If You Can’t Say Something Nice…

Today, while on a walk, a friend and I were asked if we run an at-home day care.


We each have four children.


Earlier this week, while playing at a nature center, I was told that I’m, “like the old lady who lived in a shoe.” You know the one… “had so many children she didn’t know what to do.” So much humor. Many laughs.


Let me reiterate: I have four children. Four. Also, these comments were just the ones that stuck out this week. I’m told on a daily basis how full my hands are. So many people are concerned with the fullness of my hands. They’re just so incredibly thoughtful.


I honestly don’t consider four to be that many kids. I mean, I realize it’s above average, but I’m not a Duggar, y’all. And even if I did have a “large” family, THOSE KINDS OF COMMENTS ARE NEVER HELPFUL. Zero times have comments on my family size ever made me or my kids feel anything but negative, judged, icky, gross, less than, or in the way. It is never appropriate or helpful to make those kinds of comments. Nev-errrrr.


And I feel like this conversation has been had over and over and over. I could list and link and count a bajillion (yes, exact number) examples, personal experiences, blog posts, instagram stories, tweets, etc, etc, etc, discussing how very inappropriate these kinds of comments are. And yet, the comments keep coming. Like a thoughtlessly asinine lava flow of verbal diarrhea, they just keep on a-comin’.


The friend I was walking with today metioned that a gentleman at church saw her last week and said, “You look so much better! I guess you guys are all done, now!” I couldn’t even pick my jaw up off the ground if I wanted to. She looks better than what?? Than the gorgeous life-bearing goddess she is and always has been? Gracious, I was riled by that. Very, very riled.


This all falls under the umbrella of “people are insensitive and judgemental and they say dumb things.” Okay, okay, I get that. I totally understand how difficult it is to communicate with strangers without first considering how my words may make them feel. I know how hard it is to keep my opinions to myself, especially since I’m always right and it’s my personal duty to let people know that their sex lives and baby spacing methods are just not normal, nor are they acceptable, thankyouverymuch. I know how difficult it is to choose between a negative, judgemental comment and one that is encouraging and uplifting. Such a tough call to make.


I see the struggle, y’all, so I’ve compiled this helpful list of possible talking points for folks who *gasp!* encounter families of more than 2.5 children. Please enjoy.


  • “What a beautiful family you have! I bet you have so much fun together!”
  • “You’re doing such hard, important work…I know it must be challenging sometimes, but it looks like you’re doing really well!”
  • “Thank you for bringing your kids to the nature center/library/church. It’s so nice to see families learning together!”
  • “Hey, there. May I entertain your toddler while you get those groceries onto the belt?”
  •  “I just love seeing energetic children exploring the world. Have a great adventure!”
  •  “Children are such a gift. Speaking of gifts, all of your children must be gifted because they’re clearly all Mensa material!”
  •  “You are a magical unicorn beast of womanly power and beauty. Thank you for raising strong humans to take care of us all in our old age!”


All snark and sarcasm aside, can we just be nice humans already?? This obviously doesn’t apply only to family size conversations. It’s applicable to families with brand new babies, families who look like they’ve possibly adopted or are doing the beautiful work of foster care. It applies to literally any human in any situation, not just in motherhood/child bearing circles.


Please hear this: It is more important to be kind than to be right. It is more  to be kind than to have your curiosity satiated. It is more important to be kind than even the teensiest bit judgemental.


It is more important to be kind. 


And just like I tell my huuuuuuge family of four children, if you can’t be kind, be quiet.


Read This on Repeat

I have four kids. They’re 7, 5, 4, and 2. The middle two are sixteen months apart, while the third and fourth are separated by twenty-one months. (Let’s hear it for efficiency!) We get a lot of comments, but the most common one I get is, “I don’t know how you do it.”




This is usually partnered with some sort of comparison in which the speaker judges her own situation as “less difficult” than mine. As in, “I only have one (or two or three) kids. I can’t imagine having four!” Or, “I can barely handle my two kids, so four would be impossible for me!” You’d be surprised (but probably not) to hear how self deprecating the mom crowd is, constantly berating themselves for not handling their own lives “better” as compared to how someone else is doing. It’s simultaneously complimentary of the mama with the full hands and heart, but judgmental of self. “You’re doing so much, so well! I’m failing at the comparatively little I have.”


I hear it a lot, y’all, most recently from a friend of mine:

“I think you’re amazing. Whenever I have a hard time with my one, I feel humbled by your four.”


And here’s my response to that: Don’t be humbled by me, friends. Please don’t. Please.


There’s this line in Man’s Search for Meaning, in which Viktor Frankl says that suffering fills the soul like gas fills a chamber. It doesn’t matter how much gas you put in a chamber, it always expands to fill up the entire space. Now, hopefully, being a mother isn’t the same as living in a state of actual suffering, but I think the point remains the same. It doesn’t matter how many or how few children you have, whether your work lies inside or outside the home, or with what apparent ease you parent in public. The struggle always expands to fill the entire space of your heart. This gig ain’t easy. Period.


