Love-yourself-first

Anyone who ever felt like they had to parent their siblings may understand this, but at one time in my life I didn’t want children. I am five years older than my next of kin sister and 15 years older than my baby brother.  I was often relegated to babysitting and every time my mother would take an extended trip (basically moving away until my father begged her to return home), I was the reluctant matriarch of the house. This affected the family dynamics and altered my relationship with my siblings. When I was 14-years old, I was so resentful about missing out on much of my childhood, I swore to myself that I would get my tubes tied when I turned eighteen.  I did not want to bring children into the world with my jaded view on parenthood.

When I was 23, I was already three years ahead of my 5-YEAR-PLAN. I was in a dream job, owned a home and feeling at the prime of my life. I liked being able to do what I wanted, when I wanted. My life was mapped out so that I would have a graduate degree by 25, my own business by 30, married at 35 and then smooth sailing through retirement. This was a conservative plan to allow cushioning around finding the right partner for marriage. L-O-V-E was a four-letter word and the only meaning I understood was what the dictionary offered. For me, love meant excitement, hot sex and companionship with occasional intimacy…and maybe a sense of temporary security.

Then a series of events happened to make me question my 5-YEAR-PLAN model. I go off course and end up falling in love with Joe. What was suppose to be a summer fling turned more serious when I observed how nurturing he was with my friend’s puppy. Joe had a black lab and a very responsible pet owner. One weekend, a girlfriend asked me if we would watch her golden retriever puppy over the weekend. Joe lived in a house with two other roommates but they were also going out of town that same weekend. It was a rare opportunity to be alone and to play house with the dogs. Waking up that Sunday weekend morning, I observed how nurturing and sweet Joe was to the puppy. Then it hit me. This man could be the father of my children!  But wait, I’m only 25 and I still have ten years before I walk down the aisle.  Having babies is not part of the equation.  The fling quickly turned into a romance. I had fallen head over heals and understood Love with my heart. The 3-month rule of waiting to say “I love you” didn’t apply. Truly, madly, deeply.

Nearly three years to the day of our first “date”, Joe and I were married. I wanted to wait a few years to enjoy marriage and to get solid footing before nesting. Joe wanted to start making a baby on our wedding night. We compromised and removed the goalie after our 1-year wedding anniversary. After months of practice, we finally got pregnant at the turn of the century. Apparently a lot of people were celebrating because a baby boom was predicted in October that year.

Six Months Pregnant

Six Months Pregnant

My pregnancy was easy, I loved every second of it. Not once did I experience morning sickness. I was naive about maternity clothes and dreaded the polyester material. I wore my regular clothes for as long as I could and felt sexier than ever outgrowing them. My hair and nails grew out beautifully and my skin radiated.  I excitedly went to every pre-natal appointment. The first ultrasound was of course an unbelievable experience. Joe was hoping to see two heartbeats with twins running in my family.  I was delighted just to see a heartbeat. We were the first of our group of friends to have a baby so I relied on books and advice from other women at the office. Everyone was so sweet to tell me how I only looked pregnant from the side, even after I gained 65 pounds.

It was one-week after the due date and the maternity wards were full. The baby boom prediction was correct. Make-shift maternity triages were being prepared on other floors at the hospital. I had been put on a waiting list but then moved up when the amniotic fluid became dangerously low. We would be called as soon as a room opened. The nursery was ready, we were prepped from the Lamaze classes and we were anxious to meet our little miracle. After 36 hours of labor and two hours of pushing, Nicholas Joseph was born. Joe made it through the delivery without fainting. But after the Pitocin, epidural and no food or sleep, I was numb. I peered over and saw Joe holding our baby boy. It was one of the most peaceful and joyful moments I ever witnessed. It was as though I could see Love and how it surrounded Joe and Nicholas like a bubble. The feeling was overwhelming. There are no words to describe the potency.

Baby Nick, 9lbs, 21 inches

Baby Nick, 9lbs, 21 inches

Nick was a happy baby that only cried when hungry or when it was time for bed. I loved toting him all over because he was so easy going. The only thing was that he never wanted to go to sleep. Even at the hospital, the nurse asked if we would leave Nick in the room with us since he was keeping the other babies up with his crying. As a new parent, I took delight in his rapid development. He held his head up quickly, he sat up and crawled early, he walked before nine months and said his first words before 12 months. Having Nick as our first child spoiled us into thinking it would be easy to have two. Joe was thinking we could have four if we added twins to the mix.

