Motherhood at 4:00 AM

If there’s a difference between God and man, it must have something to do with patience. God would not get angry at his 18-month-old child for waking up in the middle of the night and refusing to go back to sleep. Then again, God invented 18-month-old children. And so, perhaps God is rather cruel. God also invented teeth. Teeth that must pierce through solid flesh at that very same age when emotions are new and the world is overwhelming and neither emotions nor the world can help the other feel manageable. God is a psychopath.

I should not have worn mascara today. I should have known better.

My child has the sweetest face, the sweetest disposition, and a strong will. She has a zest for life. We have worked hard from early on to teach her that, however much she loves to be awake, sleep is important. Over time she has—reluctantly at first—gotten very good at sleeping through the night. Every once in a while things happen. A nightmare, or a cold, or a tooth, or sometimes all three. And I should not have worn mascara today.

I’m very grateful that I am generally a happy person. I don’t suffer from depression, but I do dabble in anxiety. I have two reliable triggers. The first is the phone—making and receiving phone calls. I’ve gotten better at it, but it’s still instantly panic-inducing. The second is being awake in the middle of the night. I am not good at this. The wee small hours of the morning take me to a dark place. I don’t know how I survived having a newborn, except that I just did. Something worked. I don’t know if it was hormones, or some other kind of biological imperative that made it palatable to live with interrupted sleep for over a year, but I would wake up at whatever hour, nurse the baby and go back to bed. I was tired, but it was fine. It sucked, but did not trigger anxiety. It was actually kind of peaceful sometimes, to be awake with her when the world was quiet. As soon as Zelda started sleeping through the night, well, I got used to it. A mom could get used to this sleeping through the night thing. In fact, the year and a half of poor sleep (two years if I count what pregnancy did to me), has made me very greedy with my sleep. Now when we have a bad night, it’s so hard to get up, so hard in fact that it is the number one thing that gives me pause about having a second child. Not finances, or logistics, or pregnancy. Sleep. It’s like having been tortured and then choosing to go back to your torture chamber. I survived, but I can’t go back to that. Now that the hormones, and whatever other biological magic that made unreliable sleep okay, now that that has worn off, I can’t stomach it again. So when my child woke up screaming at 4:00 in the morning after I’d only had a fitful and measly three hours of sleep, I made a rapid descent to a dark place.

Why the fuck did I wear mascara today?

The only thing worse than feeling anxious in the middle of the night is blaming your baby for it. And the only thing worse than blaming your baby for being anxious in the middle of the night is the guilt you feel for blaming your baby for being anxious in the middle of the night. And that’s where it stops. There is not much worse than that crushing guilt. My sweet angel-faced baby, to whom I directed white hot rage for waking me up in the middle of a sleep cycle, how dare she? How dare she call out mommy from her crib. How dare she need me in the night?

If there is a difference between God and man, God would go to his baby’s crib and hold her, however long it took until she drifted back to sleep. All night, if that’s what was necessary. God would not let her cry with pain in her gums and nightmares in her head, and just cross his fingers that she’ll get over it and go back to sleep. God would not bitterly go into her room, pick her up with stiff arms, rock her for four minutes, and then put her back in her crib to figure it out. God would not then send in his husband to do what he was too angry to do. God would not weep into his pillow, for reasons he could not even articulate except to say that the middle of the night was too dark. And God would not be stupid enough to wear mascara the next day.

No, she did not go back to sleep. She had a luxurious, long morning of crying and play from 4:00 am until 7:45 when we left to take her to daycare. She instantly fell asleep on the 20-minute car ride. God would not begrudge his child that nap. God would not expect his baby to understand why Mommy was mad when his baby had a grasp on language that totaled perhaps 40 words, mostly animals. My face flushed as I sat in my anger, baby asleep in the back seat. I turned off the heater in the car. I didn’t deserve warmth. I pulled up to her school. Now the overtired child would be their problem for the day. God would not be giddy to drop his child off at daycare.