So, mamas can we please stop comparing? Please? I completely understand trying to size up how we’re doing because I am a constant affirmation seeker myself. But at some point we have to learn, and I mean really learn, that there’s no right way to do all this. Every mother is different, every child uniquely needy and quirky, every family fueled by different goals and values and dreams, plagued by different demons and frustrations. There is no standard measuring stick to tell us we’ve made it.


And while we’re at it, can we stop saying we’re “just” anything? Like, stop saying you  have “just” one kid, or you’re “just” a stay at home mom, or the dinner you fed your kids after working a full day at a demanding job is “just” McDonald’s. “Just” sucks. It just does.


Y’all, I can think of about a million reasons that having one kid is “harder” than having four. You’re their sole entertainment, comfort, lifeguard, everything. That. Is. Exhausting.


I can think of about a million reasons that being a working mom is “harder” than staying home. You’re constantly running, planning, juggling, and I guarantee you probably struggle when you have to say no to work or kids. Constantly balancing is exhausting.


I can think of about a million reasons that being a stay at home mom is “harder” than working out of the home. You don’t get tangible return on your work, there aren’t ever finished projects, you’re never alone but always lonely. It’s exhausting.


I can think of a million reasons that having four kids is “harder” than having one. Socks. There are never enough effing socks and sock hunting is exhausting.


I am not a hero or supernaturally able to handle “more” because I have four kids. We’re all handling the huge load we’ve been given and amounts don’t matter because every load is heavy as hell. I’ve been saying this and repeating it for years and I still suck at doing it myself, so I’m going to keep preaching…to you, to me, to anyone who will listen: Give yourself grace. Show yourself mercy. Encourage and lift up that mom of six you see navigating life like a goddess! You should absolutely be in awe of her! But don’t be in awe of her at the expense of your own heart. Don’t forget to love yourself, mama. Please don’t. Because I guarantee that you’re doing so much better than you think. So, so much better.

Birth Stories, Uncategorized

“I Led the Whole Way” – Brittney’s Second Birth Story

About You – Brittney Melton. Mom of 2. This will be about my second child. A much different birthing experience. This time I wanted a VBAC.

How did you find out you were pregnant? It was a surprise. I planned. We went on a vacation and I suspected we were. Took a test along and everything. Negative… came back from trip still thinking I may be. Waited and knew my cycle should’ve surely started. Took a test. Positive. I didn’t know if was quite ready for another. My first was only 19-20 months old. God had other plans. And I’m so glad.

What was your birth philosophy before you gave birth? How were you expecting it to be? I knew I wanted different this go around. Having had an emergency csection – completely unaware about csection and thought I’d never have one – I was determined for a VBAC.

How did you approach planning your birth? Did you take classes, read books, meditate, or seek out guidance from someone in particular? We actually took a class! We hadn’t the first time because my doctor told me we’d prob not need it because she’s be there telling me what to do. Well, she wasn’t there and baby wasn’t doing well so c-section it was. This time I asked to try for a VBAC and it was denied by my doctor who said her practice wouldn’t perform one. So, I sought out a new doctor. Bye old doctor. Changing doctors was scary but in the end such the right choice! He listened to what I wanted. Gave me the risks, looked over previous medical history from my first birth and said I’d be a great candidate. I trusted him fully with the plan. I wouldn’t have changed a thing and loved my second doctor.

How did you plan to deliver? VBAC with my OB. For precaution we would have an epidural in case things went south quickly. Otherwise they’d have to be me out to perform [a c-section] and I did not want that.

What were the most important goals or areas of focus for you in respect to your birth? I just wanted the vaginal birth I’d dreamed of. I wanted to actually experience and “do it” myself. I felt that was taken away from me. And I am in no way saying it’s not real birth… c-section IS birth – with scars to prove. I just wanted a chance at what my heart desired. This doctor gave me that chance.

And now for the good stuff…Here’s Brittney’s second birth story! Just like my firstborn… my secondborn was late. Her due date was 2/12. I had one false labor on 2/8. Doctor even though it was go time and admited me overnight. Being a VBAC patient he wanted to insure that we were super cautious. So any intense contractions for longer than a few hours he wanted me in to be checked in case of an emergency.


They were strong alright. Strong enough to not talk, shhh, close my eyes strong. And I couldn’t walk. Sometime from being admitted at 5, eating dinner with friends and watching the super bowl… the high intensity wore off around 3 in the morning. I was no longer struggling through them, and by morning they weren’t there. I was so sad. I thought this was it. My doctor did too. But I also hadn’t progressed any.


My doctor gave me three options. 1. Stay, hope they came back (highly unlikely), 2. Have a c-section (not ready for that yet) 3. Go home ( and I was slightly scared to because I was afraid something bad may happen. We chose 3. And the following day had a check up. My doctor said to go ahead and schedule the c-section. He wouldn’t let me go a week past being a VBAC patient. I respected that protocol. So we scheduled for 2/18. He joked that sometimes when you give the baby an eviction date – they’ll choose to come on their own.


