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Category: Birthday Letter

March 7, 2016

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I. One year ago today, labor began in earnest. After three weeks of false starts and grief induced contractions, an ugly fall on some ice followed by a day spent monitored in L&D, contractions finally began to come regularly and powerfully. It was time to welcome this new life as I grappled with the loss of one of my most dear.

I remember a day at home, worrying and laboring in the quiet of my bedroom, the place that had become my sanctuary during the scariest moments of my grief. I watched “Song of the Sea” with my girls, rocking and breathing on a yoga ball. The mother whispers to her child, “Remember me in your stories and in your songs. Know that I will always love you, always.” Tears streamed down my face in recognition.

The house was full of anticipation and yearning. My father’s watchful eye. The strong, assertive kicks from within. We all craved the arrival of this baby as a distraction, a celebration, a reminder of joy. And yet, his very arrival signaled the fierce reality of time plowing relentlessly ahead. While a part of my heart is forever trapped in February 14, 2016, this baby would not allow me to wholly stay stuck.

James and I departed for the hospital earlier than we would have under normal circumstances. But my world was upside down and nothing felt normal. How could I welcome my child into a world without my mother? So we headed for the security and comfort of my midwives who were an integral piece of my survival team during that hideous three week purgatory. I needed their presence and reassurance. I could do this, even without my mother. I could do this. I would do this.

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II. After my mother’s death, I spoke at length with my midwives and James about how we were going to get me through labor and delivery.

The deepest, darkest, hardest moments of my grief were akin to the deepest, darkest, hardest moments of labor. That visceral, uncontrollable pain I’d only ever experienced while giving life and letting life go. It was terrifying and utterly breathtaking in its magnitude. I worried about how I would manage in the face of the two slamming together at the height of labor.

We decided that an epidural upon arrival at the hospital would allow me to not be so focused on the physical pain. I could have as many friends and family and caregivers in the room with me as I needed to help distract from the emotional pain as I dilated to baby’s arrival. While I’d always been anxious about the thought of a needle in my spin, I agreed that given the circumstances, this was the best plan.

And so, shortly upon admission to L&D, the chief of anesthesiology administered the epidural.

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III. My right side went numb quickly. I lay on my left to try to help the medicine distribute more evenly throughout both sides of my body. I did not like feeling so disembodied, so disconnected from what was happening inside me.

My doula and James tried to get me to focus on my breathing. I was okay. The numbness and tingling were normal.

We waited for my sister and dear friend to arrive.

It was 7pm. I was dilated to 4. My cervix had some work to do.

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IV. I kept waving my arms in the air like a fool to reassure myself that I was indeed still connected and in control of my body. My right arm was feeling numb and that made me feel frantic and worried that something was not right.

Everyone reassured me that I was okay. I was doing great. So I threw my arms in the air and willed myself to believe them.

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V. Kimmy arrived. She told me the girls were happily sleeping and my dad was curled up with his phone by his side.

Somehow the Universe would align such that she would be present for the birth of all three of my children.

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VI. I told Kimmy that I did not like the epidural. Why was my whole body so numb and tingly? I was feeling scared.

The nurses checked everything. My vitals were normal. Baby’s vitals were normal. I was progressing well. We were doing great.

Breath, Ashley, breath.

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VII. Kimmy, James and my doula settled into chairs across from me. We talked quietly as the sound of baby’s heartbeat pulsed in the background.

It had been two hours since I’d received the epidural, and I had dilated to 6. Things were moving along. Everyone was assembled.

I suddenly felt horribly nauseous and lightheaded. I called James over to my side.

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VIII. I came to with the strong, urgent words of my midwife echoing in the room. “Ashley, I need you to talk to me. Tell me what’s going on.” There was a sea of faces around me. James and Kimmy clutching my hand. An oxygen mask on my face. The stench of vomit in the air. My midwife’s hands inside of me. And nurses scurrying about.