And as I left the building, Zelda happy and safe in her teacher’s arms, I waited for it to hit me. I knew it was coming, like a wave. It would topple me as soon as I left her. There it was…

I hated myself.

I hated myself for being angry.

I hated myself for not being able to control that anger.

I hated myself for paying other people to raise my child.

I hated myself, because what if something I had done that morning sent a message to my child that she couldn’t count on me when she was upset. What if the way that I had looked at her signaled that I was not a safe place for her feelings. She asked me to pick her up as I made her breakfast. “Uppatio,” she said, reaching for me. Her word for up. And I let her reach. I stood there like a dead ice queen, and made her oatmeal, and let her reach. And then I let her go find her dad, who picked her up and held her close. What if she remembers that for the rest of her life? I take for granted that she has been a baby and memories for her are temporary, but one day soon a memory will stick. And what if that was the one?

I am clearly not God. I am deeply flawed, but I will focus on one thing. My child shows me how I could be better. Every time she challenges me, she shows me where I could stand to grow. And so God is present in her face. And in our relationship. And in my very imperfect attempt at motherhood.

Thank you, God, for inventing coffee. Thank you for inventing husbands like mine, who get up at 4:00 in the morning when I can’t, to entertain a grumpy teething toddler for three hours and then go to work for a full day like I have to do. Thank you, God, for my sweet child, and for all of her big feelings. Thank you for the way she reaches for me, and leans in to kiss me. Thank you for her giggles, and for the way her little bum rocks back and forth when she dances. For the way she tilts her head when she’s trying to understand something. For the way she needs me right now. Thank you for this guilt, which is unbearable, but reminds me that I’m not a psychopath — like you might be.

And I am so sorry. I will try to be better. Please wipe the stiffness of my arms and my stoic expression from my child’s memory. Please, I beg you.

Thank you, God, for waterproof mascara that prevents raccoon eyes like I have now. Please remind me to buy some the next time I’m at the store.

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I Used to be a Runner

Am I even allowed to call this a running blog anymore if I’ve only run once since December? Maybe not. Dang, this whole working full-time/being a mom/creative/person with a clean house thing is tough. I have zero time to run. I could let other things go, but I don’t want to. Here’s what my day looks like. Maybe you can help me figure out where to fit it in:

7:00 AM – Wake up, get ready, get Z ready for daycare

7:45 AM – Drive Z to daycare, myself to work

9:00 AM – 5:30 PM – Werk

5:30 PM – 6:30 PM – Drive home

6:30 PM – 8:30 PM – Spend precious time with baby and husband, have dinner, get baby to bed

8:30 PM – 9:00 PM – Clean up the food hurricane that the baby caused in the kitchen

9:00 PM – 9:30 PM – Veg out on the couch a bit

9:30 PM – 11:00 PM – Either write, or watch TV, or catch up with husband

11:00 PM – Bed

Start it all up again the next day.

Where does running fit into this? I know you’re going to say I need to get up earlier. I know I do. It’s hard though. I do not do well on less than eight hours of sleep which means I would need to go to bed earlier which means I will have less time to write/veg/talk. And maybe that’s what I need to do, but like I said at the top, I don’t really want to trim anything off this schedule that already provides so little time for relaxing, decompressing, being creative. What I need is another half hour added to the day. Who do I talk to about that?

 

The only running I do lately is running after her. Maybe, for this season of life, that can be enough.

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How to be Honest

I am writing a personal book, the most personal thing I’ve written besides some things I’ve written on this blog. I went back to read old posts to get somehow in touch with past feelings, but I mostly cringed and hid a lot of this blog’s history from view. Here’s what I learned about writing, from the horror of reading one’s early attempts:

