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Category: Maternity

XXXi

Hi, Mom,

I heard your youngest grandchild’s heartbeat for the first time yesterday. It’s amazing how that simple sound can make such an abstract, mystifying process concrete. That steady whosh turns an idea, a concept, a dream, a hope, into something so clear. So real. So thrilling.

“That’s our baby.”

Our final baby. The last time we’ll get that relief, that proof, that affirmation of the wonder of life in process. Without direction or demand, my body is once again creating. And that reality is awesome. And humbling. And absolute magic.

For the first few weeks of this pregnancy, I wasn’t excited. I was nervous. And ambivalent. And anxious. Was this what we really wanted? Was this what our family needed? I questioned. And hesitated. And hedged.

And I missed you, mom. I fucking missed you. (I mean I always do, but during these past few months, more palpably).

But as the weeks have fallen away, and my belly expands, and my fatigue fades, and the news spreads, I feel a lightness. An anticipation. A joy.

I so look forward to welcoming this child into our family. With all the chaos and love.

Sunny and Courtland were entertaining Sander the other evening, indulging his desire to spin in circles while holding hands, before collapsing on the floor and throwing his body on top of theirs. He giggled with delight as he threw himself on top of Sunny, and she wrapped him up in a big hug while whispering, “I love this little guy.”

There is so much of that ahead of us.

143 Your Ashley

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Hi, Mom,

I distinctly remember where you were seated as I relayed the news of my pregnancy with Sanderling. We were in your home on Cape Cod, dropping the girls off for a weekend of Camp Momar & Doda while James and I attended a wedding in Chicago. It was mid-July. We had only just learned of the pregnancy the weekend or so prior over the 4th of July holiday

We waited to share the news with you in person, to enjoy the full impact of your joy and celebration. We were seated across from one another on the couches in your living room. As the words fell from my mouth, you leapt to your feet shrieking, “I thought it was time for another baby!!!!” before wrapping me in one of your signature overly-ambitious embraces.

Your enthusiasm and joy was palpable. I felt so loved. So safe. So sure. In that moment, with my mother hugging me in her exaltation, everything was going to be okay.

In the early stages of my pregnancy with Sunny, during a weepy, insecure moment over the phone, you sympathized deeply. “Pregnancy is such a vulnerable time, sweetie. Be gentle with yourself. Everything can feel so scary and overwhelming and unsettled. Let your family help you feel safe.”

I reflect back on those words now as I so desperately crave your reassurance. And love. And joy. And promise that it will be okay. That I am safe. That this baby is safe.

I’m expecting your fourth grandchild and it is impossibly unfair that I don’t get to share this news with you. That I don’t get to physically experience your excitement and concern. Your mother’s love.

No one has welcomed the news with the enthusiasm and readiness you would have had available in excess. I’ve even felt judgement, or at best, restrained congratulations, from many. Four must seem excessive. But it’s not their lives, or their business, and yet, it hurts.  It’s hard enough to have to live in a world where you don’t get to share in this experience with me than to also have to face cool detachment from those I love. If you were here, you’d help mediate and soften those hard feelings. You’d help protect me in my most vulnerable state and reassure me that this baby was meant to be. And that it was going to be fucking amazing.

James and I weren’t sure we wanted a fourth child. It was always a possibility after Sander’s pregnancy, as you knew how worried I was about the dynamics of a family of three. Always an odd man out.

But we had settled in to a nice rhythm with the kids, and while pregnancy had been a distinct possibility since the spring, month after month my period arrived. After six months, James and I felt like it was time to call it. I didn’t want this to be an open-ended possibility that could occur at any moment. If it wasn’t meant to be, then it wasn’t meant to be. We were so fortunate to have our three, healthy, growing children. We did not need a fourth. After many a discussion with our therapist, I scheduled my yearly check-up with my midwives and told them I was ready to have a IUD reinserted. At that appointment, I relayed that there was of course the possibility that that month I had gotten pregnant. My period was due on Saturday and it was only Thursday. They did a pregnancy test in the office and it came back “negative.” I felt the weight of that news sink in. I was done with this remarkable period of my life. My IUD appointment was thus scheduled for the following Tuesday morning.

But then Saturday came and went with no period. And Sunday. Finally on Monday, I bought an over the counter test and a very very faint line appeared on the stick Tuesday morning. I called my midwives to have them cancel the appointment. Sudden change of plans.

When James shared the news with his parents, his mother’s first reaction was “Allison knew it! She whispered to me at Courtland’s 4th birthday party that she knew you were going to have four children because of Sanderling’s pregnancy. She was so certain of it.”