2/14, false labor #2. Intense contractions but something I now realize I could’ve probably labored at home with. I mean geez, I’d labored for like a week already. But I was anxious and DID not want 2/18 to come. I think I was mentally trying to will it – again – just like my firstborn. We were admitted for safety reasons and … sent home again.


12/15 evening it changed. There was some strong ones but this was something else. I was hunched over the couch and my mom was like uhhhh yea it’s time – go. Such a painful car ride to the hospital. We get there and I’m at a 4! Praise Jesus. They gave me a medication to wear off the top end of the contractions to which I was so grateful for. Anesthesiologist came in to administer epidural and MISSED 3x…. urregggh. 4th time finally. And I felt relief. I’m thankful to my doctor that he asked to have a certain dosage administered so I could still feel low end of contractions. I could still feel and labor along with them.


We went into the next day. 2/16. When I was at an 8 they broke my water. Talk about a weird relief. I got to a 9 and stalled. Checking baby with both hand and u/s they determined her head was turned into my hip. Stubborn thing. The nurse went in and flipped baby’s head – owwwwwwwww. She said you’ll immediately start to feel pressure on this next contraction. Ummmm yes ma’am you are correct. She said, well, it’s time, I’ll call the doctor back in. And I’m like REALLY!?!!! The VBAC is gonna work!? And she said yea, baby is already passed the scar line. She’s coming. BEST news ever.


Doctor came in. Told me push when I felt contraction… I led the whole way. I felt all the stretching. I don’t know what I was thinking but I honestly thought – isn’t the epidural supposed to help me feel ummm nothing? So yea, I felt it all. They said it was too late for the epidural to do anything… so didn’t feel full contraction but felt everything else. Which now, looking back, I’m glad to have had that experience. Feeling it all felt so miraculous. And that my body was working. An hour of pushing and she was finally here!!! Such an amazing feeling that I will never ever forget.




What was the advice that you found to be most helpful in preparing to give birth? Keep asking questions. Always get a second opinion.

What was the most surprising thing about birth for you? That it worked! I thought it wouldn’t have! I was proud to have a VBAC.

What was the most challenging part of birth for you? Waiting and the unknown. Would the VBAC work or was I head for another c-section?

What was your favorite part of your birth? Feeling it all. Strangely enough if I ever have another that’s what I’d desire. Pain – yes. But an amazing experience. Feeling her head and shoulders and hips all coming. My baby placed on me. Miracle.





What do you wish someone had told you before you gave birth? Honestly I felt more prepared this time around than ever. And it was a whole new experience. And also – someone to tell me my babies just like to be stubborn and late. (This one 4 days late)

How did your perception of birth change after you experienced this birth? I desire more kiddos. I hope that happens someday. A prayer of mine. But also not to fear the pain. The pain helps you know what to do.




Birth photography by Janeane Marie Photography.

Birth Stories, Uncategorized

C-Section – Brittney’s First Birth Story

About You – Brittney Melton. I have 2 kiddos, but this is the birth story of my firstborn. Logan, who is now 4.



How did you find out you were pregnant? Felt suuppper tired and was wanting to take a test but waited til my husband and I were together as I was out of town. Took a test. Positive. Took another because let’s face it – we all do. Also positive. And then I bawled.

What was your birth philosophy before you gave birth? How were you expecting it to be? I thought it’d be easy to know when I was in labor (for me – false). I knew I’d have a hospital birth and would probably get an epidural. That was it.



How did you approach planning your birth? I took no classes and only asked my OB various questions. I did ask a few friends but really went in mostly naive and not wanting to know a lot.

How did you plan to deliver? Hospital with OB and I knew I wanted an epidural

What were the most important goals or areas of focus for you in respect to your birth? We were away from all family so I really just wanted my doctor (didn’t happen) and my husband. I didn’t know honestly when to go in except timing contractions and calling the doctor. I had no other knowledge or didn’t really see myself laboring long at home. I was super nervous.

And now for the good stuff…Here’s Brittney’s birth story! I was due 9/28 and here it was October. I bawled thinking OH MY GOSH!! A whole other month!!! It was definitely a mind trick. We had one false alarm on 10/1 where I thought my water broke. Using the bathroom and liquid just kept slowly trickling… but it was not pee. Went in and did a test – at this point ink Braxton Hicks the week prior and no real contractions. It wasn’t amniotic fluid so they sent us home. I think I was SO anxious about KNOWing when and how and what that I just felt on alert. My OB saw me a few days later. We went ahead and scheduled an induction for 10/7… a whole 9 days past my due date and it felt like forever. She wouldn’t deliver on weekends because she didn’t work then (not my favorite). Low and behold, I go into labor the day before. Sunday, 10/6. Labored all night with contractions getting closer and more intense.


Up until this point I was measuring like 1… 1.5 because my doctor wanted to be generous. The week before I wasn’t measuring at all. I was so tired and just wanted this baby here! So we headed into hospital per staff instructions after calling in and I was at a 3. Whomp. Really? A whole night of pain and a 3!? They hook me up and tell me I’m staying since I’m inducing the following day anyways, baby could come tonight.