  • Be honest. If it’s untrue, it will suck.
  • Don’t try to be clever. If you try to be clever, then you’re not clever. Cleverness is something that you might stumble upon in service of a story but it should never be something you’re trying to achieve. See bullet point one.
  • If it can be more simple, it should be.
  • If in reviewing your writing something bothers you more than one time, it will always bother you. Change it.
  • You almost never need to use an exclamation point. Stop yelling.
  • If you don’t know what you meant by something, your audience sure as hell won’t either. Change it.
  • Sometimes something sounds really good in your head and it’s shit on paper. I don’t have a solution for this, except maybe keep evaluating if it fulfills bullet point one.
  • You rarely need an adverb. Find a better verb. This is also true for adjectives. Trust the noun.
  • Writers stress about commas much more than readers I think, but you probably don’t need them as much you as you think you do.
  • You probably overuse the words just and very.
  • Once you figure out how to use a semicolon or an em dash, you’ll be tempted to use them all the time, and then you’ll read like a pretentious fool. It’s not the 19th century; cool it with the punctuation.
  • You’ll have a hard time taking your own advice.
  • The sentences that you feel the most attached to, the most precious with, are the ones that will make you cringe the most when you read them a year later. Therefore:
  • Don’t be precious with anything.
  • No matter how good and seasoned a writer you are, you will occasionally mix up your and you’re. Be kind to yourself.
  • If you keep writing, you will get better at it. So keep writing.

Zelda’s Teeth

For this brief, tiny, delicate moment in time, you smile at me with bare gums. They are so sweet.

Then you have two teeth. And you will never smile at me with a toothless grin ever again.

Huh.

For this next brief moment you have only two tiny bottom teeth, but soon it will be three. Teeth move on.

You can do nothing but kick, smile, cry, sleep, or laugh when placed down on your back. You are stuck, not always happy about it.

But now you can roll.

Now you can scoot.

Now you can crawl.

Now you can climb up onto my legs and look me in the eyes. You are so proud of yourself every time that you do. I’m proud too, but also a little bit sad.

For a tiny window longer, you can’t yet walk beside me. You are still in baby position. You are in my arms.

You have no words. For only a second more, you tell me how you feel with coos, laughs, shouts, cries, and the occasional consonant. Tomorrow you’ll have words, and we’ll never communicate like this again. We’ll have new ways of talking to each other that we’ll love, but it won’t be like this.

You don’t always sleep through the night. Some nights you do. Some nights will soon be all nights, and there will be a last time we cuddle in the dark in the quiet hours, just you and me, and the bubbling fish tank. Soon you will sleep in your own room, with your things, and your own dreams.

We nurse. My body grew your body, and it still does. In the blink of an eye you will be done. But thank God it’s not today. Thank God my breast still comforts you. I thank God, I really do, for the bundle of your little body curled into mine as you stare into my eyes and play with my hair, drinking milk and loving each other. I’m not ready for the tomorrow when that ends. I never will be.

Today you had apples for the first time.

And broccoli.

And shrimp.

And mango.

You do not like cottage cheese.

We have ice cream in our future. You still possess a brain that has never experienced the wonder of ice cream. I can’t wait for that tomorrow.

Your teeth are coming in. They hurt you. The newness hurts; I know, baby. But soon they won’t hurt anymore. Soon you’ll have all your teeth, like me. And one day they will hurt again but not from their newness. From their oldness. From something called a cavity, which is a kind of hole that rots. Try not to let that happen. You do have some control over it.

Zelda, everything you are as a baby is like lightning. So bright, stunning, then it’s gone. I’m writing it down for you. To catch it in a bottle. It’s a bottle you might be interested in someday. I always will be.

I love the you of tomorrow. I love watching you learn, but I’ll miss your crawling, your coos, your milky breath, your whole body in my arms. I don’t want to go back, Zelda, but I wouldn’t mind the chance to relive a few of these moments. Just for a second. I’ll miss those two little front teeth featured solo on your sweet, perfect, baby gums.

Oh. There’s tooth number three. And the moment is gone.

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What Does a Writer Look Like?

In which I write a blog post pontificating about what a successful writer’s life looks like. Not just an average writer, a mediocre writer, a casual writer, but a great writer. A flourishing writer. A prolific writer. What’s the behavior? What’s the schedule? How does the obsession to write manifest? I’m pretty sure it does not involve writing a blog post about writing, but perhaps therein lies the crux of my problem. I’d rather sit around and think about being a writer all day than actually buckle up and be one.