We figured it would take us a few months to get pregnant the second time since it took 10 months with Nick. In the first month of trying, I tested positive. I had to stand on my head to get pregnant with Nick and then barely a sneeze and there’s a bun in the oven the second time around. Again, the pregnancy was effortless and not a smidgen of morning sickness. I was smarter this time and knew what to expect. I ate less knowing the baby would not starve and discerned the difference between the baby moving versus my internal organs moving. Nick was aware that a baby brother or sister was coming. We didn’t find out the gender of either baby after considering there are just a few delightful surprises to anticipate.

At 4:30 a.m. on May Day, Jack I begin to feel contractions. This throws me off because it’s the actual scheduled due date!  Of course I opted for the epidural and this time labor is much quicker. The same obstetrician (OB) delivers Jack Dillon and I am more alert and not as exhausted. Jack is placed immediately on my belly and he gives out a hearty cry. Joe doesn’t have the stomach for this delivery and is waiting in the hallway. As soon as Jack arrives though, proud papa can’t wait to hold him. I feel the same overwhelming emotion of joy and love as with the first childbirth. There is something ethereal about the birth of a baby. It was as though I was in heaven on earth for that moment. Nick and Jack are almost exactly 18-months apart.

Baby Jack, 8 lbs, 7 oz, 21 inches

Baby Jack, 8 lbs, 7 oz, 21 inches

Nick was great about meeting his baby brother, Jack. I admit I was hoping for a girl to have one of each gender, but I was smitten about having two boys. There was always the possibility of going for three. Jack was a quiet and peaceful baby up until he was 1-month old. Out of nowhere, he is fussy and colicky. The poor baby cries most of the time and we invest stock in Mylicon. It’s supposed to be the best temporary relief from gas pains which helps Jack…and mom too.  Jack’s temperament is different from Nick’s and he seems more sensitive. Nick is like a bull in a china shop staking his territory. Jack is more reserved and acts only after observing. The two are different personalities but like Nick, Jack is quick to develop physically. He is slower to speak, having a big brother happily doing the talking for both of them. Jack does settle and as he turns 3-months, the colic has diminished.

Returning to work and the boys in the care of a trusted and nurturing sitter (we still keep in touch with her today in gratitude), I am thrown back into the craze of work with an acquisition, new marketing campaign, renewal of multi-million dollar sponsorships and grand openings of new branches. Joe is traveling two out of four weeks every month and there aren’t enough hours in the day to feel effective in my job. I’m the mom that arrives five-minutes after the childcare center is closed almost daily. I don’t know if it was having two babies close together or the lack of sleep having a colicky baby, but I believe I experienced some level of post-partum depression. I never told the doctor and figured it was just temporary melancholy. Regardless, the hormones are volatile and take time to return to normal.

Six weeks being back on the job and I get a devastating call.  My mother’s friend informs me that my 52-year old mother had a stroke and she is being transferred to another hospital for specialized care. She is in another state so I made arrangements to fly out the same day. Joe was supportive and didn’t hesitate a second about watching both boys while I left town. The stress at work and then watching my mother as she laid still in a coma for two weeks took a toll.  I questioned my abilities as a mother.  Was I doing enough for them? Was I being enough for them? My mother abandoned me and my siblings many times, would I be a good mom to my sons? Being pregnant was easy, being present as a mother was another matter.

My mother did wake from her coma but she was never the same. Even after years of physical therapy, the free-spirited woman was limited in movement. She would require medical care for the rest of her young life. I was feeling the pressure of the “Sandwich Generation”, caring for my own family and for my mother as well. It was not easy and there were many days that I didn’t handle it well and disliked my reaction. I didn’t like not being in control and being spread so thin. And, I wasn’t good about asking for help. I learned that being a martyr was unhealthy. Trying to hold it together was a recipe for disaster. By the time I asked my siblings for help, I was so frustrated that it became more of demand for assistance rather than a collaboration for a distribution of responsibility. The feeling of being an adequate nurturer for my children declined even further. I found more comfort at work than at home.

The idea of trying for a third baby was put on the shelf. I transitioned into a new job and my mother moved into an assisted living facility. My pattern of being the last mom at daycare pick-up remained and thankfully Joe would come to the rescue to save us from late fees. Joe is the cook in our family so thankfully he enjoyed preparing dinners. I failed miserably in this area. Even if I couldn’t be a proficient mom, I’d at least make a success of my career. But I couldn’t help think about another baby in the back of my mind.