It’s comforting to think that you, The Universe, fate, intervened at the last minute and made this baby possible. That this was indeed meant to be. And that James and I, however fucking batshit crazy our lives are going to become, will do this with as much grace and good humor as we can possibly muster.

And even if it’s not some cosmic intervention, I find deep comfort in knowing that you, on some level, knew that this baby was going to be a part of our lives. That while I’ll never experience the full impact of sharing the news with you in person, that you knew. That you know. And that you are jumping up and down in the cosmos shrieking, “I thought it was time for another baby!”

Another baby who will share a piece of her Momar. There’s no greater comfort than that.

143 Your Ashley

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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.

Resilience

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When you spend your days tethered to a nursing and/or napping newborn, you wind up taking a heck of a lot of selfies to capture all that delicious squish.
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I’m definitely feeling sadder this week than I’ve felt since my mom’s death 10 weeks ago. The shock has worn off. The baby is safely and healthfully here. I’ve weathered her memorial and our birthdays. And now, I’m settling into a routine. And processing a normalcy without her. And that has peeled back a new layer of grief.So I spend mornings lying in bed nursing and snuggling. I go to yoga class. I see my therapist. I take my medications (that I started shortly before Sander was born preempting the postpartum depression my midwives knew was coming given the devastating circumstances). I go on long hikes with the dogs. I meet friends for coffee and laughter. I cry. I read extra stories to the girls at night. I write. I hold James close. I watch trashy TV. I stick my face in the sunshine. I delight in baby smiles. I document. I remember. I love.

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We don’t talk honestly or openly about loss in our society. The vulnerability and permanence, instability and unknowing make us wary and scared. But I must be candid to survive it. And I must do all these other things in the name of self care and thus being a stronger parent to my children, partner to my husband, and loving friend and family member.

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Birth and death are the most universal elements of humanity, and we can be carried and supported and elevated by the candor and experience of others as we each find our way through these deeply personal, complex life moments. Thank you to all those that have been brave and shared their truth with me. The human spirit is far more resilient than I ever imagined.

Sander’s Hospital Stay

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Here’s a peek at our hospital stay with Sander, the same L&D floor where I delivered Courtland. While the circumstances were far more challenging during this postpartum period, the staff rose to the occasion and treated our family with such thoughtful care and tenderness. I am endlessly grateful for the attention and kindness of the nurses during our stay, and my midwives, who carried me this past month in ways that I didn’t know were possible. Their deep commitment to me and this baby were palpable and I wish all women had access to that depth of care and experience. I feel very fortunate to be one of their patients.

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^^My father gifted my mother that bead for her Pandora bracelet on Valentine’s Day morning, before our entire world changed forever only moments later. I wore it around my neck in the three weeks following her death, and during Sander’s birth, as it was the most recent thing her hands had touched and it felt comforting to keep her touch close during a time when I needed it the most.^^

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Sanderling // One Week

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He is officially one week old. And we are truly in the longest, shortest time. He looks so much like his Daddy as a newborn. That forehead and towhead blonde hair!

Here he is donning his Year of the Monkey romper.

Five weeks ago, I posted a photo to Instagram of this romper, and my mom commented on the image from my dad’s account. A first for her. And I am comforted knowing that she saw this piece that I created for her grandson, even though she’ll never get to experience it in person. I feel so deeply connected to this baby, which isn’t always easy with a newborn, and I am certain that my mother has something to do with that.

Happy 1 Week Birth Day, darling Sanderling. We are so glad you’re here.

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It’s been four weeks

They are living pieces of their beloved Momar. She’s been gone four weeks today, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop reaching for the phone to talk to her about her grandchildren. But these faces are carrying me. They keep my head turned forward when all I want to do is go screaming back in time.

She would have loved to see this moment.
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Sanderling Wilcox Cart

Introducing Sanderling Wilcox Cart. Our sweet baby boy, Sander.

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His big sisters are positively smitten and our hearts are finding comfort and healing in his arrival.

Born March 7, 2016 at 1:11am in Bennington, Vermont. Weighing in like Big Sister Sunny at 9lbs 1oz, and arriving Sunny Side up just as she had. His birth was so very different than I had envisioned just three weeks prior, but it was no less surrounded by love. He is here. And healthy. And I am so relieved.

While his arrival has shepherded in a new stage of grief and deeply complicated emotions, he has become my anchor. He grounds me when I feel my most out of control, and I am endlessly grateful for the balance and light he provides during a time that would be otherwise so very dark.

His name, Sanderling, was given to him by his Momar in a phone conversation she and I shared the night before her passing. At the time, we were just touching base about her planned visit to Vermont the following day to help with the kids during their February vacation. It was not an extended phone call, but I am so unbelievably grateful that we had the chance to speak to one another (rather than just exchange a quick text) before she died mere hours later.