I think a successful writer writes as often as she can. I think she has to write; she doesn’t have to convince herself to write. A fish has to swim, a bird’s gotta fly, a writer must write. Like she’s running out of time. She looks for the opportunity, she doesn’t try to avoid it. I don’t write enough.

I think a successful writer can be a mom, but she probably pulls out her laptop and writes after the kids go to bed. She doesn’t collapse onto the couch and veg out with Netflix for the next three hours with a beer. She doesn’t mindlessly scroll through Facebook and Instagram. She doesn’t spend the time that her kid is asleep looking at videos and pictures of said kid. Okay maybe she does that, she is a mom after all. But she writes. She let’s the dishes stay dirty, and she has no idea what’s happening on Game of Thrones. When the kid is asleep, she writes.

She knows the value of an hour. A successful writer gets up an hour early if that’s the only time in the day to write. She doesn’t use her lunch hour to sample makeup at Sephora. She passes on happy hour because with everyone out of the office she knows that she can sneak in a writing session. Which brings me to socializing in general.

She doesn’t. Not when an idea has started budding. Not when she has a choice between hanging out or writing, between brunch or writing, between drinks or writing. She writes. She has come to be very unpopular.

She probably has a lucky pen, or glasses, or journal, or a writing sweater. I have those. That’s something. She salivates over cozy writing spaces with warm oak desktops, amber lamps, and coffee cups. I do. Points for me.

Everything I’m describing here? I love the idea of it. I love to fancy myself a madwoman, obsessing over plot points and character arcs. An eccentric who must lock herself away until the manuscript is done. A veritable storm of ideas. I like that idea.

But I’m not that. I love to sleep. I love to Netflix and chill. I love to look at pictures of my daughter while she’s sleeping. I love happy hours, and socializing, and blogging about writing. I love social media, and makeup. I love to waste time. So what, then? Can I ever be a flourishing writer if I don’t obsess over it? I have no idea. I’m not Type A. I’m short on grit. I guess I’ll just open the file for my novel and find out what happens. I’ll just write a bit, and maybe eventually it will add up to something. Maybe I’ll be the world’s most successful lazy novelist. A new mode. Write like you’ve got plenty of time. Your novel will be shorter, but you’ll be oh so relaxed.

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Zelda: A Birth Story

Three months ago my daughter, Zelda, was born. This is my and Zelda’s birth story.

On the evening of June 6, I sat in my living room with Brad and my mom, contemplating middle names for Zelda, coming up with some pretty silly options like Bluebell, and laughing about how convenient it would be if I went into labor in the wee hours of the morning, giving us time to get to the hospital before traffic. Well. Zelda was listening.

At 3:30am on June 7 I awoke to the strange sensation of warm syrup pouring over my legs. It gushed, but gently like molasses, not violently like gushing water. I turned to Brad and whispered, “I think my water broke,” which interestingly mirrored the exact same way I told him I was pregnant—waking him up in the early morning hours and whispering, “I think I’m pregnant.”

We got out of bed and confirmed what I had suspected all the day prior, Zelda had decided to begin her journey into the world. I got myself cleaned up and went into the living room to try and get some more sleep on the couch, in anticipation of what would surely be a long day ahead. I should have been apprehensive that my water had broken, since it essentially started a clock on getting baby into the world. My birth wish was to labor at home as long possible and give birth without any pain medication or Pitocin, but with broken water you can only wait so long before you have to speed things up due to the risk of infection. How long exactly is up for debate, but according to my doctor they want you to come into labor & delivery immediately. If I didn’t start contractions soon I’d need to be induced, but for some reason I wasn’t worried. I had a feeling that Zelda had it figured out.