So, I labor. And I move to like a 4/5. I’m so tired an anxious I just say yes to the epidural, not having enough knowledge to know it could slow things down. I’m stuck at a 5/6 and for an hour baby’s heart rate plummets over and over with each contraction. I’m beside myself. What’s wrong with him!? Is he ok? They’re having me turn side to side with each contraction. The on call doctor comes in and tells us, “We are prepping you for a c-section. We do not think this baby will last or be strong enough for delivery if his heart rate drop continues. You still have 6+ hours before we’d maybe even get to pushing.”


With tears for my baby, and fear for me.. we go ahead with it. I was so fearful. Anesthesiologist changes the epidural for csection and I’m shaking terrified on that table. I felt the pressure of the cut – not the pain… felt all organs move and baby removed. Again, just pressure – no pain. And I finally hear the cry.



He was ok.




I threw up on the table, and they wiped my face and handed him to me, only to take him a few minutes later and I was left alone with doctors while I was stitched up. Husband and baby gone.


I was relieved he was ok, but felt something was taken from me. I knew I wanted it done differently the next time around.




What was the advice that you found to be most helpful in preparing to give birth?Learn! Take a class (even if is your second and you want more info). Ask questions. Get what you want if you can.

What was the most surprising thing about birth for you? It was completely outside my control. I wanted to weirdly WILL it into action. Baby comes when baby comes (and I hate that saying by the way)

What was the most challenging part of birth for you? Being overdue!!!! It felt like forever. And also being helpless thinking something was happening to my baby and he wasn’t ok.

What was your favorite part of your birth? Well. I didn’t love it to be honest. But the moment he cried I felt SUCH relief. And seeing his little face look at mine under that curtain. I’ll never forget it.

What do you wish someone had told you before you gave birth? C-section is still birth. For me it was scary. But it is birth, a hard birth at that. Birth is not just physical pain or stamina. It’s mental and very much spiritual too.

How did your perception of birth change after you experienced this birth? I knew the next go around I’d fight for something different. I’d be aware of what I wanted and seek out the answers.




Birth photography by Captured Simplicity Family Photography.

Birth Stories, Uncategorized

Open to Change – Lindsey’s Birth Story

About You – Hi, I’m Lindsey Deringer and I stay home with my two girls, Ruthie and Laurel. I’m writing about my first birth with Ruthie. We were told at our 18 week check up that something was wrong with her brain and heart but two weeks later, we saw a specialist and everything was normal!

How did you find out you were pregnant? My husband said, “I think you might be pregnant,” because he thought my body looked different. Haha low and behold I took a test and he was right!

What was your birth philosophy before you gave birth? How were you expecting it to be? I wanted to doing things all natural with no drugs at the hospital with my midwife. I knew it would be painful but thought with different exercises and breathing techniques that I could manage it and get through.

How did you approach planning your birth? I took a natural birthing class with my husband, read a few books, and talked with other moms who had chosen to birth without drugs.

How did you plan to deliver? In a hospital with a midwife.

What were the most important goals or areas of focus for you in respect to your birth? I wanted my husband by my side and to labor at home as long as possible. I also thought a calm environment was important and was hoping to labor in a tub.







Now for the good stuff…here’s Lindsey’s birth story! I started having contractions Friday the 15th late in the afternoon. They continued to become more frequent and a little more painful. I took a shower that evening, drank a bunch of water, then about midnight called and they said to come in. I went in and was only at a 2 but my blood pressure was really high so they had me stay. They gave me pitocin around 7am on the 16th and contractions continued to get more intense. I only was at a 3 by noon so I got into the soaking tub, using the yoga ball, and walked around the hospital for a while. I was still at a 3 at around 3pm but my contractions where very painful so I finally asked for an epidural at around 4pm. They couldn’t find my spine for the epidural because apparently I have scoliosis. It took about 45 minutes for them to get it in then things progressed very quickly. I did get a fever right before she was born so they had to give me antibiotics and her as well after she was born. She made her debut at about 9pm! She was crying and had a head full of black hair!


I will never forget she was crying so hard on my chest then I started talking to her and she just stopped crying and looked right at me. Oh my heart! After about 30 minutes, I started feeling very ill and my blood pressure bottomed out and they rushed me back to the operating room because they thought I still had placenta inside. Thankfully everything was fine and I just had lost quite a bit of blood. Weird and scary though!





What was the advice that you found to be most helpful in preparing to give birth? Make a birth plan but be open to change. Don’t beat yourself up if things don’t go excactly as planned. My body didn’t do what I had wanted but I still got my perfect baby and that is what really matters!



What was the most surprising thing about birth for you? How much my modesty went out the window!



What was the most challenging part of birth for you? That it didn’t go as I had planned. The pressure from the people around me.



What was your favorite part of your birth? Sharing it with my husband and seeing our beautiful girls for the first time!