I have absolutely no memory of the two minutes prior to that moment. As James relayed the story later, I had gone unconscious shortly after calling him over, and seized and vomited. My midwife had come flying in the room assuming I had dilated to 10 and baby’s imminent arrival had caused me to faint. I was still at 6cm, and despite passing out, baby’s vitals had stayed steady during the whole episode.
I was in a panic. How could I have no memory of what had just happened? How had my sister handled that moment on the heels of my mother’s sudden death? Why had it happened?

I wanted the baby out. I did not want to die. I hated the epidural. I wanted my mother. Everything felt completely out of control and overwhelming.

As I whispered over and over, “I don’t want to die. I just want my mom. I don’t want to die like her,” the nurses cleaned me up and tried to get me to relax and breath into the oxygen mask.

The anesthesiologist returned and was not happy that this had happened. He either wanted the baby out or the epidural off. He couldn’t explain what had just happened so thought it best to stop it.

And this is where I applaud and champion midwife care because Amy, my midwife who had held me every single day of my grief, coaching me to this very moment, stood by my side and said to the anesthesiologist and me, “Ashley has had a lot going on. She just needed to check out for a moment. I will be by her side every moment for the rest of this labor, and if it happens again, baby comes out and epidural is done. But I think her mind just needed a break. She’s back. And baby is doing awesome.” And with that, the anesthesiologist left. And I got my very numb feet back under me.

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IX. Turns out, a panic attack can do quite a number on a person in the throes of labor and grief.

I’m so grateful I had a skilled, experienced ally and advocate by my side caring for me and my baby in that moment. I am forever indebted for the thoughtful, informed, sensitive care that I received from my midwives during that three weeks and the weeks following. I could not overstate their import.

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X. Only minutes after that episode, I’m smiling. I can’t believe I was smiling, but this is where my gratitude for my amazing friend and talented photographer Kate comes into play. Her images of that evening and these moments are a concrete reminder of my own strength and the resilience of the human spirit.

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XI. And with the arrival of my dear friend Geraldine, the last of my birth team had arrived. And with that scary moment behind me, and my anxiety subsiding, we settled in for the final hours of waiting.

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XII. This is love. This is support. This is how you keep going.

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XIII. This is where hashtagsquadgoals feels appropriate. These humans, these unbelievable humans, who held me in my grief and laughed with me in my joy, they are who dragged me through that purgatory and out the other side. They are my family.

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XIV. Since I didn’t like the continued numbness from the epidural, there was a rotating crew of “feet rockers” whose job it was to simply keep their leg pressed against the bottom of my foot and allow me to rock them back and forth. It was grounding. And comforting. And kept me connected to my body and that moment to avoid further anxiety or panic.

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XV. Interestingly, despite not feeling any pain from the contractions, I instinctively lifted the oxygen mask to my face any time I was experiencing one. I wouldn’t know it at the time, but then the monitors would confirm that I was indeed mid-contraction. So while I was less connected to what was happening inside my body than I was for my previous two births, this was a small reminder that I was still very much present with my body and baby.

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XVI. For a few hours, I was able to settle in to the scene I’d imagined when I thought about this baby’s birth. Talking. Laughing. Contentedly anticipating the arrival of my child with those I love.

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XVII. And then, shortly after 1am, I hit 10cm. With three strong, determined pushes, I brought my son in to the world.

He pooped on arrival, so we were both coated in a sticky, black goo.

He arrived sunny side up, like his eldest sister, and so made a squished face appearance to those present.

James announced he was a boy, and with that he was placed on my chest.

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XVIII. Hello, sweet baby. Welcome, Sanderling.

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XIX. I cannot adequately capture the range of emotions I experienced in those first moments with this boy. The relief. The gratitude. The love. The sorrow. The joy. The beauty. The exhaustion. The exultation.

He brought a part of me back to myself.

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XX. “I’m so proud of you,” he whispered, “and I know she is too.”

