings would have to parent her.

I couldn’t do that, and I couldn’t bequeath that to Cinder and Flora.

A part of me still regrets this decision: wishes I could have been more selfless, more giving. But, but. So it was, the decision was made.

But I very, very badly still wanted more children, and Sean very, very badly loved me and wanted to make me happy even if the idea of me pregnant again terrified him, and by January 2009, a little Ender was growing. Best as we can tell, he got made in beautiful Mazatlan, which would account for his sunny disposition.

The pregnancy was awful. I spent the first two months of it flat on my back or crawling on all fours as my ligaments loosened and my joints left their proper spots, and the last two months, between the slipped SI joints, dislocated pelvis, and pinched sciatic nerve—that left most of my right leg with no feeling in it—barely able to walk. The last five weeks of it, sleepless, exhausted, in prodromal labour. And in one incredible, amazing moment, it was all over, all forgotten, none of it mattered, and I’d do it again, again, again, if the end result was anything like this: my beautiful, beautiful, perfect Ender, my third most miraculous of miracles.

This is the story of his first year. This post was originally written as the introduction to The Story of E, our 2010 Family Christmas Book. To read about how Ender joined us, go to The Last Three Minutes.

Being Ender

This is an essay written specifically for the 2011 Family Christmas Book: As I’m putting 2011 to bed and doing a late-night proof of the book―a sloppy light night proof, as I know you’re mostly looking at the pictures―I’m struck by how Ender-light the text of the book is. And slightly shocked, because the days and the hours are extremely Ender-heavy. Ender and Ender’s life stage dominates everything right now: how little I work, how early I go to bed, how early I rise. How diligent Cinder (also known as Austen) has to be about hiding his Lego projects―how on top of putting away her markers and paints Flora needs to be if she doesn’t want to find them in the fish tank, the garbage or the toilet. Ender’s absence from most of the text of 2011, however, reflects the reality of what I’ve been writing in 2011: not an awful lot for love and pleasure. Most of the stories about Cinder and Flora come from the need to document their homeschooling; if it weren’t for the progress reports, learning plans and other tidbits for the portfolio, there wouldn’t be nearly as much Cinder and Flora content either.

 But before we end 2011, we need to give Mr. E his own story. We can’t have the third child feeling any more neglected than he is bound to feel…

Meet Ender. Little brother of Flora and Cinder. Son of Jane and Sean. Big brother of Maggie. Charmer of the entire world. Proof that gorgeous, grinning children never get disciplined, even when they’re doing things that make you want to sell them to the gypsies. Or, in the modern parlance, to put them up on Kijiji. “Free, to a good home: a two-year-old with attitude…”

Actually, Ender doesn’t have attitude―at least not in the way most people define it when they use it with reference to a child. Really, what passes for a cranky Ender or a distraught Ender is still an incredibly happy, easy Ender. It’s quite amazing. We sometimes engage in the the not-very-productive nurture versus nature debate. Is Ender the way he is because, well, that’s just the way he is? Or is he the way he is because he’s the third child, the one who has had to accommodate to everyone else’s set patterns and quirks, the one who got the already trained, relaxed parents?

We’ll never know. We just have to enjoy him. Adore him. And make more of an effort to document him, so he doesn’t totally resent us when he grows up and asks for where all the Ender stories are.

So, some Ender stories from 2011, as remembered by Cinder and Flora and his parents.

The most disgusting thing Ender has done to date: sucked on the toilet brush. And not on the end you hold. Think of that next time you kiss him.

The most embarrassing thing Ender has ever said: Rock, rock, rock, rock, rock! Rock! At the top of his lungs in the Glenbow Museum. Except it didn’t sound like rock. The r sounded like an f and the o like the short u. Yeah.

Look what I taught the baby to do, Mom,” Part I: Ender, running down the hall naked after Maggie, swinging a hot pink Lego foam sword, yelling, “Die, puppy, die!”

Look what I taught the baby to do, Mom,” Part II: R: “Ender, show Mommy the moon. The moon, Ender. Remember?” (Yes, the next frame is Ender taking off his diaper.)

The most adorable thing Ender does after pummelling Flora in the head with something hard: “Awie, Flora? Awie, Flora? En-duh kiss.”

