Blog a la Cart

Category: Parenthood

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 don’t want to do this anymore.

That’s how I’ve felt about this space since my last post in early July.

I don’t want to do this anymore.

There has been so much. So much change. So much transition. So many moving parts these past six months that, recently, the thought of attempting to capture them here has felt daunting, not therapeutic. Overwhelming, instead of celebratory.

Since I last posted, we’ve found new homes for Penelope Pig and our flock of chickens, as part of a much larger picture to simplify our lives and conflicting demands of time and energy.

We’ve spent a full week of summer vacation on Cape Cod without my mother. It was filled with beach lounging, ocean swimming, bridge jumping, corn on the cob eating, movie watching, sand castle building, sand island playing, and sunset boat cruising. So much time in the water and sun. With family. And there was so much joy and memory making, and yet everything is diminished by her absence. Forever, diminished.

We packed up and sold Cartwheel Farm. A decision not easily made, but solidified when we found buyers in under 72 hours of listing. In the name of simplicity and convenience, we needed to let go of our dear farmette. We had to say goodbye to the place where I buried my sweet Ursa, where I last saw and held my mother, the last home in which she ever knew me living

We weathered a week of homelessness in sending the dogs and girls off to my in-laws, while James, Sanderling and I relied on the hospitality of friends, and mentally prepped for our move into our new home.

We moved into our little village, walking distance to school and work and daycare, and most significantly, loved ones, our support network. Upon filling our 1875 Colonial with all of our worldly possessions, James and the girls boarded a boat to Bermuda with their Bermudian great-grandmother and Sanderling and I flew over and met them island-side. A tropical, gorgeous, breathtaking break from our chaotic reality back home.

Sander became a teething, squawky five month old. Courtland turned into a Kindergarten-ready five year old. We marked six months of life without my mother’s.

And now, I sit here typing with breast pumps attached to my chest as I attempt to physically and mentally and emotionally prepare for Sander’s introduction to daycare tomorrow morning. The first of my children to be sent to full time daycare before age one, and a symbolic demarcation of all that has changed in such a short period of time. From the beginning, he has been my anchor, and the thought of being apart from him for an extended period makes my gut turn with nausea. I’m not sure how to weather a day without him by my side, providing perspective and comfort and presence. It is a necessary step in my grief as we prepare for my return to work in September, but for now, I feel raw and exposed and unsettled. I know that he will be fine, social butterfly that he is. It is me about whom I’m concerned.

Last night, I had my first visceral, ugly, hysterical outburst of grief in months. I screamed and sobbed and moaned, “I don’t want to do this any more. Please, I just don’t want to do this anymore.”

And by that I mean, I don’t want to exist in a world without my mother another day, another second. I want this grief to be over. I want this hurt to stop. I want this world without her to no longer be my reality.

The foreverness of it undoes me. Trying to make sense of forever, to wrap my head around that, is so physically devastating that my whole body aches and yearns and mourns. I need my mom. I just need my mom.

I don’t want to do this anymore.

I was called to return to this space thanks to a beautiful, loving email sent by a fellow member of the Dead Parent Club (one of the shittiest clubs to join). It was a reminder that these words can be helpful, not just for me, but for others who are navigating a similar devastating forever.

I may not want to do this anymore, but I can. And I will.

Preschool Graduation

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Courtland graduated from preschool two weeks ago, and it was as adorable and as heartwarming as one expects such things to be. She wore the dress that Sunny wore to her preschool graduation, a gift from my mother. They sang songs, including a tune in Spanish, as they’ve been taking weekly lessons from a classmate’s mother all year. Courtland, ever our performer, was so very enthusiastic about the chance to sing for a crowd.

Our little bear is all ready for Kindergarten!


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^^Her siblings dressed in their finest for the occasion.^^

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Sander Smiles

When he smiles, I smile. When I smile, he smiles. And it is the best possible therapy on a rainy grey Sunday.

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.

Sanderling // Four Weeks

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Today, Sanderling is four weeks old. And I could write a tome about the onslaught of time, and how quickly his newborn stage has flown, but instead I’m going to curl right back up on the couch with my baby pressed against my chest, inhaling all that infant sweetness, and living in the moment with him, because that is the best way for me to enjoy and remember.