What do you wish someone had told you before you gave birth? Every birth is different and yours will be so special because it is you and your baby.



How did your perception of birth change after you experienced this birth? That sometimes even when you want something really bad, your body may have other ideas.



Birth Stories, Uncategorized

Dana’s Birth Story

About You – My name is Dana Hermelin, I’m married to Michael and we live in Seattle, WA. We have one 9-month-old baby girl, hers was our first birth.


How did you find out you were pregnant? The millionth pregnancy test I took, which finally gave me the faintest second pink line. We called her “maybe baby” for several days before the line got solid enough to be sure!

What was your birth philosophy before you gave birth? How were you expecting it to be? I wanted balance. I loved reading stories about natural births, but wanted to have realistic expectations when it came to my own pain tolerance. My husband is a doctor, so we are extremely comfortable in medical settings and wanted to have a hospital birth. I had friends who had great experiences with natural births, all levels of pain management, and c-sections; I also had friends whose births were difficult or scary in all the same scenarios. We chose to educate ourselves as much as possible, then make the best choices we could manage.


How did you approach planning your birth? Did you take classes, read books, meditate, or seek out guidance from someone in particular? We took a birthing class through our hospital– we are lucky to live in a progressive metro area with a wonderful, mom-empowering hospital. Our birthing class was really informative, balanced, and supportive.


How did you plan to deliver? In a hospital with an OB.
What were the most important goals or areas of focus for you in respect to your birth? I wanted to labor naturally as long as I could, but eventually planned to have an epidural. I wanted my husband and my friend Nicole to be the only non-medical people in the room.


Now for the good stuff…here’s Dana’s birth story!


It was Sunday night, May 21st. My due date was Wednesday, and I SO did not want to go to work the next day… being determined to maximize my maternity leave, I had decided to work until I was in labor. My tired, huge body fell asleep that night, resigned to the fact that this baby was probably going to stay put. Then around 2:00 in the morning, I woke up with a start, wide awake, as a tiny gush happened somewhere down there in the nether regions. I got up and went to the bathroom… a little, not a lot of fluid was present. I waddled back to bed, resisting the urge to wake my husband, and focused all my attention on my lower abdomen, where something that felt EXACTLY like period cramps was occurring. (Why had no one told me they felt like period cramps?) Was I imagining it? I tried to remember what my birthing class said. I got a huge glass of water. I lay perfectly still. Definitely still cramping, in what felt like waves over my belly, I finally got out my contraction-timing app. (Contractions! I let myself think the word. It’s happening!) Every 5-10 minutes, another wave. I timed for an hour. I rolled over and woke Michael with a whisper.


“Something’s happening. I think this is it.”
“I think I’m in labor.”


We reviewed all our notes from birthing class. Googled. Was it a gush? A trickle? Had my water broken? Probably not, but maybe? So we called the hospital, and they said to come in. Better to check, just in case, so we would know what we were dealing with. Michael let his program know he wouldn’t be in, signed out all his patients… I checked and double-checked my hospital bag. Away we went! I took a blurry picture of Michael in the car.



We got to triage and it was completely empty. A triage nurse hooked me up to the monitor—definitely contractions! I wasn’t making it up! They checked the fluid. Not amniotic fluid. They checked my cervix. Still at 1.5 centimeters, like it had been for a week. Since my water hadn’t broken and I wasn’t at risk of infection, they sent us home. I was still having contractions, every 12-15 minutes, and they were debilitating enough that I didn’t think I could work. So I texted my boss, and my friend Nicole, who would be my second labor partner, to let them know.
Michael fell asleep on the couch with the dog. 10C38F43-4172-4631-A951-D44AFE179836I did not. I tried. I paced. I cleaned. Played games on my phone. Tried to believe this was actually happening. The contractions kept coming, every 12-15 minutes, maddeningly the same—never intensifying. I could still talk through them, mostly walk through them. The whole day passed like this. Nicole and her husband came over and ate dinner with us; Nicole and I walked 15 minutes to the grocery store and back for cupcake ingredients, willing the walk to get things moving. We (read: mostly Nicole) made cupcakes for the nurses. 9:30 pm rolled around, then 10:00; contractions still coming every 15 minutes. Nicole and Luke finally went home. A little while later I gave up, too, and got in bed.



Then my back began to ache. I shifted positions. I invited our dog into the bed (a huge breach of protocol) to lie against my back. Michael, who was still awake on the couch, called over when I started making noise… not frustrated, trying-to-sleep noises, but “hey, this actually hurts” noises. Nauseated all of a sudden, I went to the bathroom, but nothing happened. I lay down on the bathroom floor, leaned against the counter, still timing my contractions, petrified of going to the hospital just to be sent home again. Finally, an hour had passed with these stronger, more frequent contractions happening every 3-5 minutes. We called the hospital, and it was my Ob-Gyn on call! “For an hour,” Michael told him. “Yes—she’s crying.” I hadn’t realized I was crying. He told us to come on in.