The most adorable thing Ender does for no reason at all: Go up and down the stairs, singing, “En-duh-en-en-en-duh. En-en-en-duh. En-duh!”

How to get Ender to eat pretty much anything: Indicate that you would like to eat it.

How to get Ender to play with this trains, cars, or pretty much anything else: Decide you need to put them away.

The price of getting supper on the table with an Ender underfoot if Flora and Cinder are away: A flooded kitchen. He loves to play in the sink.

The price of washing the kitchen floor with an Ender helping: A flooded kitchen.

The price of five minutes of peace on the telephone: A flooded kitchen.

The thing I never thought I’d say before Ender: “For God’s sake, stop biting the dog!”

The day Ender discovered dinosaurs: November 23, 2011.

Most memorable quote Ender elicited from Cinder: “Mom, are you putting that pink diaper on him again? He’s a baby―he’s not colour-blind or stupid!”

Most memorable quote Ender elicited from Flora: “Now’s my chance to turn Ender into my slave!”

Ender’s word for penguins: “Fish birdies!”

Ender’s word for turtles: “Rock puppies!”

Flora’s favourite thing to do with Ender: Colour his face with Sharpies.

Flora’s least favourite thing to do with Ender: Change his diaper.

Best conversation Ender caused between his parents: S: “Hurry! I need to pee and the baby is grabbing the camera, the box of nails and my beer!” J: “Where are you?” S: “In the bathroom! Hurry!” J: “Your camera, box of nails, and beer are in the bathroom?” S: “Now is not the time to discuss the inappropriateness of me putting all these things in the bathroom sink. Just save my beer… and the camera. He can have the box of nails.”

Most frequent Facebook comment Ender has elicited from his mother: “Sunrises are over-rated.”

Best Greek myth analogy: From August 16: “Today, Flora is Hermes, messenger of the gods. Cinder is Hades. And we are all agreed Ender is Chaos personified.”

But the bestest Chaos personified you could ever ask for.

Why Ender’s Ender

Ender turned one today, and never was a first birthday celebrated with more enthusiasm. Austen and Flora ooo-ed, aaa-ed and crooned over their baby brother all day long. All week long. All month long—all year long. They really are amazing, amazing, loving siblings.

Now, you’ve probably noticed Ender is not an ordinary baby. I never thought either Austen or Flora was a high-maintenance, high-needs baby—one of my core parenting beliefs is that babies cry to communicate, and need to be held, carried, cuddled and adored as much as is possible. Both Austen and Flora were fairly content babies. Ender, during his first year, has been a ridiculously happy baby. He’s happy when he wakes up. He’s happy when he gets tired and sleepy. He’s even mostly happy when he’s sick. He smiles and laughs and ga-ga-ga-s at everyone. He’s singlehandedly responsible for a huge baby explosion in Calgary and environs in the summer and fall of 2010. People would hold him, fall in love hopelessly, and go and make one of their own.

Why is Ender this little ray of (mischevious) sunshine? One astounded person—who apparently spent very little time paying attention to what was going in my life during this pregnancy!–told me it must be because I was so cheerful and happy when he was in utero. Ha! The best thing I can say about my mood for all but the two middle, pain-light months of the ordeal was that most of the time I succeeded in not inflicting too much of it onto the rest of my family. Ender certainly does not reflect my mental state during his first months of creation.

But he does reflect this: most mornings, when he wakes up, he is next to at least one beating heart, and frequently three or our. When he opens his eyes, and looks around, there are people who love him everywhere—not just mom, not just dad, but a Austen and a Flora, and those two often faster and more responsive to the baby’s wake up gurgle than the parents. He has lived, from his first day outside the womb, surrounded by people who love him. And his nuclear family is just the beginning. He knows his neighbours, and has been loved and cared for by them since he was born. And not just occasionally: they are always in and our of our house and we in and our of theirs. He’s fallen asleep in Lisa’s arms and on Janine’s knee. He’s been rocked to sleep by Paul, fed by Sabina, chased around the playground by Jen and Sara. All of our children have been loved and spoiled by their grandparents, but the relationships between the grandparents and the children took time to build. Ender inherits all of them, all seven years of rituals, games, and comfort. He doesn’t have to get to know certain people: he picks up on Austen and Flora’s cues and accepts them. They love and trust, he cares and trusts.