I have really and truly found myself settling in to moments and finding peace in the way time moves with a newborn. We accomplish so little by every day standards, and yet our days are full of so much. So much love, and bonding, and connection, and learning. And I am grateful for every second in the face of my grief. I’ve spent less time recording it, and more time being present for it.

One day I’ll write his birth story. Or share our pictures from Easter. Or write more about my mother and my grief and our life in The After. But maybe I won’t. And that’s okay, too. I’m willing gentleness on myself, as it is what I need most of all.

In these photos, Sander is wearing a French outfit from my babyhood. I wish my mother could have seen this little “mouton” in what she chose for her own babies 30 years ago. I wish for so many things, but am finding comfort in what I do have in the face of all those unfulfilled wishes.
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Sanderling // Three Weeks

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Sweet Sanderling is already three weeks old. And here he is right before waking up in what James and I have dubbed the “co-waker.” He’d been snoozing for a long period, and I needed to nurse, so we turned to our co-sleeper to rouse him (for whatever reason, he seems to wake up immediately upon being placed in it). Which means, this child has spent all of his sleeping hours pressed up against another person and it’s as much for us as it is for him. Such comfort and healing comes from the peace of a sleeping newborn. And this household needs as much of that as we can get.

The co-sleeper has proved to be a handy side table slash method of waking the baby. It is guaranteed to disturb his slumber upon laying him in it. And thus provide adorable staging for scenes such as this.

He is more wakeful now that he’s hit three weeks, and as grunty as ever, demanding nursing or a diaper change with the bleats akin to a baby goat. His sleep has also been more restless, so James and I are feeling particularly zombie-esque. But we know how temporary this time is and know we can survive it. And mostly, we’re all just enjoying how dang sweet and endearing this little love is.

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My Three Children

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It’s the first holiday weekend without my mother, and we had had plans to be with her on Easter Sunday. Instead, we’re in VT, weathering mud season, and trying to be as low key and low expectations as possible to get me through the weekend. I had a visit from my oldest friend from childhood and her daughters on Friday, and then a visit from my mom’s best friend from childhood on Saturday. It was good, but hard, to be surrounded by people who knew her so well and loved her so much. She meant so much to so many, and while it is so lovely to be reminded of that, it is also so devastating to be reminded of how much we all lost.

The next two months are filled with milestones/holidays/birthdays that are going to be a doozy to confront. I’m trying to face them one at a time. Napping, sunshine, and laughter with my kids are some of the best antidotes (but I’ve got a team of medical professionals helping as well, because I can’t possibly take care of my children if I’m not taking care of myself).

I’m continually grateful to be supported and carried by my loved ones during a time when I need it most. And for naps. Definitely for naps.

And these smiling faces. Holy cow. James and I feel so lucky to call ourselves parents to these three.

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Snuggles with Sander

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Everyone wants in on the infant snugs.

We are clearly not enjoying this baby enough… our little grunty babe. He has the most ridiculous grunt that is unlike any noise his big sisters made as infants. And it is hysterical, and endearing, and so deep and low and ridiculous. Usually it comes when he is first waking up, or right before a monster poop. And it is unique to our Sander (at least in the Cart family).

Oh we are just so stupidly in love with this little one. All of us.

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Sanderling // Two Weeks

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His second week of life will be remembered for six days of being holed up in my bedroom with a fever and a brewing case of mastitis.

The fever started last Sunday night, and despite a trip to the midwives on Monday, we couldn’t pin down its origin until late Thursday evening when a sore left breast finally broke out in extreme hot, red yuck. The fever kept me horizontal pretty much all week, so we slept and nursed and slept and nursed and sweat and slept and nursed and I pumped and pumped and pumped because the infected breast took a big hit supply-wise and Sander eventually refused to nurse on that side.

Fortunately, fever is now gone, infection is clearing, supply is on the rise, and nursing has resumed on both breasts, so we managed to make it out of the house this weekend for a brief trip to the local coffee shop. One day at a time. Step by step. I am wading my way through each thing being thrown my way and trying to not focus on the future or what comes next to keep my anxiety at bay.

Sander remains a stable, happy, healthy, comforting constant through it all.

The temperature dropped this weekend so we were able to dress him in this cozy bear bunting from my mother, who gifted it to us in the hopes that he’d come home from the hospital in it.

“I want that baby warm and snug!” she’d said.

But it was nearly 70 degrees the day we came home with him, so this weekend, we bundled him up and I held him close, and he indeed was warm and snug as his Momar wished.

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