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XXI. The “I fucking did it” face

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XXII. “He has mom’s nose.”

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XXIII. Team Sanderling.

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XXIV. And like that, we were parents of three.

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XXV. Father and son.

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XXVI. Meconium toes. Strawberry blonde hair. 9lbs of squish.

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XXVII. Born March 7, 2016 at 1:11am. 9lbs 1oz. 20 inches long.

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XXVIII. Healthy. Safe. Here. That is all I had been wanting. It was all I needed in that moment. My anchor in the storm.

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XXIX. “He is exactly the poem I wanted to write.” Happy Birth Day, my sweet boy. We are so glad you’re here.

I

Hi, Mom.

Your grandson is seven months old as of last Friday, and he is all sweetness. I wish you could see how much I absolutely adore this boy of mine. He is such light. Such joy. You’d be so enchanted with him. I can picture you crooning, “Oh you beguiling little thing,” as he’d gaze at you with those big blue eyes, downy chick blonde hair and opened mouthed grin.

Just yesterday, he learned to clap. He is one of the happiest, smiliest babes I’ve ever encountered, and his face positively exploded with joy when he figured out how to repeatedly slap palm to palm as his sisters sang round after round of “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands!”

Boy did he know it!

He’s going through some serious sleep regression thanks to runny noses, and coughs, and teething, and a deep interest in being vertical. I know you’d stress and worry that he is showing absolutely zero interest in crawling. Tummy time elicits screams of protest from an otherwise carefree babe, whereas he will stand for what feels like hours with utter pride and delight on his feet. Stick a mirror in front of him, and he could entertain himself all day. The bouncer is a huge hit as a result. His daycare teachers say that he is giving their arms quite a workout, as he so prefers to be held standing upright than down on his tummy. I’m not too concerned about the lack of crawling, but I can picture you worrying this fact over and over with me on the phone. “It’s important they crawl first! It’s a critical developmental milestone!”

As I navigate life on only two-three hour blocks of sleep before interruption, I wish I could call you to commiserate. You were always so good about letting me bitch and moan and whine, and pepping me up to take on another day. I’ll never forget sitting in a pool of tears in my bathroom in LA, while Addison screamed in my arms, with you, on the other end of the line, gently reminding me, “It feels like forever, sweetie. But it’s not. This will only last a short while. You can do it. You’re a wonderful mother.”

When I find myself at my wits end at three o’clock in the morning with a fussy baby in my arms, I call those words to mind, the gentleness and wisdom of your voice, and it helps me find calm.

“This will only last a short while.”

How painfully true.

You would be so taken with this boy. And while writing to you will never be sufficient, I’ve realized it brings to mind what is most pressing, most true, most salient because what comes flooding out of me is what I so wish I could share with you. Moments like the splendor of learning to clap.

You’d have been so proud of him, too.

143 Your Ashley

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Sanderling // Six Months

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Darling Boy,

Today is your half birthday, and you have fully transitioned from infant to baby. You are moving and grooving and eating and sitting and fighting sleep and grabbing and rolling and rocking like a kid that’s got six months of life under his belt.

You’ve started daycare, and, no surprise, social creature that you are, your transition has been smooth and delightful. You beam for your teachers and friends, and while you’re the youngest in your classroom by over three months, you’re by far the biggest (running theme for the Cart kids). Nothing brings you greater joy than sitting at the kid table eating food. SOLID FOOD! You freaking love food. It didn’t take long for you to get a handle on being spoon fed, and everything to which you’ve been introduced has been met with great enthusiasm. You literally quake with joy when you see the bag of frozen mango come out of the freezer. You kick and squirm and squawk and do this little head wiggle to show your delight that it’s meal time. While your sleep has been rocky ever since returning from Bermuda, I’m holding out hope that it’s a result of so much change (new house, start of daycare, solid food, sitting up on your own, etc.), and that as you fall into a nap routine at daycare, sleep at home will follow suit. And in the meantime, we’re… surviving. (Sleep deprivation sucks so hard, please remember how to sleep 10 consecutive hours again, soon. PLEASE!)