I did not take a picture of Michael in the car on this trip. Being buckled into a car on the move is probably the worst place for a woman in labor. Thankfully, we were only five minutes from the hospital. When we entered triage this time again in the wee hours of the morning, the same nurse was there—she had gone home and returned again for the same overnight shift! We were shown to the same triage room. Lots of women had gone into labor that Monday night—the triage rooms were almost full. There were so many noises going on… We heard the nurses talking about one particularly loud woman, who was laboring naturally with a breech baby. My baby had been breech, too, but was turned down successfully with an external cephalic version two and a half weeks previous. I was terrified that she would flip back. The other woman’s groanings quickened my heart a little. We heard the nurses again, this time talking about me… saying that it was my first, and things would move slowly. Essentially, that I was low priority, with their busy service. No one came to see me for a long time. Thankfully, that was the only poor experience I had at the hospital—and they were right! My baby wasn’t coming anytime soon.


My contractions were, though! Now, unable to talk through the pain, we watched them happening on the monitor. Long, tall mounds that resembled Mt. Rainier on the horizon. We had called Nicole, who hadn’t gotten much sleep. She showed up to the hospital around 3:00 am, and we were still in triage. BFE93C83-F37D-49B2-87C2-263139A43318She and Michael each held either of my hands as I struggled to breathe through each contraction, my back aching like it would break in two. A nurse offered a heat pack for me, which I accepted gratefully. It helped so much, I barely noticed that the pack was too hot—later we’d discover it left second-degree burns on the skin on my lower back—I still have scars, but at the moment I didn’t care at all. When they finally checked my progress, I was at 5, almost 6 centimeters, and was admitted.

My birth plan was loosely this: Labor naturally as long as possible. Then get an epidural. Have minimal interventions, but do what’s needed to have the safest delivery for our little one. When we got to my birthing suite and got settled in, they wrapped the wireless monitor around my belly, and I immediately asked to get in the tub. Since the heat pack had helped so much, I imagined the tub would feel amazing. So the nurse prepped the tub, Michael helped me over, and I climbed in. My back pain immediately intensified, and I wanted to throw up. I stood up, but I couldn’t move. Michael helped me out and I stood there, half bent over, through contraction after contraction—not even a minute apart, with no breaks. I couldn’t breathe or talk or move. Michael asked if I wanted to get the epidural now. I couldn’t even get enough breath to answer. I thought back to our birthing class, where the instructor told us it can take up to an hour after they put in the order for the anesthesiologist to come, depending on how busy they are. I didn’t think I could wait more than an hour if things continued as they were, so I nodded.

I was a little disappointed when, after I finally made it back to the bed and perched on the edge, the anesthesiologist immediately walked in. I was handling my contractions much better out of the water and back in a more comfortable position. But I was scared I wouldn’t be able to sit still later if we told her to wait, so she went ahead and explained the procedure. I held Michael’s hands, closed my eyes, and pretended to be a statue. I don’t remember being in pain at all from the numbing shot or the line placement, but I did sit through two contractions while it was happening. She didn’t realize I’d had one at all—looking back, I know I could have labored a bit longer without it, but ultimately I am glad I had an epidural, for so many reasons! The main downside, in my eyes, is that it did slow my labor down—which has a domino effect of adding one intervention after another.

I had hoped, and was pleasantly surprised, that I could control the pain medicine delivered through the line. I managed to keep it at a level where I could still feel and move my legs, and I felt each contraction—though they were not painful. I wanted to still feel like I was in my own body, and I did. After the epidural, the nurse encouraged me to sleep. Fat chance of that. My baby was on the way! Michael and Nicole took naps while I watched and felt my contractions, and sent messages to my sisters and close friends.

The shift change happened, and our wonderful labor and delivery nurse, Lauren, came on board. She was amazing, always making sure that I knew exactly what was happening and why, and that each decision was finalized with my “yes” and no one else’s. On the next check, I have no idea how many centimeters I had dilated, but they confirmed what we all suspected—baby was “sunny-side up,” pushing against my spine as she moved down—which is why my back hurt so bad. They had me lie on my side with a “peanut” (humongous, kind of phallic-shaped yoga ball) between my legs to try to encourage her to roll over.

My contractions had slowed to the point where labor wasn’t progressing fast enough, so they asked if they could break my water, which I agreed to. I’m glad they did this somewhat early on, because they found quite a lot of meconium (baby poop) in the amniotic fluid—knowing this, they knew baby was at risk of an infection if she was stuck in the birth canal too long, or if her airways weren’t cleared quickly after delivery. For what seemed like a long time, we were just waiting. We ordered gummy bears for me to munch on, and I drank apple juice and water. When labor still wasn’t progressing very fast, we decided to have Pitocin administered. Shortly after this, a lot of things happened…

I had forgotten to push my “pain” button for a long time. My back started aching, unbearable pain at a spot next to my spine. A nurse came in and pressed hard against my back. The pressure didn’t touch the pain. Michael and Nicole tried, too, I think—at this point, I’m not sure what all went on around me. I believe what happened was this: My epidural had begun to wear off, exactly at the moment I entered the transition phase of labor. I had tunnel vision. I threw up all the gummy bears. They called an anesthesiologist back, who worked on catching my pain management up with the pain I was experiencing. I DO remember him! He painstakingly and sweetly explained what was going on with my body, while I hated him with every fiber of my being for not SHUTTING UP and letting me PUKE IN PEACE. Michael also was trying to speak encouraging words to me, and while I wanted to curse him out, I managed to say something like, “I know you’re trying to help, but please don’t talk to me.”