An hour later, around 4:30 am, I started feeling contractions. Thank goodness. Now I get to describe what labor feels like! Oh, goodie. If you’re like me, I was dying to know. At this stage, contractions felt like totally manageable waves of intense menstrual cramps. With some deep breaths I could talk and laugh through them. At 5:00 am Brad called the hospital to see what they wanted us to do, since my water had broken. I knew they’d tell us to come in; that was their policy. Sure enough, the nurse told Brad to get our things together and come in right away. Sigh. Okay. We took our time gathering our things and headed out the door at 6:30 am to go to the hospital. So much for laboring at home as long as possible. Little did I know, however, it was a blessing in disguise. If we’d waited longer, it would have been one ugly car ride, maybe one that involved the birthing of a baby. My body and Zelda were ready and raring to go.

I’d imagined that the car ride to the hospital would be excruciating, thinking I’d be much further along in labor, but this was quite pleasant. Brad and I couldn’t contain our disbelief and excitement. We counted my contractions. We talked about, things. I can’t remember what, though, but I know there were things talked about. Probably involved the wonder of bringing a human into the world. I wasn’t in horrible pain. It was fun. I was having fun. Hilarious.

We arrived at the hospital around 7:00 am. The triage nurse greeted me.

“You been better?” she asked.

“No, actually, I’m really excited,” I replied.

I was. I’d always been as curious about labor and delivery as I’d been about pregnancy and motherhood, and now here I was; I was about to find out. The nurse gave me a smile like she knew what I was in for even if I didn’t. (She was right.) They admitted me ,and soon I had my own room with my own pair of awesome nurses and it sort of felt like I’d checked into a hotel. One of those weird ones that monitors your food and makes you do activities.

My contractions, which at home were about 6 minutes apart, had already picked up to 2-3 minutes apart and it was only 10:00 am.

Tips for mimicking a home birth while laboring in the hospital. Essential oil diffuser, speaker and playlists queued up, things that you can touch that feel like comfort. In my case I brought my sketch book, pencils, and Kindle. I knew I wouldn’t really want to draw or read, but having them there comforted me. Oh, and snacks. If the hospital’s policy is to not allow you to eat, ignore them. Sneak in snacks. I didn’t eat much, but a handful of cashews when my energy dipped was a lifesaver.

Contractions got more intense as time passed quickly. They still felt like menstrual cramps, but with the added sensation that I was being squeezed around the lower abdomen by a belt that had been lit on fire. Still manageable though. I was able to walk around, lean against the wall, squat, and my favorite coping technique at this point was to essentially slow dance with my husband. I swayed to some new age music, leaned into him and vocalized. My Linklater voice training came in so handy at this point. Lots of deep, humm mumm mumm maaas. Thanks, Boston University.

Before you think my labor story sounds like a smug fairytale, don’t worry, I’m getting to the good stuff. The truth, though, was that everything up until this point really had been incredibly pleasant and manageable. The pain was indeed painful, but what I read was true, it triggered a steady rush of endorphins that made me feel a bit drunk on love.

At noon everything changed.

You know the library ghost in Ghostbusters? How she looks all peaceful and harmless?

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To look at her you think, “Hey, ghosts aren’t so bad.” And then you get a little too close and she turns into this, and all hell breaks loose.

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Yeah, it was like that. It’s called Transition.

I’d read about it. We learned about it in our childbirth prep class. Transition would be the time I’d want to give up, but it also meant I was so close to pushing that if I could manage my way through transition I could most likely make it through labor without intervention. It was all true. Still, nothing could have prepared me for that kind of pain. Nothing. Nuh. Thing.

Let me take a step back. At about 11:30 am my contractions had gotten pretty intense and close together—about one minute apart, sometimes coming in double and triple waves. I was having a hard time catching my breath and apparently so was Zelda. Suddenly about six or seven doctors and nurses rushed into the room, prepping equipment and looking nervous. I was a bit out of it but I knew it wasn’t good. A calm but firm OB came up to me and Brad and told us that the baby’s heart rate had dropped and wasn’t coming back up like it should. They needed to see the heart rate come up immediately, so I had to get in bed and be put on oxygen and hooked up to all kinds of monitors. I wasn’t made nervous by the sudden frenzy. Either I knew that Zelda and I would work it out, or I was just too distracted by pain to clock the gravity of the situation.