Your personality is revealing itself by the day, and I’m struck by your very notable “coo” that you do when nursing or when you’re just waking or winding down from the day. It reminds me of the noise the polar bears in “Balto” (the 1995 animated movie about a sled dog, ha! Throwback!) make when they talk to one another. No one but your Auntie Kimmy will understand that reference, but man, it is so unbelievably sweet and affectionate. You also love to grab the back of my neck or hair with both fists and violently tug your your mouth to my face and “nurse” lovingly on my chin. While it is a wee bit aggressive and hicky-inducing (you are far stronger and capable of causing discomfort than you realize), it is your way of greeting me when we’ve been apart or when you’re feeling particularly needy. Your teachers call it your kiss – which is a very kind way of characterizing the behavior. But I find it endearing nonetheless, because it seems to be a behavior predominately reserved for me.

Over our anniversary dinner last night, your daddy and I were reflecting on just how truly enamored of you we are. We realize that we are experiencing your babyhood with a more mature lens, and it’s clear that we’re able to appreciate and enjoy and relish all of your developments, milestones, and everyday moments more deeply because the girls are a living demonstration of just how quickly the stages fly by. (Worth noting, your sisters are still positively obsessed with you and constantly overwhelm you with love and attention – but most of the time, you don’t seem to mind in the least! In fact, they still elicit the most righteous giggles from you).

I love you, sweet boy. And I am endlessly grateful that you are my son, and that I get the privilege of being your mom. Our family wouldn’t be complete without you. Happy Half Birthday!

143 Mama

Sanderling // Four Months

My darling Kewpie Doll,

This letter comes nearly a week past your Four Month Birth Day, and that’s kind of a metaphor for life as the third child. While I’m doing my best to keep up with marking and noting your milestones, it’s admittedly far less frequent and detailed as it was for your sisters, particularly your oldest sister. But rather than feel guilty about this, I find myself far more present in your babyhood than I ever was with your siblings. It’s perspective and wisdom that have taught me to slow down, enjoy, and just be in the moment with you. Because it moves far too quickly, and if I don’t stop and take in that delicious baby smell, or the comfort of that soft, fuzzy peach head, or the way you gaze up at me with those insanely blue eyes and greet me with those big, open-mouthed, drooly grins, it’ll be gone before I blink.

You’ve gone from being a grunty, wrinkly, cross-eyed infant, to a strong, social, busy baby. You grab with such intensity, often causing your female house mates to lament the epic fistfuls of hair that find their way into your grasp. You roll from tummy to back and back to front, and hold your head with such steadiness for a babe of your age. You arch and kick and flap and it’s clear that you are one adept and strong little one (little is relative, given that you are off the charts for height, but that’s no surprise given your genetic history). Which makes you all the more capable of handling the onslaught of hugs and squeezes and cuddles from your well-intentioned but overly-enthusiastic second sister. Both of your sisters love you so much, and they often quell your cries far faster than mommy or daddy. They coo and smile and sing and dangle toys and find as much joy in you as you so clearly find in them. It is so deeply meaningful for me to witness your connection and bond to one another, and my only wish is that you all continue to bring comfort and happiness to each other throughout your lives.

We took you on our first road trip as a family of five this past week. We visited friends at their lake houses in Vermont and New Hampshire, and then capped off the trip with a stop along the Maine Coast to meet your great-grandfather. While we’ve hit a bump in sleep thanks to the unwelcome four month sleep regression, you were amazingly adaptable as we dragged you from house to house. You road on boats so your sisters could go tubing or your daddy could go canoeing. You saw your first fireworks. You delighted everyone with your raspberries and giggles.  You’re like a cartoon character, your face is so very expressive like your dad’s. And it never ceases to amuse and bring smiles, even when I may be feeling low or having a hard grief day.