After the extreme nausea faded and I was a little more coherent, they checked my progress again, and I was ready! Ten centimeters, okay to push! The Ob-Gyn on call (no longer mine, but really wonderful) and a fantastic resident physician came to deliver the baby. A team of nurses stood by to clear baby’s airways and intervene quickly if she had breathed any meconium. Lauren, Michael, and Nicole stood by my side. On the next contraction, I pushed! And pushed. And pushed.

And pushed.

I was grateful again that I could feel my legs, and my contractions. I could feel each push, and I could feel my baby getting closer. But towards the end, I kept pushing, and pushing, and baby wasn’t moving at all. They could see her head (“She has hair!” Michael said. “Of course she does!” I answered—I knew she’d have hair; I had a ton when I was born) but I just couldn’t push her past the pubic bone. My coaches and doctors were fantastic, cheering me and encouraging at each push, but later Michael said he thought I could have pushed for several more hours and not have moved her a millimeter. After almost two hours of pushing, the doctor asked if she might try vacuum extraction, only because of the presence of meconium. Baby wasn’t distressed, but the chance of infection grew the longer she spent right there at the end of the birth canal. I consented—the vacuum extractor is not nearly as scary as it sounds, a small contraption that honestly looks like a little plunger with a handle on the end. She got ready, and with one push… then two, I felt something baby-shaped come out with amazing ease.


9AF0B762-D533-43ED-B9FE-7D609D96BEFAShe was born with an extra-large head, just like her dad and me, and had decided to stick her arm up behind her head to boot—which was why I had such a hard time at the end of pushing. They held her up and in the split second before they went to clean out her mouth and nose, I saw my daughter for the first time, purple and wet, and super angry! And extremely beautiful. I couldn’t believe that tiny human had just, seconds ago, been inside me. Her little arm was still up by her ear; she looked like Superman. Before I knew it, they had the meconium cleaned out from around her nose and mouth, and had confirmed she didn’t breath it in. She was back on my chest. “I know you,” I told her.

And that’s how Frances Jo was born, at 5:23 on 5/23.

What was the advice that you found to be most helpful in preparing to give birth? When my baby was breech, and I was struggling to come to terms with the possibility of having a c-section when I had badly desired to have a natural birth, my sister’s friend who’d had the same experience wrote these words to me: “… this is your path to a baby, and it’s such a wonderful path because it’s the path to you becoming a mom.” That has stuck with me… All births, all ways of entering parenthood, are beautiful and wonderful paths. I think my experience having a baby that was stubbornly breech allowed me to let go of any control I thought I had over my birth experience and just let it happen how God intended.


What was the most surprising thing about birth for you? Looking back now, probably how separate it feels from pregnancy. Pregnancy was about me. Labor and birth were about my baby. That’s an oversimplification, but hopefully you get what I mean!

What was the most challenging part of birth for you? The most challenging part was timing. I didn’t know how my body would react to different parts of the process, and I think we could have timed different steps better.

What was your favorite part of your birth? The whole process was so peaceful and positive. I think the people I had with me made it that way. My husband, who is super chill; my friend Nicole, who could not have been more supportive; and my wonderful nurse.

What do you wish someone had told you before you gave birth? I don’t have an answer for this. When I got married, my cousin told me, “You will get lots of advice, but only you know your marriage. Take what works. Leave what doesn’t.” I think the same applies to birth and parenthood.

How did your perception of birth change after you experienced this birth? I think, and hope, I am far less judgmental of moms. It’s impossible to step into someone’s shoes and experience their pain.


Losing Yourself

It happens so quickly, doesn’t it? One minute you’re an independent person with autonomy over your own thoughts and ideals and future and body…and then you have a baby. The moment I held my firstborn child I immediately ceased being Mary Susan and instantly became “Maggie’s Mom.”


And it makes sense. I mean, we’re responsible for keeping these little animals alive, right? Like, their wellbeing has to be a priority. Obviously. And their care is going to require putting other, more self-focused things on hold. Obviously. And they come from our bodies. Like, we grew them in our wombs. That’s intense. So obviously these little gremlins are going to take over our whole hearts and minds and worlds and thoughts and wishes and dreams and marriages and souls and all of a sudden we’re lost. We mothers are lost.