We exchanged details about their planned arrival, some thoughts on activities with kids for the week, and then she steered the conversation to baby names. She was absolutely bewildered that James and I had yet to decide on a name for this baby. We had a number of ideas we were considering, but nothing had really grabbed us. And eh, third baby, we just hadn’t fixated on the issue and thought it’d be resolved upon meeting him/her. She found this silly, and wanted to talk through the names on our list, while suggesting some other ideas we might consider. I kept brushing her off and reminding her, “Mom, I’m going to see you tomorrow. We can talk about this in person all week.”

The painful irony of those words guts me every time I relive them.

She finally acquiesced.

Fine, fine. But one last thing, I’m just going to remind you of something I always thought would make a wonderful name… Sanderling.

I think I muttered something like, Yeah, yeah, I know. Alright, I love you. Safe travels. See you tomorrow. 

And that was that. My final conversation with my mother. In that moment, she unknowingly gifted our family with a name for her third grandchild, and got her way in the process. This baby was named before his arrival. She would have loved that.

For some context, Sanderling is the name of a beach resort in The Outer Banks of North Carolina where our family vacationed each summer when I was a child. Since my pregnancy with Addison, she’d mentioned that she had always thought that it would make a beautiful name for a person. While James and I thought it was a perfectly lovely name, we weren’t particularly convinced we were up for such an unusual selection. That phone conversation and all that has happened since has changed everything.

While we were convinced it was the right name for this baby fairly quickly in the days following her death, the idea was solidified when we flipped our calendar to the month of March. Each year we receive the Bermuda Watercolour Recipe Calendar from James’ Bermudian grandmother. Each month features a watercolor highlighting an element of Bermudian culture, complete with recipes and facts about Bermuda. When we flipped to March, we were met with a beautiful painting of none other than a Sanderling, complete with a description of this sweet, little shore bird written on the page.

James and I were both thunderstruck.

I remember whispering, Hi, Mom, and feeling a deep, calming sense of her presence.

Truly, what a gift for our family. And for our son. He will carry the love and light of his Momar both in spirit and name, and forever have a story linking him to his grandmother. She already loved him so dearly. While they will never have the chance to meet earth side, he is an ever-constant reminder and piece of my mom. 

While my heart breaks a little more every day, this baby is building new uncharted valleys and mountains of love to balance the gapping canyon in my heart.

Welcome, Sander. You are so desperately loved.

Two Weeks

It’s been two weeks since our lives changed forever. And it’s two weeks until they change further still.

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One Month (and counting)

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One month from today is my official Guess Date for this little one’s arrival. While battling a hideous cold turned sinus infection, slash the onslaught of a particularly gross round of conjunctivitis, I’ve been spending my days in bed looking at old photos and videos of when the girls were first born. It makes me all the more excited to welcome that squishy, Mr. Magoo face into our family in a month or so.

The girls excitement is particularly wonderful. They attended a “Sibling Class” at the birthing suite of the hospital with a L&D nurse this weekend. They learned to diaper and swaddle and hold a newborn, and talked about life with an infant in the house. They also got a tour of the facility where Courtland was born and this little one will arrive. I think it helped Courtland, particularly, who has been rather nervous about what is going to happen when I go into labor.

Admittedly, they’re both curious. Sunny asked me after school yesterday if I was nervous to have this baby born. I explained that I wasn’t nervous, per se, but that there was always some anxiousness about birth, as I have absolutely no control of when baby decides s/he wants to arrive. It could be in two weeks or six. It could be in the middle of the night or the middle of the grocery store. It could be lightening fast or long and hard like her birth.

Birth has definitely been on my mind and I’ve been revisiting not only my own experiences but those I’ve witnessed since. I am wishing and willing for an experience more in line with Courtland’s than Sunny’s, but recognize that this babe and I will go through something entirely our own. And I do not get control or say over when or how it happens, only in how I respond and react in the moment. I’m trying to not overthink or dwell too much, as it does me no good. I’ve got a wonderful birth team assembled – complete with James, a doula, a birth photographer, and Kaki’s Fairy Godmother who is stepping up because in all likelihood my sister will not be able to be present for this baby’s arrival due to her teaching schedule. She was by my side for the girls’ births – and I know the comfort that I personally find in being surrounded and supported by people I love and trust during those vulnerable, powerful moments of birth. While I hope this one is speedy like her 2nd born sister, I’m preparing myself for whatever comes our way.

And I am so looking forward to those early hours where I first get a glimpse at the wide-eyed gaze of this new little life and person. Making all these months, and particularly these final weeks, of discomfort and inconvenience, well well worth it.

Here are the girls in their first hours of life when we got some legit face time with their sweet mugs and those wide eyes.

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