Staying at your great-grandfather’s nursing home for an evening was particularly challenging for me, as I couldn’t help but feel resentful that you get to meet him, and yet will never meet your Momar. Being surrounded by a community of people in their 70s, 80s and 90s made me ache with yearning and disappointment and anger. How is it possible that I’ll never know your grandmother as an old woman? How unfair and cruel it all feels.

But you have a way of pulling me from my darkest thoughts and shining light when I need it most. Our country needs so much of that right now. It is a scary time, both personally and nationally, and I’ve felt such anxiety about the state of the world in which I’ve welcomed you. But everyday, you and your sisters are a bit of hope and light and goodness that my life, this world, so desperately require. Thank you for continuing to be my anchor in the storm.

Happy Four Months, my Sanderling.

143 Mama

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Sanderling // Three Months

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My beguiling Three Month Old,

You are our ray of sunshine. Our cheeks hurt from smiling back so unabashedly at your constant stream of open-mouthed, rapturous grins. You are on the brink of the giggles and that is only going to amplify the joy and happiness you so readily bestow upon our household. Your bath time routine of stomps and splashes and coos with Daddy and PINK HIPPO! are arguably the zenith of your joy each day. In the face of our grief, you are our balance. Our light. Our anchor. And you radiate that light outward to those we greet in public – the baristas, pharmacists, colleagues, friends, teachers, yogis, darling elderly gentlemen, are all so smitten with your sweet smiles of connection and contentment.

This precious ensemble arrived from a beautiful French knitwear company, Miou Kids, and I can hardly stand how adorably that bonnet magnifies that round, squishy face of yours. Those bally cheeks (just like your Momar’s)! That dimple! It makes your smiles all the more irresistible. If it isn’t already glaringly obvious, I am positively taken with you, my darling. There isn’t a moment that goes by that I don’t feel humbled with gratitude and love for your presence in our lives.

Your easy-going nature continues, as you have (for now) mastered sleeping through the night. You go to sleep with ease at bed time. In fact, I often lay you down still awake, and you merrily suck your thumb (we hear great slurping down the hall) until you drift off to sleep. We then don’t hear from you again until the following morning. If a wet diaper or a hungry belly awakes you before 6am, a quick change and/or nurse session is enough to welcome another 2-3 hour stretch of sleep. I cannot fully articulate what a gift this has been, for all of us. To be rested. To not have to stress about long bedtime routines, or prolonged middle-of-the-night feedings, or restless, sleep-deprived children and parents is particularly welcome during a time when life feels so hard and confusing. Thank you for that gift.

While I know that your daddy and I are far more relaxed and comfortable now that this is our third crack at parenting a newborn, it’s also a testament to your adaptable, laid back personality. It makes carting you around to all of your sisters’ extracurriculars, school performances, appointments, rehearsals, shows, etc. a breeze – not to mention the slew of activities and errands you find yourself running alongside your mom and dad daily. Securely discovering your thumb this month has certainly helped you manage self-care when needed. You’ve recently shown a tendency to blow out your diaper mid-errand, so we’ve gotten very skilled at stripping you of poop-soaked clothing in the mini-van. But if that’s the most challenging hurdle I have to face with you these days, I’ll take it. Baby poo stained car seats and all.

We’ve survived the fourth trimester, my friend. Two bouts of mastitis (the engorgement from your epic sleep stretches is to blame for last week’s infection, but again, tough to complain given the reason), a slew of challenging milestones in the wake of your Momar’s passing and your mama’s adjustment to life postpartum unmothered – but we did it. And I can’t imagine having weathered these three months without you curled up against my chest, a puddle of drool beneath your chin, and sweet sighs emitting from those lips that suck on air as you dream. You are an ever-constant reminder to remain in the present. To soak in the current moment. And revel in the love and comfort and gratitude it brings.