I got in bed like a good patient. They put a fetal monitor directly into the birth canal, the kind that screws into the baby’s skull. Poor baby. They gave me oxygen which actually was quite pleasant, and it seemed that in short order Zelda’s heart rate improved. The doctors cleared the room, but with strict orders that I’d have to stay in bed and could no longer move around at will. I feel strongly that this confinement increased the pain of transition. Perhaps more than any other time during labor, the transition phase is when it’s most crucial to be able to change position, get in the shower, lean on a birthing ball, whatever. But I was stuck in bed, laying on my side and doing whatever I could to survive the pain from that position.

How can I describe it? At this point I can’t remember it, thank God, but I do remember my reaction to it. I remember feeling like I was being sawed in half. A cramp would start in my midsection and then radiate throughout my whole body until I was no longer in control, the contraction was in control. It was like every inch of my insides was being wringed like wet laundry. I had to scream. I wanted to throw up, not because I was nauseous but because it felt like whatever was inside of me was going to be squeezed out whether I liked it or not. I tried to breathe through it, vocalize through it, even kick my legs up in the air like I was in a Jazzercise class, (that’s actually pretty much the only thing that helped) but ultimately there was no match for this adversary. The contractions were kicking my butt. Physically I couldn’t quell the pain, so I tried to do so mentally. Sometimes I focused on the pain, intensely. Sometimes I tried to distract myself by focusing on something else. The most effective mental trick seemed to be to focus on it so intensely that eventually I began to disassociate the pain from myself. I remember repeating the mantra in my head, “I’m being sawed in half. It’s okay. I’m being sawed in half.” For some reason, it helped. Other images that came to mind at the time were the end of Braveheart when William Wallace is disemboweled. That felt about right. Also The Exorcist.

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I’m telling you guys, it was intense. It felt like, this cannot be a good thing. It felt like I was being broken—like I was going to die. My plan was to forego an epidural or any other drug. Brad and I had made a pact going into labor that if I asked for the epidural four times, he’d get the doctor to administer it, but before that he would try to talk me out of it by getting me to change position, giving me a massage, getting me in the shower, etc. Being confined to the bed, experiencing William Wallace torture pain? I begged for that epidural four times in quick succession. I knew that I was in transition, which meant that I knew I was close and should try to push through, but at the time the thought of surviving that pain for even ten minutes, one minute . . . I couldn’t do it. Let me rephrase that. I couldn’t imagine doing it, but doing it is exactly what I did.

At this point my designated nurses had been called to another delivery. The hospital was experiencing an unprecedented number of deliveries all at once, and no it wasn’t a full moon, just an auspicious Thursday. So when I finally begged for the epidural for the fifth time, my mom went to find a nurse, and since mine were otherwise occupied a new nurse came into the room to help me. Her name was Chanelle, and she was not a human but an angel. Something about her just calmed me immediately. She was real with me. She said the anesthesiologist was giving someone else an epidural (all those deliveries) and wouldn’t be ready for me for at least thirty minutes. I wanted to die. She offered me analgesics (loopy drugs) but she was straight with me and said, “Look, I can give you these and they may help, but they may not. And they’re going to make you sleepy and your baby sleepy and you’ll still be in pain, but you’ll be sleepy.” I knew going in that I didn’t want analgesics, especially this late into labor, and thanks to her candor I did not cave. At this point I just wanted Chanelle to stay by my bed and hold my hand.