I’d be sitting in a business meeting and feel phantom kicks in my belly. Or I would see someone nursing and get the sense I was lactating. Fast forward nine years after Nick was born. Joe and I feel that things are stabilizing again. The boys are are independent and healthy, my mother has found a home she likes and I am feeling the ‘ol biological clock ticking again. We decide to move the proverbial goalie once again. Very quickly, I get pregnant. We didn’t get a chance to fully get used to the idea and bam, we’re going to have another baby. I am excited and nervous. Just over a month after finding out, major changes at work bring on additional stress to an already taxing workload and growingly toxic environment. I felt unexplained chest pains and go to the emergency room. I am reluctant to do a CAT Scan because of my pregnancy. The doctor reasons that if I’m not healthy, I put the baby at risk anyway.  So I agree and the results are inconclusive. I am asked when my next appointment will be with the obstetrician. They question the due date and I’m told to get as much rest as possible to reduce the stress.

Just like the other ultrasound appointments with Nick and Jack, we are thrilled to see the baby. I share with the OB that I was in the E/R recently for chest pains and was experiencing a high level of stress because of work. We begin the ultrasound we begin to joke about whether there will be one or two heartbeats. The OB is the same doctor that delivered both boys so our rapport is very good. However, I can tell something is wrong when his face turns stoic. I ask what is the matter as he keeps moving the transducer over my belly with a furrowed brow. “I can’t find a heartbeat,” he replies. At first, I think nothing of it. Both my pregnancies were healthy so I have nothing to worry about. Finally, the doctor tells me that the fetus miscarried. I could have a D&C (Dilation and Curettage) to remove the fetus or allow mother nature to take it’s course. The room turned cold and I was in shock.  How could this happen? I’ve never had a miscarriage. This isn’t right, my due date is just off. I was in full denial. When the doctor told me he’d leave so I could have time to think, all I could do was cry.  I cried so hard I lost my breath. My heart ached from the loss.

I scheduled the D&C a few days later on August 28th so I could recover over the Labor Day weekend. Ironic timing huh? After the procedure, although I was disoriented from the general anesthesia, I was already crying. I proceeded to cry for the next two weeks. Taking a few days off was not enough. I requested a 30-day short-term disability leave. I went to yoga nearly every day to heal my body, buy my heart was still broken.

Two months later, I find out that I am pregnant again! I was elated. Maybe this time it would be a healthy pregnancy. I even dreamed that the baby was a girl. The rush of optimism returned. Then, the day before Thanksgiving, I have a natural miscarriage. My body feels tired and I am saddened. The familiar pain of loss haunts me again.

It is just after New Year’s and I miss my cycle. Could it be? I am pregnant once again!  This time, I am less optimistic and more hopeful. Alas, one day before I am to depart for a company ski trip, I have my third miscarriage. I no longer want the risk of having another miscarriage and we decide to postpone attempts indefinitely. I feel like a failure and I harden my emotions. I return to work and put on a smiley face. I don’t know what’s worse, knowing you can get pregnant and experience miscarriage or not getting pregnant in the first place? I thought back and couldn’t believe how at one time I thought I would tie by tubes so I would never have children to wanting so badly to have more children.

After my third pregnancy, I had an ultrasound that discovered that only one of my ovaries was working. My pregnancies, even with Nick and Jack, were truly miracles. I had less of a chance of getting pregnant and still had two beautiful baby boys. Ovaries alternate cycles so my back-to-back pregnancies were miracles in themselves. I had a whole new appreciation for my body…and for myself.

For years, I had beaten myself up for not being more of a mother. I questioned whether I was doing things right, or by the book. I could have unconditional love for my children but I did not do that for myself. I was more comfortable having my children cared for by my husband or professional caretakers. I trusted the “experts” rather than listening to my intuition.

Nick and Jack Today

Nick and Jack Today

I have learned so much from my sons. They are more aware at their age than I was as an adult trying to achieve my 5-YEAR-PLANS. I can support them, provide for their needs, ensure they get a valuable education and love them always. But to give them the most important lesson to succeed in life, I need to be an example of self-love.  The more I am able to accept myself, the more I am able to accept others. If I can forgive myself, the more freedom I will have to forgive others. If I live authentically, they are allowed to live authentically. If I listen to my intuition and follow my heart, I can only hope they learn to do the same.

All nature needs being met, love thyself and the rest of motherhood will follow.

 

Berni