How I wish your Momar could see how much I am positively delighting in you. But I like to think of her as your guardian angel, and I trust that she knows, even if it’s just in the security of my own heart.

143 Mama

Shop Sanderling’s gorgeous hand knit outfit from Miou KidsCotton Overalls in Teal; Cotton Moss Bonnet in Sea Foam ; Crochet Booties in Sea Foam

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84 Months

Dearest Sunny,

Today you are seven. And it is my first time celebrating the day that turned me into a mother without my own. You shared such a special bond with your Momar. You are her namesake and the person who made her a grandmother, the greatest role she ever played.

You asked if Doda could make you a robot Momar for your birthday, and it makes my heartache with both sorrow and gratitude that you loved her equally as much as she adored you. While nothing will ever replace her, you are a living embodiment of so many of her best qualities. That button nose. That gorgeous hair. But more importantly than the physical embodiment, the way you say I LOVE YOU to your family with abandon, just as she did. The way you surprise us with special notes and drawings and gifts, the way she always showered those she loved with affection and over-the-top giving. Your bookwormy nature (you now stay up reading chapter books by the light of a book lamp, and we have to ask you to put the book away to actually get you to go to sleep, you adore late-night reading so much). Momar had a similar predilection. Your disdain for the morning is also a shared personality trait, though that extends to your mother as well. Most notably, your tenderness with and caretaking of your siblings and pets resembles a gentleness with animals and babies that was such a core part of your Momar. How fortunate I am to have a living glimpse of her before me each day in the hearts and bodies of my children.

I am awestruck that I have been your mother for seven years. But yesterday morning, as you held your baby brother in your bed and cooed and kissed and snuggled, I gazed down upon you and beheld a child who has had to grow up so much in just one year. Who has faced the loss of her great-grandfather, and then cherished grandmother, while navigating huge changes and advancements in school, both academically and socially. Not to mention that you’ve had to watch your mother experience immense grief while our whole household shifted into a family of five. With all these upheavals and heartaches, you have become more vulnerable but also far tougher than the little girl who turned six last year. You are very much a seven year old. And I am endlessly proud of your kindness, your intellect, your creativity, and your gentleness with the world around you. As I looked into your eyes yesterday morning, there was such grace, such elegance. You are growing up beautifully my darling, and I mean that well beyond the physical.

I love you, my precious first born. Thank you for all that you’ve done for your mama, particularly these past three months.

And Happiest Seventh Birthday.
143 Mama

Pictured here with your Momar the last time we saw her, Christmas 2015. Showered with gifts, just as she would have done for you today were she still with us.

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Sanderling // Two Months

My Sweet Sanderling,

Yesterday, I changed a blown out diaper on a spot of grass by the side of the road. The day before, I did so in the public restroom at our bustling coffee shop. I’ve taken to changing diapers on the floor of the car, in the middle of parking lots, on any flat surface I can muster. Because you and I, kid? We spend our days out and about. One of the many gifts of a third child is that I am far less daunted by the prospect of a full day away from the safety net of our home, its changing table, its seemingly endless diaper supply and clean baby clothes, and its washing machine. I load up the diaper bag with wipes, and plastic bags, and an excessive number of diapers and changes of clothes, and snacks for mama, and away we go.

I’ve been feeling the weight of grief, so have been vigilant about self-care to help manage the sorrow and dark cloud I’m carrying. So out of the house we go each morning, to coffee dates, and therapy appointments, on errands, to the bus stop, on long hikes with the dogs, on walks through town, to friends’ houses, to daddy’s office, to your sisters’ schools and extracurriculars. You nurse in parked cars, in coffee shops, on couches, in waiting rooms, while I stroll around with you in my arms. I drop you with daddy every day at noon so I can go to my yoga class, and the two of you go on walks and sit together in the sunshine and fresh air, and every day you make it so easy for both of us to carve out this time. You are so unbelievably adaptable and agreeable, and take each day’s list of activities and errands in stride. In fact, they are met with great smiles and coos and finger sucking (you are on track to discover your thumb any day, my friend, much like your mommy and daddy who were long time thumb suckers. It helps you self-sooth, and it is noisy as all get, but effective!).