Happy birthday my precious third miracle. I’m so very, very, very happy you decided to join our family. You complete us, and you make us better. We love you.

The Most Important Word

Cinder: Ender, I’m going to teach you how to spell your first word. It’s the most important word for a baby to know. Ready? The first letter is B. You might think I’m spelling bum or barf, but no. I’ll teach you those later. B-O-O. No, I know what you’re thinking, it’s not Booger. Ok, where were we? B-O-O… and B. B-O-O-B. See? Isn’t that the most important word for a baby to know? I’ll teach you Booger tomorrow.

November? What November?

How you know I had a baby in October: I don’t remember November. Apparently, we went to a few homeschool days and even joined a craft co-op. I filed my first post-baby story on November 9―just a 900 word, no-interview column―and started interviewing for my first real story in the last week of November―talking with the CEO of Deloitte’s on November 22nd while breastfeeding Ender, Austen and Flora playing with their trains underfoot. Somewhere in the middle of all that, my aunt arrived from Poland and started cooking up a storm for us. Stuff happened. Good stuff. But I honestly don’t remember.

Austen and Flora adjusted extremely well, possibly more in love with their baby brother than I was. (Nah, impossible. No one could love him more than I do. But they came pretty damn close).

Blame It On The Pigs

We celebrated Ender’s arrival by coming down with H1N1 (we think). Do you remember that? The pandemic that wasn’t? Austen wasn’t quite himself by the time Dziadzia came to stay with him and Flora and Sean and I left for the hospital; by the time Sean went to see the children that night, they were both wheezing, coughing and sniffling. In the night, Austen struggled for breath in Babi’s arms. By the time Ender was ready to come home, both Austen and Flora were too sick to come home. They spent two days sick at Babi and Dziadzia’s—until they infected Babi and Dziadzia and made them too sick to take care of the kids. By then, Sean was was wheezing too, so we brought the kids home—under orders to frequently wash their hands and not breathe on Ender. (We somehow managed to infect Adam and Aga too.) (Babi & Dziadzia = the grandparents; parents of Jane. Now you know.)

It sounds awful: it was actually wonderful. They were wiped and tired. So for about two weeks, we all mostly sat in the big bed, watching movies, reading books, nursing Ender, and napping together. It was a wonderful bonding experience, and a nice, gentle introduction into being a family of five. Neighbours and friends brought us dinners—as did Babi when she recovered. I’ve always hated the rush of people wanting to come see the new baby, wanting to hold the new baby, and my dream post-partum month would see me in bed with the baby, skin-on-skin, sleeping and feeding, and not doing much more than that. And that’s what we got—we put the house under quarantine, declined visitors, and enjoyed a real babymoon. All thanks to the swine flu. Thanks, pigs!

Our Doberman Anya added some unexpected drama to those first weeks, by, for the first time in her 11 year life, running away. The front door was left open… and she—nose put out of joint by the new baby? Or for some other, secret dog reason—wandered outside, down the alley, and onto the hill. She meandered up and down. By the time we realized she was gone and scrambled forces to look for her—the entire family and half the co-op combed the hill and the neighbourhood shouting for Anya—some kind people had taken her home for the night. We got her back the next day, none the worse for her adventure—perhaps even slightly better off, for her rescuers had given her wet dog food and a rawhide chew bone.

Austen to Ender: “Are you ready for the morning nippling process? You should have seen the yummy breakfast mama had—the milk will be extra delicious!

Any Way They Have To Come…

This is the long version of Ender’s arrival, the last 12 or so hours, written for and published in  Birthing magazine.

As dawn breaks over Calgary’s first winter snowstorm in  October 2009, I’m 14 days post-estimated-due-date and on the parking lot usually known as Crowchild Trail, en route to the Rockyview Hospital for an induction.

“It’s a good thing you’re not really in labour,” Sean, my partner, says. “Or else we really would be having this baby in the van.”

Ha ha ha. I try not to get angry at my uterus, cervix, DNA code—whichever part of me it is that is not working the way I think it ought to. I try to be philosophical. They come as they must, and all that matters is that they come, healthy, safe. I almost believe it.