I asked her if she could check me again to see how close I was. She didn’t want to because my water had broken and they avoid going up there to decrease any risk of infection. But I desperately wanted to know how much longer I was to suffer. So I was sneaky. I asked her how we would know when it was time to push, and Chanelle said I would feel an overwhelming need. Like I couldn’t not push. I’d heard this from other women, but so far I only felt the need to push a little bit. It was certainly not overwhelming. I was desperate to move out of transition though, so I lied a little bit and said, “Yes! I need to push!” Chanelle agreed to check me when I said that, and sure enough I was fully dilated and effaced. I knew it. No need for an epidural. They cancelled the anesthesiologist. Thank you, Jesus! Chanelle went to tell my designated nurses that it was pushing time and in short order they were back in the room with me. Chanelle, I didn’t get to see you again after that except for a brief thank you in the hallway as they wheeled me to post-partum. If by some fluke you ever read this, you are the angel that got me through transition. Your candor and your warm, straightforward energy, saved me. Thank you!

What can I say about pushing? It hurt but nothing like transition. I was so relieved to be out of that phase, like giddy relieved. I was talking again and even cracking jokes. I was glad to have an objective, something actionable to do besides just survive. It was nice to feel engaged, but yeah, it did hurt. The nurses had me push during contractions, which is the most effective thing to do but it’s quite uncomfortable. It felt to me as if I had a really bad bruise on my insides, and when I’d push it was as if someone was kneading into that bruise with all their might. Unpleasant, but manageable. Mostly it was exhausting.

My God it was exhausting. I pushed for three hours! Most of my labor progressed really quickly, except for this part. I don’t think most women push for that long. Maybe the pain was preventing me from pushing as hard as I could have, or maybe I was just exhausted from transition, or maybe I was a little scared that I was about to meet my little human, but for whatever reason my body did not respond quickly to pushing her out. Three hours. I pushed in many different positions. On all fours. Squatting. All the positions I’d read about in Ina May to let gravity help get the baby out. Ironically, the most comfortable position really was on my back. So there you go. It’s not only for the convenience of the doctors.

Brad, my mom, and the nurses were so encouraging and cheered me on as her little head made its way down the birth canal. At one point they got me a mirror so I could see her. Whoa. That was wild. First of all, because my lady parts did not look like my lady parts, and secondly because, whoa, there’s a human head. The mirror was cool, but I had them take it away because it actually messed with my mind. When I’d push, I thought I was making a lot of progress getting her out, but then I’d look in the mirror and still only see a tiny peek of her head and feel defeated. I preferred to close my eyes and envision her whole head popping out.

And eventually it did! Despite my pleas for the nurse to grab her by her tuft of hair and yank her out, or get a little lasso around her tummy and pull, I was in fact the one that pushed her out. At about 3:30 pm the nurses brought in a table with a bunch of medical equipment and a bright light, and then the midwife walked in and I knew that meant I was close. The OB or midwife only shows up when it’s time to catch the baby, and my midwife was here! Hurray! About three rounds of pushing later and crowning was happening. The midwife abruptly told me to stop pushing because I was tearing, and then told me to cough. I coughed my baby out. Oh, and the whole tearing thing? I didn’t feel it, at all. In fact, pushing Zelda out was completely painless. Not sure if that was all the natural endorphins rushing through me, or my body just numbed itself, but I really didn’t feel it. No ring of fire, nothing but excitement and sweet relief and a fair amount of pressure. I coughed and coughed, and out pops her head. To get the rest of her out the midwife had me blow like I was blowing out birthday candles. The rest of her, shoulders and everything else, squirmed out and it felt super weird. Not painful, but not numb. I could really feel this living thing wriggling out of me, and it was absolutely amazing.

I was completely overwhelmed with relief as the midwife pulled her out and placed her on my chest. I moaned louder than any orgasm I’ve ever had, so I guess that’s why they say childbirth can be orgasmic. It’s really just overwhelming, mind-blowing, universe-expanding relief.

And then there was this person on me, and my entire world shifted. They suctioned her nose and there was her first cry, like an entirely new sound had been invented in a split second. A new color that had never been seen before burst into existence. A new element for the table. My Zelda. My perfect baby. I held her to my chest and marveled at her pinkness, her warmth, the way she felt both stiff and squishy. Her hands. Those perfect hands. Nothing had ever been so perfect as those hands.