And part of that is good. I don’t know if I really, truly understood sacrificial love before I had my children. Marriage came close, but for me the lesson was nailed home by my kids. (Okay, time out. Let me take a moment to clarify that I certainly don’t believe that people without children don’t experience the depth of love that parents do. That’s simply not true or fair. People are called to so many different and beautiful vocations; children are not always part of the plan and it certainly doesn’t mean that childless people/couples don’t experience the richness of self sacrifice. They experience sacrificial love in a myriad of other ways, many of which I will never endure. This is just me speaking from my perspective. Okay, time in.)


But kids, my kids, have drawn me out of myself. They’ve shown me that I can endure so much less sleep than I thought. And I’ve learned the joy that comes from focusing on someone else and truly being happy because they are happy, not because I got anything out of it. I’ve been stretched and pulled and torn apart (literally and figuratively) over and over and over again. And I’m so grateful for that.


And yet.


Where am I? Where is Mary Susan in this mess of flooded bathrooms and muddy socks and that Catboy action figure that is always underfoot no matter how many times I pick it up? What happened to that girl who used to be spontaneous and silly? When did I become more worried about tetanus than jumping barefoot in puddles? When did I become un-fun?


Now, I know that I’m highly self-critical and lean toward the melodramatic. I also know that I wouldn’t trade this opportunity to shepherd my four little souls for any amount of spontaneity or uninterrupted conversation, green as those things seem  from this side of the fence.


So, how does mama get her groove back? How do I find myself, the real essence of who I am that so frequently gets squelched in favor of more “responsible” or “motherly” decisions?


Honestly, I think part of it is just chilling the eff out. Just because we’re “supposed” to do certain things or behave certain ways as mothers doesn’t mean we have to. Not every cultural norm is a requirement. I know it’s been said before, but it’s so hard to live the truth that I get to make my own rules. I struggle with a desperate desire to meet expectations, for everyone to like me, to be happy with me, and to approve of my choices. Unfortunately, it’s a pretty subjective and fickle rubric our culture is running with and there will never be a way for me to ace the test. It’s just not realistic…nor would I ever be truly satisfied, am I right?


So maybe I find myself in relaxing, in pausing to consider whether I parent or behave a certain way because I feel like I’m obligated to or because my heart tells me it’s right. When I excuse myself from the “supposed to’s” I find this incredible opportunity to say yes…to my kids, my husband, my friends, myself. Yes, you can play in the rain. Yes, I will take the number of your therapist because I know I need to, Yes, I will find someone to watch the kids so we can go bowling. Yes, I will buy these sparkly tennis shoes just because I want them. Yes.





I’m also free to say no. No, I won’t be able to volunteer/bake/whatever this time. No, I won’t feel guilty for just* sending the paper valentine cards to school without a clever craft or treat bag. No, I won’t be able to read you one more chapter because I really need to go drink wine now. No.


Sometimes finding/reclaiming/reinventing ourselves is something we have to fight for. No one is going to force me to value myself or make myself a priority. So sometimes the yes is to letting someone watch my kids even though I feel like a burden. Sometimes I have to let others bless me and to be grateful that I have people who care even when it makes me a little uncomfortable. Sometimes the no is an honest answer to the question of how I’m doing. No, I’m not doing great this week; can we talk?


I also think it’s incredibly important to remember that life isn’t a movie. Rediscovering the essence of ourselves isn’t an overnight thing. We don’t get a montage with a sweet soundtrack and just magically turn out alright on the other side. We get little snippets, tiny opportunities, minuscule moments to squeeze the hell out of. So maybe finding me looks more like writing while I’m simultaneously (albeit unsuccessfully) making bedtime happen. Maybe finding me looks like declaring “office hours” at home once in a blue moon so I can return emails and finally finish elementary school applications. Maybe finding me looks like buying nail polish or sparkly shoes that remind me to let myself be fun. It’s the little things that add up, right?




And let me be clear: I don’t want to be the girl I was. Parts of her, parts of those phases and times will always be treasured, but I definitely don’t want to go back. And I definitely don’t want to wish my life away and squander the days when I do have chums who want to jump barefoot in puddles (and possibly get tetanus). I think  that Jodi Hills quote really sums it up: “She wasn’t where she had been. She wasn’t where she was going…but she was on her way.”


I hope you’re on your way, friends. I hope you’re finding you in the midst of the drudgery of daily life, whatever that life looks like right now. Mommin’ ain’t easy. If you’re feeling lost and invisible, less like a person and more like a means to an end, if you’re drowning in the socks and spit up and constant state of being over-touched, I see you. I know you’re the whole world to your little humans and that that is sometimes suffocating. I know you wouldn’t trade them for the world, but sometimes you dream of just walking away for some damn silence for once. I know that you always wanted a large family and you’re so happy you’ve been blessed with your tiny army, but you just miss being able to complete a task uninterrupted. I know you tried desperately over and over and over again and endured so much loss and pain for this child who you really want to smack right now because he dumped the dog water…again. I see you.


One yes, one no, one day at a time, okay mamas? Let’s keep plugging away and digging deep and I’m certain we’ll find better versions of ourselves within and because of all this. Because one thing I haven’t lost is my dogged sense of optimism.