By 9 a.m., I’m in a snazzy butt-less hospital gown. I keep my Wicked Witch of the East socks on; they make me happy. The IV’s on—five weeks of prodromal labour and two cervical rimmings haven’t dilated the cervix enough to break my water, so the Oxytocin is flowing.

And nothing is happening. Nurse Kim, with whom I immediately fall in love, jacks up the dose every 30 minutes. By 11 a.m., there are contractions—sort of. I have a nap.

Noon comes. Then 1 p.m. … and exciting news: not quite 3 cm, but dilated enough for the doctor to break my water. Gush. Beautiful, clear liquid flows out of me and I relax, completely, and collapse on the bed. I had no idea how terrified I was I’d see meconium until that moment. It’s all good. Everything will be fine. The fetal monitor stops bugging me; I don’t feel the IV.

Nurse Kim turns down the flow on it a bit because, she says, it’s quite high, and now that my water’s broken, things could really pick up.

Except they don’t. The contractions just about disappear. We crank it up again. And again.

In the end, it’s Robin Williams who does it. In the hospital birthing room, we find a VHS of Birdcage and while we watch it, I laugh so hard I pee myself—well, it might just be more amniotic fluid leaking out. And the contractions build. And build. Soon I have to really breathe. Then close my eyes and breathe. Yes!

“How are things?” Nurse Kim asks at 4 p.m. “Good!” I announce. “That last one really, really hurt.” “That’s not the response I usually get,” she laughs. “But good to hear.”

So here’s my un-plan plan. Oxytocin-induced contractions, I amply remember from my induced miracle one, are not like natural contractions. The best way I can think of to describe the difference is that, if you think of contractions in terms of waves with peaks, induced contractions tend to have multiple “heads”—and you don’t come down off them as fully as you do off the “natural” thing. So a “natural” birth on Oxytocin—in other words, a non-medicated birth—I just don’t think I can do it. Not for three days (length of active labour with miracle one), not for two days (miracle two), and not for 24 hours. I’m going to stay epidural-free for as long as I can—7 p.m. is the mental goal line—and then, I’ll ask for the meds.

The contractions are building. After five weeks of prodromal labour, characterized by contractions that went nowhere, I’m thrilled. 5 p.m. comes. 6 p.m. The doctor checks the dilation.

“I’ll call it 4,” she says.

“What?” one bloody centimeter in the last five hours? One lousy centimeter? Gah! A contraction takes my mind off the outrage. The doctor asks me, between contractions, if I’d mind if a resident came in to observe the birth. I nod. Whatever. What birth? This baby is never coming!

I focus on my body, on my belly, on the little person inside. I feel his heartbeat. He’s working hard too. We’ll do this. However long it takes.

Nurse Kim’s shift ends at 7 p.m. She’s reluctant to go: “I want to be here for the arrival!” she says. We check the dilation again. “Should I say five to make you feel better?” says Kim.

I’m pretty sure I use some bad words. “No,” I say. “Fine. That’s fine.” But it’s not and I give up. I’ll take an epidural the next time an anesthetist’s around, I say.

Nurse Kim hands me off to Nurse Sue. She has warm hands. She says the anaesthetist is on the ward, could be here in a few minutes. “Should we get the bed ready?” I’ve been on it in a squatting position, holding onto bars. The bars have to come down, the bed to go up… I have to sit on the side, she explains, slumped over a pillow… her voice fades in and out.

I look at the clock. It’s 7:20. I’m not even five centimetres. And tired. And having another ridiculously medicated birth that will go on forever…

“OK,” I say. “But I have to go to the bathroom first.” The room seems very, very full and very loud.

I void everything, and think about puking, decide not to. Sean pokes his head in. “Everything ok?” I nod. “Ready to come out?” Not really. I don’t really want the spinal. I don’t want to have to be told when to push. I don’t want to not feel my legs. … I don’t really want to be in the room full of people again.

Sean pokes his head in again. Worried. He shepherds me and my IV back to the bed. Nurse Sue helps get me into the “position”—which I promptly get out of, as a the mother of all contractions rocks my world. I scream.