I am endlessly grateful for how flexible and easy going you are. You make taking care of myself, and thus you, so much easier in the face of so much that is challenging. And your smiles, oh my heart. Your sweet, unbridled, positively enormous smiles bring out the most involuntary and beautiful joy in me and your daddy and sisters. You beam with such innocent enthusiasm, flashing a dimple on your left cheek, and bringing out the highest pitched coos of gratitude and love in response from whomever is on the receiving end. The power of baby smiles could bring about world peace, if we could just figure out how to bottle that magic.

Sleep is consistent, but not nearly for stretches as long as I’d like, but I know we’ll get there. You do a consistent 4 hour stretch, then nurse and have a diaper change in the middle of the night, then another three hours or so before we repeat the process and the rest of the household begins their day. While the middle of the night session is definitely causing dark circles under my eyes and a daily fatigue, you rarely ever cry or fuss, and so it’s hard to complain. You are only 2 months old, after all, and aren’t expected to sleep through the night just yet.

And I know that nursing is going so well given your immense size and the ease with which you breastfeed, no matter the circumstances or position. We have retired nearly all of our 0-6 month clothing and you are fitting quite comfortably in items sized for a child nearly three times your age. You easily take a bottle, which I know will make your transition to daycare this fall much smoother. As far as life with an infant goes, you make my job easy (or as easy as caring for a completely dependent little life can be). We are so endlessly grateful you’re here, and you’re ours. You have added an entirely new dimension of love and happiness to our home, and I can’t fathom our family without you. And I cannot imagine how I would have survived these past few months of loss and heartbreak without you by my side. You are my saving grace.

I love you, sweet baby. Happy Two Months!

143 Mama
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My Birth Day

Today is my 33rd birthday.

It is the first time in my life that I will mark this occasion without the woman who made this very day possible.

Three years ago I wrote, “So today, on my Thirtieth Birthday, I want to say thank you to my own mother for being strong and brave, especially on that day thirty years ago. Thank you for bringing me into this fragile, beautiful, incalculable world so that I could one day know the power of birthdays and a mother’s love, and wish you, mom, a Happy Birth Day.”

How those words resonate more than ever today.

And how grateful I feel that I spoke out loud, wrote down, and shared my love and appreciation for my beautiful mama with her and the world. It could be easy to be filled with regret, and unsaids, and unfinisheds when life is ripped away so unexpectedly, so suddenly. But in all of the ugliness and sorrow of the past two months, there is no doubt. While there is longing for more time, there is no regret of love unspoken.

She knew how desperately I loved her. And I knew how very much I was loved in return. While we could be tough with and on one another, we were equally as fierce with our love. And while I ache to have that love at my fingertips, to physically hold it in my arms, it sits confidently and securely inside me, forever anchoring my heart when I need strength and bravery and to believe in myself. She always believed in me, and never hesitated to speak that pride and belief out loud.

I will spend every day of my own life making sure my children know how deeply they are cherished, so that they know the warmth, and comfort, and confidence that comes from a love modeled by their Momar.

I love you, Mom. Thank you for showing me how important it is to name those three words. And thank you for making today my Birth Day.

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For Momar

Happy Birthday, Mama.

Sunny made you a birthday banner at school yesterday. Unprompted, she came home and hung it over our kitchen table in preparation for today’s celebration of you. Both of your granddaughters are always looking for ways to bring a smile to my face, and they go about it in such thoughtful, tenderhearted ways. They come from your legacy of giving so freely, unabashedly, and warmly to those they love. You taught us all so well.