I wept, and told my Mom how much I loved her, and told Brad how much I loved him, and how grateful I was for their help. They truly were amazing coaches. Brad, you are my rock and my foundation, and you have a future as a doula if you ever want a career change. I was in awe of you, but also knew the role would suit you like a glove.

I kept saying to my mom, my husband, the nurses, God, whoever would listen, I cried over and over again how much I loved my baby. “I love her. I love her so much,” I said. I didn’t even see her face until several minutes later because of how she was placed on my chest for skin to skin. It didn’t matter. I didn’t need to see her face. I felt her warmth and the beat of her heart, and I knew everything about her instantly, and I loved her with enough power to create a new universe.

I caressed her back and sunk into the euphoria of the moment, smiling as the midwife stitched up my vagina. She kept trying to warn me about little pricks of pain here and there and I almost laughed. She could’ve done anything down there and I wouldn’t have felt a thing. One, because childbirth, and two because I was so drunk on love hormones and endorphins, I couldn’t feel pain if I wanted to.

Zelda is now three months old, and every day I get to know her a little bit better, all the while grappling with the paradox that I knew her all along. There is such a thing as love at first sight. And first smell. And first touch. I am a warrior, and I have been charged with protecting a most precious soul. I will stay at my post no matter the circumstances. My life now has purpose, for what can be more purposeful than complete and perfect love? My baby is in the world now. Zelda, whom I loved instantly.

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The Halloween Story

Last weekend I finished editing the fourth draft of my novel. Which means two things. One, I don’t want to look at it anymore. And two, that’s good because it needs to cook for a while. I need at least a month between drafts to let the yeast rise—or fall, depending on how badly the revision went.

In between drafts of the novel I usually focus on my picture books. This week I re-read some of the manuscripts I’ve been working on this year. A few months ago I thought they were great. I read them again a few days ago and became transfixed with my own mediocrity. I thought the sudden wave of self-loathing would zap me of all creative ambition, but the opposite happened. I became possessed.

Perhaps because I’m a glutton for punishment, I went to my bookshelf and pulled out This is Not My Hat. I wanted to read something by someone who actually had talent and knew what they were doing.

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Again, if removed from this situation and asked to bet on my reaction, I would have bet that reading Jon Klassen in my current state would have sent me into a pity spiral, knowing I’d never be able to write anything as good, funny, or original. But no, I opened my computer and vomited two new picture books onto the screen. Then I revised an older one. Then the next day I wrote one more. I think they’re pretty good. Don’t worry, in a month or two I’ll think they’re total spit wads. They probably are; I don’t know.

It’s mid-September now, which means I’ve been in Halloween mode for two weeks already. I can never get enough. Bring on the pumpkins. Bring on the scary movies. Bring on the chill in the air. The decorations. The costumes. Monster Mash and Thriller on repeat. Bring. It. On.

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What I’ve really always wanted to write was a Halloween book, but an idea eludes me. Let me preface that by saying that I don’t normally have blocks on ideas for picture books. Perhaps that well will run dry one day, knock on wood, but I currently have a list at least twenty ideas long that I haven’t even touched. Not a spooky one in the bunch.

I think I want it too much. I love it too much, maybe? I don’t get it. This morning I sat down and simply started to write down the things I loved about Halloween. That has turned into a decent poem, which could be a rhyming picture book. Who knows, maybe it will one day see the light of day, but my intention was to write something in prose. Something with a beginning, middle, and end. That, I still can’t do.

I have cherished memories of reading “scary” books in my childhood. I devoured everything from The Berenstain Bears (well, it was Berenstein in my universe), to Goosebumps, to Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Stephen Gammell’s illustrations still haunt me in the absolute best way.

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I could actually draw a direct line from my current love of writing back to my childhood love of reading scary books. I would have thought I was destined to write kids horror, but I just can’t get it out of me. It feels stuck. Like I can actually feel it, in my stomach, a big stuck thing.

What do you do when you have a creative block? How do you get unstuck?

Oh and Happy Halloween.