Baby number three, and this is my first birthing scream. It feels so good. And it hurts. Oh, it hurts. 30 seconds, 60 seconds, 90 seconds. I scream again. I have become, in the last five or so hours, an expert in time keeping. This is 30 seconds and this is 60. This is the pause – 30 seconds, sometimes 45, occasionally a long, blissful 60. And here we go again, 30 seconds… no, here’s the mother of all contractions again and I only had five seconds of down time. What is this? 30… 60… 90… 120…

“Why won’t this contraction end!” I scream. There is nothing left on the bed to hold on to. My legs are wrapped around Sean, my back is arched against my mother, and I’m screaming with my whole self, except for one teeny tiny part of me which is thinking that I should remember this post-partum, should miracle number three be a colicky or fussy baby: when you’re in certain types of pain, all you can do is scream.

“Jane, is the baby coming?” Nurse Sue cries out.

It seems to me an incredibly stupid thing to say.

“How should I know?” I snap. I disengage one leg from around Sean’s waist and stick it up into the air.

“Um… I think that’s the head,” Sean says weakly.

Honestly, I don’t connect the dots. I’m still doing math. 150, 180… I am so overdue for a break… 210…

“Push the red button,” Nurse Sue tells Sean. There’s a scramble. “What button?” “There.” “This one?” Sean yanks it out of the wall. There’s noise of feet, and the full room feels fuller. (Later, I find out pushing the button summons the doctor. Yanking it out of the wall screams emergency and sends all available staff running.)

I scream again.

“Don’t scream—push!” someone hollers. My mother, whose arm I’m in the process of breaking, snaps back, “It’s her labour and she can scream if she wants to!” She’s up in arms. It’s sweet. But I think… pushing’s a good idea. Yeah, I should do that. Definitely a good idea.

I push. Once.

And he arrives. Just like that, me on my side, one leg wrapped around Sean, one leg up in air, he slides into Nurse Sue’s arms.

“And he’s here. Your baby’s here,” she says, and I collapse, the pain is gone—the memory of it is gone. He’s here, he’s here.

Nurse Sue puts him on my chest and he’s purple and slimy and the most shockingly beautiful thing in the world. I look at him and he looks at me, and we drink each other, and at some point the doctor runs in and there’s a technical discussion going on at the foot of the bed about time of birth (“7:39 p.m.”), when I started to push (“Well, I’d say… 7:38 p.m.”), and all those fascinating details needed for the paperwork (incidentally, the doctor—and not Nurse Sue—got credit for the delivery, but now you know how it really was). I hear it through a filter whose name is Ender.

Our miracles come into our lives any way they need to come. My little miracle wriggles on my chest. He is healthy and perfect in everyway. He starts rooting for the nipple. The arrival is over; the real adventure begins.

The Last Three Minutes

…of Ender’s (otherwise atrociously long) arrival

Me: Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaah! Why … Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaah! won’t Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaah! this Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaah! contraction Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaah! end? HELP ME!
Nurse Sue: Jane, is the baby coming?
Me: How… Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaah! the fuck Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaah! should I know?
Sean: That’s the head!
Nurse Sue: Push the red button?
Sean: What red button?
Me: Aaaaaaah!
Someone else (who ran into the room post-red button pushing): Stop screaming and use that energy to push that baby out!
My mom to the above: Shut up! She’s doing great!
Me: aaah… mmmmmmmm
Sean: Oh my god he’s out.
Me: [collapse and utter joy, incoherent babbling]
Doctor (entering room): What’s… oh my god, there’s the baby. When did she start pushing?
Nurse Sue: Well, the baby was born at 7:38, so I’d say 7:37.

39 Weeks And 6 Days

39 weeks and six days of gestation—our third baby is almost here—and I’m on my hands and knees in the bathroom at 2 a.m., retching. The nausea comes on suddenly in the night, apparently unprompted by anything other than my body deciding to experience a few more pregnancy symptoms before it’s all over. It hasn’t been the easiest of pregnancies this time around—if I’m brutally honest, there have been considerable stretches of it when my answer to the question, “How are you feeling?” was an unequivocal “Never felt worse in my life, dear god, how much more of this can I endure?”—but it’s been relatively nausea free. I’m making up for it this week.