The flowers I would have sent to you today, I ordered for our household. I’ll enjoy their pastel, drippy romantic sweetness and think of all the beauty you brought to my life. I wish I’d written down all the myriad of things you told me about flowers and gardening over the years; but I never thought I wouldn’t have you by my side or a phone call away to remind me of every last perennial and its corresponding Latin root. Not yet, at least.

Today we’re driving to Saratoga, a place where you lived and loved, to celebrate your birthday. The girls so enjoyed our trip there last spring, and I was so eager to visit with you in tow so you could tell them all about your collegiate motherland. I’ve been wearing your Skidmore ring almost daily. And I think about its wild journey from a field at Goucher College, back into the hands of the Skidmore Alumni Office, and then back to you. I promise to keep better track of it this time. Although, I know you delighted in the story of two former women’s colleges having such devoted, thoughtful staff that it wound up being safely returned to you, even after my foolishness.

I found half-popped popcorn at the store yesterday, and nearly purchased all twenty bags on the shelf (I restrained myself to five). Just the other day, Sunny commented that her favorite part of eating popcorn was the half-popped kernels at the bottom of the bowl. I explained to her that you and I both shared that obsession, and that when I was in high school you’d actually found a company that made entire bags of just half-popped kernels. I hadn’t seen such a thing since, and then lo, on the shelves of Trader Joe’s, there they were. Thank you for that. We’ll snack on them en route to Saratoga. And the girls have planned to bake a chocolate cake, with chocolate frosting, covered in your favorite berries (strawberry, raspberry and blackberry. No blueberry!) for dessert tonight. They plotted out their vision for the cake last night. They take their sweets as seriously as you did.

As I was driving home last week after my first full day away from the house with Sander, I reached for the phone to call you and tell you all about it. When reality hit, I was left with the crushing devastation that happens in the wake of unexpected grief. They’ll never be enough tears to express how that feels. I don’t think I’ll ever stop doing that. Reaching for you. Yearning to hear your voice and your laugh. Your support and encouragement. Your stories. Your opinions. You were so full of all of these. And I miss them. Every day.

You are daily a part of our conversations and our storytelling. The way that we live our lives. You gave us all so much, and we’ll be forever seeking to give that back out to the world as a reminder of your generous, lion-hearted spirit.

I love you. Always. Forever. Toujours.

Bonne Anniversaire, Maman.
143 Your Ashley

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Sanderling // One Month

Sweet baby boy,

Your daddy has come to refer to you as “My Anchor.” It is such an apt nickname for the way you have provided perspective and stability during a time when I could so very quickly spiral out of control.

It’s ironic, given how unpredictable and unstable newborn days often feel. Over the course of the past month, we have already experienced so much and survived so many bumps and hurdles. Those early days with you feel like a lifetime ago. From long hours in the hospital working on your latch with a team of nurses helping with position and pushing pumped milk into the nipple shield so your instant gratification personality wouldn’t yell quite so furiously, to a week spent holed up in my bedroom nursing and pumping and crying over sore, infected, feverish breasts, to venturing out of the house and braving public interaction for the first time since your grandmother died.

Parents are looked at as the protectors and keepers of their babies, and yet you are more a shield for me than I could ever be for you. You’re a focal point, a distraction, an excuse, a reason, a silver lining, and I can weather most social exchanges knowing I have you pressed against me as my protective, grounding cloak.

We’ve already packed away any 0-3 month clothes, a physical metaphor for the closing of your newborn days. You are now one month old, and fit comfortably into 6 month clothes, following in the footsteps of your oversized sisters. Every day, you are more alert, stronger, less a squishy mush and more a round, chubby baby. But I’m still enjoying that newborn lip quiver, those googley, wondering eyes, and those squeaky, pitiful infant noises. Most notably, your epic grunts. You are one loud, grunty babe, even in your sleep. And it is so very, very ridiculous.

I feel so deeply connected to you, my love. You are my saving grace during a time when I could not imagine needing it more.

I love you, my Sanderling. Happy One Month Birth Day.

143 Mama

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