Sean, once again, feels helpless and frustrated. “Is there anything you need, love?” he asks from the bedroom. Between retches, I vocalize “No.” “Do you think the baby’s sitting on your stomach again?” he asks, sleepy but concerned. That’s our theory behind my intermittent night puking of the last week. Or has it been two? In response, I retch again—shut the door and turn on the fan to drown the noise.

It’s tough on Sean. He’d like to push a button on me to “fix it”—a back rub, a foot massage, a magic drink? I think this is why tough pregnancies are so tough on male partners—and in many cases marriages. They can’t fix it, they don’t know what to do, and they go from feeling helpless to useless to … worse.

It’s tough on me, too, of course… but different. Isn’t it? This last stretch—so exhausting, so frustrating, so painful, and we haven’t even hit the “hard” part of active labour yet—is tough, tough, tough and turning me into a big fat whiner… who swears she will never, ever EVER yearn for a baby in tummy again, she’s done, go ahead and get that vasectomy tomorrow if you wish, sweetheart, because I am not going through this again for anything, not ever… but I know that when that baby pops out, amnesia will start to set in. Perhaps not right away—perhaps it will take a few weeks or few months—but that “never, ever, oh god, how is it that I’ve been able to endure this?” feeling will give way first, to wonder and gratitude at the little miracle in my arms, then conviction that this of-me-now-out-of-me creature at my breast is worth EVERYTHING and ANYTHING, and finally, possibly, as he grows bigger and bigger and bigger, the longing to experience the miracle again, accompanied by complete denial of how difficult the last pregnancy was.

I finish retching, clean up, ponder the odds of being able to keep down whatever remains in my stomach if I lie flat, and go peek at my two out-of-me babies. One seven years and four months old today, the other four years and nine months. Almost seven and a half and five—I can’t believe it. My Flora sleeps on her side, both her hands tucked under her cheek, her mouth slightly open. Cinder’s upside down, legs on his pillow, head beside our—his—beloved puppy, 10-year-old Anya. He’s all legs and arms. He’s huge. He fills up the whole bed. My baby, who not that long ago—those seven years passed in a flash—swam within my womb. My first miracle.

As he falls asleep at night, I still whisper in his ear, “You are my first miracle. You’re the best thing that ever happened to me—you’ve changed my life.” (When Sean comes into the bedroom at those moments, the loveliest, most love-filled thing I can say to him is, “Thank you for my babies.” Does he understand what I mean by that, how much I love him for being their daddy, for helping me make them? I don’t know. I don’t know if any man, or any non-mother, can.)

My second miracle stretches. At bedtime and bath time today, we were playing baby Flora. She was baby Flora, swimming in the uterus—in the tub—until “pop! Out I come like an asteroid! I’m born!” I was, alternately, mama and Cinder—“Can you play two characters in the game, Mama? Just tell me which one you are, ok? Are you Cinder now? Are you saving me from rolling off the couch like Cinder did the time I was just born?” She’s so excited about the imminent arrival of a baby sibling. “I’m going to be a big sister, just like Cinder is a big sister. I mean big brother. And Cinder will be a double big brother. And the three of us will be triplets!”

My triple miracle. The nausea recedes farther. The uterus contracts, not too intensely, but not what you’d call pleasantly. It practices for the main event. I take a deep breath and rub it. “Come out, come out,” I tell miracle three. “We’re all waiting for you. I’m not sure if you can conceive how much love is waiting out here for you. A mama, a daddy, a brother, a sister… so much love.”

One of my out-of-me double miracles lets out a meowling noise, tosses and turns. I tiptoe out of the room. Turn off the light. Must make myself sleep and rest despite the turmoil in my body: must be able to take care of all my miracles tomorrow. We have books to read, games to play, pets to take care of, food to make, walks to take, messes to create and perhaps even clean up… a baby to welcome.

The hormones surge, and a level of delirium sets in. I write for a while, until exhaustion defeats both the nausea and the contracting uterus. To sleep. I hear the breaths of my children, my husband. My dog (she’s the loudest). Miracle three kicks and stretches. To sleep. To dream. To live.

30 September 2009

3:15 a.m.